French Infantry 17th Century

A company of French infantry arrayed for parade, as depicted in Allain M. Mallett’s Les travaux de Mars (1672)

The essential point about the French infantry company was that it was too small to operate as an autonomous military unit. The simplest tactical formations of the period required substantially more than 30-50 men; the firepower of 20-30 musketeers would be of limited effect, and it was certainly questionable whether 10-20 pikemen could offer the cohesion and strength capable of protecting a body of musketeers, let alone launching an attack in their own right. Even at the level of raiding parties or a localized guerre de partisans, a company was too small to defend itself effectively, as numbers of reports of companies being wiped out by local populations attest.

It might be assumed therefore that the regiment would provide a means to bring together the constituent companies into a militarily effective unity. But the fundamental problem with this solution was that `regiments’ in no sense represented uniform tactical building-blocks. At their most extreme, the numerical differences between regiments could vary between 3,000 men for the gardes françaises at full strength, down to the point at which ordinary regiments were already marked for disbandment but still in service; evidence suggests that totals of 180, even of 150, infantry per regiment were possible by the last months of a campaign. On a more regular basis, generals would command an army-corps in which regiments could vary in size between 1,200 and 300 men. While a vieux regiment which had lost half its strength could bring together 600-700 infantry and was still capable of acting as an effective military unit, an ordinary regiment reduced to fewer than 300 effectives had probably reached the point where neither its firepower nor its cohesion in defence or attack would be sufficient in an engagement, even if the infantry in the unit had some military experience.

These variations between the numerical strength of regiments created considerable practical problems for French commanders attempting to deploy their forces in battle or at a siege. The solution was clearly established, but proved difficult to achieve in practice. The remedy for discrepancies between the size of regiments was to deploy troops in an alternative formation for combat, the bataillon. This was a unit with neither the administrative existence of the company, nor the clear identity of the named regiment; it was simply a uniform grouping of infantry into a formation of between 500 and 600 men, made up of pikemen and musketeers in what became the increasingly universal proportions of approximately 1:2. Jean de Billon refers to the bataillon as a unit of 500-600 infantry, assuming that the formation is no more than ten men deep, though he adds that `si on veut plus grand, l’on peut faire les files de vingt hommes au plus’. At a practical level, maréchal Bassompierre described in his mémoires how the French infantry being deployed for the assault on the pass at Susa in March 1629 were organized into bataillons of 50 enfants perdus, a supporting advance guard of 100, and a main block of 500 soldiers.

Opinion remained consistent about the optimum size for a bataillon, and it is significant that this size corresponds to the Dutch battalion of 550 men, the smallest type of Spanish escuadrón of 600, the Swedish squadron of 504 infantry plus officers and NCOs, or the Imperial and Bavarian formations of 600. But the reason that this basic unit size was so universal appears to have nothing to do with any tactical theory of the superiority of small units. As both Billon and later writers imply, the real issue is simply the geometrical relationship between the depth of a formation and the width of its front. Formations of infantry drawn up on the battlefields of seventeenth-century Europe and facing an enemy advancing from a single direction were, in most circumstances, no more than ten files deep, and this depth was progressively declining towards a typical six files by the 1660s. Given this relative shallowness of formations, drawing up a large number of troops into a single block, pikemen flanked by musketeers, would run the risk of creating an over-extended and unwieldy front. A formation of 600 soldiers ten files deep would be numerous enough to be self-supporting on the battlefield, but would involve a front of sixty men. Drawn up in `close’ order – which for the safety of musketeers equipped with matchlock muskets still implied three paces between soldiers – this formation would be only some 180 feet across, a manageable, sufficiently compact size for the transmission of orders by officers and NCOs. This was widely considered to be an optimum balance between firepower, independent cohesion and manageability.


Hapsburg Military 17th-18th Century

The Habsburgs tried to fight the Thirty Years War using these structures by claiming that the Bohemian Revolt was a breach of the public peace, while presenting Swedish intervention as a foreign invasion. Throughout, they legitimated their operations by issuing mandates summoning their opponents to lay down their arms and negotiate. Those who failed to respond were branded outlaws to be targeted with punitive action. Habsburg supporters like Bavaria conformed to this approach, since it legitimated their own seizure of lands and titles from the emperor’s enemies. Initially, all belligerents tried to fund war from regular taxes, supplemented by foreign subsidies, forced loans and coinage debasement, the latter causing rampant inflation between 1621 and 1623. Most of the emperor’s early opponents were relatively minor princes who lacked either large territories or reliable foreign backers, and were forced to subsist by extorting money and supplies from the areas where their armies were operating. General Albrecht von Wallenstein’s `contribution system’, adopted by the emperor’s forces after 1625, attempted to regularize this and extended it on an unprecedented scale. Wallenstein hoped to win the war by awe rather than shock, assembling such overwhelming numbers that further fighting would become unnecessary. Drawing on imperial legislation since 1570, Wallenstein issued ordinances regulating what his troops could demand from local communities, thus entirely bypassing regular tax systems. Subsidies and taxes from the Habsburg lands were now reserved to buy military hardware and other items that could not be sourced locally, as well as servicing the loans on which the entire system increasingly depended.

Wallenstein’s system suffered from several major flaws, not least the excessively high pay rates he allowed his senior officers and the rudimentary checks on graft and corruption. The numerous abuses feature prominently in contemporary criticism and subsequent historical discussion, but it was their political implications that made his methods so controversial. Wallenstein’s army tapped the Empire’s resources directly without reference to the Reichstag or the Kreis Assemblies. He gave the emperor an army funded by the Empire, but under Habsburg control and used to wage what was really a highly contentious civil war. Whilst contributions sustained the ordinary soldiers, their officers

The overwhelming desire for peace after 1648 led to the disbandment of virtually all forces in the Empire. Only the Habsburgs retained a small permanent army, which they redeployed in Hungary. However, the wider international situation compelled further discussion of defence. The emperor’s preferred solution was to return to the late sixteenth-century practice of extended Reichstag grants subsidizing the cost of the Habsburgs’ own army. This was politically unacceptable after the experience with Wallenstein. The electorates and several medium-sized principalities established their own permanent forces during the later 1650s and 1660s. The earlier militias were sometimes revived and adapted as a limited form of conscription providing cheap recruits to augment the professionals. The outbreak of almost permanent warfare on the Empire’s western frontier after 1672 saw these forces expand considerably, creating the first true `standing armies’ alongside that of the emperor.

This forged a new divide in the Empire between the `armed Estates’ (Armierten Stände) and their unarmed neighbours. Leopold I relied heavily on the armed Estates who could supply troops fairly quickly during both the Turkish War of 1662-4 and especially in the Dutch War of 1672-9 to defend the Rhine against French attacks. Collective defence became a modified version of Wallenstein’s system as Leopold assigned unarmed territories and cities to provide funds and supplies to support the troops of the armed Estates. Unarmed territories now risked slipping into mediate status under powerful territories like Brandenburg, Saxony, Hanover and the heavily armed bishopric of Münster, all of which tried to formalize their predominance by establishing protectorates. By 1679 it was obvious that the armed Estates intended to deprive unarmed ones of the right to participate in the Reichstag and Kreis Assemblies on the grounds they were no longer meeting their obligations to the Empire directly. This threatened to federalize the Empire through the medialization of smaller territories, shortening the status hierarchy to a collection of large and medium-sized militarized principalities.

Leopold realized this would undermine his ability to manage the Empire and he sided with the lesser imperial Estates at the Reichstag to force through a compromise defence reform in 1681-2, establishing a system of collective security lasting until 1806. The matricular quotas were revised more clearly on a regional basis, retaining the 1521 register for cash contributions, but assigning new manpower contingents to give a basic rate (Simplum) totalling 12,000 cavalry and 28,000 infantry. As before, these could be mobilized as a fraction or multiple of the basic quota. The reform succeeded, because it stabilized the status hierarchy without preventing any further change. The right as well as the duty of all Estates to contribute was confirmed. The role of the Kreise expanded to organize contingents from the smaller territories who could combine their soldiers into regiments of broadly uniform size. The smaller territories could still opt to pay cash in lieu, but the money was now to go through the Reichspfennigmeister (later the Imperial Operations Fund) to prevent them being bullied into unequal local arrangements by more powerful neighbours. All imperial Estates were free to maintain additional troops above what they should provide for the Empire, especially as such obligations were on a sliding scale with no theoretical upper limit. However, this did not amount to the `law of the gun’ (Canonen-Recht) as some critics maintained, because in 1671 Leopold prevented the armed princes from securing the Reichstag’s sanction for unlimited war taxes. Consequently, the legal position remained the one agreed in 1654 that subjects were only obliged to pay for `necessary fortresses and garrisons’, thus still allowing some scope for territorial Estates to decide what these amounted to, as well as for the emperor to intervene when they could not agree. The armed Estates were also still free to provide additional auxiliaries through private arrangements with the emperor that might advance their dynastic goals. Finally, collective defence remained tied to the established constitutional framework governing decisions for war and peace, thus anchored on the ideal of a defensive war, since only this was likely to secure the necessary approval through the Reichstag.

The collective structure was capable of substantial, sustained effort. Although the actual Kreis contingents (Kreistruppen) were always lower than the totals agreed by the Reichstag, it should be remembered that the Habsburgs always subsumed their own contribution within their own army, thus accounting for another 30 per cent above the numbers supplied by the smaller territories. Many of the auxiliaries also included men serving in lieu of Kreis contingents, because many princes wanted to keep all their soldiers together in a single force to increase their weight within the grand coalitions against France. For example, such forces accounted for 28 per cent of the auxiliaries provided during the War of the Spanish Succession.

The continuous warfare saw the total number of soldiers maintained by the emperor and imperial Estates rise from 192,000 in 1683 to peak at 343,300 in 1710. The most significant and surprising aspect of this rapid militarization was the disproportionate growth amongst the smaller territories, whose total strength grew by 95 per cent to reach 170,000 men, compared to a 75 per cent increase in the Prussian army to 43,500, and a 62 per cent rise in Habsburg strength to 129,000. Thus, imperial defence imposed a heavy burden on the Empire’s weakest elements, but this simultaneously ensured their political survival. The Westphalian and Upper Saxon minor territories used the Kreis structure to organize their own contingents, enabling them after 1702 to break free from onerous arrangements imposed by Prussia, Saxony and the Palatinate, which had previously provided troops to the imperial army on their behalf. In contrast to the almost universal disbandment in 1648, the Westphalian, Upper Rhenish, Electoral Rhenish, Swabian, Franconian and Bavarian Kreise agreed in 1714 to remain armed in peacetime by maintaining contingents at one and a half times the basic quota. Perhaps more surprising still is that militarization remained contained by a highly legalistic political culture (unlike, say, China in the 1920s where warlords created their own provincial armies with little regard to the republic’s formal order). Despite their lands being the most heavily armed part of Europe, the German princes continued to submit their disputes to judicial arbitration through the imperial courts, rather than make war on their neighbours.

The collective system mobilized 34,200 Kreis troops for the 1735 campaign during the War of the Polish Succession (1733-5) against France, while at least 112,000 recruits and auxiliaries were supplied to the Habsburg army across 1733-9.86 The disappointing outcome of this campaign and the parallel Turkish War (1736-9) combined with political disillusionment with the Habsburgs and the disaster of Wittelsbach imperial rule between 1742 and 1745 to weaken collective defence. Most territories reduced their peacetime forces and several withdrew from military cooperation at Kreis level. This trend was compounded by the underlying shift in the Empire’s internal military balance as the combined strength of the Austrian and Prussian armies expanded from 185,000 men in 1740 to 692,700 fifty years later, compared to the combined total of all other forces that dropped by around 9,000 men to 106,000 by 1790.

1 Group RAF Bomber Command Conversion to “Heavies”

A rare picture of a Halifax II of 460 Squadron’s Conversion Flight at Breighton in late 1942.

Earlier in the year a decision had been taken at Bomber Command HQ at High Wycombe to convert the all-Wellington 1 Group to heavy aircraft. By this stage of the war the first two of the RAF’s triumvirate of four-engined ‘heavies’, the Stirling and the Halifax, were already in squadron service and the third, the Lancaster, was about to make its debut. The Lancaster was a design which had emerged from Roy Chadwick’s drawing board following the enormous problems encountered by 5 Group with the twin-engined Manchester. It proved to be the greatest masterstroke of the bomber war, the Lancaster going on to become the outstanding aircraft of its generation and, eventually, the mainstay of Bomber Command. But much of this was unknown early in 1942 and there were very few Lancasters available anyway. The enormous Stirling had also proved a disappointment with poor performance and a worrying vulnerability. The Halifax, in the meantime, was judged to be better although some of the earlier variants were unforgiving to fly and could be catastrophic in the wrong hands. While the Lancaster was born great, the Halifax was only to achieve its successes later in the war when much-improved variants became available. The Halifax IIs and Vs destined for 1 Group, mainly in a training capacity, did not fall into that category.

103 Squadron at Elsham was first out of the blocks with the Halifax with the formation of the 103 Halifax Conversion Unit on June 7 1942. In charge was S/Ldr David Holford, still only 21 years old but with an impeccable record as a pilot behind him. He had already completed two tours of operations, had a DSO and DFC and Bar to his credit and, it seemed, a glittering career in the RAF ahead of him. He was to go on to become the youngest wing commander in Bomber Command history only to meet his death in tragic circumstances 18 months later.

At Elsham his two instructors were P/O Potts and W/O Reg Fulbrook and they began work as soon as the first Halifax IIs arrived and by late July 103 was declared operational as a Halifax squadron. Their first operation was scheduled for the night of August 1-2 but the day was marked by an awful incident which underlined the problems with the Halifax II. That morning 19-year-old pilot Sgt William Bagley took off on a short training flight in one of the Conversion Flight’s aircraft. He had climbed out of Elsham and was returning when both port engines began misfiring and, as the Halifax approached the airfield, it suddenly stalled and spun into the ground. On board with Sgt Bagley were 11 other aircrew from 103 and all were killed instantly when the Halifax crashed just a matter of yards from the airfield boundary. Two days earlier one of the Halifaxes on the squadron’s books had stalled and crashed between Grimsby and Louth, killing Sgt Stewart Stockford and his crew. Sudden stalls were one of the unnerving traits of the Halifax II and, no matter how experienced the pilot, they could prove lethal. That is exactly what happened to Reg Fulbrook on September 22, the senior instructor on the Conversion Flight. W/O Fulbrook, at 31 with a DFC to his name and a tour with 103 behind him, was practising three-engined landings when his aircraft suddenly stalled, turned on its back and dived into the ground killing everyone on board.

By comparison, 103’s operational debut passed almost without incident. Seven aircraft, led by S/Ldr Holford, went to Düsseldorf and all returned safely, although Holford’s aircraft sported 36 holes caused by flak. He had suffered engine problems on the way out and was unable to maintain height. He bombed from 8,000ft and then, on the way home, flew at low level over a Luftwaffe airfield while his gunners shot up a line of parked aircraft. The first operational loss came six days later when Sgt Joe Gilby’s Halifax crashed into the Humber on its return from a raid on Duisburg. There were no survivors. 103 was to lose nine more Halifaxes and the lives of 46 men on operations before the order came towards the end of October to switch to Lancasters. Amongst the casualties was S/Ldr Sid Fox, who had won a DFM with 83 Squadron, and was into his second tour.

103 Squadron was to be the only unit in 1 Group to fly the Halifax operationally and it was also among the first to receive Lancasters. No sooner had the squadron been informed of the change than the first batch of factory-fresh Lancasters arrived, four of them being lost on operations within a matter of weeks.

The Australians of 460 got a new CO early in September when W/Cmdr Keith Kaufmann, one of six brothers serving in the Australian armed forces, arrived to oversee Halifax conversion training at Breighton. The Australians lost one aircraft in a training accident at a cost of eight lives, before being told on October 20 that it was to receive Lancasters. (Kaufmann was a hugely popular figure at Breighton, legend having it that he announced his arrival by walking into the mess and announcing: ‘I hear you blokes are pretty good drinkers. Let’s get stuck in and see how good you are!’) The squadron’s conversion flight later moved to nearby Holme-on-Spalding Moor where its Halfaxes were replaced by four Lancasters and four Manchesters before returning to Breighton. There it was joined by 103’s Conversion Flight and the two units merged to become 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit and moved to Lindholme. The role of the HCU was to do exactly what the term implied, training new crews on four-engined flying. This they would do on an initial mixture of Halifaxes, Manchesters (twin-engined but with some of the characteristics of the Lancaster) and the few Lancasters available. Later, as squadrons demanded every Lancaster coming off the production line, another link in the training chain was forged with the creation of Lancaster Finishing Schools. 1 LFS was formed at Hemswell early in 1944 and was in business for most of the year, providing the final training for crews before they were sent to 1 Group Lancaster squadrons.

From Beggars and landsknechts to professional standing army

William of Orange, Adriaen Thomasz Key, c. 1570–84.

Upon his appointment as stadholder of Holland in 1572, one of the first tasks of William of Orange was to incorporate the unruly `Beggar’ forces into the regular army. Officers of the Beggars who refused to comply were removed. Orange even discharged Lumey because of ill discipline, despite the fact that this officer had captured Brill, the event that led to the revolt of the Holland towns in 1572. At sea the Beggar forces remained of vital importance for rather longer, but following their contribution to the relief of Alkmaar and Leiden in 1574 Orange had them merged with the newly established navy of Holland.

Reducing the burden of the soldiery upon the population was essential for Orange’s strategy. Glaring examples of misconduct by Beggar troops alienated popular support; numerous Holland regents even pondered a negotiated return to the authority of Philip II. Towns were reluctant to admit soldiers within their walls when misdeeds by members of the garrison were left unpunished. In Leiden, for example, six soldiers raped a girl; in addition the garrison menaced town council meetings. Citizens were threatening to flee or take up arms against the troops. Grievances regarding marauding, above all during the extremely unruly time period of August 1573, added to the discontent and the unwillingness to vote for new taxes. The population in fact strongly disliked all soldiers, Spanish and Dutch alike. In the Provincial States of Holland the towns controlled no fewer than 18 of the 19 votes. In order to obtain the support of the voting towns, not least with regard to new taxes that might pay for the army, Orange had no choice but to take such complaints seriously.

The task was a knotty one as exposure to danger gave soldiers a distinctive moral pretext, different from society’s norms: in war killing was not murder and the taking of booty not theft. Blurred boundaries of right and wrong rendered extortion, torture or rape justified when instrumental to achieve soldiers’ ends – above all when lack of pay had broken their contract requiring obedience. It is not true that criminals and other marginalized individuals dominated the military. These men joined the army too, but most soldiers came from the ranks of apprentices, journeymen, farmers’ sons and farm labourers. Yet they changed, as Francisco de Valdés, a Spanish general commanding several garrisons in Brabant, remarked in 1589: `The day a man picks up his pike to become a soldier, he stops being a Christian.’ The new social identification and the behaviour that went with it were emphasized by nicknames such as Bloedhont (bloodhound), Lucifer, Jonckbedorven (`early rotten’), Magere Hein (grim reaper) or simply Neus (Nose); such names signalled the belonging to very particular norms.

To reduce the Beggars’ influence Orange raised new troops, mostly from Dutch and German territories. One drawback of these men was their `landsknecht’ tradition. The individual skills of landsknechts might be outstanding but their disciplinary reputation was poor. The French soldier and chronicler Brantome characterized them in the following way in the late sixteenth century:

I have heard great captains say that such manner of landsknechts are worthless in a besieged place, because they have a strong tendency to mutiny if they do not have everything they need. They are spendthrift, ungovernable, destructive, and dissipated.

Contemporaries said that Spanish soldiers mutinied after the battle, the German landsknechts before the battle.

Discipline could only be improved with difficulty. Landsknechts might be hired by any government or warlord, but the army command had little to say about the appointment of junior officers. Each month the soldiers elected their own sergeants and officers for quartering and provisioning (two Webels, a furier or Foerier, and a Führer or Voerder). In case of grievances the landsknechts chose representatives (Ambossaten or Amissaten) to discuss their objections with the commanders. The soldiers were usually organized in rotten (squads) of ten with a rotmeester (squad-master), also popularly elected. The inner cohesion of the squad was strong; its members supported each other finding food or when wounded. They regarded their pay appropriate for `ordinary’ service only; for battles and assaults extra money was demanded, frequently in advance.

Needless to say such practices rendered the imposition of a formal hierarchy and central command structure difficult. In 1573 Orange began by having corporals appointed from above, by the captains, who were to replace the landsknecht squad masters. Similar regulations followed for sergeants and quartermasters. The position of Voerder (guide to troops’ quarters) was abolished altogether. While the number of landsknecht officers had varied and been subject to negotiation, the size of the standard infantry staff was fixed by Orange at 13. These measures established a more hierarchical structure of command and made Dutch forces both better disciplined and more effective.

His next step was to reduce the size of the large landsknecht company. Between 1574 and 1577 companies with 150 men instead of 300 or more became standard. Orange’s reforms were in all probability inspired by French, or rather Huguenot, army patterns. Huguenots – linked to Orange in various ways – probably taught him recent innovations in the tactical use of firearms during the French Wars of Religion. Their military units were rather small with a comparatively high ratio of officers to soldiers, and no landsknecht-like corporations existed. Orange’s new companies were likewise reduced and a larger number of men armed with firearms, permitting more flexible operations which suited the warfare in the Netherlands extremely well. Elsewhere at that time – such as in the Army of Flanders – units of landsknechts were significantly larger and consisted predominantly of pikemen.

Relief of Leiden after the siege, 1574.

The comparatively high proportion of officers to soldiers improved control over the conduct of the rank and file. Orange’s basic company structure remained virtually unaltered in the decades to come. Infantry companies of the Dutch army – regardless of the actual number of men (companies of 100 became standard shortly afterwards) – contained three higher officers (captain, lieutenant and ensign), two sergeants, four corporals, two drummers, a company clerk and a barber-surgeon. The standard cavalry company consisted of eight officers: captain, lieutenant, cornet, quartermaster, two trumpeters, company clerk and farrier. Sergeants and quartermasters had specific tasks regarding the maintenance of discipline, supported by corporals who were answerable for their section (one-third or one-quarter) of the soldiers. The latter also trained new recruits. The writer or clerk had to be an honest man with some means of his own, taking care of the registration of soldiers’ pay and keeping account of their actual number. The drummers not only had to be able to drum but were also expected to speak a couple of foreign languages, as they could be sent out to ransom soldiers taken hostage by the enemy. All these lower officers were appointed by the captains. The higher officers (captains, lieutenants, cornets and ensigns) received their commissions from the higher army command or the paymasters.

Under Orange’s direction the Articles of War were also changed, with the creation of additional disciplinary regulations. Most important was the fact that the Articles were no longer a kind of contract between soldiers and their paymasters but a set of duties for soldiers imposed from above. The Articles no longer addressed the soldiers as `you’ (`U’ or `Ghy’); instead the requirements were stated in the abstract third person. All references to landsknecht traditions disappeared (the ring, the Ambossaten), along with mention of the Schlachtmonat (battle month), which stated that a new pay month was to begin after each battle. Earlier in the century a soldier usually took service for three months, but the Articles now made no reference to the duration of the contract, which was assumed to be indefinite. Soldiers now signed on for life; even elderly soldiers remained in the army, performing guard duties or looking after the training of new recruits. This permanency constituted a significant marker of professionalization, alongside the obligatory requirements of obedience and discipline imposed from above.

In the established historiography, Maurice is usually credited with the famous Articles of War of 1590, although some authors point to Leicester as the auctor intellectualis. Yet when the wording is examined, it becomes obvious that this evolved from Orange’s original set of 1574 (for Holland’s army, with 34 clauses) and his improved version of 1578 (for the States’ army, increased to 48). Leicester copied them and added some new items, totalling 55, in 1585. In 1590, under Maurice, there were no fewer than 82 Articles. The last set remained in use until 1799 with only a minor revision in 1705.

The permanent contract, introduced by Orange’s Articles, became a real permanency after 1588 when Dutch troops were no longer disbanded after the campaigns but remained in service year after year, permitting the emergence of a true standing army with increasingly professional characteristics. The troops might be labelled mercenaries, but the institutional setting was thoroughly state-controlled. In times of emergency additional mercenaries in the pay of the United Provinces were contracted. The number of truly independent military entrepreneurs – commanders with their own armies, typical of the Thirty Years War – was always limited. Under pressure from the Spanish counter-offensive of the early 1620s the Dutch contracted the celebrated military entrepreneurs, Count Ernst of Mansfeld and the Duke Christian of Brunswick, for a period of two years. Civilians feared their reputation: the troops under Christian (nickname `the Mad Duke’) had allegedly killed 5,000 peasants on their way to Brabant. Indeed, they proved extremely difficult to control and as soon as possible their high mightinesses tried to get rid of these mercenaries again.

Apart from these mercenaries the regular Dutch forces always contained a significant proportion of soldiers from other countries, both Protestant and Catholic. English companies were valued highly, by Orange as well as his sons, for their long military experience. Numerous French and German soldiers took up service too. The mix of nationalities occasionally hampered the command structure since soldiers hesitated to obey a colonel who belonged to a country other than their captain’s. Rivalries between the different nationalities also caused disturbances in army camps, usually related to drinking and gambling. In 1600 a gambling dispute involved as many as five or six hundred French, German and Frisian soldiers, of whom at least six were killed. Guards were placed between the different camps and after 1603 such fights seemed to have disappeared altogether.

Officers and men

Civilian control over the army was strong, as earlier demonstrated in relation to military jurisdiction, regulation of pay and mustering of troops. With regard to the appointment of officers, the role of civilians was likewise prominent. After Leicester had left in 1587 the provinces established themselves firmly in the forefront as paymasters of the troops and thus also responsible for the appointment of senior officers, from the rank of ensign up to colonel. The power of the Council of State was reduced; troops were only to be raised after explicit approval by the provinces in the States-General. Henceforth the Council exercised only an administrative oversight where Dutch forces were concerned, under guidelines laid down by the States-General, and the higher officers were appointed in a process dominated by the stadholder and the provincial governments. The lower officers (sergeants and corporals) received their commissions from the captains, as during Orange’s time.

One disadvantage of such regulations was that officers who enjoyed good relations with the provincial government but who were not necessarily experienced in military matters were often selected. In 1618 Maurice, William Louis and Frederick Henry drew up a decree that enhanced furthered professionalization. For the ranks of captain and above all candidates should have served a minimum for at least four years in the States’ army; for lieutenants, ensigns and cornets three years’ service was required. Captains were chosen from a list of five candidates, compiled in consultation with the provincial government but obligatorily including the current lieutenant and the current ensign/cornet of the company. For the positions of lieutenants and ensigns/cornets, the captain was to make a list of suitable candidates, from which the provincial paymasters were to select three; in the case of a lieutenant’s position the current ensign/cornet was always added as the fourth candidate. The stadholder picked the officers from these lists, giving prominence to the individuals’ past military records. In the case of equally suitable candidates from both native and foreign backgrounds, the Dutch were to be given the advantage. In addition, all captains, lieutenants and corporals of the cavalry too old or injured to serve were to be discharged with a pension, permitting more able officers to take their place. In the infantry such rules were unnecessary as elderly or disabled officers could still perform duties in garrisons; the cavalry involved much more active service, however, with many hours on horseback during convoys or raids in the countryside. And although forbidden since the very beginning of Orange’s command, the `Ordre’ of 1618 stipulated once again that the position of captain or other officer rank must never be bought or sold.

Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen

This was another step towards a more professional army, and it was exemplified by the career of Johan Maurice, Count of Nassau-Siegen. Having started in 1618 as a pikeman in the guard of William Louis, Maurice followed Frederick Henry to the Palatinate as a cavalryman in 1620 and became ensign shortly thereafter. In 1624 he was commissioned as captain of a company, becoming lieutenant-colonel in 1626, colonel in 1629, and ending up as field marshal of the Dutch army. Johan Maurice was a descendant of one of Orange’s brothers, Jan IV of Nassau. In 1625 no fewer than 25 other descendants of Jan IV served in the Dutch army, almost all as officers.

The hierarchical chain of command, the functional assignments to more experienced officers subject to formal regulations and the increased powers of the military authorities exercised in tandem with the Provincial States of Holland together made the States’ troops a model army of the time. Since the 1590s war had increasingly become `not an act of uncontrolled violence, but rather the orderly application of force, directed by a competent and legitimate authority, in the interest of the state’, exactly as the famous scholar Lipsius had recommended. Yet at the same time there remained a number of significant shortcomings. The absence of commanding officers, sometimes even during field operations, was endemic. It was all but impossible to dismiss officers guilty of fraud, insubordination or military incompetence, as any dismissal of a commanding officer would almost certainly lead to the disintegration of the company concerned.

Furthermore, though posts were not sold openly, captains were able to require `gifts’ from their successors. Regulations regarding the prohibition of the sale of military offices had to be amplified in 1628 and again in 1637.

Another problem was the high attrition rate in the number of troops. Maurice estimated that after a campaign of three or four months one-quarter to one-third of the men were lost due to desertion, disease or death. Such high `wastage’ rates were normal in early modern Europe. In the cavalry, the desertion of soldiers was much less of a problem, but the need to find good, strong horses to replace the animals crippled or killed restricted the availability of the horsemen. In the second half of the seventeenth century a cavalry horse cost 120 to 130 guilders, twice the annual pay for an infantryman.

An additional drawback affecting operational efficiency was that not all soldiers were acquainted with their senior commanders; neither did they always know their comrades in arms. Under Maurice, troops were divided in wintertime between the garrisons; he decided the composition of the regiments for the subsequent campaign and often redistributed soldiers to new units. The pressure of the Spanish counter-offensive of the early 1620s produced a change in this practice. The first permanent infantry regiment dated from 1623, when the troops were dissolved in wintertime but returned to the same units the following spring. Throughout the later decades of the Eighty Years War the continuing war threat kept regimental organization intact and encouraged regular exercise and drill, further enhancing professionalization. However, that was to change once peace was signed in 1648.

WWII US Army Heavy and Medium Field Artillery

The 240 mm Howitzer M1, popularly nicknamed the “Black Dragon”, was a towed howitzer used by the United States Army. The 240 mm M1 was designed to replace the World War I era 240 mm Howitzer M1918 which was based on a 1911 French design and was outdated by World War II. The project to replace the M1918 began in 1941. The 240 mm howitzer was the most powerful weapon deployed by US field artillery units during World War II, able to fire a 360 lb (160 kg) high explosive projectile 25,225 yards (23 km). It was the largest field piece used by the US Army during the war except for naval ordnance adapted into railway guns. The weapon addressed the requirement for super heavy field artillery capable of attacking heavily reinforced targets like those likely to be found along the Siegfried Line.

Because of the desire for mobility and maneuverability and because of the belief that the newly developing Army Air Corps would provide much of the support formerly furnished by the field artillery, the War Department did not place a very high priority on heavy artillery. In September 1942, the AGF recommended one hundred one battalions of heavy artillery (155-mm. and 8-inch guns and 240-mm. howitzers) and one hundred forty battalions of medium artillery (155-mm. howitzers and 4.5-inch guns) to be organized in addition to the division artillery units, but the following year, the War Department drastically reduced this number to fifty-four heavy and eighty-one medium battalions. The low number of authorized battalions made impossible the planning figure of 3.93 nondivisional field artillery battalions for each division as devised by the AGF. At no time during the war did the nondivisional field artillery battalions ever exceed the ratio of 2.89 battalions per division. From one hundred forty-two nondivisional field artillery battalions (thirty-two heavy, fifty-three medium, and fifty-seven light) active on 31 December 1942, the number expanded to three hundred twenty-six by 31 March 1945, of which one hundred thirty-seven were heavy, one hundred thirteen medium, and seventy-six light. The AGF had proposed considerable increases in heavy and medium artillery that the War Department did not accept in 1942. After combat experiences in Italy (especially Cassino in early 1944) proved that air support could not altogether replace heavy artillery, the department authorized more heavy and medium artillery than the AGF had originally requested.

The medium and heavy battalions were organized along lines similar to the division artillery battalions. Each had a headquarters and headquarters battery, a service battery, and three firing batteries. Each battalion was authorized two liaison airplanes for observation. With the exception of those in the 8-inch gun and 240-mm. howitzer battalions, each firing battery had four field artillery weapons, giving the battalion a total of twelve guns or howitzers. The 240-mm. howitzer and 8-inch gun battalions all had three firing batteries each, but the batteries had only two guns or howitzers each, for a total of six howitzers or guns in each battalion.

Nondivisional medium artillery usually served with divisions and corps in reinforcing and general-support missions. The 155-mm. howitzers were the same as those used in the division artillery, while the 4.5-inch field gun, capable of firing a 55-pound projectile over 11 miles (17.7 kilometers), was based on the British gun of the same caliber. Almost all artillerymen agreed that the howitzer was a splendid weapon suitable for its tasks, but few considered the 4.5-inch gun of much value except in long-range harassing missions.

In the heavy artillery category, the 155-mm. gun (“Long Tom”) was used for interdiction and counterbattery fire in the same manner as the 155-mm. howitzer, the gun permitting the attack of targets beyond the howitzer’s range. The weapon was also used for missions requiring greater velocity than the howitzers were capable of producing. Caterpillar tractors eventually replaced trucks as prime movers of all heavy artillery weapons. A self-propelled version of the 155-mm. gun was used effectively in support of armor. The 8-inch howitzer, slightly heavier than the 155-mm. gun, fired a heavier projectile at a shorter range. Considered by some to be one of the most accurate field artillery weapons in the inventory, its destructive and concussive effect was significant. The weapon was used effectively in operations against cities, heavy fortifications, communications lines, gun emplacements, and bridges behind enemy lines. The 8-inch gun was primarily used for long-range destruction of enemy communications lines and fortifications, but care had to be exercised in selecting targets because of its inaccuracy at long ranges. The 240-mm. howitzer, which fired the heaviest projectile then available, was used for all types of missions except close support.

The light nondivisional artillery battalions were organized under the same tables as their counterparts in the division artillery with minor differences. For example, nondivisional units were not authorized forward observer sections, which had been added to the divisional units in 1944 in response to numerous requests from field commanders for increased liaison and coordination between the divisional field artillery units and their supported infantry.

Han Dynasty Frontier Armies



One of the key transformations of Chinese society during the Han was the abolition of universal military service, an institution that had underpinned the Warring States and the Qin.22 With the Han’s defeat of the feudatory kingdoms in 154 B.C., the possibility of large-scale warfare in the interior of China vanished, leaving only the threat of the Xiongnu on the northern border. The inability of peasants serving one-year terms to master horsemanship and the crossbow left them ill-equipped for expeditionary forces. Their relatively short terms also made them unsuitable for long-term garrison duty. Emperor Wu allowed some peasants to pay a tax in lieu of military service and used this money to recruit professionals. Nomadic enemies of the Xiongnu and dissident elements of the Xiongnu themselves were also recruited to provide skilled cavalry. In some cases convicts were sent to the frontiers to man garrisons. Thus, during the last century B.C. the Chinese army began to shift away from peasant levies to an army based on professionals, nomads, and criminals.

The rebellion against Wang Mang turned this gradual and informal process into official policy. The rebellion had demonstrated that peasant conscripts could be turned against the state, especially during the autumn training session, when adult males of a commandery gathered for inspection. It also showed that peasants would follow locally powerful families to whom they were bound rather than officials. Training peasants to fight thus simply provided potential rebels with a superior quality of soldier. Furthermore, in the course of the rebellions, much of the population had been displaced, and loss of registered population meant a drastic decrease in tax income for the court. Motivated by the need to decrease expenditures and reduce internal threats, and by the uselessness of conscripts on the frontier, the newly established Eastern Han regime abolished both the annual training sessions and the local military officials. This did away with a formal peasant army, and left only a small, professional army stationed around the capital.

Following the split of the Xiongnu into southern and northern confederacies in 48 A.D., nomads were internally resettled on a large scale. To supervise these new inhabitants, the Eastern Han government set up standing army commands in camps at the frontier, one command for each major nomadic group resettled in China. These standing armies were manned by professional Han soldiers. The total number of troops in the camps is not recorded, but scattered citations indicate that they were in the tens of thousands. These camps remained a permanent feature of the Han army, and their troops took part in most of the major campaigns of the second century A.D.

Expeditionary armies were distinct from the standing armies, and drew their forces primarily from resettled barbarians. Most of the cavalry in the campaigns of the first century A.D. that destroyed the Xiongnu confederacy consisted of nomad soldiers. The Han founder had already employed tribal soldiers during the civil war. After the reign of Emperor Wu, these tribes were usually classified as “dependent states” and allowed to keep their own leaders and customs, under the supervision of a commandant. But the Eastern Han went beyond the policy of “using barbarians to control barbarians.” Non-Han soldiers also quelled internal rebellions, much as foreign mercenaries did for monarchs in early modern Europe. The histories record more than fifty cases of the participation of non-Han soldiers in Chinese armies. Twenty-seven of these list no Han troops in the forces involved, and six were under the command of tribal chieftains.

From this evidence it is clear that after the middle of the first century A.D. the primary source of mounted warriors was non-Han soldiers. State-controlled grasslands and stables for rearing military horses, which the Western Han had maintained since the reign of Emperor Jing in the second century B.C., were largely abandoned. The warlords of the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 A.D.) continued to rely on non-Han peoples to provide their cavalry.

In addition to using non-Han troops in their army, the Han also paid bounties for the heads of slain enemies. Xianbei chieftains, before submitting to the Han, received payments for the heads of Xiongnu. In 58 A.D. they again received payments for crushing a force of invading Wuhuan, and at that time they formally submitted. They received annual payments of 270,000,000 cash, and in return they controlled the Wuhuan and killed Xiongnu. Thus the most common military man in the Eastern Han was the nomad warrior serving the empire under the command of his tribal chieftain.


In contrast with the Warring States period, when regional cultures constituted the primary divisions in the Chinese sphere, the imagining of a world divided between nomads and Chinese marked a major step. It posited the fundamental unity of a single Chinese civilization defined by what was not nomadic, and it reduced regional divisions to secondary status. China first emerged as a unity through the invention of a Chinese/ nomad dichotomy, and this bipolar concept remained central to Chinese civilization in later periods.

It is ironic, then, that the political partition of the world into two spheres lasted only a few decades. In spite of increasing payments, Xiongnu incursions did not cease. Each agreement lasted a few years, only to be broken by a new invasion, which was followed in turn by demands for a resumption of peaceful relations based on an increase in payments. The Chinese attributed this to barbarian perfidy, but it reflected the nature of the Xiongnu state. While the Chinese emperor was unchallenged as chief lawgiver, judge, and administrator, power within the Xiongnu state was constrained and divided by kin bonds, customary practice, and horizontal segmentation between clans or tribes. The chanyu maintained control over his subordinate chiefs only by constant negotiations in which he was first among equals rather than an absolute authority. Consensus on his power hinged on his success in battle and distribution of booty.

In such a system, the chanyu could not refrain from military action indefinitely. Nor could he stop his subordinates from attacking on their own, for the power and prestige of chiefs likewise depended on their success in battle and distribution of booty. Sometimes they invaded because of tensions with local Chinese officials, sometimes because of resentment of the chanyu. The he qin policy failed because it relied on a structure of authority that did not exist among the Xiongnu.19

As treaty after treaty was violated, debates at the Chinese court were increasingly dominated by calls for war. Decades of peace had given the Chinese time to develop a new style of army based on cavalry and crossbows that could successfully engage the Xiongnu in the field. In 134 B.C. Emperor Wu finally undertook to destroy the Xiongnu through military action. Although his attempted ambush of the chanyu failed, in the decades that followed, Chinese armies pushed deep into Central Asia and inflicted substantial losses of both men and flocks on the Xiongnu.

However, Han losses were also considerable, and repeated campaigns drained the treasury without achieving any decisive result. Difficulties in transporting supplies and harsh weather meant that no army could spend even as much as one hundred days in the field, so victories could not be translated into an enduring occupation. Emperor Wu’s successors consequently abandoned his policy of launching expeditions and instead retired behind a defensive line, while refusing to pay tribute. This policy was successful, for it deprived the chanyu of Han tribute and also reduced his role as defender against Han invasions. The position of the chanyu deteriorated, and in 120 B.C. a dissident Xiongnu king surrendered to the Han with 40,000 men. In subsequent decades other chiefs refused to attend the chanyu’s court.20 Between 115 and 60 B.C. the Han also secured control of the former Xiongnu sphere of influence in eastern Central Asia (modern Xinjiang).

A battle over succession split the Xiongnu empire in 57 B.C., with no fewer than five kings claiming the title of chanyu. After several years one king acknowledged Han suzerainty, visited the Han court, and resettled inside China. This proved to be highly advantageous, for in exchange for obeisance he received generous gifts from the Han. He repeated his visit to the court in 49 and 33 B.C. and sent a son there as a hostage, whose well-being depended on his father’s good conduct and who learned Han culture. The wealth that the vassal chieftain gained allowed him to build up his following and defeat his rivals. Eventually, he grew powerful enough to return to the north and resume the old pattern of demanding tribute, until a second succession struggle renewed the civil war in 48 A.D. This led to a permanent split between the southern Xiongnu, who dwelt in China and submitted to the emperor, and the northern Xiongnu, who resided beyond the boundaries of the Han empire.

The southern Xiongnu became dependent on Han assistance, as indicated in 88 A.D. in a memorial from the southern chanyu: “Your servant humbly thinks back on how since his ancestor submitted to the Han we have been blessed with your support, keeping a sharp watch on the passes and providing strong armies for more than forty years. Your subjects have been born and reared in Han territory and have depended entirely on the Han for food. Each year we received gifts counted in the hundreds of millions [of cash].”21 This policy of resettling nomads still grouped in their tribes inside the Chinese empire would have disastrous long-term consequences, as we will see, leading to a breakdown in civil order in the northwest and the southward flight of large numbers of Han Chinese.

Although the northern Xiongnu continued to defy the Han, they were defeated on several occasions by allied armies of the Han and the southern Xiongnu. Moreover, other tribal peoples such as the Wuhuan and Xianbei broke away from the Xiongnu and received large bounties from the Han for killing Xiongnu. In 87 A.D. a Xianbei army defeated the Xiongnu, killed the northern chanyu, and flayed his body. More than 200,000 Xiongnu tribesmen surrendered after this defeat, and a great Han victory in 89 A.D. completed the destruction of the Xiongnu state.



A wire screen protects this M113. The crew can take cover in their bunker. (111-CC-64235)

Each infantry division had an Armored Cavalry Squadron responsible for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and security missions. (Note: The cavalry squadron was the equivalent of an infantry battalion, while the cavalry troop equated to an infantry company; both arms used the term platoon.)


DIVISION SQUADRON: 1st Infantry 1/4th Cavalry, 23d Infantry 1/1st Cavalry, 4th Infantry 1/10th Cavalry, 25th Infantry 3/4th Cavalry, 9th Infantry 3/5th Cavalry, 101st Airborne 2/17th Cavalry, 1/1st Cavalry served with Task Force Oregon before joining 23d Division


The squadron had twenty-one officers, two warrant officers and 240 enlisted men organized into a headquarters troop and three armored cavalry troops, A, B and C. The troops were equipped with M113A1 armored personnel carriers (APCs) for reconnaissance and M48A3 tanks (replaced by the M551 Sheridan) for firepower. Troop D was an Air Cavalry Squadron armed with observation, transport and helicopter gunships for aerial reconnaissance.

The headquarters troop rode in six M577 command carriers and ten M113 personnel carriers; four M132 flamethrower carriers dealt with bunkers. Ten 6-ton cargo carriers distributed ammunition while two M88 recovery vehicles and three 5-ton wrecker trucks recovered disabled vehicles. Ten 5-ton, fifteen 2½-ton, seven ¾-ton trucks and eighteen ¼-ton utility trucks provided transport.


The Troop was organized into a headquarters and three platoons and although organization often varied, it had around five officers and 192 enlisted men. Twenty-two M113s acted as command vehicles and personnel carriers. Nine M48 tanks gave direct close support while three M125 81mm mortar carriers gave indirect support. Transport was provided by one 2½-ton, one ¾-ton and three ¼-ton utility trucks; an M88 recovery vehicle recovered damaged vehicles.

The troop headquarters had four M113s. A captain ran his troop from the headquarters (APC) while the forward artillery observer, a lieutenant, kept in contact with the divisional artillery through the radio operator. The crew of the communications APC controlled the radio net while two radar APCs could set up ground surveillance radar to cover the troop’s perimeter.

Each platoon was led by a lieutenant and he led six M113s, one mortar carrier and three tanks. The scout section had four APCs organized into two squads to locate targets, so the tank section and the infantry APC could move in to engage it, while the mortar APC gave indirect fire support or fired smoke.

In action the driver continued to operate the M113 while the vehicle commander fired the .50-cal M2 and the two observers fired the M-60 machine guns (one acted as loader if he had no targets on his side). Each crew member had an M16 rifle and the vehicle carried an M79 grenade launcher. The platoon usually rode on and fought from their vehicles, however, the infantry APC carried a squad to search inaccessible areas. The M125A1 81mm Mortar Carrier provided indirect fire support for the platoon.

The tank section had three M48A3s and it was led by the lead tank’s commander; his two tanks were controlled by tank commanders. All three tanks had a driver, a gunner and a loader. The M48s were replaced by the lighter and faster M551 Sheridan, starting in 1969.

Mines were a constant worry for the cavalry troop and the APC crews often reinforced the floor of their vehicles with sandbags. Four-man engineer teams were often assigned to each troop to sweep for mines.

Each troop had a medic team when it was on operations and they either rode with the radar M113s or the squadron loaned them an M113 as an armored ambulance. A casualty clearing station would usually be set up next to the communications M113 so the medics could call in helicopters to retrieve the wounded.


The commander of an M113 receives new orders as it breaks through the undergrowth during one of 4th Division’s operations in the Central Highlands. (111-CC-59146)

The M113, and its variants, was a lightweight aluminum armored personnel carrier and its low ground pressure allowed the carrier to operate in many areas of South Vietnam, even during the monsoon season. It was able to cross paddy dikes and small streams, while crews were trained to recover their vehicles with winches, cables and beams. The M113s gave squads greater mobility while the armor protected anyone inside from small arms fire and shell fragments. However, the carriers were vulnerable to mines and men often preferred to sit on top of their vehicle rather than sweat it out inside. Some squads stacked sandbags inside to absorb an explosion but the added weight reduced speed and range.

The standard M113 was armed with a 12.7mm [50 Caliber M2] machine gun and a 7.62mm [M60] machine gun and it could carry up to 2,000 rounds of ammunition. It was 4.46m long, 2.33m wide, 2.16m high and weighed nearly 11.5 tons. The gas (petrol) engine in the A1 version had a maximum speed of 40mph but they were vulnerable to enemy fire and most M113s in Vietnam were the A2 variant fitted with a diesel engine.

Several M113 variants were deployed and the body of the M577 command variant was higher to allow the staff inside to work at map tables and operate their communications equipment while the M114A1 reconnaissance version was smaller and only weighed 7.5 tons; the unarmed M548 cargo carrier could carry up to 6 tons of equipment or ammunition for the rest of the platoon. Two variants carried mortars for providing indirect support. The M125A1 variant was armed with a 81mm mortar and it had an effective range of 3,650m. The M106A1 was armed with the heavier 107mm (4.2in) mortar with an effective range of 5,500m. A variety of field modifications were made to the M113 to suit the conditions in Vietnam, including a portable scissor bridge and fire-fighting equipment.


Once it became clear that the M113 was as effective fighting vehicles, upgrade kits were deployed to armored cavalry units. Gun shields, pintle mounts and hatch armor gave the crew extra protection. Kit A allowed a .50in machine gun to be fitted to the commander’s cupola and two 7.62mm [M60] machine guns either side of the troop compartment. Modified versions allowed miniguns, recoilless rifles or grenade launchers to be fitted above the commander’s cupola. Kit B fitted a .50mm [50 Caliber M2] machine gun mounting to the mortar variants.



The M551 was a high-speed, yet heavily armed, armored reconnaissance vehicle capable of operating in swampy areas. It was developed to replace the heavy M48 tanks operating with the divisional and regimental cavalry squadrons (11th Armored Cavalry continued to use their M48). The main weapon, a 152mm M81 gun/missile launcher, was equipped with advanced night-vision equipment; the tank also had a .50in [50 Caliber M2] machine gun and a 7.62mm [M60] machine gun. The tank had a four-man crew and the diesel engine had a maximum speed of 43mph. It was 6.30m long, 2.79m wide, 2.95m high and weighed 16.7 tons.

The first Sheridans were delivered to 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry and the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in 1969 but confidence in the new tank was undermined when a mine ruptured the hull and detonated the ammunition inside one. There were reliability issues with the missile electronics and the caseless ammunition but the combination of the night sight and the 152mm canister round proved to be effective. Over 200 Sheridans were in action by the end of 1970.