Askari

“Askari” was a term applied to local Africans who served in European colonial forces. The entomology of the word comes from the Arabic word soldier and, as it was most commonly used in the eastern African context, reflects the mixed Swahili culture of the region. The term also means someone who is “locally recruited,” which carries special import in terms of Africans recruited from the colonies to serve European interests. The importance of the askari to the colonial project underscores the true nature of imperialism. Despite the claims of imperialists that European success was due to their cultural, racial, or technological superiority, the reality of most colonial conquest underscores European dependence on Africans to accomplish the aims of imperialism. For example, the famous colonial standoff at Fashoda, in that the French force consisted of seven Frenchmen and around 140 Senegalese, illustrates this reliance. African askari were of critical importance to nearly all of the colonial powers, although the manner in which they were organized and employed was as varied as the colonizers themselves.

What was common to the colonizers, at least initially, was a firm belief in a hierarchy of “martial races” that meant Africans from certain communities were seen as naturally good soldiers for the Europeans. Not only were these races deemed strong and hearty (useful qualities in any soldier), but also they were considered most willing to obey European officers. Often, this led to common recruitment practices as Europeans attempted to maximize their use of these martial races. Prized for their effectiveness against the forces of the Egyptian Khedive, and later against Europeans under the Mahdi, were Sudanese troops. Sudanese were recruited by both the British and the Germans, for example, to staff their initial forces. Even after such common recruiting practices went away, largely due to the solidification of colonial divisions, this belief in racial or ethnic hierarchy was sim- ply transferred to the specific colony or colonial holdings of the respective powers. Beyond racial categorization, askari often would be recruited on ethnic lines to ensure the connection of one people, group, or region to the colonizers. The very nature of recruitment was designed to divide and conquer the colony.

African soldiers were often utilized in regions not connected to their ethnic background to ensure that there would be no chance of common cause between colonial troops and African civilians. These tactics underscore that the role of the askari was as much about internal security as about de- fending the colony from foreign threats. Beyond such racial and political justifications were the practical matter that utilizing African troops made colonial conquest and administration far less costly in money and European lives. Every askari in a colonial force lowered the monetary cost of administration, as well as the risk to European troops, who often suffered mightily from the African climate and African diseases.

As Belgium’s King Leopold II served as one of the major catalyzing agents for the Scramble for Africa, it is unsurprising that his Force Publique (FP) employed askari. Leopold’s force reflected the views of the “martial race,” with his force initially recruiting heavily from the Sudan. Of the initial 2,000 askari, for example, only 111 were Congolese. Only in the 1890s were local chiefs required to produce recruits for ser vice to fill out the ranks. During the period of personal rule, the line between soldier and mercenary was thin, with the askari more readily employed as overseers to punish those African civilians who did not meet their rubber quotas. Famously, the Belgians went out of their way to recruit cannibals in order to heighten the potential terror of their troops. The largest action of the FP was during the Congo- Arab War, to repress Arab population centers along the Lualaba River. The war involved a massive number of African troops as the FP absorbed mercenaries and irregulars into their forces to quell the Arab states. After a three- year war, the Belgians were able to defeat the remaining Arab positions and solidify their control over the Free State. After the Belgian government acquired the colony, the askari became a more regularized force, both in weaponry and organization, which enabled the FP to acquit themselves in Africa during World War I.

In the British case, the use of Africans to fight for British interests was originally an ad-hoc affair. Frederick Lugard helped create the Central African Rifles and Uganda Rifles when serving the interests of British companies attempting to solidify their hold over the African interior. Eventually these ad- hoc units, as well as the East African Rifles, combined to form the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in 1902. The KAR served with distinction in colonial campaigns in Somalia and the German East Africa campaign of World War I. Lugard was also responsible for the creation of the askari forces in the British possessions in West Africa. He was the founding commander of the West African Frontier Force (WAFF), which was an amalgamation of a number of ad- hoc units in West Africa. This force was organized in order to protect Nigeria’s hinterland from French encroachment. Lugard utilized the force, however, to conquer the Sokoto caliphate in what is now northern Nigeria. The WAFF fought in World War I in Africa and was renamed the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) in 1928.

Despite the common utilization of the term askari, it is most readily associated with the German Schutztruppe (Protective Force) of the respective German colonies. Like other colonial forces, these units were created out of necessity to meet the needs of the imperial venture. In 1888, after suffering under the exploitive rule of Carl Peters and his German East Africa Company, Africans led an uprising against the company that took over nearly the entire coast. The German government, in responding to this threat against their interests, sent a force under the command of Hermann von Wissmann to repress the revolt. Originally, this Wissmann-Truppe consisted of a polyglot assembly of Africans (600 Sudanese, 100 Zulu from Mozambique, 80 East Africans, and 40 Somali), in line with the common European attitude of the martial races. The Sudanese were deemed the bravest soldiers with some Germans referring to them as “black lansquenets” in homage to the Germanic mercenary soldiers. This force, which was used to crush the rebel- lion, was then made the official protective force of East Africa by the German government. While initially relying on foreign Africans, the Schutztruppe shifted to utilizing locally recruited Africans (in other words, askari), primarily from the Nyamwezi people located in western Tanganyika. This region, heavily connected to the caravan culture of east Africa which required the service of young men as soldiers and porters, served as an attractive area of recruitment. While the forces in East Africa have attracted the most historic attention, largely due to their success in World War I, another primarily African Schutztruppe force was formed in German Cameroon, while an entirely white cavalry force was created in German South West Africa. These forces served as the punitive and protective force in the German colonies and then became the main fount of German resistance during World War I. Under Paul von Lettow-Vorbek, the east African Schutztruppe proved a thorn in the side of the British, as the Germans were able to conduct a guerilla campaign that tied down British imperial troops throughout the entire war.

Further Reading Jonas, Raymond. The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2011. Moyd, Michelle R. Violent Intermediaries: African Soldiers, Conquest, and Everyday Colonialism in German East Africa. Athens: Ohio University, 2014. Page, Malcolm. A History of the King’s African Rifles. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2011. Parsons, Timothy. The African rank and file: Social implications of colonial military ser- vice in the King’s African Rifles, 1902-1964. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999. Vandervort, Bruce. Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa 1830-1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

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Napoleonic Navy ‘Ashore’

Isar River, Freysing, Bavaria, April 1809

Capitaine de Vaisseau Pierre Baste was `supervising’ a recovery operation after the officers’ baggage of his command, sailors of the Battalion of the Danube and the 44e Bataillon de Flotille, had been dumped into the river. The train troops who had been carrying the baggage swore that the dumping and soaking of the baggage had been nothing but an accident. How much Baste believed that was still to be seen. He was standing tight-lipped on the river bank while details were fishing in the river for the baggage, bringing it up one piece at a time.

The officers and senior NCOs of the train were not as subdued as Baste. They were swearing and shouting for their men to get a move on and recover the baggage as soon as possible, for they had already been behind schedule and they knew that Baste had a reputation for blistering invective as well as being a disciplinarian and they did not want to experience his naval vocabulary, among other unpleasant things.

Some of the naval ratings had thought the incident hilarious but were quickly and efficiently silenced by their officers and NCOs, and now were quietly sitting back from the river eating their rations. Baste had stopped their officers from taking out their frustrations on the train troops, who were in enough trouble. Some of the naval officers were attempting to dry out their sodden clothing from the recovered baggage.

It took the sullen train troops over five hours to recover all of the lost baggage, and once again it was being loaded on the vehicles to continue their march to rendezvous with the Army of Germany. Baste mounted his horse, nodded to his senior maitre, and the two battalions fell in and began crossing the pontoon bridge on their way to the rumbling guns.

Napoleonic Navy ‘Ashore’

Whatever the French Navy did or failed to do on the high seas, elements of it served usefully with the French Army. In 1796 in Italy, Napoleon improvised gunboat flotillas on Lake Mantua and Lake Garda, using local boats armed with captured cannon and bedecked with showy flags. A young naval officer named Pierre Baste, who would later command the sailors of the Imperial Guard and die in action as a general at Brienne in 1814, helped to organize them. There was another squadron of gunboats operating along the west coast of Italy; Desaix mentioned meeting a Capitaine de Frigate La Sybille, 16 who commanded all three squadrons when he visited Napoleon in 1797. These small craft were always handy for scouting and shifting small bodies of troops. Thus, during the touch-and-go battle of Rivoli in January 1797 Murat used them to bring a demi-brigade across Lake Garda in time to help cut off the Austrians’ retreat. (Later Murat would jingle the odd-seeming title of Grand Admiral of France among his horseman’s honors, but at least he had this one small claim to it, which was more than many of its princely holders, before and after, could match.)

One battalion of navy artificers (soon designated the “Battalion of the Danube”) and the 44th Bataillon de Flottille followed the Grande Armee into Austria as part of the engineer parc. Baste, now a capitaine de vaisseau, commanded them both. The campaign started awkwardly with their train troops managing (by accident, let us trust) to drop the officers’ baggage wagons off the Freysing pontoon bridge for a five-hour soaking. Thereafter, and possibly therefore, things started clicking. The amount of work done by the two battalions is amazing. Each company of naval artificers had brought a tool wagon; each of the flottille sailors carried (or was supposed to carry) a tool, each squad in each company lugging a different type. They built bridges, boats, landing craft, 20 and a floating battery, and organized a water transport system on the Danube to speed up supply. Baste led them on small-scale reconnaissances and raids, one of which located and destroyed an Austrian fire boat. At the same time they blocked Austrian attempts to reconnoiter Napoleon’s activities, giving Napoleon complete control of the Danube in the Passau-Vienna area. During the night crossing before Wagram, they ferried the first French assault units across and helped to “throw” the pontoon bridges between Lobau Island and the north bank of the Danube, while their gunboats ran in to provide shortrange gunfire support and smother the remaining Austrian outposts along the north bank. They took one Austrian-held island by boarding it, just as if it had been an enemy warship. All that was done, and thoroughly, by men mostly new to combat. Yet, unfortunately, popular opinion somehow attributed it all to the sailors of the Guard, who arrived a couple of weeks after Wagram had been fought and won!

Another problem in 1809 could be handled in more routine navy fashion. Concerned over the threat of English light warships to the sea communications between Eugene in Italy and Marmont in Illyria, Napoleon dispatched two frigates and several corvettes and brigs to patrol the upper Adriatic in the Venice-Ancona-Ragusa area and a detachment of naval artillerymen to stiffen the defenses of Venice. He also continued the heartbreaking task of trying to develop a combat-worthy Italian Navy.

To return to the 44th Bataillon de Flottille, its luck ran out. Massena took it and the 43d Bataillon to Spain in 1810 and left the 44th to guard his overcrowded hospital when he moved to envelop Wellington’s ridgeline position at Bussaco. Trant’s Portuguese militia and irregulars swooped down, ammunition ran out, and there was nothing to do but surrender. Despite Marbot’s accusations, Trant seems to have restrained his amateurs’ baser impulses, but if few French throats were cut, many French pockets undoubtedly were. The 43d Bataillon did well at all sorts of odd jobs, including infantry combat.

In February 1811 the navy found itself suddenly short of sailors. An “extraordinary” levy took four hundred from Corsica and two hundred from the Ionian Islands. The admiral commanding at Toulon was permitted to select two hundred apprehended refractaires who had been born near the sea.

The shortage may very well have been due to the increasing diversion of navy personnel to the land armies. One battalion of naval artificers, named Bataillon Espagne, also went to Spain in 1810, serving there until early 1813. Two battalions, Danube and the 1st Bataillon de I’Escaut (Scheldt), were assigned to the Grande Armee’s engineer part in 1812. They totaled close to 1,800 men, supposedly the pick of their service. Some of them were with Eble at the Beresina bridges; those that got out of Russia ended with the beleaguered garrison of Danzig, where they doubtless manned Rapp’s improvised squadron of gunboats.

Meanwhile Baste with the 4th and 17th equipages de flottille had been laboring on the Grande Armee’s line of communications, moving supplies along streams, canals, rivers, and the sheltered waters of the Baltic coast. A few of those sailors also were at the Beresina.

Eighteen-thirteen was a year of Navy woe and lamentation. To build his new army, Napoleon ruthlessly converted sailors into soldiers. Before Russia, the naval artificers had totaled some seven thousand officers and men; approximately five thousand remained. One thousand of their biggest and best were plucked for replacements for the sapeur and pontonnier battalions. Espagne was recalled for service in Germany; it ended at Torgau with another battalion, apparently the 2d Escaut. Serving equally as infantry or gunners as the situation might require, they proved the most reliable element of the garrison of that disease-ravaged fortress. Napoleon hoped to get another battalion of them for the Grande Armee, but Decres reported only some three thousand ouvriers left. None had more than two years of service, and most were weakly apprentices.

The artillerie de la marine went the same hard road. With the exception of a battalion sent to Portugal with Junot, it had seen little combat service since 1801-02 and had some eight thousand well-trained men averaging twenty-three years of age. Napoleon transferred them to the army and reformed them-with some conscript padding-into four infantry regiments (often called “naval infantry”), the number of battalions in each regiment being doubled. The necessary officers were provided by promotions within the regiments, recent St. Cyr graduates, and Velites out of the Imperial Guard. Five hundred of the best (probably the oldest) gun captains were left with the navy, their regiments carrying them on special rosters as on detached service. Once formed, those regiments were milked for cadres for eight companies of foot artillery and four hundred more men for the artillery of the Guard. The army issued them overcoats and three pairs of good shoes; the overcoats happened to be blue, like those of the Old Guard.

Most of this naval infantry was assigned Marmont’s VI Corps. He found them splendid material, though their senior officers-elderly, sedentary “homesteaders” with “bourgeois” interests that did not include being shot at-rather frightened him. Once shaken down under competent army generals of brigade, however, the naval gunners made excellent infantrymen. Their steadiness under heavy fire at Lutzen, plus those blue overcoats, fooled the Allies into thinking they were part of the Guard. They served capably through the campaigns of 1813 and 1814 despite heavy losses at Lutzen and Leipzig. In 1814 the Bourbons gave them back to the navy as a three-regiment Corps Royal des Canonniers de la Marine.

During 1813 and 1814 the navy as a whole had been further screened for able-bodied men, to be used as filler replacements for the infantry, artillery, and engineers or as poorly recorded independent units. There is bare mention of a 1st Bataillon de Marins (Battalion of Sailors), mostly men from the ports of the Somme River, which broke up a Russian rear guard in a night bayonet attack at Etoges in 1814.

The Bourbons had little time for the navy during their 1814-15 period of confusion before the Hundred Days. On his return, Napoleon formed most of the available navy personnel into regiments for the defense of the naval bases so that army units in garrison there could be withdrawn for duty with the armies in the field. Fourteen had formed or were forming by the day of his second abdication; at least some of them had army-style elite companies. Two battalions of the artillerie de la marine were summoned to Paris, and one was sent to Lyon, to assist in emplacing fortress artillery; the speed and skill of their work were judged remarkable. Other battalions served efficiently with punitive columns in Vendee.

The 14th Regiment de Marins, stationed on the Ile d`Aix near Rochefort, were the last French troops to cheer their Emperor before he trustingly asked asylum from the British government. By odd chance, in his threadbare cadet boyhood he had been thought good material for a naval officer and had taken some time deciding to be an artilleryman on land rather than a cannoneer afloat.

Luftwaffe pilots and crew exhaustion in the Battle of Britain

“Target London”

”This is the best Luftwaffe bomber painting I have ever seen…it captures the atmosphere exactly”

Hajo Herrmann K.C.O.S.

In September 1940, the final phase of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe turned its attention away from the RAF’s airfields and made London its target. This fascinatingly detailed painting depicts a devastating raid which took place on September 15th when more than one hundred Heinkel 111 and Dornier bombers swarmed over the docklands and the East End. Believing the RAF to be down to their last 50 fighters, the Luftwaffe had not expected much opposition, and so were greatly surprised to be met by no fewer than 28 squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires. One He111 of KG53 is seen here having been hit, before struggling back to France. Many others were not so fortunate and, by the end of the day, the German losses were so great that Hitler postponed the invasion of Britain indefinitely.

Luftwaffe pilots were given leave, but usually only after a number of months in the front line. By the second week of October, Siegfried Bethke was one of only four pilots remaining from those far-off days of May, and one of those was home on leave. Several of the new pilots he had sent back for being ‘too soft’. One of the other originals was struggling with Kanalkrankheit – the combat fatigue version. ‘Rothkirch is not adding up,’ he noted – he had flown just eight missions in two months. ‘He’s always “sick”. A pathetic figure.’ A few days later, Hauptmann Helmut Wick returned from Berlin, where he had been awarded the Eichenlaub – ‘Oak Leaves’ – to his Knight’s Cross, an award given for forty victories. Hitler himself had placed it around his neck. Wick reported back all that he had been told. Both Hitler and Göring, he said, still hoped the Luftwaffe would completely destroy the British fighters in a few days of good weather. Siegfried thought that impossible. ‘It is also hoped,’ he noted, recording much of what Wick had told him, ‘that through the blockade, there will be serious disruptions to supplies in England. Unfortunately, not enough submarines off the west coast of England.’

At Coquelles, as losses mounted, the evening debates were becoming increasingly tense. It was not helping these young pilots to endlessly discuss tactics at night. With leave so infrequent, they needed to use the time off from operations to try and put the fighting to one side and relax – but there was little chance for that, it seemed. The biggest complaints came from the NCO pilots, who felt strongly that too many of the commanders were glory hunters only interested in getting medals. It did not seem fair to them that awards should only be handed out for aerial victories, when it often took more bravery to sit at the back of the formation, keeping watch over the glory boys’ backsides. Ulrich had quite a lot of sympathy – he had never thought much of the special treatment given to men like Dolfo Galland.

Of greater concern to him as a senior member of the Staffel was the loss of pilots as well as the shortage of aircraft. At the beginning of the western campaign, their Gruppe had had thirty-six experienced pilots with at least three years in the Luftwaffe under their belts. Now they were getting new boys straight from fighter school, and unlike in Fighter Command, there was no structure in place by which they could be given further training before being thrown into the front line. He and Kühle did their best to take care of these fledglings until they had acquired a bit more experience but this was not always possible.

At the end of September, a new NCO pilot arrived with minimal flying time and only a tiny amount of air-to-ground gunnery. He had never flown using oxygen and had no idea how to use his radio. Ulrich gave him around ten hours of extra ‘tuition’, taking him and some of the other new boys out across the Channel to shoot at shadows or at the old lighthouse at Dungeness. But they could not be kept off operations for ever so Ulrich took his particular charge and made him his wingman. Climbing out over the Channel, the Gefreiter struggled to keep up and it was clear he had no idea how to manage his propeller pitch control. Eventually, Kühle ordered him home, but instead of heading for France, the new boy made for Dover. Ulrich raced after him, catching up just before they reached the balloon barrage. Only by violently rocking his wings did Ulrich manage to make him understand, and then he led him back. It was one of only two missions he missed all through the battle. ‘They were supposed to be replacements,’ noted Ulrich, ‘but in the event they were more of a problem for us than reinforcement for the Staffel.’

This simply put greater pressure on the more experienced ones. There were increasingly more cases of Kanalkrankheit in the 2nd Staffel too. Ulrich had noticed that Oberfeldwebel Grosse, a Condor Legion veteran, had begun to fly back home more and more frequently with ‘engine trouble’. ‘It seemed you could just wear out like any other machine,’ noted Ulrich. ‘And that is where things were going wrong; we just weren’t getting a break.’

It was much the same for the bomber crews. Hajo Herrmann bombed the port at Great Yarmouth on 5 October, then London three nights later, and the night after that, and the night after that. And again two nights later and for another three nights on the trot. By 18 October, he had carried out twenty-one attacks on London alone, and nearly ninety combat missions since the start of the war, a truly astonishing number, and way, way more than his British counterparts would ever have been expected to fly. That night, as he took off with two 1,000 kg bombs beneath him, his left tyre shredded on some bomb splinters that had not been cleared after an earlier attack by Bomber Command, and he crashed, wrecking the aircraft. Fortunately the bombs did not explode, but Hajo was pulled from the wreckage unconscious. He had broken a lumbar vertebra and strained another and suffered some cuts and concussion. When he came to he wept uncontrollably. ‘Why, I don’t know.’ Then he spotted a Knight’s Cross on the bedside lamp. The doctor told him the Reichsmarschall had personally awarded it to him three days earlier. He had forgotten the occasion completely.

Peter Stahl was flying over London almost as often as Hajo, and often three nights running, something that would never have been demanded of Bomber Command crews. His Staffel was also struggling with inexperienced new crews. On 16 October, during yet another night attack on London, four crews failed to return and two crashed on landing, although the men escaped alive. But six aircraft out of nine was a terrible night of losses. In the bus back to their quarters afterwards they discussed what point there was in sending out hundreds of aircrews every night without any hope of reasonable results. ‘And tomorrow,’ noted Peter, ‘the communiqué of the OKW will state that our brave aircrews have flown another major operation and despite bad weather conditions, have inflicted devastating blows on various vital targets. Our own losses were only “minimal”!’

There was no leave for Hans-Ekkehard Bob either, who as a Staffel commander was very much expected to lead the way. On constant front-line duty since the opening of the western campaign, he had now been given even greater responsibilities, for on 2 October Kesselring had visited JG 54 and ordered Trautloft to form one of his Staffeln from each Gruppe into a Jagdbomber – fighter-bomber – unit, and from the third Gruppe had chosen Hans’s 7th Staffel for the task. The Jabo pilots – as they were known – of Erpro 210 had all been carefully trained in such operations, but Hans and his pilots had never ever carried out such a task; many doubted it was really possible. There was only one way to find out, and Hans opted to be the first to try and fly with a 250 kg bomb strapped underneath the plane. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but worked. The key now was to get the men trained as Jabos as quickly as possible. On 4 October, four of Trautloft’s best pilots, Hans included, took off for a practice mission to Dungeness – the ruined lighthouse was becoming a favoured marker for the Luftwaffe pilots. The results were not encouraging, but after more practice it was decided that attacking in a low, shallow dive produced the least inaccurate results. Hans later bombed Tilbury Docks in London, but the Jabos were not really very effective. The Me 109 was simply not designed for such a role and the pilots had not been given enough training. Even experienced Experten like Hans could not suddenly become fighter-bomber marksmen overnight.

The fighting continued – the Luftwaffe lost 379 aircraft in October and Fighter Command 185 – but the Germans were further away than ever from achieving air superiority. On 4 October, after all the blistering air battles of September, Fighter Command had, for the first time, more than 700 fighters ready to take to the skies. The Germans could keep coming over all they liked, but they were not going to win. Neither Göring nor Hitler had any idea of the true strength of Fighter Command, but they now began to accept that the great battle against Britain had failed – for 1940, at any rate. On 12 October, Hitler finally postponed SEALION until the following spring. Naval personnel and shipping were to be released, tugs and barges returned to their normal, much-needed roles, although many of the divisions allocated for the invasion were to remain along the coastal areas. All that effort, all that cost; it had come to nothing. Air operations over Britain would continue, especially the night bombing, but Hitler was now ever more set upon his next course of action. If Britain could not be brought to heel now, then she would once the Soviet Union had been absorbed into the Third Reich.

Last Flight

On the last Sunday in October, the 27th, Ulrich Steinhilper woke up early. His tent smelled musty, and it was cold; winter was on its way. With some effort, he pulled back the blankets and got up, staggering over to the makeshift washstand. He looked tired, he knew, his eyes dark, his cheeks thin. But he was tired. He had flown over 150 combat missions over England. On one day he had even flown seven sorties, excessive even by Luftwaffe standards.

He was on Early Alarm, which meant being at dispersal by dawn, mercifully later now that the days were rapidly shortening. Having shaved, he dressed, putting his trousers and shirt straight over his pyjamas, then with two others drove over to dispersal. A low mist hung over the greying stubble fields that were their runways. Smells of coffee and food came from the tented camp at one side of the airfield. Groundcrews stamped feet and rubbed hands to keep warm, while pilots smoked cigarettes.

Helmut Kühle, Ulrich’s Staffelkapitän, suddenly drove up in his car, having been to the morning briefing. ‘Protect the fighter-bombers,’ he told the waiting pilots. ‘Target London. Take off 09.05 hours.’

Ulrich now hurried over to his plane, Yellow 2, with its five stripes on the tail, one stripe for each of his victories. His mechanic, Peter, was already waiting for him on the port wing. Clambering up, Ulrich put on his harness with Peter’s help, then clambered into the tight cockpit. Reaching for the starter lever, he felt the aircraft rock gently as Peter began to wind up the eclipse starter before it could be engaged, so turning over the Daimler-Benz 601 engine. Pulling the starter, Ulrich felt the engine roar into life and then set the throttle lightly forwards so that he could complete his start-up checks. The other eight remaining Me 109s were all running now, then they began to emerge from their camouflaged dispersal pens. This was all that could be mustered from the entire Gruppe.

As he finished his taxi, Ulrich glanced around him, then pushed the throttle on to full power and felt the Messerschmitt surge forward. He lifted the tail as the machine bumped over the rough field, Yellow 2 bounced a little, then suddenly the jolting stopped as the plane became airborne. Retracting the undercarriage, he waited a few moments whilst his speed increased, then eased back the control column and began to climb away. Looking either side of him, he watched the position of the others and then they began to tighten up for the climb.

They met cloud over Kent, but as they approached London the sky cleared, just as the met officer had predicted. Everyone began scanning the sky, but nothing could be seen – yet. The engine in front of him throbbed rhythmically. It was noisy in any fighter, but with his headphones strapped close to his ears it became such a constant background thrum that he might as well have been flying in silence; and the silence in his headset only added to the tension he felt as he waited for the moment the British fighters would be spotted.

Ulrich continued searching the sky behind, in front, either side, below, but especially above. Suddenly a voice full of static crackled in his ear, ‘Raven calling! Raven calling! Eleven o’clock high! Eleven o’clock high. Condensation trails, same course.’ Ulrich looked up and saw them now, about 3,000 feet above, to their left, the vivid white contrails clear against the deep blue. The fighting had got higher in recent weeks. The Gruppe were already at 32,000 feet, which meant the Spitfires were now at 35,000, an incredible height. It was hard flying at those heights. The 109 did not like it and the pilots had to constantly change the propeller pitch and throttle to improve performance: with a fine pitch, they could increase the RPM and get more pressure from the engine’s supercharger, but by then switching to coarse pitch they could make up some speed, which was essential if they were to keep up with the rest of the formation.

But there was something up with Yellow 2. Ulrich was struggling to change pitch. Most probably condensation had begun to collect in the grease of the pitch-changing gear during the cold nights of the past week, and now, at 32,000 feet, it had frozen, which had affected the pitch control. For a moment, Ulrich thought about turning back but then dismissed the idea, opting instead to keep the pitch fine and run the engine at high revs and rely on the supercharger to help maintain speed. It meant the engine would be running at a level higher than the recommended RPM, but that happened all the time in combat. In any case, having made his decision to fly on, he did not have any other choice.

A pattern had emerged in this latest phase of the air battle. The Luftwaffe’s planes would assemble and set course for London. The Tommies, meanwhile, warned of the approaching raid, would climb up high and wait for them. They would then patrol the sky, and just as the German formations turned for home at their tactically weakest point and at the limit of the fighters’ range, they would pounce, from height with the sun behind them. Now, as the moment to turn for home approached, Ulrich waited for the order with increasing trepidation.

The Jabos began their attack, the radio suddenly full of chatter until there were so many different voices that the noise merged into a jarring whistling. Moments later and the formation was turning, but to the left, rather than the right, as they had been expecting. The eight machines of I/JG 52 quickly manoeuvred into their Rotte position, Ulrich’s wingman, Lothar Schieverhöfer, moving in beside and behind him. Suddenly someone shouted, ‘Out of the sun! Out of the sun!’ and Ulrich swivelled and craned his neck upwards to see a number of Spitfires diving down towards Lothar. Ulrich shouted out a warning and tried to move to protect his tail, only to see him doing the same. Behind, at least four Spitfires were stepped up, each lining up to fire. Ulrich now dived away, his revs way too high, so at 22,000 feet he levelled out, eyeing a safe-looking bank of cloud below. He was wondering whether Lothar had got away when suddenly there was a loud bang as something exploded on the left side of his machine, and as something clattered into his elevator his stick shook in his hands. Frantically looking around, he could see no sign of the enemy so decided it must have been his supercharger that had blown. Glancing at his instrument panel, he saw everything still appeared to be working, but his oil pressure was dropping dramatically. Air speed was around 400 mph in his shallow dive and he was still able to weave from side to side, so he pushed the stick forward, put the nose down, and dived down towards the cloud layer, reaching the milky mass at around 6,000 feet. Moments later he was out into the blindingly bright sun, but at least it enabled him to get a fix. If he was on course for home, the sun should have been ahead and slightly to the right, and so it was, so he slipped back into the protective shroud of the cloud.

He checked his instruments again and everything still seemed to be in order apart from the oil loss, but just as he was beginning to breathe a little more easily, he slid out of the cloud again and was horrified first to see the Thames estuary below – he thought he had made more distance – and then in front and slightly below him a formation of Hurricanes. Deciding attack was his only option, he checked the lights that told him his guns were armed and ready, then seeing four green lights switched on the gunsight. But this was not working – there was too much ice on the windscreen from his long dive. He would have to use the metal emergency sight, but as he removed his oxygen mask, he was suddenly gripped with fear – his engine was beginning to boil and if it came to a tussle he was not sure how long his machine would keep flying. Gently, and very slowly, he climbed back into the cloud.

His engine temperature was now 130 degrees. He could not understand why it was so high; his engine was losing oil, but that would not affect the cooling system. He was sure he had dived before the Spitfires had opened fire, but a bullet in the radiator seemed the only cause of his rapidly rising temperature gauge. ‘This is Owl 2a,’ he called over the radio, ‘have been hit in the radiator, will try to reach the Channel. Taking course from Thames to Manston. Please confirm.’ But there was no reply – just a hiss of static.

At 6,000 feet once more, and still in cloud, he switched off the engine, so that he was now gliding and blind flying. At 4,000 feet he emerged through the cloud once more, but still he continued his glide and decided to try another radio call. This time the ground station in the Pas de Calais replied. ‘Understood Owl 2a. Air-Sea Rescue will be notified. Only go into the water when absolutely necessary.’ He now heard Kühle’s voice too, telling him he would start searching the Channel immediately while the others would return, refuel then continue the search if necessary. Ulrich felt his spirits lift.

Now, at around 1,600 feet, he began to attract some light flak, so he decided it was time to restart the engine. It whirred into life immediately and he began to climb once more, the oil temperature still under control. In the clouds, he transmitted another fix to the ground station, but by now the temperature was beginning to rise alarmingly again so he cut the engine once more, hoping to repeat Hans-Ekkehard Bob’s trick of ‘bobbing’ back across the Channel.

But the engine’s power was fading, and he was soon struggling to gain any height at all. He had to open the throttle further – there was no alternative – but as he did so, the engine seized. There was no bang, no sudden explosion – just silence. With his machine dead, he knew he would have to jump. Having sent a last message, he briefly wondered whether he should perhaps try and crash-land instead but then madly decided he must not let his machine fall into enemy hands. No, bailing out was the only option. He ran through the emergency procedures: oxygen off. Throat microphone off. Remove flying helmet and headset. Reaching for the canopy jettison lever he pulled but it broke off in his hand. Trying desperately not to panic he shot a glance at his altimeter – he was now at only 800 feet. He needed to get out of there quickly – very quickly. He now tried to open the canopy as normal and as he pulled the lever and pushed, it burst open with a sudden rush of wind and cold air that forced the Perspex hood off its hinges so that it clattered noisily down the side of the fuselage. Gasping from the cold, he released his belts and pushed himself up into the incredibly strong 130 mph draught, but as he did so was buffeted backwards, wedging his parachute under the rear part of the canopy and catching his legs under the instrument panel. Frantically, he tried to claw his hands back down on to the control column in an effort to flip the machine over, but he could not reach. And now Yellow 2 was beginning its final dive. There was nothing for it: he would have to risk tearing his parachute or die. Leaning over to the right, with one last effort he pulled his legs free and up towards his body and suddenly he was rolling through the air, somersaulting past the tail of his Messerschmitt.

Still tumbling he pulled the parachute release but for a moment nothing happened, and in panic he began groping helplessly at the pack, only for the silk to burst out. As the main parachute opened, the secondary ’chute managed to get tangled around his left leg causing him intense pain so that he was hanging upside down, his leg feeling as though it was being pulled from his hip. Somehow, he managed to right himself and was relieved to discover his leg was still intact, although the pain was excruciating. Ahead he now saw Yellow 2 dive into the ground in the middle of a field of cows, which were scattering in all directions. He heard a soft thump as it hit the ground and then the ammunition began exploding.

The ground was now rising up to meet him, but fortunately he landed on his right leg and the ground was soft, and he was able to release the parachute harness with ease. He was lying beside a canal embankment. A short distance away, although out of sight, ammunition was still exploding. Looking around, he could see no-one. He felt desperately alone and helpless, and his throat began to tighten. He thought he might cry.

But then the moment passed as he began to discard his rubber dinghy, flare pistol, and sea water dye container. Suddenly a shot rang out and he quickly lay flat, pressing his head into the damp ground. Carefully raising his head again he saw a man in civilian clothes approaching him, an armband around his left sleeve and clutching a shotgun.

‘Get up!’ he yelled.

‘My leg is hurt!’ Ulrich replied. He tried to get up, but collapsed in pain.

‘I’ll come round to you,’ called out the man.

Ulrich sat there on the wet grass, waiting for his captor. Depression swept over him. He was twenty-two and a prisoner of war. The battle was over.

Ivan the Terrible and the Origins of Russian State Security

Ivan the Terrible and Maliuta Skuratov

Ivan IV ‘the Terrible’, Grand Prince of Moscow in 1533 at the age of only three, who became first ‘Tsar of all the Russias’ in 1547, remains the most mysterious as well as the most terrifying of sixteenth-century European monarchs. Though most biographies and many histories of Russia contain portraits of him, all are imaginary. In striking contrast to the contemporary English Tudor dynasty, no authentic likeness of Ivan survives. The written sources are also more fragmentary and more frequently unreliable than in the case of any other major sixteenth-century ruler, though reports by English merchants and diplomats, which were kept secret at the time, fill some gaps in the Russian records.

The reign of Ivan the Terrible cast a long and brutal shadow over the later history of Russian intelligence and security. Stalin, his greatest twentieth-century admirer, called him a ‘great and wise ruler’ but blamed him for not being terrible enough. Had Ivan ‘knifed through’ five more noble families, Stalin claimed, the authority of the Tsar would have been maintained and Russia spared the ‘Time of Troubles’ which reduced it to chaos less than two decades after Ivan’s death in 1584. Stalin himself made no such mistake in the Great Terror of 1936–8 which killed and imprisoned millions of mostly imaginary traitors. In January 1941, Stalin sent instructions to the great film-maker Sergei Eisenstein to make a film about Ivan the Terrible. By commissioning a film showing that Ivan’s Terror was necessary, Stalin sought to justify his own.

Ivan IV lived in constant fear of conspiracies against him. In December 1564 he left the Kremlin for his fortified country estate at Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, about 100 kilometres north-east of Moscow, from which he accused boyars, other nobles and Moscow court officials of ‘treasonable deeds’; even clerics, he claimed, were ‘covering up’ for the traitors. In January 1565 he announced his intention to divide his realm into two: the oprichnina (a term derived from oprich, ‘separate’) under his personal control and the zemshchina (from zemlia, ‘land’) ruled by the boyars in Moscow. Though a complete separation between the two parts of Ivan’s realm was never established and he spent much of his time in the Moscow Kremlin rather than in the country, the royal decree establishing the oprichnina gave the Tsar unlimited power to ‘eradicate treason’ and execute ‘traitors’.

Oprichniks in Novgorod by Mikhail Avilov

Ivan gave responsibility for identifying and disposing of traitors to his newly established imperial guard, the oprichniki, who, bizarrely, he liked to think of as a monastic order with himself as ‘Father Superior’. The oprichniki, though their responsibilities went beyond intelligence collection and analysis, were Russia’s first organized security service. Swathed in black and mounted on black horses, they must have seemed like a vision from the Apocalypse as they rode though Russia. Each had a dog’s head symbolically attached to his saddle (to sniff out and attack treason) and carried a broom (to sweep away traitors). A seventeenth-century silver candlestick preserved in the museum at Alexandrovskaya Sloboda shows Ivan himself on horseback with dog’s head and broom.

The use of dogs’ heads by the oprichniki was entirely new as well as deeply macabre. Though Russians, like Western Europeans, had long been familiar with folk-tales of Hounds of Hell, dog-headed men and dog-headed monsters, no writer or artist had ever imagined dogs’ heads carried on horses. Though the Russians did not practise taxidermy and so had no mounted animals’ heads on the walls of their residences as in Western Europe, a dog’s head, drained of blood, froze in the Russian winter and could have been carried by oprichnik horses when Ivan created the oprichnina in January 1565. But in spring the dogs’ heads must have begun to decompose, thus limiting their use for six months of the year to those oprichniki able to obtain a regular supply.

The dog’s head remains the most gruesome symbol ever devised by a security or intelligence agency (far more so than the stylized skull and crossbones of the Nazi SS). It was also a fitting symbol for the chief oprichnik, Grigory Lukyanovich Skuratov-Belski, better known as Maliuta Skuratov – against strong competition, probably the most loathsome figure in the entire history of Russian intelligence. Skuratov, a nickname inherited by Maliuta from his father, meant ‘worn-out chamois’, a reference to his coarse complexion. ‘Maliuta’ referred to his short stature. Mikhail Bulgakov, the greatest writer of the Stalin era, wrote in his forbidden masterpiece The Master and Margarita:

Neither Gaius Caesar Caligula nor Messalina interested Margarita any longer, nor did any of the kings, dukes, cavaliers, suicides, poisoners, gallowsbirds, procuresses, prison guards and sharpers, executioners, informers, traitors, madmen, sleuths, seducers. All their names became jumbled in her head, the faces stuck together into one huge pancake, and only a single face lodged itself painfully in her memory – the face, framed in a truly fiery beard, of Maliuta Skuratov.

By a curious coincidence, the most homicidal of Stalin’s intelligence chiefs, Nikolai Yezhov, in whose honour the years of the Terror became known as the Yezhovshchina, was as diminutive and almost as unpleasant as Maliuta; he was given the nickname ‘Poison Dwarf’. Though Yezhov was responsible for far more deaths than Skuratov, neither he nor any other of Stalin’s intelligence chiefs rivalled Skuratov’s enthusiasm for the role of executioner-in-chief or showed such sadistic pleasure in mutilating and torturing victims. Stalin’s admiration for Skuratov exceeded that for any of his own intelligence chiefs. In 1940 Yezhov was secretly tried, found guilty of nonsensical charges of treason, and taken to execution, hysterically pleading for his life. He quickly became an unperson, airbrushed out of official photographs. By contrast, Stalin continued to praise Skuratov’s historical record. At a meeting with Eisenstein in 1941 to discuss the making of his film Ivan the Terrible, Stalin declared that ‘Maliuta Skuratov was a great army general and died a hero’s death in the war with Livonia.’ When asked by the actor Nikolai Cherkasov, who played the role of Ivan, whether a scene showing Skuratov in 1569 strangling the Metropolitan of Moscow, Filipp Kolychev (who had publicly condemned Ivan’s murders), could appear in the film, ‘Stalin said that it was necessary to retain this scene as it was historically correct.’ Filipp is now a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. Skuratov was probably the only one of Ivan’s closest associates whom he never suspected of plotting against him.

Ultimate responsibility for Skuratov’s barbarous purges lay with the Tsar himself. Ivan’s way of warfare (he was at war for all but three years of his reign as Tsar) was brutal even by the standards of the day. A German print made in 1561 during the Russian invasion of Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) shows naked women hanging from a tree above the disembowelled bodies of their children while Russian archers use them for target practice. By the heads of the women hang their children’s hearts. Though there is no corroboration for these atrocities in the sparse Russian sources, since we know that Ivan committed equally appalling acts of brutality against his Russian subjects it is unlikely that he spared the Livonians.

As during Stalin’s Terror four centuries later, none of Ivan’s closest associates (save, probably, for Skuratov) could be certain that they would not be suspected of plotting against him. Among the unlikely figures who figured in Ivan’s conspiracy theories was Prince Ivan Petrovich Cheliadnin-Fedorov, who had been Ivan’s childhood tutor and brought him up in his own household, where his wife had been Ivan’s nanny. For the first two years of the oprichnina he had been close to Ivan. In 1568, however, Ivan’s spies told him, probably wrongly, that Cheliadnin-Fedorov was leading a plot to remove him from power.

According to a probably first-hand account by Albert Schlichting, a German interpreter in the Tsar’s court, Ivan summoned Fedorov to the Kremlin, and ordered him to sit on his throne, dressed in royal attire, and hold the royal sceptre. Ivan bowed and knelt before him, saying: ‘Now you have what you sought and strove to obtain – to be Grand Prince of Muscovy and occupy my place.’ But he added: ‘Since I have the power to seat you upon this throne, so I also have power to remove you from it.’ He then stabbed Fedorov several times in the heart with a dagger. Oprichniki added other dagger blows, ‘so that’, according to Schlichting’s gruesome account, ‘his stomach and entrails poured out before the tyrant’s eyes’. With Ivan at their head, the oprichniki then terrorized Cheliadnin-Fedorov’s estates. According to Baron von Standen, a German who served in the oprichnina: ‘The villages were burned with their churches and everything that was in them, icons and church ornaments. Women and girls were stripped naked and forced in that state to catch chickens in the fields.’ In 1569, following rumours that Ivan’s cousin Vladimir of Staritsa was planning to seize the throne (probably as baseless as those about Cheliadnin-Federov), he was forced by Skuratov to drink poison while his children were murdered around him.

Ivan’s reign of terror was no more related to real Russian security needs than Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s. It reached its peak in 1570 with the oprichniki massacre of the people of Novgorod, Russia’s third-largest city, suspected by Ivan of collective treason. Though the level of oprichnik violence may have run out of central control, it is clear that it was premeditated and that Ivan took a personal part in directing it. Before entering Novgorod with the oprichniki, he sent one of his commanders with retinue, probably in disguise, to ‘spy and reconnoitre’ the main targets for pillage and execution. Then, according to Standen, after plundering the bishop’s palace:

He took the largest bells and whatever he wanted from the churches . . . Every day he arose and moved to another monastery. He indulged his wantonness and had monks tortured and many of them were killed. There are 300 monasteries inside and outside the city and not one of these was spared. Then the pillage of the city began . . .

The distress and misery continued in the city for six weeks without interruption . . . Every day the Grand Prince [Ivan] could also be found in the torture chamber in person . . . Several thousand daughters of the inhabitants were carried off by the oprichniki.

According to a contemporary account in a German newsletter, on their triumphal return to Moscow after the victory over imaginary treason in Novgorod, the leading oprichnik had on his saddle the freshly amputated head of a huge English dog (probably a bull mastiff). Ivan’s horse carried a silver replica of a dog’s head whose jaws opened and closed in time with the movement of the horse’s hooves.

During the Stalin era no suggestion was allowed that any of the killings in Ivan’s reign of terror were influenced by the paranoid strain in his personality. Though the horrors of Ivan’s reign of terror have long since ceased to be a taboo subject for Russian historians, they are underplayed by the official history of today’s Russian foreign-intelligence service, the Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki (SVR), which devotes its first volume to intelligence under the tsars. The history makes no mention of the role (or even the name) of the leading oprichnik, Maliuta Skuratov. It blames Ivan’s brutality in part on his disturbed upbringing in a court riven by intrigue and brutal rivalries. At the age of thirteen, according to the official chronicler of Ivan’s reign, he ordered the brutal murder of Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Shuisky, who he complained had treated him with disrespect, resting his dirty boots on the royal bed. Shuisky was torn to pieces by the Kremlin’s pack of hunting and guard dogs.

The SVR official history acknowledges the historic achievement of Ivan III ‘the Great’ (Ivan IV’s grandfather, who reigned from 1462 to 1505) in ending Russian subjection to the Mongol ‘Golden Horde’, but it gives the main credit for the origins of Russian diplomacy and foreign intelligence to Ivan IV and his counsellor, Ivan Mikhailovich Viskovaty, who in 1549 became the first head of Russian diplomacy, though Russia had as yet no permanent ambassadors stationed abroad. Since there was no clear dividing line between diplomacy and intelligence work, the SVR also reasonably regards Viskovaty as Russia’s first foreign-intelligence chief. His greatest achievement was probably to conclude the Treaty of Mozhaysk with King Frederick II Denmark in 1562, which gave mutual recognition to both countries’ territorial claims in Livonia (modern Estonia and Latvia). The SVR official history concludes that Viskovaty overcame strong initial opposition from the Danish king by ‘what is now called in professional intelligence jargon the acquisition of “agents of influence”. It took money and remarkable strength of persuasion to secretly win over the Danish nobles who were then at the right moment able to influence the King . . .’

Ivan the Terrible’s childhood experience of internecine feuding in the Russian court gave him a natural interest in internal divisions in the foreign courts with which he dealt, such as that of Denmark, on which Viskovaty kept him informed. The SVR official history, however, exaggerates the extent to which Ivan ‘appreciated intelligence that helped to orient himself correctly in foreign policy’, allegedly rewarding even those who provided useless information to encourage them to remain involved in intelligence collection. As the horrors of Ivan’s reign of terror showed, his deeply suspicious nature made it unusually difficult for him to distinguish between real and illusory threats. His later admirer, Joseph Stalin, suffered from the same problem at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Though Viskovaty’s judgement was greatly superior to the Tsar’s, he suffered from two major handicaps in understanding the outside world by comparison with senior officials in major Western states. First, Russia, like Turkey, had no permanent embassies. Its ambassadors were sent abroad for specific assignments and returned after they were complete or were seen to have failed. The Kremlin was thus deprived of the constant flow of information provided by English and some other European ambassadors. Also like Turkey, though in lesser degree, Russia lacked the print culture which had generated an information revolution in the West. Moscow’s first printing house was not founded until 1553, a century later than in Western Europe. Established by Ivan IV and Metropolitan Makarii of Moscow and All Russia, its purpose was to print religious texts. It was deeply unpopular with traditional scribes and is believed to have been burnt down by a mob in 1568. The Kremlin deacon, Ivan Federov, who was chiefly responsible for running the printing house, was forced to flee to Lithuania, though printing resumed soon afterwards. The travel books which were immensely popular in Elizabethan England and help, for example, to account for Shakespeare’s detailed knowledge of Italy, in which he set thirteen of his plays, did not exist in Russia. Open-source knowledge of foreign countries and cultures was extremely limited.

Ivan’s and Viskovaty’s first and closest diplomatic ties in Western Europe were with England. They began not as the result of a Russian policy decision but, as the SVR official history acknowledges, as the unexpected outcome of a failed attempt by the young English merchant adventurer Richard Chancellor, then in his early twenties, to reach China through the Arctic North-East Passage. Chancellor arrived on 24 August 1553 at the mouth of the Northern Dvina river on the White Sea, at the site of the future port of Archangel, which at the time was only a small fishing village. The SVR account emphasizes how effectively Ivan’s ‘notification system’, designed to warn the authorities of the unexpected arrival of foreigners on Russian territory, operated even in this remote, sparsely populated area.

The local governor came aboard Chancellor’s ship, agreed to ‘afford him the benefit of victuals’, and sent a messenger to seek further instructions from the Tsar. When no instructions had been received after three months, Chancellor decided on 25 November to set off himself by horse-drawn sleigh on what he found a ‘very long and most troublesome’ journey to Moscow. Having covered the greater part of the 600-mile journey, he met coming in the opposite direction a messenger from the Kremlin, who had earlier lost his way, bearing an invitation to him from Ivan IV written ‘with all courtesy’. On arrival in Moscow, Chancellor and his men were kept under surveillance for twelve days before Viskovaty informed them that they were to be received by the Tsar. In the royal court, wrote Chancellor later, ‘there sat a very honourable company of courtiers to the number of one hundred, all apparelled in cloth of gold down to their ankles’. The throne room made Chancellor’s men ‘wonder at the Majesty of the Emperor [Tsar]’:

His seat was aloft, in a very royal throne, having on his head a diadem, or crown of gold, apparelled with a robe all of goldsmith’s work and in his hand he held a Sceptre garnished, and beset with precious stones, and besides all . . . there was a majesty in his countenance proportionable with the excellence of his estate . . .

Chancellor and his men were invited to an enormous dinner which gave an unexpected insight into the nature of Ivan’s personal autocracy. In the course of the meal Ivan addressed each of the many nobles and other diners by name: ‘The Russes told our men that the reason thereof . . . was to the end that the emperor might keep the knowledge of his own household, and withal, that such as are under his displeasure might by this means be known.’

Because of difficulty in transliterating his surname into Cyrillic, official Russian documents referred to Chancellor by his first name, ‘Richard’. Following his return to England in 1554, the Muscovy Company was founded in London to trade with Russia. At a time when Russia still had no outlet on the Baltic coast, the new company offered an important trading link with the West and a valuable source of arms and munitions for Ivan’s many wars, as well as of luxury goods. The Muscovy Company (later known as the Russia Company) also made a lucrative trade by importing furs and ship-building supplies. After Chancellor’s second voyage to Russia in 1555, Ivan ordered the construction of an embassy for English diplomats and merchants within the walls of the Kremlin, and gave the Muscovy Company exemption from Russian customs duties. According to the SVR official history, which largely agrees with Western accounts:

Flushed with success, Chancellor returned home [in 1556] with a rich cargo in his ship and the first Russian ambassador [to England] on board, Osip Nepeya. In a stormy night at the Scottish coast, the ship crashed against the rocks. Whilst trying to save the Moscow ambassador, Chancellor was killed along with his son and most of the crew. Nepeya escaped and was ceremoniously received in London, where local merchants arranged a celebration in his honour.

Nepeya returned to Russia in 1557 on the ship of Chancellor’s successor, the experienced sea captain Anthony Jenkinson (‘Anton Iankin’ in Russian documents), who acted as both English ambassador and Moscow representative of the London Muscovy Company. With them, at Nepeya’s request, travelled English craftsmen, doctors, and gold and silver prospectors. Unsurprisingly, after his terrifying voyage to London, Nepeya expressed ‘great joy’ on his safe return to Russia.

The different roles of Nepeya and Jenkinson exemplify the gulf between English knowledge of Ivan IV’s Russia and Russian understanding of Tudor England. Nepeya had come to London on a temporary diplomatic mission to cement the trading relationship begun by Chancellor. He left no Russian embassy or representative behind him in London. Because of Russia’s lack of any direct sources of information in Tudor England, news of the death of Edward VI, the accession of Mary, her marriage to Philip II, Mary’s death and the accession of Elizabeth seem to have been brought to Moscow by Chancellor and Jenkinson. It is highly unlikely that the Tsar and his advisers understood the political and religious complexities of these regime changes. In addition to the problems of translating Tudor diplomatic communications written in Latin, they found them more generally confusing. Ivan later complained to Elizabeth: ‘How many letters we have received in all this time, and all with different seals! That is not the royal custom. And such documents are not trusted in any State. Rulers of States have only one seal.’ Ivan, however, claimed to have believed all these documents and to have done as Elizabeth had asked.

Unlike Nepeya in London, Jenkinson established a permanent English embassy and trade mission in Moscow. He quickly became the most influential foreigner at Ivan’s court. Jenkinson’s warm welcome in the Kremlin in December 1557, when he presented letters to Ivan from Queen Mary and her husband, Philip II, must have owed something to Nepeya’s account of how Chancellor had been drowned saving his life during the voyage to England. A gargantuan dinner followed on Christmas Day, 1557. Jenkinson already knew from Chancellor’s account of his first visit to the Kremlin that the dinner would enable him to judge the extent of the Tsar’s favour. Ivan made clear to the whole court that Jenkinson was an exceptionally honoured guest. Seated by himself at a table of his own next to the Tsar’s, ‘the emperor sent me divers bowls of wine and mead, and many dishes of meat from his own hand’. Ivan showed his favour once again at the Twelfth Night dinner in Ivan’s Kremlin palace, where, wrote Jenkinson, ‘I sat alone as I did before directly before the emperor, and had my meat, bread and drink sent me from the emperor.’ Despite the warmth of the royal welcome, Jenkinson had no illusions about Ivan’s tyrannical regime: ‘He keepeth his people in great subjection; all matters pass his judgment be they never so small.’

Though Chancellor’s and Jenkinson’s accounts of their pioneering missions to the court of Ivan the Terrible are nowadays recognized as important historical sources, at the time they were treated by both the Muscovy Company and the Tudor court as intelligence reports to be kept secret. None of Chancellor’s reflections on his time in Russia were published until 1589, five years after Ivan’s death. Ivan and Viskovaty, among others, would have been outraged by Chancellor’s frank comments on Ivan’s tyrannical rule, on the Tsar’s court (‘much surpassed and excelled by the beauty and elegancy of the houses of the kings of England’) and on some beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Church (‘foolish and childish dotages of . . . ignorant barbarians’). Chancellor provided military as well as political intelligence, notably a report entitled ‘Of the discipline of war amongst the Russes’, which would also have caused offence in the Kremlin. He made, however, the wildly exaggerated claim, probably derived from boasting in the Kremlin, that, in time of war, the Tsar ‘never armeth a less number against the enemy than three hundred thousand soldiers’. The Muscovy Company regarded even Chancellor’s less controversial reports on the main Russian cities as commercial intelligence which was too valuable to potential rivals to be made public.

Ivan’s personal favour allowed Jenkinson unlimited freedom to travel through Russia and cross its borders. After a perilous expedition to Central Asia, he returned to the Kremlin in September 1559 to a hero’s welcome, bringing with him twenty-five Russians whom he had rescued from slavery, as well as six Tatar envoys. No British representative since has ever won such favour in the Kremlin. After spending a year back in London, Jenkinson returned to Russia for the third time in 1561 and, in the course of his own travels further east, became the first English envoy to be used as a secret emissary by a Russian Tsar. In 1562 Ivan personally entrusted him with a hazardous mission to Abdullah-Khan, ruler of Shirvan in the eastern Caucasus, whence he returned a year later with a large consignment of silk and jewels as well as what Ivan regarded as favourable letters from both Abdullah-Khan and the ruler of Georgia. Jenkinson was rewarded with further concessions for the Muscovy Company.

Ivan continued to take Jenkinson into his confidence to a remarkable degree, unaware that in 1566 he wrote to William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, denouncing the oprichniki campaign of terror against nobles suspected of plotting against the Tsar. In the summer of 1567 Ivan began telling Jenkinson that, because of (probably largely imaginary) plots against him, he might have to seek asylum in England. Having taken leave of Ivan on 22 September 1567, Jenkinson returned to England by sea with an official letter and a secret message from the Tsar, both of which he delivered personally to Elizabeth in November. Remarkably, Ivan had thus selected for what he regarded as an important secret assignment a trusted English adventurer in preference to a Russian envoy. In the messages Ivan stressed his desire for a Russian–English alliance, to be negotiated via Jenkinson, and made the extraordinary proposal (unique in the history of English foreign relations) that each monarch should have the right to take refuge in the other’s country: ‘The Emperor [Tsar] earnestly requireth that there may be a perpetual friendship and kindred betwixt the Queen’s Majesty and him.’ Ivan may well have wished to conceal his request for political asylum from Viskovaty and other Kremlin officials.

Ivan had expected Jenkinson to return to Russia with Elizabeth’s reply. Jenkinson, however, was replaced by a new envoy: the diplomat Sir Thomas Randolph, former Master of Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford. Randolph was the brother-in-law of Elizabeth’s intelligence chief and Foreign Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, who probably had a hand in his appointment. Walsingham later used his influence on three occasions to help Randolph become MP for Maidstone. No record survives of what Randolph discovered after his arrival on the White Sea coast in July 1568 about the oprichniki reign of terror, but he clearly feared for his own personal safety, writing to William Cecil even before he reached Moscow that he was anxious to conclude his mission and return to England as quickly as possible. George Turberville, Randolph’s secretary and a former Fellow of New College, Oxford, privately denounced the Russians in poems sent to his friends as ‘a people passing rude, to vices vile inclin’d’. Randolph’s reception on arriving at Moscow late in September added to his anxieties. There was no one to welcome him; even members of the English embassy were not ‘suffered to meet us’. As he later acknowledged, the contrast between his own initial reception and that of Jenkinson ‘bred suspicion in me’. Though supplied with victuals, he was disturbed by the hostile manner of the Russian appointed to ensure that he did not leave the embassy and received no visitors: ‘We had no small cause to doubt that some evil had been intended unto us.’

After seventeen weeks under house arrest, Randolph was finally invited to an audience with the Tsar on 20 February 1569. Ivan failed to invite him to dinner, as he had done Chancellor and Jenkinson, but freed him from house arrest: ‘I dine not this day openly, for great affairs I have; but I will send thee my dinner, and give leave to thee and thine to go at liberty, and augment our allowance to thee in token of our love and favour to our sister the Queen of England.’ A few days later Ivan summoned Randolph for over three hours of secret talks in the early hours of the morning. The Tsar then left Moscow for Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, believed by Randolph to be ‘the house of his solace’. On his return to the Kremlin six weeks later, Ivan summoned Randolph for further talks, during which Randolph claimed to have secured all the ‘large privileges’ he had sought for the Muscovy Company.

Ivan, however, was seriously dissatisfied. He had hoped to secure an alliance with England, directed mainly against Poland. Randolph stuck to his instructions to ‘pass these matters with silence’, leading the Tsar to complain in a letter to Elizabeth that her envoy’s ‘talk was of boorishness and affairs of merchants’, and failed to address ‘our princely affairs’. To accompany Randolph on his return voyage to England in October 1569, Ivan sent his own ambassador, Alexander Grigoryevich Sovin, with a draft treaty of alliance to which he was instructed to obtain Elizabeth’s signature. Sovin was told that no changes could be accepted in the draft, predictably failed in his mission, and returned to Russia in the following year.

Ivan’s diplomacy and intelligence collection suffered a major self-inflicted blow on 25 July 1570 with the execution of Viskovaty, who fell victim to another of the Tsar’s conspiracy theories, bizarrely accused of plotting with Lithuania and urging the Ottoman Turks and the Khan of Crimea to invade Russia. In reality, as contemporary records show, so far from plotting with Viskovaty, Lithuanian envoys found him ‘not well disposed’ and ‘intractable’ in negotiations with them. Having refused to beg forgiveness for treason he had not committed, Viskovaty was strung up in a market square and sliced to death. Skuratov began the execution by cutting off his nose, another oprichnik removed his ears and a third hacked off his genitals. Ivan complained that Viskovaty died too quickly. Over a hundred other gruesome executions followed of probably innocent victims. Viskovaty’s fate prefigured that of Stalin’s three most powerful intelligence chiefs, all of whom were also executed for imaginary acts of treason, which, absurdly, included spying for Britain.

The bizarre nature of Ivan’s relations with England in the aftermath of Viskovaty’s execution reflected the Tsar’s loss of his diplomatic expertise. On 24 October 1570, outraged by Elizabeth I’s refusal to sign the draft alliance delivered by Sovin, Ivan personally penned a letter to the Queen which, so far as is known, was the rudest she ever received. According to the translation prepared for Elizabeth, he said that his previous willingness to correspond with her on ‘weighty affairs’ of state had been based on the mistaken belief that ‘you had been ruler over your land, and had sought honour to yourself and profit to your Country . . . But now we perceive that there be other men that do rule, and not men but boors and merchants, the which seek not the wealth and honour of our majesties, but they seek their own profit of merchandise . . . And you flourish in your maidenlike estate like a maid’, he added insultingly, before announcing the cancellation of the rights previously granted to the Muscovy Company: ‘The privilege that we gave to your Merchants be from this day of none effect.’

Despite the rudeness of the letter, Elizabeth and her advisers clearly believed that the trading privileges of the Muscovy Company were too important to abandon. It was therefore decided to ignore Ivan’s insults and send the Tsar’s favourite Englishman, Anthony Jenkinson, on a new mission to Moscow as English ambassador as well as Company representative to try to restore relations. His mission began badly. After landing on the Arctic coast in July 1571, he was stranded for over six months as the result of travel restrictions imposed after an outbreak of plague. His first report to William Cecil (newly ennobled as Baron Burghley) gave further details of atrocities committed during the oprichniki reign of terror. Jenkinson eventually had an audience with Ivan in the Kremlin on 23 March 1572. His instructions were to persuade Ivan to agree to reinstate the privileges of the Muscovy Company by hinting at the possibility of an Anglo-Russian political alliance but to make no binding commitments. Such was the Tsar’s confidence in Jenkinson that, at their next meeting on 13 May, Ivan agreed to restore all the Company’s privileges and complimented ‘Anthony’ on his role in restoring Russian–English relations. Jenkinson arrived back in England on 23 July after what the Dictionary of National Biography terms ‘a brilliant culmination to a career which won him a permanent place in the history of Anglo-Russian relations’.

By the time Ivan began negotiations with Jenkinson, his main anger was directed not against Elizabeth I but against his own oprichniki, whom he blamed for failing to defend Moscow against a devastating Tatar raid in 1571, which (as reported by Jenkinson to Cecil) laid waste much of the city outside the Kremlin. In 1572 Ivan formally abolished the oprichniki. Though Jenkinson did not return to Russia after 1572, Ivan continued to make occasional secret use of other English diplomats. In 1580 he entrusted an English diplomat in Moscow, Jerome Horsey (later knighted), with what he regarded as a secret mission to England to obtain supplies of ‘powder, saltpetre, lead and brimstone’.50 Horsey doubtless reported his secret mission to his patron, Sir Francis Walsingham, and later dedicated to him a book on his travels in Russia.† Horsey’s seventeen years in Moscow epitomize the frequent sixteenth-century overlap between diplomacy and espionage. What is remarkable in Horsey’s case is that, because of Russia’s lack of both diplomats and spies in England, his services (like those of Jenkinson before him) were used by the Tsar, as well as, more frequently, by Walsingham. Horsey was so trusted by Ivan that he was invited into his Treasury and, in 1581, given a secret letter, hidden in a flask, to take to Queen Elizabeth.

During the final years of his reign, Ivan continued to suffer from uncontrollable fits of rage. During one of them in 1581, he accidentally killed his son and heir. Ilya Repin’s famous painting, which shows the Tsar grieving over the bloodstained body of his son Ivan, which was completed in 1885, four years after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, so disturbed his son Alexander III that he had it temporarily removed from Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.

The SVR official history plausibly argues that, after the death of his son, in the final years before his own death, in 1584, Ivan began to ‘repent’ that he had ordered so many executions. From 1583 all monasteries started regular ‘Remembrances of the Disgraced’. The execution Ivan most regretted was almost certainly that of Viskovaty, whose expertise had never been replaced. Ivan personally sent to the Holy Trinity Monastery 223 rubles for the ‘remembrance of the soul of Viskovaty’ as well as another twenty-three rubles to pay for candles. No other intelligence chief has ever been remembered in this way by a ruler who ordered his execution.

Ivan IV was succeeded by his devout but simple-minded younger son, Tsar Fedor I (a ‘silly prince’, in the opinion of Sir Jerome Horsey). Real power, however, lay with a faction-ridden regency council in which Boris Godunov (best known nowadays as the anti-hero of Mussorgsky’s popular nineteenth-century opera) eventually won a prolonged power struggle. Horsey, who, as under Ivan IV, was occasionally used by Godunov for secret missions, reported that at one point during the power struggle, also like Ivan, Godunov told him he might seek refuge in England. He found Godunov ‘of comely person, well favoured, affable . . . not learned but of sudden apprehension, and a natural good orator’. But Godunov was also superstitious (‘affected much to necromancy’) and ‘revengeful’. He had a sinister past both as an oprichnik from the age of about twenty and as the son-in-law of the most bloodthirsty of all the oprichniki, Maliuta Skuratov. To rise in the court of Ivan the Terrible, he must have shown enthusiastic support for the brutal execution of imaginary traitors in Novgorod and Moscow. Probably largely at the expense of his victims, Godunov built up enormous wealth. The historian Catherine Merridale describes him as the nearest sixteenth-century ‘equivalent of a twenty-first-century oligarch’.

Unlike Ivan IV, however, Godunov tried – successfully – to avoid foreign wars. He deserves much of the credit for the twenty-year period of peace which followed Ivan’s death. During the regency Godunov also showed no liking for the public execution of traitors. Instead he proceeded behind the scenes, built up a large network of informers and disposed secretly of some of his main rivals. While ambassador in Moscow from 1588 to 1589 on a mission to settle disputes involving the Russia Company, the English writer and diplomat Giles Fletcher, a former Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, felt under almost continuous hostile surveillance. As he complained to Burghley, ‘My whole entertainment from my first arrival till towards the very end was such as if they had devised means of very purpose to show their utter disliking both of the trade of the Merchants, and of the whole English nation.’ Though he was eventually able to negotiate an agreement, according to the well-known writer Thomas Fuller when he returned home in the summer of 1589 ‘he heartily expressed his thankfulness to God for his safe return from so great a danger; for the Poets cannot fancy Ulysses more glad to be come out of the Den of Polyphemus, than he was to be rid out of the power of such a barbarious Prince’.

In 1591 Fletcher tried to publish a book based on his experiences, entitled Of the Russe Commonwealth, or, The manner of government by the Russe emperor . . . with the manners, and fashions of the people of that country. The best and most detailed account by any Elizabethan traveller to Russia, it made clear Fletcher’s loathing for the Russian political system: ‘The state and form of their government is plain tyrannical.’ The worst of the tyrants had been Ivan the Terrible:

To show his sovereignty over the lives of his subjects, the late emperor Ivan [IV] Vasilevich in his walks or progresses, if he had misliked the face or person of any man whom he met by the way, or that looked upon him, would command his head to be struck off, which was promptly done, and the head cast before him.

The governors of the Russia Company no doubt believed, as they had done after Richard Chancellor produced an account of his mission a generation earlier, that publication of Fletcher’s book would reveal valuable commercial intelligence to their competitors. But their main fear was that, if the Godunov regime discovered what Fletcher had written about their ‘tyrannical’ rule, ‘the revenge thereof will light on their people and goods remaining in Moscow, and utterly overthrow the trade forever’. Burghley clearly agreed and the book was suppressed. Its contents were still highly sensitive two and a half centuries later. In 1848 Tsar Nicholas I ordered the confiscation of the first Russian translation of Of the Russe Commonwealth and severe punishment of the officials of the Imperial Moscow Society of Russian History and Antiquities who had dared to publish it in their Proceedings. No other British intelligence report on Russia has remained so controversial for so long.

On the death of Fedor I in 1598, Boris Godunov became Tsar. Though most of the details of his surveillance system will probably never be known, his network of spies and informers increased. Servants were encouraged to inform on their masters. Even slaves were used as informants. Boris’s uncle, Semen Nikitich Godunov, his chief inquisitor and an enthusiastic torturer, reported to him regularly on the evidence of treason he claimed to have uncovered during his brutal interrogations. But Godunov’s surveillance system and secret intrigues failed to secure the succession. On his death in April 1605 he was succeeded by his son, the well-educated sixteen-year-old Fedor Borisovich Godunov, who was crowned Tsar Fedor II. In May the army mutinied and many of its commanders sided with a pretender to the throne, the so-called first ‘False Dmitrii’. In June Fedor II and his mother (Skuratov’s daughter) were strangled in the Kremlin by Dmitrii’s agents and their bodies put on public display. The hated Semen Godunov was thrown into a prison cell and left to starve to death. There followed years of chaotic civil war and Russia’s ‘Time of Troubles’.

 

BRITISH HEROIC FAILURE # 1 – Battle of New Orleans 1815

“Battle of New Orleans And Death of General Pakenham On the 8th January 1815”

The ability of death in warfare to create a hero from even the most unpromising circumstances was demonstrated by the examples of Major Generals Sir Edward Pakenham and Samuel Gibbs, who died in 1815 at New Orleans in the final battle of the War of 1812. A memorial statue in St Paul’s Cathedral by Richard Westmacott shows the two men standing side by side, with Gibbs leaning on Pakenham’s shoulder in a display of fraternity and calm resignation in the face of adversity. The inscription records that they `fell gloriously on the eve of January 1815 while leading the troops in an attack of the enemy’s works in front of New Orleans’.

In reality, there was little that was glorious about the deaths of Pakenham and Gibbs. Pakenham had previously fought brilliantly in the Peninsular War – Wellington credited his daring flanking manoeuvre as being responsible for his victory at Salamanca – but he had not wanted to go to America to fight in a conflict that few Britons understood or cared about, while Napoleon was still on the loose in Europe. His misgivings were not assuaged by his initial assessment of the situation at New Orleans, as the swampy landscape made the swift and unified movement of troops all but impossible. But knowing how difficult it would be to move the army to another position, Pakenham reluctantly agreed to go ahead with the plan of attack drawn up by Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, the commander of the British naval forces. On the morning of 8 January 1814, the British troops were forced to cross a mile of flat, open, marshy ground as the Americans fired at them from behind a mud-and-log rampart. Their discipline and courage might still have secured victory, but a misunderstood order meant that they had not brought the ladders required to scale the rampart. As the carnage mounted, some men refused to advance, and Pakenham galloped to the head of his lines to try and rally them. Lieutenant George Robert Gleig described what happened next:

Poor Pakenham saw how things were going, and did all that a General could do to rally his broken troops. Riding towards the 44th which had returned to the ground, but in great disorder, he called out for Colonel Mullens to advance; but that officer had disappeared, and was not to be found. He, therefore, prepared to lead them on himself, and had put himself at their head for that purpose, when he received a slight wound in the knee from a musket ball, which killed his horse. Mounting another, he again headed the 44th, when a second ball took effect more fatally, and he dropped lifeless into the arms of his aide-de-camp.

This was not quite accurate: Pakenham was carried from the field still alive, but barely. He died under a tree a few minutes later, only thirty-six years old.

Pakenham’s death left his second-in-command, Gibbs, in charge of the battle. He, too, made a desperate attempt to rally the troops, charging to within 20 yards (18 m) of the American front line. There, he too was shot, and he died the next day. The third-in-command, Lieutenant General John Keane, was severely wounded but survived. For the British, the Battle of New Orleans was a debacle: 291 men were killed, 484 taken prisoner and 1,262 wounded, adding up to 2,037 total casualties; three generals and eight colonels and lieutenant colonels died. A mere thirteen Americans were killed. 4 Gleig was stunned when he rode over the battlefield after a temporary truce had been declared a few days later:

Of all the sights that I ever witnessed, that which met me there was beyond comparison the most shocking, and the most humiliating. Within the small compass of a few hundred yards, were gathered together nearly a thousand bodies, all of them arrayed in British uniforms. Not a single American was among them; all were English; and they were thrown by dozens into shallow holes, scarcely deep enough to furnish them with a slight covering of earth. Nor was this all. An American officer stood by smoking a segar [sic], and apparently counting the slain with a look of savage exultation; and repeating over and over again to each individual that approached him, that their loss amounted only to eight men killed, and fourteen wounded. I confess, that when I beheld the scene, I hung down my head half in sorrow, and half in anger.

To make matters worse for the British, the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 had been signed on 24 December, two weeks before the battle.

New Orleans was a shocking defeat. A month before the battle, Colonel Frederick Stovin, assistant adjutant general to the British army, had been breezily confident. Writing to his mother from aboard HMS Tonnant, Admiral Cochrane’s flagship, he bragged: `I have no doubt of our success, for although the Americans are quite aware of our intentions I do not believe they can collect above 3 or 4000 men to oppose us and we have 6000 – theirs inexperienced and undisciplined; ours perfect soldiers and in the habits of victory.’ Afterwards, his attitude was very different. He had been wounded in the neck, but was most devastated by the loss of his `inestimable friend’ Edward Pakenham: `It has almost unhinged me and given me a distaste [for] the service on which we are employed.’ His disparagement of the Americans had vanished; he now found it to be `truly repugnant to fight against people who speak the same language, many of whom are really your countrymen and . . . claim their origins so immediately from your own soil’.

Why, then, instead of quickly burying their embarrassing defeat at New Orleans, did the British choose to grant Pakenham and Gibbs the very visible honour of a memorial statue in St Paul’s? To answer this question, we first need to take into account that military martyrdom held a powerful cultural appeal in the early nineteenth century. From a British perspective, martyrdom was particularly powerful when it involved men of elevated social status like Pakenham and Gibbs. This period saw the emergence of a new emphasis on duty as a social and cultural ideal among the British elite, as the upper classes responded to pressure for parliamentary reform and increased democracy by promoting a new image of themselves as a `service elite’ dedicated to supporting the national interest. This fresh dedication to duty often manifested itself in the form of military and naval contributions, thereby providing a justification for continued upper-class domination of wealth, status and power in Britain. In assessing the heroism of elite officers like Pakenham and Gibbs, it was of little significance that they had lost the Battle of New Orleans, especially since the defeat had occurred in a war that had minimal consequences for British power or prestige. What mattered was their willingness to serve and the fact that they had laid down their lives for their country. The fact that their deaths occurred as they tried to rally their troops from a catastrophic defeat only threw the heroism of their actions into higher relief.

To comprehend fully the heroism of Pakenham and Gibbs as it was culturally defined in the early nineteenth century, however, we need to take into account the broader context of the relationship between Britain’s military forces and civil society in the first half of the nineteenth century. In this era, though many Britons took pride in the army when it won important victories, they also feared it as a potential source of repression and tyranny and believed that, in peacetime, it should be kept as small as possible. They also had little regard for common soldiers; Wellington’s description of them as the `scum of the earth’ encapsulated the predominant popular perception. For much of the nineteenth century, the army was an object of both suspicion and contempt.

Both the elite who filled the officer ranks and the government who relied on the army to win the war against Napoleon had a strong interest in overcoming this distrust of a strong military. One strategy they used was to elevate martyrs who died in battle, who acted as reminders of the patriotic and benevolent nature of the armed forces.

Another example of a contemporary mode of representing military leaders who had fallen in the moment of victory. This mode had evolved from Benjamin West’s painting The Death of General Wolfe (1770), which depicted the death of General James Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. West’s painting was immensely popular: King George III commissioned a copy, and an engraved print was a tremendous popular success. The Death of General Wolfe influenced British martial art for decades afterwards: many subsequent depictions of death in battle featured a prostrate hero at the centre of the composition, with the action raging around him and with his most prominent officers looking on mournfully as he expired. These paintings were rarely historically accurate, but they were not supposed to be. Instead, they were intended to convey the sorrow occasioned by the death of a great hero, as well as to ensure that his demise was surrounded by appropriate ceremony and recognition of its significance.

The Death of General Wolfe

Robertson’s Brigade—At Gettysburg

Captain Smith’s Cannon

Devil’s Den, Slaughter Pen, Valley of Death and Little Round Top

5 o’clock July 2nd 1863

In the distance, right, Little Round Top seems to “erupt” as 3 union cannons fire away at attacking confederates moving up Houck’s ridge (left side of painting). Rebel infantry of the 4th and 5th Texas and 15th Alabama regiments attempt to reach the summit on the open south side of the rocky hill, while the 48th, 47th and 15th Alabama regiments attempt to take the wooded side (smoke rising through trees). None will succeed.

Commander: Brigadier General Jerome Robertson

Units: 3rd Arkansas, 1st Texas, 4th Texas, 5th Texas

Strength: 1734

Losses: 603 (152-313-138)—34.8%

The fabled Texas Brigade was reorganized after the Maryland campaign of 1862 with the removal of Georgia and South Carolina units and the addition of the 3rd Arkansas. The Texas nucleus remained and so did the brigade’s fighting abilities, which were the best in Lee’s army. The brigade, under General John Hood, crushed the Federal line at Eltham’s Landing on the Virginia peninsula and won further distinction at the battle of Gaines’s Mill, where it helped to finally breach the Federal line. The brigade helped spearhead the attack on General John Pope’s forces at Second Manassas. Although equally aggressive at the battle of Antietam, the brigade sustained heavy losses in the cornfield without anything to show for it. The brigade was not involved in the fight at Fredericksburg and was with Longstreet near Suffolk, so it missed the Chancellorsville campaign. The men were ready for a fight after so many months of inactivity.

Brigadier General Jerome Robertson had an unusual past. After losing his father at an early age, Robertson worked for a physician and ultimately went to medical school. His education was cut short by the War for Texas Independence. At the age of twenty, Robertson raised a company of Kentuckians and took them south to serve under Sam Houston. Robertson remained in Texas after the war, where he married and began a medical practice. An acclaimed Indian fighter, Robertson was elected to the Texas legislature and voted in favor of secession. He subsequently raised a company of volunteers and brought them to Richmond, where they became part of the 5th Texas. Elevated to colonel of the regiment in early June 1862, he fought in most of the regiment’s subsequent battles. Robertson finally assumed command of the brigade in the fall of 1862. Nicknamed “Aunt Polly,” because he cared so much about his men’s welfare, Robertson had proven himself to be a no-nonsense fighter who had won the respect of his Texans.

Many of the men grumbled when ordered to ford the armpit-deep Potomac River on June 26 while fully clothed and holding their guns and accoutrements over their heads. The grumbling stopped when the men were issued captured whiskey. The more temperate gave their share to their comrades, causing more than a few to become intoxicated. While most of the officers chose to look the other way, Colonel Van Manning of the 3rd Arkansas “ordered the sober ones to dunk the drunken ones in the creek to bring a reaction,” recalled Captain Miles Smith of the 4th Texas. Tongue in cheek, Smith wrote that the “Texas Brigade was in four states in one day. The State of Virginia, the State of Maryland, the State of Pennsylvania, and a state of drunkenness.” The sober soldiers enjoyed the beauty of the countryside. Private John West commented that the barns were “more substantially and carefully built and fitted out than any house I have ever seen in the country in Texas.”

The brigade reached Chambersburg on June 27. To Colonel Robert Powell of the 5th Texas, it was a “city of banners … a Union flag surrounded every house … every lady held a flag in her hand, varying in size from a postage stamp to a table cloth.” The women were less than congenial, as they “congregated on the sidewalks and did jeer and ridicule the Johnny Rebs, who received in return compliments equally gracious,” recalled Smith. Some of their scorn turned to horror when they realized who they were dealing with. At least one remarked, “They are the ones that have killed so many of our soldiers.” One woman smugly remarked, “Thank God, you will never come back alive.” This was answered by, “No, as we intend to go to Cincinnati byway of New York.”

Marching another mile north of the town, the men halted and went into bivouac with the rest of the division. The soldiers were most unhappy when they realized that their commissary wagons had not yet arrived. They finally arrived after dark, but the men were dismayed to find that they contained slender radons of rancid bacon and musty flour. This caused the men to reason that the “Federal soldiers that had marched through Virginia had taken, with the strong hand, whatever they wanted … not even offering to pay in greenbacks,” recalled Corporal Joseph Polley of the 4th Texas. Lee had issued strong orders against depredations on private property, but the men did not consider it a violation if they paid for the goods with Confederate script or if it was voluntarily offered. “No violence used, no threats of any kind made by any Confederate soldier, and none of the citizens complained of having been intimidated and robbed,” claimed Polley.

Polley awoke to a wondrous sight on June 28. “Every square foot of an acre of ground not occupied by a sleeping or standing soldier, was covered with choice food for the hungry. Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese … scattered around in bewildering confusion and gratifying profusion … loaves of bread and chunks of corned beef, hams, and sides of bacon … bowls of yellow butter, demijohns of buttermilk, and other eatables too numerous to mention.”

The march resumed on June 30, and the brigade reached Fayetteville. It was to continue early the next day, but was delayed because Johnson’s Division and the Second Corps’s wagon train filled the road, so the men waited. The men were ordered to form into column when the last wagon passed. A frustrated Corporal Polley recalled that the men marched only about a hundred yards before being ordered to stop. No one wanted to sit down, because they expected the march to be resumed momentarily. “Nothing is so wearing on infantry as such halting process,” he wrote after the war. The subsequent march over the mountains in the dark was a tiring one. Colonel Powell of the 5th Texas noted that there was not nearly as much “hilarity” on this march, as the men understood that they would soon be in battle. The brigade was finally permitted to rest outside Cashtown at 2:00 A.M. on July 2. The men were awakened less than two hours later, as the officers conducted an inspection of every soldier’s arms and equipment. The final leg of the march to Gettysburg was exceedingly slow—only about six miles in four hours. The brigade finally reached the battlefield at about 9:00 A.M. During the last portion of its march, the brigade passed “the bloody shirts”—men who had been wounded the day before and were attempting to return to Virginia.

After completing a circuitous march to Warfield Ridge, General Robertson aligned his regiments, from left to right, as 3rd Arkansas–1st Texas–4th Texas–5th Texas. Many of the men were apprehensive when they looked across the wide swath of ground. “Hitherto, the Texans had fought on ground over which they could move rapidly in line, and where the enemy was accessible—where the terror caused by their dashing rush and swift oncoming counted large. Here at Gettysburg the foe lay concealed behind stone fences at the base of the ridge and mountains, or flat on the ground on a crest of ridge or mountain,” noted Corporal Polley.

Reilly’s battery opened fire from its position in the front of the brigade. The enemy guns replied, “knocking out a man here and there,” according to Private A. C. Sims of the 1st Texas. John Wilkerson of the 3rd Arkansas could look down the line “and see our men knocked out constantly … I don’t know how long we were held there under fire, but the time seemed endless,” he recalled. Private John West noted that the “infernal machines came tearing and whirring through the ranks with a most demoralizing tendency.” The losses were heaviest in the 4th Texas, which lost fifteen men to a single shell. Captain Decimus Barziza of that regiment found that these cannonades were exceedingly difficult for the men because “one has time to reflect upon the danger, and the utter helplessness of his present condition. The men are all flat on the ground, keeping their places in ranks, and as a shell is heard, generally try to sink themselves into the earth.” At the height of the shelling, a private stood up and, moving to the front of the 5th Texas, offered a prayer. Seeing the effect of this cannon fire, General Robertson moved the men to a safer location and ordered them to lie down. Colonel Manning (3rd Arkansas) calmed his men by walking among them, quietly saying, “Steady men, steady.”

General Hood ordered them to charge the enemy and take the heights at about 5:00 P.M. Colonel Phillip Work of the 1st Texas pointed to his regiment’s flag and yelled, “Follow the Lone Star Flag to the top of the mountain!” Almost immediately, commands to “Forward-Guide Right-March!” were heard, and off they went. The Federal artillery fire now increased, causing the line to move faster. As the brigade advanced, Robertson ordered it to throw down a rail fence in its front. Riding forward, he yelled, “We’re going in there, men. There’s a rail fence down there on the road. Grab it by the bottom rail and heave.” With this obstruction out of the way, the men swept across Emmitsburg Road. As the line rushed forward, it encountered a skirmish line composed of the tough 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters (Ward’s Brigade, Birney’s Division), who took their toll on the attackers. Private Mark Smither of the 5th Texas wrote home after the battle that “our men tumbl[ed] out of ranks at each step, knocked over by the Enemy’s sharpshooters who lined the side of the mountain.”

The brigade almost immediately ran into problems. After the war, Robertson complained that Law started his charge prematurely, “a full mile from the enemy’s line of battle.” Because Law’s Brigade had a head start and was moving so fast, Robertson’s men had to go from quickstep to a trot to keep up with the Alabamians. Another problem was Hood’s orders to Robertson, which were to “keep my right well closed on Brigadier-General Law’s left, and to let my left rest on the Emmitsburg Pike.” As his line of battle rushed forward, Robertson realized that Emmitsburg Road “[bore] sharply to the left … while Law on my right bore to the right.” Robertson knew that his brigade was too small to cover the desired space. Colonel Manning’s 3rd Arkansas stubbornly held his regiment’s left on Emmitsburg Road, while the 5th Texas linked up with Law’s Brigade on the right. The 4th Texas aligned with the latter regiment, but the next regiment in line, the 1st Texas, aligned with the right of the 3rd Arkansas. This caused a yawning gap to form in the middle of the brigade. Despite the fact that Robertson explained in his report that the “separation of my regiments … was remedied as promptly as the numerous stone and rail fences … would allow,” in reality, the two wings fought independently for the remainder of the day. Robertson admitted this later in his report, indicating that he tried to send the left wing to the assistance of the right, but when he realized that it was too heavily engaged, he tried to move the 4th and 5th Texas to the left. However, that too was impossible, as these two regiments had already encountered the enemy. He did not mention that the gap was partially filled by the arrival of the 44th and 48th Alabama (Law’s Brigade). Realizing that he could not supervise both diverging wings, Robertson sent a message to Law, asking him to look after the 4th and 5th Texas, while he stayed with the left wing. Equally concerning to Robertson was the fact that McLaws’s Division had not advanced on his left.

The left wing probably engaged the enemy first, just south of the Wheatfield. With the 3rd Arkansas on the left, in the Rose Woods, and the 1st Texas on the right, the two regiments swept forward. According to Colonel Phillip Work, Company I of the 4th Texas became separated from its regiment during the charge and joined the 1st Texas. The fact that both flanks hung in the air did not seem to bother either regimental commander at this time. Up ahead were regiments from Ward’s Brigade (Birney’s Division, III Corps). With a yell, the two regiments charged the Federal line, which opened fire. A volley suddenly tore into the 3rd Arkansas’s vulnerable left flank. The 17th Maine of de Trobriand’s Brigade (Birney’s Division) had just sprinted to a stone wall on the edge of the Wheatfield to cut down the 3rd Arkansas’s left flank. Colonel Manning ran to the left and ordered the three companies there to change position to face this new threat. But the din of battle was so great that none heard his command, so Manning had to physically push the men into position. Up against the 86th New York, 20th Indiana, and 99th Pennsylvania of Ward’s Brigade in his front, and the 17th Maine on its left flank, Manning wisely broke off the attack and pulled his men back to safety. He stretched out his regiment to about double its original length, hoping that he would find the vulnerable flank of the enemy, and charged again, but the results were the same. The 3rd Arkansas’s repulses are easy to understand, given that its 479 men were up against about 1300 of the enemy.

Coming up on the right of the 3rd Arkansas, the 1st Texas was exposed to a devastating artillery fire from Smith’s battery on Houck’s Ridge. According to Private A. C. Sims of the 1st Texas, “we loaded and fired, the front rank on their knees and the rear standing.” They found a measure of safety when they reached a stone wall at the base of the triangular field. Fortunately for the Texans, Smith’s cannon could not depress their barrels enough to fire into them as they crouched behind the wall. The Texans opened fire on Smith’s gunners and silenced the battery. The men now jumped over the wall and dashed toward the guns. All was confusion. First the men heard orders to retreat, which the regiment began to do. Then the order was quickly countermanded. “No one seemed to know whence it came, nor from whom,” recalled Private James Bradfield. “It cost us dearly, for as we lay in close range of their now double lines, the enemy poured a hail of bullets on us, and in a few minutes a number of our men were killed or wounded.” The 124th New York closely watched these events while stationed atop Houck’s Ridge. According to Captain Charles Weygant of the regiment, the Texans advanced to within fifty yards of the battery, when the Federal troops opened fire. The “crash of riflery [sic] perceptibly thinned their ranks and brought them to a stand … it seemed to paralyze their whole line.” The Texans soon recovered, and continued forward.

Upon the command of its officers, the 124th New York let out a cheer and charged into the 1st Texas, driving it back about two hundred yards to a rail fence. Here the Texans rallied and held their ground, inflicting terrible losses on the New Yorkers. Help was on the way, as Benning’s veteran brigade moved up behind the Texans and opened fire on the New Yorkers, forcing them back to their original position on Houck’s Ridge. Not knowing that the 1st Texas was in front of them, the 20th Georgia opened fire. The 1st Texas’s flag bearer quickly moved to an open area and waved his flag until the firing stopped.

Colonel Work (1st Texas) was initially relieved when the 15th Georgia arrived to support his regiment. This relief quickly changed to frustration, as the Georgians barreled forward and “commingled” with his troops. Despite the efforts of both commanding officers, the regiments could not be separated and fought most of the day together. With the threat from the 124th New York dissipated, both regiments stormed toward Smith’s battery on Houck’s Ridge. Private James Bradfield insisted that no orders to charge were given. “Without awaiting orders, every man became his own commander and sprang forward toward the top of the hill at full speed.” The charge was successful, and several of Smith’s guns were captured. During this melee, the two commingled regiments were joined by the 20th Georgia and the 44th Alabama (Law’s Brigade), who took on the 124th New York, 4th Maine, and 99th Pennsylvania, often in hand-to-hand combat.

Over to the left, Colonel Manning’s 3rd Arkansas was still not making any progress. General Robertson now ordered Colonel Work to leave two companies on Houck’s Ridge and move the rest of his regiment to the left to support the 3rd Arkansas. Manning was also relieved to see the 11th and 59th Georgia of Anderson’s Brigade form on his endangered left flank. Just at that moment, a shell exploded almost in Manning’s face, knocking him senseless. Despite these reinforcements, the Federal troops in this sector were just too strong to be displaced, and every attack failed. The persistence of these attacks caused the 3rd Arkansas to lose more men than any other regiment in the brigade, save one. Eventually, the growing pressure on the Federal line was so great that Ward’s Brigade and the 17th Maine were finally forced to fall back.

The first-person accounts of the 1st Texas survivors are confusing after this point. There is, however, ample evidence from the 15th Georgia that two regiments continued to advance to the Wheatfield, where they slugged it out with the newly arrived 5th New Hampshire of Cross’s Brigade (Caldwell’s Division, II Corps), but were forced back. The two regiments were later pushed farther back by the arrival of Brooke’s Brigade of the same division. Worried about his ability to withdraw his regiment, Colonel Work ordered the color bearer and several men to maintain their position, while the rest of the regiment was ordered to the rear. It did not work out like Work had intended, as the men refused to leave their beloved flag. These men continued to fire away at the newly arrived Federal reinforcements. Soon after, the 1st Texas and the 3rd Arkansas were ordered to Devil’s Den on the right, where they opened fire on the Federal troops on Little Round Top. One soldier from the 3rd Arkansas merrily sang, “Now let the wide world wag as it will, I’ll be gay and happy still!” as he methodically loaded his gun and fired it at the Federal troops on the hill. The men replenished their supplies of ammunition by rifling through the pouches of fallen soldiers.

While the left of the line was engaged with several regiments from Ward’s and de Trobriand’s Brigades, the right of the line, consisting of the 4th and 5th Texas, drove toward Little Round Top. To the right of the 5th Texas was the 4th Alabama of Law’s Brigade. About a quarter mile from Little Round Top they encountered skirmishers from the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, who occupied thick undergrowth. So tenacious were the skirmishers that the Texans had to stop and reform their ranks before charging. Although the skirmish line was finally pushed back, it bought valuable time for the Federals. All the while, artillery played upon the ranks of the Texans, causing many casualties. Advancing another two hundred yards, Major John Bane of the 4th Texas believed that he had finally encountered the Union line. These troops were probably from the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters making another stand, along with skirmishers from Vincent’s Brigade. The men leaped a low stone fence and rushed the sharpshooters, forcing them to retreat.

The three regiments were now alone at the base of Little Round Top. Near the summit, the men could see the 16th Michigan, 44th New York, and 83rd Pennsylvania (Vincent’s Brigade) taking cover behind rocks. The two Texas regiments were aligned directly in front of the first two regiments. Moving slowly up the hill, the officers found it increasingly difficult to keep anything that resembled an orderly line of battle. The hill was just too steep and studded with numerous large rocks and other obstructions. “The huge rocks form [ed] defiles through which not more than 3 or 4 men could pass abreast, thus breaking up our alignment and rendering its reformation impossible,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel K. Bryan of the 5th Texas in his official report. So steep were some areas that West (4th Texas) thought that “a mountain goat would have reveled” in them. Still, the men moved on. Halting his men, Bryan ordered them to open fire on the enemy. The Federal troops returned the fire, which Bryan likened to “being showered like hail upon us.”

Private J. Mark Smither of the 5th Texas wrote home after the battle that “nothing daunted … our boys … until they had arrived within 25 steps of the works on finding that the plan of scaling the heights was impossible, for we could hardly have gone over them if there had been no Yankees there.” Private William Fletcher noted that “we stopped advancing, without orders as far as I was concerned, as I had heard none.” Smither related how his comrades “immediately took shelter, Indian fashion, behind rocks and trees and commenced popping away at the Yankees whenever they showed their heads … the Yankees … pouring volley after volley down on us with frightful effect.” The men were in an impossible situation. They could not advance, and to raise their heads invited having them shot off by the Federal troops above them. Jonathan Stevens of the same regiment honestly recalled after the war that “for the first time in the history of the war, our men began to waver. We [were] suffering terribly.”

Realizing that they were not making progress, but taking additional casualties with each moment they remained on the side of the hill, the officers pulled their men back to the woods at its base. According to Major J. C. Rogers, who took command of the 5th Texas after its colonel and lieutenant colonel had been wounded, he pulled his men back only when the withdrawal of the other regiments left his flanks unguarded.

Another charge was ordered, but it too met with defeat. Three regiments charging a steep hill against a similar size force, protected by cover, is folly. Yet the Texans and Alabamians never gave up. The veterans of Robertson’s Brigade realized an impossible situation when they saw it, and began streaming back down the slope, despite their officers’ orders to “halt.” While resting in the woods, the 48th Alabama arrived and formed on the left of the 4th Texas. Another charge was ordered. This time, four Confederate regiments stormed Vincent’s three well-positioned ones. The 5th Texas stormed up the hill, getting farther than it had on its first two attempts. A courier for General Law scrambled up the hill and told Major Rogers, “General Law presents his compliments and says hold the place at all hazards.” Rogers roared back, “Compliments, hell! Wiho wants compliments in such a damned place as this? Go back and ask General Law if he expects me to hold the world in check with the Fifth Texas Regiment.” Rogers apparently obeyed the order, for Private Val Giles saw him mount a log and “begin a Fourth of July speech. He was a little ahead of time, for that was about six thirty on the evening of July 2nd.” All was chaos. “Every fellow was his own general. Private soldiers gave commands as loud as the officers. Nobody paid attention to either,” recalled Giles. Actually, the din of battle was so loud that few could hear beyond a few feet.

Polley explained the hellish conditions on the hill:

Their fire [Federal artillery] and that of our own batteries, and the constant roar and rattle of thousands of muskets, made the earth tremble beneath our feet, while the fierce, angry shriek, the strident swirl of grape and canister as they tore hurtling through the air and broke like a wave from the ocean of death upon that devoted spot, the hissing bullets, and their “spat” as they struck rock, tree or human flesh—all this, with the shouts and imprecations, the leaping to and fro and from boulder to boulder of powder-begrimed men, seemingly gone wild with rage and excitement, created a scene of such indescribable, awe-inspiring confusion.

This attack should have ended like the others, except for the fact that the 48th Alabama appeared to have flanked Vincent’s right-most regiment, the 16th Michigan, while the 4th Texas hit its front. Before long, the Michiganders were streaming to the rear. It looked like the Texans and Alabamians would finally take the hill. Colonel Strong Vincent rushed over to rally his men, but was mortally wounded as he shouted encouragement while standing on a large rock.

Help was on the way. Before the Confederates could exploit the breach in the Federal line, the 140th New York (Weed’s Brigade, Ayres’s Division, V Corps) arrived and smashed into the Texans and Alabamians. The fight was now at close quarters, but the Confederates were at a disadvantage and forced to fall back yet again. The officers could see that further attacks were futile, as their men were exhausted, their ranks were decimated, the Federal position was all but impregnable, and enemy reinforcements were now arriving.

A bitter Smither told his mother, “now it was to be expected that our men having tried it and seeing the impossibility of taking the place would have refused to have gone in again, but no they tried it a second and third time and formed to go in a 4th time when night came on forced us to abandon the fight.” Another private from the regiment, Rufus Felder, wrote home that “it seemed like madness in Lee to have attempted to storm such a position. He came very near loosing [sic] his whole army by it.” The 5th Texas had the dubious honor of having sustained the brigade’s greatest losses—52%.

Nightfall ended the bloodletting. Fletcher recalled orders to prepare to charge the hill once again. “The order shook me, and my feelings were indescribable; in fact, I had a bad case of cowardly horror.” Common sense prevailed and the attack was never launched. One of the casualties was General Robertson, who was wounded above his knee and unable to walk.

At about 2:00 A.M. on July 3, the 1st Texas and 3rd Arkansas moved to the right, where they rejoined the two Texas regiments. The exhausted men threw themselves down in front of Little Round Top and caught whatever sleep they could, given the continual moans and groans of the wounded. Fearing an attack by the enemy, the men were awakened to erect breastworks. By dawn, Major John Bane of the 4th Texas could report that they stood two feet high. The brigade remained in this position through July 3. The only event of any importance was the skirmishing in their front. Several men were killed or wounded during the sharp-shooting that occurred during the day. Several were also wounded during the grand cannonade that preceded Pickett’s charge, when, according to Fletcher, “the guns were not elevated enough and were doing fine work on our position. The bursting and flying pieces of shell and rock put us in a panic condition.”

At about 3:00 P.M., Colonel Work was ordered to move his 1st Texas south to help repel an anticipated cavalry charge. As the column approached the Bushman house, the men were ordered to tear down part of a fence that obstructed their passage. Proceeding another two hundred yards or so, the regiment took position behind a stone wall on the edge of the Bushman Woods. Here the men deployed in one line. Given the large area to cover and the losses the day before, Sims called it a “skirmish line.” Captain George Hillyer from the 9th Georgia (Anderson’s Brigade) noted that the 1st Texas did not have “men enough to have more than about one to every five or six steps.” Several units were thrown out to the left and right to protect the flanks. On the left, some of the men took down a “staked and ridered” fence and rebuilt it, attaching it to the stone wall. Reilly’s battery also joined the regiment, deploying about 250 yards in the Texans’s rear. Hardly had the men completed building the breastwork than the 1st West Virginia of Farnsworth’s cavalry brigade charged. One unknown Texan recorded in his diary that the charge began about 4:30 P.M.

Thomas McCarthy vividly described the Federal cavalry charge:

We formed behind a Bunch of Timber in our front between it and us, being an open field for Two Hundred yards [.] The ground trembled as they came, they rode down our skirmishers & charged us, and in a few seconds were on us, our Boys arose and pitched in to them. They went through us cutting right & left [.] The Firing for a few minutes was front, rear & towards the flanks [.] In a few minutes, great numbers of riderless horses were galloping around & and others with riders on were trying to surrender, a fusilade of shot 7 shell from Rileys [sic] Battery passed a couple of feet above our heads.

Private W. T. White of the 1st Texas noted that “they formed line of battle in plain view of us and charged. We held our fire until they were within fifty or sixty yards of us, when, taking deliberate aim, we fired on them, bringing down many men and horses. Instead of continuing the assault, which probably would have resulted in our capture, they retreated to their original starting point, reformed, and recharged, with the same result as before.” Many of the cavalrymen continued their charge. “All of the boys had fired off their pieces, and Yankees would not give them time to load, so the boys were using the butts of their guns.” Private James Hendrick agreed, stating that some of the Federal cavalrymen came “up [with] in ten steps of the regiment. Some of the regiment knocked them off of their horses with rocks. We killed a great many of them and captured over one-hundred prisoners. They could not break our lines.”

The reprieve was short-lived, for within a few minutes, the 18th Pennsylvania galloped toward the Texans’s position. The result was the same, and many horses trotted away with empty saddles. Private White noted, “having repulsed the second charge, we felt that we could almost whip all the cavalry the enemy had, and from that time on, for about two hours, they continued making demonstrations against us.”

During the evening of July 3, the brigade was ordered to move by the right flank to its original jump off position on Warfield Ridge. Here the men remained through July 4, finally retreating from Gettysburg late that night.

One of the toughest brigades in either army, Robertson’s Brigade was not effectively utilized on July 2. The problems began almost immediately, when the brigade broke into two separate and independent wings, fighting separately throughout the remainder of the day. Although outnumbered, the left wing fought well and eventually captured three cannon from Smith’s battery. The right also did as well as could be expected, given that it was assigned the impossible task of storming Little Round Top. That the two Texas regiments almost captured the heights is a testament to their fighting abilities.

Swedes in other Militaries

Swedish instructors in white tropical helmets (at left and right) training artillerymen of the Persian Gendarmerie.

In Viking times there were Scandinavian warriors, Varangians, in the Byzantine lifeguard. Since that time Swedes have served in many other foreign armed forces. They have done so for economic gain as well as for the sake of military experience, to escape boredom, and even some through forced enrollment. With the coming of the 1800s political ideas became an important factor.

From the tenth century until the thirteenth century warriors from the Scandinavian lands traveled to Miklagård, the Viking name for the Byzantine city of Constantinople, today’s Turkish Istanbul. They wanted to be Varangians and be enrolled into the prestigious Väringjalid (the Varangian guard). Scandinavians, with their exotic weapons, were seen as the best guarantee for the security of the Byzantine leadership. In Persia (Iran) between 1910 and 1920 and in Ethiopia and Spain during the 1930s, Swedes came to be seen with the same great trust and confidence as the Varangians had been. Before we report on the twentieth century Varangians, however, we need to give an overview of their predecessors during the previous three centuries.

Up to 1814, the last time Sweden as a nation was at war, Swedes in the armed forces of foreign states were not an unknown phenomena, but because Sweden’s own military was more active in that period, there were fewer Swedes who joined the military of other states. In those days it was necessary to occasionally resort to the enrollment of thousands of German, Scottish, Irish, and Swiss mercenaries to reinforce the Swedish Army. Paradoxically enough, even at this time, Swedish units could be hired out by the Swedish Regent to foreign princes during a lull in the Swedish campaigns!

A rather exotic example of a Swede who himself chose to serve in foreign uniform during Sweden’s Great Power epoch is Nils Matsson Kiöping, who in 1650 went into the service of the Persian Shah and took part in his campaign against Afghanistan.

During the following century over 400 Swedish officers fought under the French flag. In the beginning they were mainly Swedish prisoners of war who in accordance with the custom of the time were offered to change prisoner status for war service. Later young Swedish officers came voluntarily to France to join a Swedish-led regiment there, that from 1742 was called “Royal Suédois” (Royal Swedish). At that time France led the world in military theory and the regiment also offered ample opportunities for practicing the art of war. Royal Suédois participated in the battle at Gibraltar in 1782, that strangely enough, was part of the American Revolutionary War.

Two Royal Suédois colonels were even more involved in the war that led to the foundation of the United States of America. Colonel Curt von Stedingk distinguished himself in close combat during the invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1779. The Colonel and Count Axel von Fersen fought from 1780 to 1782 on the American side in the staff of French General de Rochambeau. The count then marched over 1,000 kilometers with the French forces in America. In October 1781 he took part in the capture of Yorktown. As General de Rochambeau’s personal interpreter he worked with General George Washington on three occasions. Today, however, he is more famous for his relationship with French Queen Marie Antoinette. Both von Fersen and von Stedingk were honored by General Washington himself with the hereditary Order of the Cincinnati.

Some 250 Swedish colleagues of the two colonels fought on the American side in French, Dutch, and local uniforms, to a great extent out of sympathy for the American rebels in their conflict with the British Empire.

Georg von Döbeln, future Swedish national hero, was also on his way to the American Revolutionary War, but the ship he sailed with changed its destination en route and sailed off to Asia. He thus had to content himself with fighting the British in India! During this same period at least 2,000 Swedes served as officers and crew within the Royal Navy of Britain and the British Merchant Fleet. It was not as a result of great sympathy for the politics of the British that led the Swedes to these ships, however, but rather the pay as well as professional interest.

The new category of Swedes in foreign war service—the ideologically motivated—appeared most clearly in the two Danish-German wars of 1848 to 1850 and 1864 when university students entered the battlefield under idealism’s banner. In the war fought from 1848 to 1850 some 260 Swedes fought on the side of Denmark. Barely half were career military. In the second phase of the clash, in 1864, almost twice as many Swedes served, and only one-fourth of them were military men. Not a single Swede is known to have fought on the German side in these wars.

During the Danish-German wars there was a craze for Scandinavia, called “Scandinavianism,” centered around Scandinavian history and unity. It was a deciding factor for many Swedes to sign up. This romantic idea of history is reflected very clearly in the medal that was struck in 1850 for former Swedish volunteers. It had a Viking motif on both the front and back side of the medal. In the second of the Danish-German wars the Swedish and Norwegian volunteers were assembled into a special unit called Strövkåren (Wandering corps). One of the Corps’ two companies was led by the future, very influential, Chief of the Swedish General Staff, Hugo Raab. A remnant of the strong Scandinavianist spirit of the mid-nineteenth century can be heard in the Swedish national Anthem words “I want to live, I want to die in Norden” (Norden being synonymous with the Nordic countries, that is, Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland).

Even more Swedes participated in the Civil War in America. Over 3,500 served in the Union Army while several hundred were with the Confederates. These statistics, however, ought to be seen in the light of the fact that almost all were Swedish immigrants and many of them were offered rather impressive sums for enlistment. Forty Swedish officers, sergeants, and cadets did leave Sweden after the start of the war to join the military forces of the Northern States, though, among them a captain with the Dalarna Regiment, Ernst von Vegesack. He was much appreciated on the US side of the Atlantic and was made a brigadier general there (as was fellow Swede Charles Stohlbrand). After having become an American military hero at Antietam and Gettysburg, Ernst von Vegesack returned to Sweden and became chief of a military district.

The southern states also had two Swedish-American brigadier generals. Roger “Old Flintlock” Hanson was a Confederate brigadier of Swedish stock. Hanson commanded the 1st Kentucky Orphan Brigade and was mortally wounded on the last day of the battle of Stone’s River (Murfreesboro). Charles Dahlgren raised the 3d Brigade, Army of Mississippi, by his own means. When the war ended his slaves were taken from him and set free and he was not able to retain his plantation. Things went a lot better for his brother, Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, who chose to fight for the opposite side!

The total number of Swedes killed in action during the American Civil War is not known. Three of them are forever honored in Sweden, however, at the Military Academy Chapel in the Karlberg Castle, because they had completed training at that institution.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 attracted a group of Swedes to sign up for France. Their total number has not been ascertained, but they were perhaps a dozen or two. What is known about them is that several of them were veterans of the Danish-German war of 1864 and at least three of them were career officers. Only a single Swedish volunteer on the German (Prussian) side has been identified.

In the next war with Swedish participation there were two new phenomena which we rather associate with the epoch of the World Wars: concentration camps and commando troops. Both of these innovations saw the light of day not in Europe during WWII, but four decades earlier in South Africa. In the beginning of October 1899, immediately after the start of the so-called Boer War in South Africa between Great Britain and the two Boer Republics, a group of Scandinavian guest workers, seamen, and immigrants in Pretoria decided to organize a common free corps against the British. This initiative was led by a Swedish railway engineer, Christer Uggla. A total of 113 men joined, of which forty-five were Swedes, twenty-four Danes, eighteen Finns, thirteen Norwegians, and thirteen “others.” Johannes Flygare, the son of a missionary, was appointed captain of the unit. Even though he was a civilian, he had some war experience from the Zulu War. His deputy was First Lieutenant Erik Stålberg from Sundsvall, the only Swede on the Boer side with proper military leadership training—he was a Swedish first sergeant.

The Corps was organized like most Boer units; as mounted infantry. The Transvaal Government supplied ox-drawn baggage trains, provisions, weapons, and ammunition. The participants were promised citizenship and some form of payment in the event of victory. Lieutenant Stålberg got a week to teach the men the essentials of military life. The majority of the Scandinavians had no experience with weapons or even in horsemanship.

The Scandinavian Corps carried out sabotage against the railroad lines and on 24 October hastily moved to storm the fortified city of Mafeking, where the defense was led by Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, later the founder of the scout movement. The attack failed because of the lack of combat experience, and because of the machine guns of the British. Shortly thereafter, however, the Scandinavian volunteers were able to seize a British forward position outside the city, but they were unable to exploit this success.

At the end of November 1899 the Corps was sent to the south together with other Boer troops to stop a brigade of British elite troops—Scottish Regiments—on the way to relieve the besieged city of Kimberley. The Boers positioned themselves along the high ground called Magersfontein, to block the British advance. In the evening of 10 December most of the Scandinavians were placed a kilometer from the high ground in order to guard the main defensive force from a surprise attack. When the Boer General Piet Cronjé got information at three o’clock in the morning that the British were on the march directly towards his position, he ordered all his forward guard posts to be drawn back. The word did not reach the Scandinavians, however, and the result was a minor modern Thermopylae.

Despite an overwhelming superiority of forces and a monopoly on the machine guns it took the British several hours to take the Scandinavian position. There they found two who were not wounded, nineteen dead, and twenty-two wounded of whom a third were dying. In front of the Scandinavian position lay 279 dead and wounded British, mainly Scots. The British found it very hard to believe that the Scandinavians had so few men. In fact, they had had only seven more, who had succeeded in fighting through to the main position.

The remarkable stand of the Scandinavians was the result of an error. Had the order to retreat reached them they would presumably not have stood their ground, but this small battle contributed to stopping the British advance. That this did not change the outcome of the war was considered wholly unimportant, at least in Sweden. A hero cult arose around the Corps. The Swedish newspaper, Social-Demokraten, commented on the official Boer report about the Magersfontein front, “War is a calamity, wicked, but it would be foolish hypocrisy to not confess that we read with joy the lines…that deal with our Nordic countrymen.” Even The Times of London respectfully described the enemy Scandinavian Corps.

One of about ten Swedes on the other, that is, British, side during the Boer War was career officer Erland Mossberg. Completely in the spirit of the times it was Mossberg who took the initiative to erect a monument for the Scandinavian Corps—his former enemies—at the place where their greatest action took place.20 The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet supported the project. A seven-meter-high granite Old Norse Memorial Stone (Menhir) was presented by a Finnish company and decorated with a runiform ornament, an engraved valkyrie. Four smaller stones were placed around the pillar. The names of the fallen are listed on the warrior shields. The stone stands there to this day, on the hill called Magersfontein.

The Boer War, with the Scandinavian Thermopylae as a climax, captivated the Swedes and the action blended an admiration for “Swedish war bravado” with a broad European enthusiasm for the Boers, an anti-British sentiment, and a sense of Nordic unity. But the most significant aspect of the Scandinavian Corps is that not a single Swedish professional officer (not even a former one) joined the Boers. The Corps was made up of Swedish civilians (albeit one a reserve officer) who were sympathetic towards Boer Nationalism. Moreover, Swedish women, for the first time, appeared in foreign war service. Three South African War Participant medals were given to Swedish nurses who belonged to the Scandinavian Ambulance. The ambulance followed the Scandinavian Corps and was virtually part of it. The ambulance personnel were not only fired upon, but also taken prisoner by the British.

The contrast between the Swedish officers in the Royal Suédois and the amateurs of the Scandinavian Corps is great, but both came to have successors during World War I and II.