Storming the “Halls of Montezuma”

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After the Mexican War battle of Churubusco on August 20, 1847, Mexico’s General Santa Anna tricked U.S. General Scott into two unfavorable maneuvers. First, he agreed to declare a truce to establish peace negotiations, but this was a ruse. Even while Santa Anna sold supplies to the American invaders, he quietly reinforced his army to 18,000 men while the American force was down to 8,000 effectives.

The second trick was passing false intelligence to Gen. Scott. Santa Anna led Scott to believe that at Molino del Ray, the stronghold west of Mexico City and one mile west of the Hill of Chapultepec, housed a cannon foundry where they were melting brass church bells into heavy cannon. The Americans attacked Molino, and it turned into a costly victory where 750 Americans were killed, and every remaining wounded American was murdered by the Mexicans. After inspection, Scott discovered that there was no foundry there. The heavy losses at Molino brought the six companies of U.S. Marines into battle.

Mexico City was a formidable target. Surrounded by marshes and with approaches via eight causeways, Scott faced obstacles similar to those Cortez had experienced 329 years earlier. Since the southern approach to the capital was heavily fortified, the American plan was to attack from the west at the two garitos or gates to the city. Each garito bristled with cannon positioned to rake the roadway. Scott’s line then was Molino, then Chapultepec, then the two gates leading into the city. One causeway was the Garita de Belen, another headed north two miles to the Garita de San Cosme.

The Hill of Chapultepec, 200 feet above the surrounding plain, was 600 yards wide, surrounded by a ditch and a 12-foot wall, and topped by a palace that had been made into a military school. It was fortified into a makeshift fortress as the Americans advanced on the capital.

The castle had once been a resort of the Aztec princes. The hill was steep all around except for a slope on the west where the Marines decided to attack. It had a sand-bag barricade at the entryway, and the hillside was mined with charges that were fused to be set off from the fortress.

Generals Scott and Worth regarded the fortress as impregnable. Even though it was vulnerable to American bombardment, both officers were grim on the prospect, and Gen. Worth thought, “we shall be defeated.” The hill was a fearsome objective to assault—but if taken, the army would then be able to move onto the causeways leading into the capital.

Two storming parties of 250 men each were assembled. The Marines were assigned to the 4th Division commanded by Army Brigadier General John Quitman, a Mississippian. The Americans moved out of the tree cover and faced the mined hillside that led to the retaining wall of the castle terrace.

At 8 a.m. on Monday, September 13, the attack began. Quitman’s men attacked the southern side of Chapultepec. Captain Silas Casey led an assault party of 120 hand-picked soldiers and Marines under Marine Major Levi Twiggs, and 40 Marines commanded by Marine Captain John Reynolds. They faced 1,000 Mexican troops inside the fortress.

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U.S. Marines storming Chapultepec castle under a large American flag.

The Halls of Montezuma

Chapultepec, also known as “the castle,” was an ancient Mexican shrine as well as a recent fortress. Three hundred years before the U.S. war, this had been the summer palace, replete with fountains, of Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor. In 1783, a Spanish viceroy built a new citadel on top of the ruins of the old palace. Surrounded by a huge retaining wall was a broad terrace that made for excellent cannon placement.

Around 1840, the Mexicans made this structure into their National Military Academy. Like at West Point, the young cadets learned military arts in their gray uniforms and tasseled blue caps. About one hundred of the cadets, though ordered to evacuate their school, stayed on and proudly fought to defend this memorial to Mexican history.

Six cadets became the boy heroes of Chapultepec. Those who died were: Vicente Suarez, age 13; Francisco Marquez, 14; Fernando Montes de Ora, 17; Agustin Melgar, 18; Juan de la Barrera, 20; and Juan Escutia, 20.

Cadet Escutia reportedly took the Academy flag from its staff, wrapped it around his body, and valiantly plunged to his death on the rocks below the castle rather than see the flag surrendered to the Americans.

 

Two of Chapultepec’s guns were soon disabled by American battery fire, and the disheartened Mexican soldiers began to desert. From the terrace came a murderous rain of grapeshot and musketry. General Pillow was struck in the ankle, but the whole American force flowed over the redoubt. The Americans were able to cut the canvas powder line that led to the mines and none exploded.

The Marines struggled up the steep southern side, fighting hand-to-hand with bayonets and clubbed rifles. Corporal Hugh Graham and five Marines were killed.

Casey and Twiggs fell wounded, the latter fatally, and they stopped 200 yards short of the guns. Scaling ladders finally reached the Americans. They bridged the ditch and their first wave was mowed down by the Mexicans. So many ladders rose, seemingly at once, that 50 men were up abreast. “And with a shout of victory, the great body of troops rushed over” the walls and gained the castle.

The Americans turned the Mexican guns around, relieving the pressure on Quitman’s column. The Mexicans fell back and the Americans charged the castle’s main gates. The Mexicans fled so hastily that they “jumped down the eastern side of the rock, regardless of the height.”

The young cadets who had refused to desert the school fought to the end. The six boys were killed, as an American correspondent put it, “fighting like demons.” They were to be called Los Ninos Heroicos—the heroic children.

Mexican officers watching their defeat from a distance said, “God is a Yankee,” as Americans from both sides reached the castle. At 9:30 a.m., an American flag was raised over the fortress.

Marine Captain George Terrett led First Lieutenant John Simms, Second Lieutenant Charles Henderson (son of the Commandant), and 36 men to skirt the heights and pursue the retreating enemy northeasterly towards the city itself. Terrett and his Marines raced up the road under heavy fire. Twenty infantry, led by Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, the future General and American President, joined them as they fought their way up the San Cosme causeway. They were the spearhead of the army contingent.

Casualties were severe until the Americans remembered the tactic they used at Monterey—breaking their way through the walls of buildings and hauling their guns through them. This tactic also enabled them to fire from the roofs.

General Worth’s bugles sounded recall. Terrett went back to report, but Simms and Henderson attacked with 85 men. The gate was too heavily defended to rely on a frontal assault alone, so Marine Lieutenants Simms and Jabez Rich led seven marines to attack from the left. Four were hit. Henderson, wounded in the leg, attacked from the front. Two more men were hit, but together, the two groups seized San Cosme gate as darkness fell.

Worth again sounded recall and the Marines and soldiers withdrew. Six Marines had been killed. Once Chapultepec fell, Quitman moved his division under fire east on the Belen causeway with the Marine battalion right behind a South Carolina regiment. At the Belen gate, they were stopped by enemy fire and Marine Private Tom Kelly was killed. Finally, at 1:20 p.m., the Marines and infantry carried the gate. At dawn on the 14th, Quitman and Worth prepared to assault the city through the two entrances—but Santa Anna had already pulled out.

Though Scott was angry at Quitman for the costliness of his attack on Belen, he felt the Mississippian and his Marines had earned the honor of formally taking the city. Within hours, he would appoint Quitman Mexico City’s military governor.

The Americans hardly looked the part of a conquering army. The victorious General Quitman wore only one shoe as he marched at the head of his ragged, blood-stained troops. Only about six thousand Americans remained on their feet—little more than half of those who had left Puebla.

Quitman’s men walked through the crowded streets into the Grand Plaza and took the National Plaza, where before had stood the halls of Montezuma. The Marines were stationed to guard the Palace. The U.S. Marines were now patrolling the halls of Montezuma. In the spring, the veterans were joined by a new 2nd Marine battalion of 367 men commanded by Major John Harris.

On February 2, 1848, the Mexicans accepted peace as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. Even though the U.S. was victorious, they agreed to pay Mexico 15 million dollars in cash for the land they coveted. Mexico had lost half her territory—an area larger than France and Germany combined. The American boundary with Mexico would run from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Rio Grande, to the New Mexican border. Then it would continue west to the Pacific at a point one league, or three miles, south of San Diego.

The outspoken Duke of Wellington called Gen. Scott “the greatest living soldier.” It had been Scott’s flexibility and imagination, his attention to reconnaissance, and his tendency to strike from an unexpected side that supplied the tactics that won the war. In addition, he had the support of solid officers like Thomas (later Stonewall) Jackson, Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant, P.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis. Only 13 years later, all of these men would become major players in the American Civil War.

With this victory, the expansion of the continental United States from coast to coast was now complete. And, in addition to Mexico, the Marines had also captured the opening words to their future Marine Hymn.

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Fighting Pirates at Quallah Battoo

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Quallah Battoo Artist: Colonel Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR

Less than ten degrees north of the equator, on the island of Sumatra, lies the rich pepper-growing region of Acheh. Beginning in the 1790s, New England trading ships would stop along the island’s western coast to exchange Spanish silver for the spice, needed not only to flavor and preserve food, but for the lucrative trans-Atlantic trade with Europe.

American ships, based primarily in Salem, had made nearly a thousand voyages carrying away 370 million pounds of pepper worth 17 million dollars at wholesale—almost half the pepper produced in Acheh during this period. A pound of pepper then sold for $13.

The American ships were faster, and the Dutch and British disliked their competition in this lucrative business. They pressured the Sultan of Acheh, Muhammed Shaw, to detain American ships in violation of trading laws. The British went so far as to try to entirely exclude American trade from Acheh. It is unclear how much of the piracy on American ships was pure robbery and how much was influenced by the colonial power games of the period.

In January 1831, one of these American merchant vessels—the Friendship—dropped anchor off the Sumatran town of Quallah Battoo to take on a load of pepper. A band of Malay pirates in three proas, or ships, boarded the Friendship, murdered a large part of the crew, looted the cargo and drove the craft ashore. Their plunder included four chests of opium which was used in medicine, and 18,000 Spanish dollars.

The Malay pirate fleets along the Straits of Malaka were considered the “Vikings of the East.” Their proas were 50 feet long, fast, and nimble, using both oars and light sails, and were armed with swivel guns mounted on bulkheads. The pirates, dressed in scarlet and chain-mail, brandished krises—a sword with a wavy blade—two-handed swords, and flintlocks. They were famous for either murdering every soul on board, or selling the few survivors to slavery.

The Captain of the Friendship, Charles Endicott, had been ashore during the attack. When he made a complaint to the local chieftain, Mahomet, insult was added to injury for Mahomet then put a price on the head of both the Captain and his officers. With the help of a friendly native chief, Po Adam, Endicott enlisted the help of three other merchant captains who agreed to help him recover his vessel. Although the ship was recaptured and returned, her owners sent a vigorous protest to President Andrew Jackson demanding retribution.

President Jackson declared that “a daring outrage” had been committed on the seas of the East Indies involving the “plunder” of one of its merchantmen engaged in the pepper trade at a port in Sumatra. There appeared to be no room for diplomatic action, as Jackson believed that “the piratical perpetrators belonged to tribes in such a state of society that the usual course of proceedings between civilized nations cannot be pursued. I forthwith dispatched a frigate with orders to require immediate satisfaction for the injury and indemnity to the sufferers.”

At New York, the frigate Potomac, equipped with forty-two 32-pounder cannon, was rigged and ready to sail for the punitive expedition. The frigate had orders to “inflict chastisement” and carried a detachment of Marines and three detachments of seamen under Commodore Downes to punish the natives for their treachery.

Originally under orders to proceed to China via Cape Horn and the Pacific, the Potomac’s route was changed to the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean as a result of the protest by the Friendship’s owners and the outcry from the general public. On Feb. 5, after sailing for five months, the Potomac, disguised as a Danish East Indiaman, anchored five miles off Quallah Battoo.

At 2 a.m. the next day, 282 Marines and sailors embarked on the ship’s boats and hit the beach for the attack. Divided into groups, the men were assigned to each of the four forts guarding the town. At dawn, the column led by Marine Lieutenants Alvin Edson and George Terrett moved forward. The Marines heading for Tuko de Lima nestled in the jungle behind the town.

Within minutes of the Marine approach, the Malays were alerted and the fighting became intense. The enemy met the Marines with cannon, muskets and blunderbusses (early shotguns). Charging forward, the Marines’ “superior discipline and ardor seemed fully to compensate for their want of numbers.” They broke through the outer walls, blew up the stockade gate, and captured the fort. Edson, with a small guard, pushed through the town to join in the attack on the remaining fort.

As smoke from the other forts drifted overhead, Edson, his Marines, and a detachment of sailors smashed through the bamboo walls of Duramond’s fort and engaged the kris-wielding Malays. Dressed in full blue uniform, Lt. Edson parried the lunge of a defender with his Mameluke sword while a Marine at his side parried with his bayonet. In this hand-to-hand combat with the Marines, the Malays fought to the death. Within minutes, the fort was taken, with only a few Malays left to flee into the jungle.

With the forts dismantled, the town ablaze, a few Malays hiding in the jungle, and the surf rising, the Marines and sailors were recalled. Over 150 Malay pirates, including Mahomet, were killed, with the Americans suffering just one sailor and two Marines killed and 11 wounded.

This successful attack would deter the Malays and others from similar aggressions for quite some time. In addition to their skill with cold steel, the Americans had emerged victorious due to their long-range, light-caliber cannon and their ability to deliver rapid rifle fire.

Under cover of a Marine guard, the boats embarked for the Potomac. Later in the day, all hands gathered on deck to witness the burial of their three shipmates killed in the attack.

Other rajas from nearby states sent delegations to the ship pleading that Downes spare them from the same fate they had suffered at Quallah Battoo. Downes informed them that if any American ships were attacked again, the same treatment would be given to the perpetrators.

The next morning, the Potomac moved within a mile of Quallah Battoo, ran out her long 32-pounder cannon and bombarded the town, killing another 300 natives before raising sail and heading for sea. This was the first-ever official U.S. military intervention in Asia. This was the second time—after Tripoli—that the Marines had been called in to protect American business and retaliate for the murder of American citizens.

It is interesting to note that 180 years later, American forces are once again engaged in similar situations with modern-day pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Heroic Stand at Bladensburg

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The Final Stand at Bladensburg Artist: Colonel Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR

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The defense of Washington was a shameful affair. It was the most serious defeat of American arms ever experienced. The army had broken and fled, but Barney’s men and Marines, even though overrun, had held their ground to heroic glory. The Marines had eight killed and 14 wounded. Miller and Sevier were brevetted majors. The Americans lost 26 killed and 51 wounded. The British attackers lost 500 killed and wounded.

By June of 1814, the British had been blockading the American coast for 18 months. With 4,000 regulars, Royal Marines, and negroes bribed with promises of freedom, they were also poised to invade Washington. The British commander, Vice Admiral Cochrane, was being urged by Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada, to burn the city in retaliation for the Americans’ burning of Canadian Parliament buildings in York and for the burning of Newark.

The Navy ordered Commandant Wharton to raise a battalion of Marines to help protect the Chesapeake Bay from incursion; President Madison assigned Brigadier General Winder to lead a composite force of infantry, state militia and volunteer riflemen to defend Washington and; Commandant Joshua Barney, a tough, 54-year-old Revolutionary War veteran was assigned to the naval defense.

In June, Barney found himself still blockaded after a number of skirmishes with the 21-ship British fleet up the Patuxent River. The Marines under Captain Sam Miller had cooperated with Barney, supplying artillery fire from the shore, but he was unable to break through.

The British entered the Patuxent River on August 17, and two days later landed unopposed at Benedict, Maryland. Barney, outflanked and outmaneuvered by 40 British barges, had blown up his flotilla of 13 gun barges. The British started their 40-mile march to Washington.

Barney and his flotilla men joined Winder’s men. Capt. Miller, with 110 Marines from the Washington Navy Yard, along with five artillery pieces, also joined them. The Marines now had two 18-pounders and three 12-pounders.

On Wednesday the 24th, the British approached Bladensburg four miles northeast of Washington at a bridge that crossed the eastern Potomac. Earlier, Gen. Winder had thought the British would attack Washington from the east in combination with their fleet passing Fort Washington south of the city.

Winder marched out of Washington and ordered Barney—much to Barney’s disgust—to stay behind and guard the Eastern Branch Bridge (now the Sousa Bridge). At the bridge, Barney was able to personally complain to President Madison and had his orders changed. This was the only American battle where the President and his cabinet—the Attorney General, the Secretary of War, and Secretary of State—were all on the battlefield. The bridge was blown and Barney, his sailors, and Marines with their artillery, marched to the battle.

With the temperature at 100 degrees, the Americans were drawn up in three lines on the Washington side of the Potomac. The first line to encounter the advancing British were riflemen under Major Pinkney and two companies of militia under Captains Ducher and Gorsuch, and Captains Myers and Richard Magruder with 100 artillerymen and six 6-pounders from Baltimore.

The second line was composed of Bruch’s artillery and Sterett’s 1,350 men from the 5th Baltimore Volunteer Regiment under Lieutenant Colonels Ragan and Schutz.

The 3rd line—the heaviest—was made up of 1,200 men from a regiment of Maryland militia under Colonel Beall and 300 district militia from the 12th, 36th and 38th under Colonel Magruder (not to be confused with the junior officer, Captain Magruder from Baltimore). The center was held by Barney’s flotilla men and the Marines’ battery along with Scott and Peter’s battery. Brent, with the 2nd Regt. of Smith’s brigade and Waring’s battalion of Maryland militia, were posted behind Peter’s battery. A total of 7,000 men and 26 cannon were set to receive the British attack but of these, only 900 were enlisted men; the rest were untried militia.

Barney positioned his 500 flotilla men in the center, on a rise commanding the bridge and the road along which the British would come. On his right were 114 Marines and 370 sailors, all serving as infantry. Barney commanded the guns and Marine Captains Miller and Alex Sevier supervised the infantry.

The British crossed the bridge under heavy American fire and then retreated. They attacked again and took heavy casualties from American cannon. The American riflemen with their Pennsylvania rifles poured a deadly fire—but the British were continually being reinforced by more brigades joining the fray.

The Americans fell back to the 2nd line. The Yankees charged with the bayonet and once again pushed the British back. Then another British brigade came on line, turned the American left flank and started their rocket attack on the untrained militia. Ragan and Schutz’ men were frightened by the rockets and fled. The 2nd line collapsed and now the British took on the 3rd line.

Barney’s fire had a terrible effect on the redcoats. When the British moved to hit their right flank, they met Miller’s Marine fire from the 12-pounders. The U.S. Marines were well trained in handling the great guns and wreaked havoc upon the enemy. The British were cut up, losing several officers including Colonel Thorton, who was severely wounded, and General Ross, who had his horse shot from under him. The Marines were obstinate and maintained their position against fearful odds.

Because they were heavily outnumbered, the Americans charged Navy-style. With the shout, “Repel boarders,” the Marines attacked with bayonets and the Navy with cutlasses. The charge broke two British regiments, but the British light infantry took both of the Marines’ flanks, wounding Barney severely and killing his horse. Miller was down, badly wounded in the arm and out of action. The British flanked wide, forded the river, cut through the militia and overran the Americans. The American militia had failed to stand their ground because of a rumor launched by the British that the negroes had risen up on the day of the battle to fight for their freedom—the additional worry that their homes and families were in danger being more than they could bear. The Navy flotilla men stood their ground, retired in order, and left their dead and wounded. Both Barney and Miller were captured. The battle was over in four hours, and Gen. Winder was forced to order a general retreat.

The American lines with their troop dispositions would almost certainly have been competent to roll back the invasion except for the interference of the President and his cabinet. James Monroe, the Secretary of State, was credited with the American defeat after he moved the 2nd line a quarter-mile to the rear against Gen. Winder’s wishes. This movement caused the 1st line to be unsupported, and exposed the 2nd line to rocket fire. This fickle civilian interference with Army decisions was seen again in Vietnam 152 years later.

The defense of Washington was a shameful affair. It was the most serious defeat of American arms ever experienced. The army had broken and fled, but Barney’s men and Marines, even though overrun, had held their ground to heroic glory. The Marines had eight killed and 14 wounded. Miller and Sevier were brevetted majors. The Americans lost 26 killed and 51 wounded. The British attackers lost 500 killed and wounded.

Word got out to the Washington city inhabitants that “the British were coming,” and 8,500 citizens began a sudden and confused exodus. The government, the Army, and even the Commandant of the Marine Corps fled the city. The national records and Army records were put in linen bags and taken to Leesburg, Virginia. Commandant Wharton took Captain Crabb and the Marine Barracks guard to Frederick, Maryland. The Marines guarded the paymaster whose flight from Washington scandalized the Corps.

That evening, the British marched six miles into Washington. Reduced to a pillaging party of 200 torch bearers, they entered the city of 900 buildings like barbarians. Admiral Sir George Cochrane delighted in torching cities and thirsted for plunder but thought Washington would pay a ransom to save the city from destruction. Ross sent an agent to discuss the ransom, but no one was there to negotiate with him. So the torches were lit.

The British burned some private buildings: The National Intelligencer, an anti-British newspaper; a rope-walk; and a tavern among them. Any house that fired a shot at the column was destroyed, just as had been done by Napoleon in Moscow. Ross’ horse was killed in one such attack. After two nights in Washington, the British burned most of the public buildings: the unfinished Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Treasury buildings, the Arsenal, the barracks for 3,000 troops, and the President’s house. The White House got its title later when the blackened building was whitewashed to cover up the scorch marks. In all, a total of two million dollars worth of property had been destroyed. Only the Patent Office was spared. Also burned were national shipping stores and buildings at the Navy Yard totaling one million dollars.

The British enacted martial law over the Washingtonians who had to remain indoors from sunset to sunrise under pain of death. At the Navy Yard, the Americans hid a quantity of powder and shot in a well. One British soldier peeking in the well with a match blew the place up, along with an adjacent powder magazine, killing 12 British and wounding 30. The light of the fired city was seen 40 miles away in Baltimore.

Supposedly, the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I Street was spared by the British because of the heroic U.S. Marine stand at Bladensburg, though some historians dispute this account.

The British would have burned more of the city save for a tornado and lightning storm that actually killed British soldiers and drove them off to their ships. Many believed this was divine intervention. It did seem as though God wanted democracy to prevail.

Houses were unroofed and the enemy left they way they had come, through Bladensburg. They left their dead on the battlefield and gave 90 of their wounded to Barney’s men for care. They embarked at Benedict and three days later attacked Alexandria, Virginia.

The British had no intention of holding Washington. Their reason for staying in the U.S. was to invade Louisiana and take possession of the Mississippi valley. England and Spain both intensely disapproved of the Louisiana Purchase by the U.S. From Napoleon—so when the British attacked New Orleans, a cadre of civil servants came along with the British army to rule over the coveted territory.

The Battle of Bladensburg left little to celebrate—but Dolly Madison, the First Lady, did manage to save some of America’s national treasures, most notably George Washington’s famous portrait. The heroic stand of the Marines and Navy had allowed precious time for the removal of American documents to safety, including the Declaration of Independence.

Alexander’s Plan Operation Shingle

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Operation Shingle was a daring plan of Alexander’s to land troops on the beaches of Anzio, in the rear of the Gustav Line and only 20 miles south of Rome, thus it was hoped forcing the enemy to abandon first one and then the other. On closer investigation in December 1943, the fear that the beachhead could not link up with the Allied armies further south meant that Eisenhower tried to shelve the operation, but it was revived once he had left the Mediterranean command. On 6 January 1944 the Prime Minister tried to persuade Brooke to fly out to visit him in Marrakesh, where he was recovering from pneumonia, saying, ‘We must get this Shingle business settled, especially in view of the repercussions of the new proposals about Anvil which will certainly make the US Chiefs of Staff Committee stare.’

Because the Germans had fiercely defended the Gustav Line that winter, Anvil started to resemble not an associated but a rival operation to the Anzio attack, to both Churchill’s and Brooke’s chagrin as they had never thought its strategic value matched the investment it would require. Although Brooke did not fly out, Bedell Smith, Alexander and Maitland Wilson all conferred with Churchill in early January, and Shingle was resuscitated, in conjunction with an attempt to smash through the Gustav Line to the Liri Valley, which led to Rome. (On his return from Marrakesh, Churchill insisted that a Customs official came to Downing Street in order to assess the duty on everything he had brought home; Lawrence Burgis saw the cheque duly made out to HM Customs and Excise.)

Marshall later acknowledged that the struggles over the size, composition and timing of Operation Anvil had constituted ‘a bitter and unremitting fight with the British right up to the launching’. The mutual suspicion was evident at the time, and even in 1949, when Marshall was asked by Pentagon historians whether the British had attempted to use Anvil in order to secure additional resources for the Mediterranean theatre, ‘although they never seriously considered actually invading Southern France’, he replied that ‘this was the case’ and ‘that’s what the British always were doing.’

As Eisenhower’s Planners in London increased the number of divisions needed in the initial Overlord assault from three to five, so pressure mounted for extra landing craft and naval assault vessels to come from the Mediterranean. Montgomery and Bedell Smith, who both worked under Eisenhower, agreed in early January that Anvil would be greatly reduced in size as a result. Eisenhower, who like Marshall saw Anvil as an important concomitant to Overlord which would hopefully draw away German troops from northern France, complained vociferously to Washington on 17 January, saying that at Teheran the Combined Chiefs of Staff ‘definitely assured the Russians that Anvil would take place’. Since French, British and American troops ‘cannot profitably be used in decisive fashion in Italy’, Anvil must go ahead, although he accepted that it had to be postponed until early June, to coincide with the new date for Overlord.

Both Churchill and Brooke believed that Allied troops could be used more profitably in Italy than on the French Riviera; the scene was thus set for another titanic clash between Marshall and Brooke, and not one in which Marshall would this time accept compromise, not least because January 1944 was the first month of the war when more American than British Commonwealth troops were engaged fighting Germans in the European theatre.

Yet not all Americans agreed with Marshall and Eisenhower. ‘The weakening of the campaign in Italy in order to invade Southern France, instead of pushing on into the Balkans, was one of the outstanding political mistakes of the war,’ wrote Mark Clark in his 1951 autobiography, Calculated Risk. His Fifth Army had been trying to break through the Gustav Line for several months, with mixed results.

I am firmly convinced that the French forces alone, with seven divisions available, could have captured Marseilles, protected Eisenhower’s southern flank, and advanced up the Rhone Valley to join hands with the main Overlord forces. The American VI Corps, with its three divisions, could then have remained in Italy…and we could have advanced into the Balkans.

The very mention of an Allied offensive in the Balkans, which Churchill saw as the natural next step after the Germans were expelled from northern Italy, was anathema to Marshall. Michael Howard believes that minds in the OPD were completely closed over the Balkans, ‘with its overtones of European subtlety and intrigue’.10 They also suspected British neo-imperialist designs there, rather as they did in the Far East, however absurd that might have been for the area north-east of the Adriatic Sea in the mid-1940s.

Where did Roosevelt stand? In October and November 1943, the US Planners feared that Overlord might be lost altogether because the President seemed to be interested in Churchill’s ideas about the Balkans. ‘We were always scared to death of Mr Roosevelt on the Balkans,’ Marshall told Pogue frankly in 1956. ‘Apparently he was with us, but we couldn’t bet on it at all.’11 There was always the possibility that the President might do over the Balkans in late 1943 what he had done over North Africa in the summer of 1942. It is clear from a telegram Churchill sent Roosevelt in late June 1944–‘Please remember how you spoke to me at Teheran about Istria’–that the two men had been at the very least ‘shooting the breeze’ together about a Balkan campaign. As for Brooke, after the war he wrote of the Americans, ‘At times I think that they imagined I supported Winston’s Balkan ambitions, which was far from being the case. Anyhow the Balkan ghost in the cupboard made my road none the easier in leading the Americans by the hand through Italy!’12 In fact Brooke had on occasion supported a Balkan campaign, whatever his later protestations.

The Anzio landings of the Allied VI Corps on Saturday 22 January 1944–initially comprising one British and one American division–might have succeeded had its American commander Major-General John Lucas got inland fast enough to capture the Alban Hills just south of Rome. He had come ashore with minimal opposition because the Germans had sent two reserve divisions from the Rome area to reinforce the Gustav Line, but he decided to get reserves, equipment and supplies ashore first, which proved a costly mistake. Kesselring despatched troops from central Italy to protect Rome, and then further reinforcements from France, Germany and Yugoslavia hemmed VI Corps into a beachhead of only 8 miles, which was defended gallantly for the next four months as Clark fought northwards to relieve it.

‘If we succeed in dealing with this business down there,’ Hitler told Warlimont, ‘there will be no further landings anywhere.’13 The Führer sent Eberhard von Mackensen’s Fourteenth Army, with its crack panzer, panzer-grenadier and paratroop units, to try to destroy the Allied beachhead, leaving the Tenth Army to hold the Gustav Line. The battlegrounds of Anzio and Monte Cassino were constantly reinforced by Hitler in early spring 1944, thereby denuding himself of divisions that he would need to deal with Overlord three months later. Marshall could not understand why Hitler did not merely withdraw his forces to the impregnable Alps, but it was evident from Ultra decrypts that he wanted to defend every inch of Italy instead.

This was Brooke’s plan for Italy, and disproves Basil Liddell Hart’s theory that it was the Germans who successfully diverted the Allies in Italy rather than the other way around. Throughout 1944, from nineteen to twenty-three German divisions–one-seventh of the entire Wehrmacht–were stationed in Italy, unable to operate in Normandy. In 1943, a full one-third of all Luftwaffe losses were sustained in the Mediterranean theatre, and in all the Italian campaign was to cost the Germans 536,000 casualties against 312,000 Allied.14 It was far harder to supply the Allies, of course, but the campaign was well worth undertaking in its earliest stages. It certainly tied down far more Germans than Anvil ever could have. The problem was that once committed emotionally–and in Churchill’s case chauvinistically–the British carried on fighting for objectives far removed from the central one that had taken them there in the first place.

According to Beaverbrook, who was lord privy seal at the time and had good access to his friend the Prime Minister, Anzio was ‘definitely an attempt to re-open the Mediterranean theatre in the hope that such progress might be made there that the Americans could be persuaded to delay D-Day until it would be little more than a mopping-up operation’.15 He claimed that at Marrakesh Churchill had been talking in terms of ‘driving the Germans headlong over the Alps and capturing Vienna’. It is most unlikely that Churchill referred to Overlord as a mere mopping-up operation, however, a phrase which smacks of Beaverbrook’s ex post facto rationalizations in favour of an early Second Front, of which he had been a chief advocate. For all that, Churchill did write a minute on 25 January saying that it was ‘very unwise to make plans on the basis of Hitler being defeated in 1944. The possibility of his gaining a victory in France cannot be excluded.’

It was not long before the failure of the break-out at Anzio became apparent, along with the failure of the Allied forces in the south to link up with the beachhead. On sending Roosevelt birthday greetings on 27 January, Marshall said: ‘I anticipate some very hard knocks, but I think these will not be fatal to our hopes, rather the inevitable stumbles on a most difficult course.’16 The next day Eden, after he had attended a Staff Conference, noted that ‘Our offensive seems to have lost its momentum.’ When Churchill suspected that he was going to get into a row with the Chiefs of Staff, he used to invite Eden along to give moral support. Even when the Foreign Secretary was recuperating from a cold, sore throat or insomnia at Binderton, he always turned up. Since Churchill had been ill at Marrakesh for as long as a fortnight over the New Year, and Eden was prime-minister-in-waiting, it was a sensible precaution.

On Monday 31 January 1944 Churchill told the War Cabinet of:

Serious disaffection about the Anzio landings. First phase has not yielded brilliant results…German offensive started. Great disappointment so far…Remarkable limitations of air, unable to prevent enemy from flinging his troops from one Front to another…A great opportunity has been lost, but may be regained…We have got a lot to learn in the way of seizing opportunities before we can beat these people.

On the first of twenty days of strong German attacks on the Anzio beachhead, Marshall wrote ‘For Eisenhower’s eyes only’ from Washington: ‘Count up all the divisions that will be in the Mediterranean, including two newly arrived US divisions, consider the requirements in Italy in view of the mountain masses north of Rome, and then consider what influence on your problem a sizeable number of divisions heavily engaged or advancing rapidly in southern France will have on Overlord.’ The fact that there were also the mountains of the Massif Central north of Provence was not mentioned. Instead Marshall concluded: ‘I will use my influence here to agree with your desires. I merely wish to be certain that localitis is not developing and that the pressures on you have not warped your judgment.’ Localitis was cod-Latin for ‘going native’, and since Marshall’s ‘influence’ in Washington was of course enormous, he was effectively advising Eisenhower to stick to his pro-Anvil, anti-Italy position and promising that, if he did, all would be well against Churchill and Brooke.

Eisenhower could not leave the localitis accusation hanging, and replied the next day to say that, although the British were opposed to Anvil, he had to compromise occasionally as part of a coalition. Nonetheless, ‘So far as I am aware, no one here has tried to urge me to present any particular view, nor do I believe that I am particularly affected by localitis.’ That Marshall was indeed worried about pressure being put on Eisenhower by Brooke, and more particularly by Churchill, was spectacularly demonstrated the following month at Malta.

On the same day that Marshall wrote to Eisenhower, Sir John Dill told Brooke that he had been ‘in and out of Marshall’s room lately trying to get him to see your point of view regarding Anvil–Overlord and trying to get his point of view’. He reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had delegated their power to Eisenhower on this issue and were ‘engaged in a great battle regarding Pacific strategy’, which boiled down to ‘King in particular v. the Rest’. Dill believed that Marshall was ‘somewhat afraid that some of their higher commanders had failed in Italy’, doubtless meaning Lucas, who was replaced shortly afterwards, but possibly also Clark, whose progress was painfully slow. Over the post-war occupation zones for Germany, Dill told Brooke that it was, ‘of course, the President who won’t play. The better I get to know that man the more superficial and selfish I think him. That is for your eye alone as of course it is my job to make the most and best of him.’ As for Admiral King, Dill believed ‘his war with the US Army is as bitter as his war with us’.

On Thursday 10 February, Brooke lunched at the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Telegraph with its proprietor Lord Camrose, as well as the National Labour MP and BBC Governor Harold Nicolson and Lord Ashfield, chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board. Teased about the Anzio reversals by Camrose as he entered–‘Well, what about the bridgehead?’–an irritated Brooke poured himself ‘a sulky glass of sherry’ and said, ‘It’s difficult to judge such matters at this distance.’ Nicolson recorded that after they had taken some claret in the dining room, ‘things brighten up, and a slow flush spreads over the handsome face of the CIGS.’ Brooke said that he had first noticed that ‘Winston was on the verge of a great illness’ at Cairo, when he seemed more interested in swatting flies than in listening to him, and ‘then they had great difficulty in preventing him leaving for Italy and were almost relieved when he developed fever.’

Salerno Landings

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On September 7, 1943, the Germans sent the alert for Plan Achse—the takeover of Italy. On that day General von Senger arrived in Sardinia with secret orders to prepare for the German evacuation of the islands so they would not lose the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division, which was occupying them, and waiting for Allied attack. Also involved would be the evacuation of Corsica by the SS Reichsführer Brigade. So the 90th withdrew to Corsica that next day. But, there, the Italians refused to cooperate with the Germans, and the French community rose up in rebellion and von Senger had to fight a withdrawal action to a bridgehead at Bastia from which he organized an evacuation during the last two weeks of September. On September 20, French General Henri-Honoré Giraud arrived on Corsica with Free French soldiers, and the Germans had to fight them as well. It was October 30 before von Senger managed to get away from Corsica with his rear guard. So, as the battle for Italy began, two of the option targets for action in the Mediterranean were also falling to the Allies.

As soon as it had been made clear that the Italian fleet was going to surrender as called for in the agreement between the Italian government and the Allies, Admiral Cunningham had released the 12th Cruiser Squadron to pick up the British 1st Airborne Division for the attack on the naval base at Taranto, called “Operation Slapstick.” The paratroopers were embarked, and on September 8, as the Allied forces moved in on Salerno, the paratroopers were at sea. They arrived on the following day, and landed unopposed. There was one casualty: the minelayer Abidel, loaded with paratroopers, hit a mine while anchoring. She exploded, with heavy loss of life.

As the Allied convoys approached Salerno on the night of September 8, the sea was calm and the night was clear. The American and British troops suffered none of the usual tension the night before an invasion. It would be, as the cockneys liked to say, “a piece of cake.” The announcement of the Italian surrender was in the air, and anyone who had been in Sicily could only too easily recall the sensation of being greeted as conquering heroes by the people of Sicily. The troops were arriving in an almost festive air.

The minesweepers came in and did their job without arousing the troops on shore. The invasion fleets assembled in the landing areas. The ships of the fleets performed with much more precision than they had in the Sicily landings, the result of experience.

But there the dream ended. In the northern sector, the British were detected before they could get started into the landing craft. The shore batteries, manned by Germans who had just taken over from the Italians, opened fire with great accuracy on the ships carrying the Rangers and the Commandos. Five minutes after they landed, the destroyers in the British assault area opened an intensive 15-minute barrage of gun and rocket fire to support the landings. Fortunately, the commanders in the north had made contingency arrangements for full fire support. The British warships fired back on each coastal battery, and the supporting destroyers moved in behind the assault waves to give close-fire support. The Rangers and Commandos landed against light opposition and secured their objectives, with few accidents. One landing craft did land on the wrong beach, creating some confusion.

The troops on shore did not just walk in. The Commandos suffered some casualties but managed to hold their positions. The British 46th Infantry Division was fortunate to land away from any German strong points, but the 56th Infantry Division ran into heavy opposition. By the end of the day, the dream of an easy time had ended. Neither division had achieved its objectives and the 56th had suffered heavy losses. The port of Salerno was not far, but the 46th had not captured it. The 56th reached the edge of Montecorvino airfield but could not go any farther.

In the American sector, there was surprise; they received a hot welcome, not just a warm one. The beaches were silent as the landing craft went in, but when the men hit the beach, they were met by heavy fire from concealed positions. Much of the fire was too high to do much harm, but it soon steadied down and the losses began. After landing safely, on the extreme right, the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Division began to work its way to the railroad station near the Solofrone River. But the third wave of boats met German fire so intense that it and the following waves were immobilized on the beach. The fact that no plan for fire support from the ships had been arranged was almost the undoing of the landing. The 3rd Battalion on Yellow Beach ran into German fire from the beginning, 400 yards from the shore.

Following are the words of the official U. S. Army historian describing the scene:

From the massive heights that loomed over all the beaches, and from Monta Sopprano in particular, came the flashes and sounds of the enemy fire. Flares of all colours illuminated the sky, while the crisscrossing tracers of machine guns flashed over the beaches, the heaviest concentrations coming from the right near Agropoli. Some boat pilots who judged the fire too strong for them to land their troops turned around and headed back toward the ships, until intercepted by control vessels and sent again to shore.

Landing craft foundered and some burned near the shore or drifted in the waves. Lost equipment floated on the surface and communications equipment was lost. Boats sank and men swam for the beach. As one mortar squad debarked, the gunner tripped on the ramp and dropped the mortar into the water. Machine-gun fire scattered that platoon, and the men who hit the shore joined whatever unit they were near. Some mortars came ashore without any ammunition. The Americans were finding this a much tougher landing than anything they had ever experienced before.

Casualties were very heavy but the 36th Infantry Division, a National Guard Unit, had been well trained and managed to win most of its D- Day objectives. By dusk, it was holding a narrow beachhead around the Roman ruins of Paestum.

The British and the Americans had met the German 16th Panzer Division, which had 17,000 men, 100 tanks, and 36 assault guns. At the end of the first day, it was apparent that the invasion was already in trouble. The Italians had been counted on for support by the Allies but had produced none. The Germans were very strong and could now concentrate all the weight of their Tenth Army against the U. S. Fifth Army before the British Eighth Army could come up from the south. The Americans still did not know it, but they were facing a numerically superior force, and one very skilled in the art of war.

Now one of the problems over which General Eisenhower had glissaded so easily arose to haunt the Allies: the serious shortage of shipping. The beachheads needed reinforcement immediately.

When dawn came on D plus one, the seriousness of the Allied position began to become apparent. They occupied two corners of the beach. Every action could be observed by the Germans on the hills around Salerno.

Shortly after dawn in the American sector, German tanks came into action working in small groups, supported by their infantry in platoon units. A lone tank reached the beach shortly after dawn and fired on the landing craft approaching. Antiaircraft guns on the LSTs and machine guns on the landing craft took the tank under fire and soon drove it off. Without any naval support fire, it was individual American infantrymen who kept the German tanks at bay in the south during these early hours. Corporal Roy C. Davis, a bazookaman, crawled under machine-gun bursts up the beach until he got to a point near a tank. With one round, he pierced the tank’s armor, then crept up to the disabled vehicle and thrust a grenade through the hole, killing the crew. Sergeant John Y. McGill jumped onto a tank and dropped a grenade through the open turret hatch. Even men without useful weapons helped. Private First Class Harry Harpel kept one group of tanks from reaching the beach by moving the loose planking of a bridge across an irrigation canal. These untried American troops moved with the efficiency of veterans.

But they were badly hampered by the lack of naval fire, and the American tanks, in particular, were disorganized and slow to get ashore. Many of the tanks did not get ashore until afternoon and some not until after nightfall. Six LSTs carrying tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion, moving toward Blue Beach at 6:30 in the morning, were hit by enemy shell fire; four received direct hits and one tank was burning. For five hours the LSTs circled aimlessly, and at 11:00 a. m. finally approached the shore. With neither artillery nor tanks in support during the first four hours, the infantry depended to a great extent on a few 40-mm antiaircraft guns that came ashore at daylight.

At the end of D Day, the Allied troops were ashore, with the British controlling the north entrance to the beaches; the Americans controlled the south. But the Germans controlled the center where Route 19 and Route 94 arrived at a gap in the hills and from which the Germans could bombard the beaches with their artillery and bring their tanks down when they wished.

So although the landings were an official success, they placed the troops in peril. Immediate reinforcement, which they could not get, was needed, as well as the speedy arrival of the Eighth Army from the south.

Almost from the beginning, General Alexander recognized the problem. He ordered the Eighth Army to race for Salerno even though Montgomery argued that to hurry was to take risks. Sometimes, said Alexander, even Montgomery had to take risks. Eighteen American LSTs, which had been assigned to other theaters, were still in African ports, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff ordered their release to build up the force at Salerno.

General von Vietinghoff now recognized his opportunity. If he could bring up reinforcements and destroy the Allied landings at Salerno, he could then turn his efforts against the Eighth Army in the south and destroy that force methodically. It was a race against time. The Germans had the advantage of proximity and numbers, and the use of rail and road transport to bring up their troops. Von Vietinghoff ordered General Herr, in the south, to break off contact with the Eighth Army and move the 76th Panzer Corps toward Salerno. The 26th Panzer Division and the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division were to leave only rear guard behind and move at its best speed over the 125 miles of mountain road to the beachhead. General Hube’s 14th Panzer Corps was ordered away from the Gulf of Gaeta to send the 15th Panzer Grenadier and the Hermann Goering Panzer Divisions south to block any advance of the Allies north to take Naples. Field Marshal Kesselring ordered General Student to release the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division from Rome and asked the OKW for Field Marshal Rommel’s two Panzer divisions, a request that was denied, but still five divisions could come to the aid of the German troops at Salerno. That meant von Vietinghoff could move enough troops to have six divisions to contest the four that General Clark had available. The Allies had air superiority, but it was not very strong.

On the morning of September 10, the Americans landed part of their floating reserve: the 45th Infantry Division. Clark visited the beachhead and was pleased with the conditions in the 6th Corps area. He visited General McCreery and learned what resistance the British were meeting in the north. McCreery indicated it would be difficult for the British to advance to the point where they were to rendezvous with 6th Corps. So, Clark ordered reinforcements to the 10th Corps area in view of the preponderance of German strength located there. Clark was very optimistic. He told General Alexander that he expected to be able to attack north toward Naples. So favorable did the situation seem that the Northwest African Tactical Air Force proposed to reduce the fighter cover over the beaches. Just at this point the Germans were planning to step up their air attacks.

On September 10 and 11, both sides did their best to build up their forces and contain the enemy. The German effort was directed first against the British 10th Corps, which threatened Naples. The Commandos, Rangers, and the 46th Infantry Division were hit by the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division and the Hermann Goering Panzer Division. The 46th managed to capture Salerno, but the Germans had the high ground and kept the harbor under observation and fire.

The confusion between commands continued. The forces off Salerno saw that the number of Allied air sorties was decreasing and protested to the air force, but the air force saw that the air opposition over the beaches was light on September 9 and, thus, cut back the number of fighter sorties as the Germans were increasing theirs. On September 10, the number of Allied fighters was definitely decreased, as more Germans came in. By the 11th, American Admiral Hewitt radioed Eisenhower that the status of the beachhead was growing critical because of the lack of air support. He was told that the only help that was coming was from Admiral Philip Vian, commander of the carrier force.

The Germans continued to hold the Montecorvino airfield and stopped the 56th Infantry Division, which was trying to get to Monte Eboli. Because of the concentration of the Germans on the British 10th Corps, the American 6th Corps was left alone to expand its bridgehead and secure key points overlooking the Ponte Sele bridge. However, that left a huge gap between the British and the American forces, so Clark landed his floating reserve to fill it.

Ashore once again on September 11 Clark was impressed by the way German pressure was building against the British area in the Battapaglia area, where they had pushed into the outskirts of Vietri and were within 12 miles of Salerno. On that day the Germans had captured 1,500 prisoners, most of them in the British sector. That night American troops were moved into the gap between the two forces.

By this time the air situation was indeed serious. The Germans launched 450 sorties by fighters and bombers and 100 sorties by heavy bombers in the first three days of the battle; and they sank four transports, one heavy cruiser, and seven landing craft and made many hits on the Allied fleet. On September 11, a near miss damaged the cruiser Philadelphia, another damaged a Dutch gunboat, and a direct hit on the cruiser Savannah put it out of action. Admiral Hewitt had to declare his situation critical to Admiral Cunningham, who sent the cruisers Aurora and Penelope from Malta.

Clark came ashore again on September 12 and found the British 46th Infantry Division badly bruised and the German strength increasing and pointing toward the center of the beachhead. He had evidence that the Germans were preparing to launch an attack in the near future, and his forces were spread very thin.

After four days, the Allied beachhead was still dangerously shallow and the number of troops to man the perimeter was very small. Clark decided that day to bring his headquarters ashore, as a way to preserve and enhance troop morale.

Caesar Invades Britain and Germany

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The approximate number of boats [800] in the fleet that carried the invading Roman army to Britain in 54 BCE. Of these, 28 were dedicated warships and most of the rest were troop transports. They used for troop transports both Standard warships and merchant ships, likely more merchants (when it’s not mentioned) than warships, which would’ve been less effective and more unusual. But there are definitely plenty of examples of both.

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In place of the boats Caesar now had a bridge constructed. By a remarkable effort it was completed in ten days. Caesar gives a long, technical description of its building which has generated prolonged controversy over its detailed construction. Its location is equally uncertain but most probably across the middle Rhine between Andernach and Neuwied just north of Coblenz. The bridge was an impressive feat of engineering. In this area the Rhine is on average 1,300 feet wide and about 20 feet deep.

In 58 BC two German tribes, the Usipetes and Tencteri, under attack by the Suebi and unable to withstand the pressure, began a westward migration. Probably in January 55, after three years of wandering, they crossed the lower Rhine and entered the territory of the Menapii who had settlements on both sides of the river. At the arrival of the Germans they evacuated their settlements on the eastern bank and garrisoned the right bank to guard against a German crossing. Lacking boats the Germans entered into negotiations with the Menapii but these ended in failure. Pretending to retreat from the river the Germans deceived the Menapii, who relaxed their guard. A night attack by German cavalry killed the guards on the right bank and the Germans seized the Gauls’ boats. Once across they gained control of part of the lands of the Menapii, using their provisions and occupying their dwellings.

Caesar was in Cisalpine Gaul when he learned of the German crossing. He set out for Transalpina earlier than usual to prevent a more serious situation from developing. After he joined his army he learned that the arrival of the Germans had had further repercussions. As the Sequani had done earlier, several of the Gallic tribes invited the Germans to serve as mercenaries in intertribal wars. Encouraged by these invitations the Germans had moved into the territory of the Eburones and Condrusi who lived in the area between the Meuse (German Maas) and the Rhine and were Roman clients.

In response Caesar called a meeting of Gallic leaders. Here he probably means those of the central Gallic tribes, to rally support and to remind them of where their loyalties lay. He also levied cavalry from them both for military reasons and as hostages to assure good behaviour. After making arrangements to secure his grain supply he set out in the direction of Coblenz to confront the Germans. When he was only a few days march from them they sent envoys to him and requested lands to settle in – either those they already held or some other area designated by the Romans – and in addition offered themselves as allies. Caesar refused their request for their settlement as it would have upset his relations with the Gauls and the stability he had achieved, but offered them land on the other side of the Rhine in the territory of the German Ubii, which lay between the River Lahn and the Taunus Mountains.

The envoys asked for three days to consider Caesar’s offer. They requested that during the three days Caesar would not move his camp closer to their position. Caesar refused. He claims that the reason for this refusal was the fact that he had received intelligence that they had sent a large force of cavalry across the Meuse to loot and forage in the lands of the Ambivareti and that the delay was merely an excuse to put off fighting until the return of this force.

Caesar now advanced against them and when he was about eleven miles from their camp their envoys reappeared once again asking him to proceed no farther. Failing in this request they asked that he order his cavalry not engage them and to allow them to send an embassy to the Ubii. They said that if the Ubii accepted they would agree to Caesar’s terms. They asked for another three days to accomplish this. Caesar claims that in spite of his misgivings he agreed to go no farther than another four miles in search of water, and he ordered the Germans to assemble where he halted in full force and he would make a decision about their request. He then sent a message to his cavalry commander not to launch an assault and if he was attacked to wait until Caesar came up with the infantry.

The majority of the German cavalry was still absent when the 5,000 Roman auxiliary cavalry came into view. Despite the odds the 800 German horsemen charged and threw the auxiliary cavalry into disorder. When the Roman cavalry turned to resist, the Germans dismounted as was their custom, stabbing the horses and pulling their riders off until they finally routed the Romans, killing seventy-four of them. The rest turned in headlong flight until they came up with Caesar’s column. The disparity in numbers makes this rout surprising and it does seem suspicious. Caesar had already mentioned the fact that certain unnamed Gallic tribes had offered invitations to the Germans and they may have deliberately fled so as not to alienate the Germans. On the other hand there was a later occasion when a small force of German cavalry in Caesar’s service defeated a much larger body of Gallic cavalry.

The cavalry battle now persuaded Caesar that instant action was unavoidable. The rout of the cavalry would be seen as a defeat and persuade the Gauls who were unhappy with the Roman presence that Caesar’s forces were vulnerable. The next day a delegation of leading Germans appeared to apologize for the action, which may well have been unplanned. Caesar, who this time was not worried about violating the sanctity of envoys, detained them. He now marched against the leaderless Germans with his entire force, placing the cavalry at the rear as he was uncertain of their morale and loyalty. He deployed his army in a classic triple column of march so as to be ready for a sudden attack. Marching at the double he quickly completed the seven miles to the German camp and surprised them. The sudden appearance of Caesar and his army threw the unprepared Germans into confusion. The Romans broke into the camp. Those Germans who had arms resisted for a little while, fighting among their baggage and wagons; but the others, including the women and children, fled. Caesar sent his cavalry in pursuit. During the flight German morale broke down completely. They abandoned their weapons and standards rushed out of camp in an attempt to cross the river to safety. Caesar says that they fled to the confluence of the Meuse and Rhine: that is, to the Rhine-Meuse Delta in the Netherlands. But depending on the geography of the campaign, some place the battle near the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine near Coblenz. The first alternative is preferable. It is supported by the text and by a not entirely accurate description of the course of the Meuse earlier in the text. The flight was a disaster; when the Germans reached the Rhine a great number had been killed and many more drowned in the river.

Caesar claims that he had few casualties and none of them fatal. He gives the number of the combined tribes as 430,000 and a later source, his biographer Plutarch, claims that 400,000 of them perished. These figures give one pause, especially Plutarch’s figure for those killed. This seems an impossibly large number given that the pursuit and the slaughter extended over a significant distance and that some of the dead drowned in the Rhine. No figure can be regarded as even remotely accurate. It is difficult to believe that both tribes were as devastated as Caesar implies. Certainly they were still capable of causing further trouble for the Romans in the last decades of the century.

Caesar’s enemies fiercely criticized his conduct in this campaign for the bad faith he had shown with the German emissaries. A commission of inquiry was voted by the Senate but it is doubtful that it was ever sent. Caesar had the year before made one of his reasons for going to war against the Veneti the detention of Roman officials who were in fact not envoys. Although he does make an attempt to exonerate himself by suggesting the cavalry attack was purposeful, he does not hide the basic facts of the situation. His political enemies may have seen this incident as a weapon to use against him, but it is doubtful, given the Roman attitude towards the northern barbarians, that this act was politically damaging.

Caesar now decided to cross the Rhine. He thought a demonstration on the right bank of the river might act as a deterrent to further German attempts to cross into Gaul. In addition, if he crossed the river he would be the first Roman general to do so and this might further mute any criticism of his actions against the Germans and add to his prestige. He also wanted to pursue the German cavalry, which had been absent at the time of his victory over the Usipetes and Tencteri. They had crossed the Meuse in search of food and plunder and then retreated back over the Rhine to the territory of the Sugambri, whose lands lay between the Lahn and Ruhr rivers, and made an alliance with them. Learning of this Caesar sent messengers to the Sugambri to demand the return of the fugitives. They refused his request, claiming that Roman power ended at the left bank of the Rhine and that what they did was no business of Caesar’s. His victory had not impressed many of the German tribes: only the Ubii sent a delegation and concluded a treaty of friendship with Rome. They had good reasons to do so. They, like the Usipetes and Tencteri, were under pressure from the Suebi, and Caesar provided a possible solution to that problem. They offered boats to ferry his army across the Rhine. Caesar rejected this offer. He was worried about the safety of the crossing. The Ubii may have appeared anxious for his help but how could he be sure of them? He adds that such a crossing would not be consistent with his own or the Roman people’s dignity. Certainly, dignity was an important Roman political and social concept signifying the respect that other individuals or communities accorded a person or a group. It is hard to understand what it means in this context. Perhaps of more importance was the use of Roman engineering skills to impress the Germans. In place of the boats Caesar now had a bridge constructed. By a remarkable effort it was completed in ten days. Caesar gives a long, technical description of its building which has generated prolonged controversy over its detailed construction. Its location is equally uncertain but most probably across the middle Rhine between Andernach and Neuwied just north of Coblenz. The bridge was an impressive feat of engineering. In this area the Rhine is on average 1,300 feet wide and about 20 feet deep.

During the construction Caesar was approached by a number of German tribes seeking peace and alliance. He received their requests favourably, asking that they turn over hostages as a pledge of good faith. It is not clear that these hostages were ever handed over, but later on Caesar was able to recruit German mercenaries so his action must have had some effect. Leaving a guard at the bridge the Romans marched into the territory of the Sugambri, who had already fled once they learned of the construction of the bridge. As some of the Gauls had done, they sought refuge in the forests taking all of their property with them. Caesar remained for a few days in the territory of the Sugambri laying it waste and then moved on to the lands of the Ubii. There he made an explicit promise to the tribe that he would aid them against the Suebi. Meanwhile he learned from Ubian scouts that the Suebi had assembled all of their men capable of bearing arms in the middle of their territory and would fight a decisive battle there with the Romans. The spot was too remote for an expedition and so Caesar recrossed the Rhine, destroying the bridge behind him.

Although Caesar claims that he had achieved his goals of overawing the Germans, punishing the Sugambri and of aiding the Ubii, it is hard to see the German expedition as a success. The few days spent in destroying the property of the Sugambri and the uncertain German promises of peace and friendship counted for little. The Sugambri had evaded him during his eighteen-day stay across the Rhine. He did not confront the Suebi, who were the main Roman problem in western Germany, and it is difficult to know how serious his promise of support to the Ubii was. Also Caesar exaggerates the importance of the Rhine as a dividing line between Gaul and the Germans. The German tribes of the Eburones and Atuatuci were already settled to the east of the Nervii. It was not this campaign east of the Rhine that was significant but Caesar’s string of victories in Gaul that made the difference. It is likely that had Caesar not campaigned, the Germans would have increased their migration into Gaul and occupied much of it.

Despite the fact that it was late in the campaigning season, probably in late July, Caesar made preparations for his expedition to Britain. At this point in his narrative he claims that the reason for the expedition was that the Gauls had received help from their kinsmen across the Channel. The biographer Suetonius mentions another reason: Caesar’s lust for pearls. This is hardly persuasive. Although Caesar mentions other natural resources he is silent about the pearls, and some later Roman writers considered British pearls to be small, discoloured and dark. Writing within a generation of Caesar’s death the geographer Strabo mentions that the island produced slaves, hides, gold, silver and tin but in Caesar’s generation far less was known about the products of British mining. Cicero mentions that he had heard that there was no gold or silver in Britain. Caesar indicates that there was tin and iron but says nothing of precious metals. There was a substantial trade with the tribes on the northwestern coast as far south as the Loire. But this was not a Roman concern. Caesar claims that the merchants who traded with the Britons knew only the part of Britain facing Gaul and were of little help. It may well be that they were afraid of the effects of an invasion on their established routes and customers, but that does not indicate that they feared they would be replaced by Romans and Italians. An invasion would upset their established relationships and make movement unsafe. These were reasons enough to be reluctant to provide the Romans with information. There is no doubt that the desire for wealth played a role in Caesar’s decision, but it was made for booty, not trade opportunities.

Caesar’s claim that the Britons provided support to the Gallic tribes in their struggle with the Romans may be true but exaggerated. He records that south-eastern Britain was inhabited by Belgae, who had invaded the area and then settled it. Coinage and other archaeological evidence point to successive migrations by Belgae beginning about a century before Caesar’s arrival on the island. There were certainly ties between the Belgic tribes in Britain and those on the continent. In his discussion of the continental Belgae Caesar mentions that within living memory Diviciacus the king of the Suessiones had also ruled Britain, presumably in the Belgic south-east. In 57, after the defeat of the Belgae, chiefs of the Bellovaci who had persuaded their people to fight fled to Britain. In 55 on the eve of his first landing in Britain Caesar sent out Commius, whom he had made king of the Atrebates, to Britain as an envoy because he possessed great influence there, presumably among the Atrebates settled in Britain. Despite these ties Caesar provides no evidence of substantial British support for his enemies in Gaul.

The most important reason for the invasion is to be found in Caesar’s political position at Rome. If he had originally planned the invasion for 56 his attempt to link it to the security of Gaul, which he now claimed was pacified, would provide a further reason to extend his command. His prestige would be bolstered by being the first Roman to bring an army across the channel. The British invasion has its counterpart in his crossing of the Rhine. Both were ways of justifying Caesar’s command and enhancing his standing. These actions seem aimed less at Germans and Britons and more at his political enemies in Rome. The quest for wealth was certainly a motive but a subordinate one.

The first landing in Britain in 55 was little more than a reconnaissance in force. Caesar brought his legions to the Pas de Calais in the territory of the Morini who, now overawed by the concentration of force, surrendered. The army he assembled for this campaign was certainly too small to accomplish more than to prepare the way for a larger expedition. It consisted of the Seventh Legion and his favourite, the Tenth, lightly equipped to save space, and a force of cavalry sailing in a separate convoy from a different port. He must have expected that he would be met by British tribes with whom he had already been in diplomatic contact before he sailed and that they would make a formal submission. Caesar does not mention the port from which he sailed in 55 but in the next year he sailed from Portus Itius, whose location is uncertain but may be Boulogne, and it may well have been the port he used the year before.

When Caesar left the cavalry had not yet embarked and a change in the weather prevented it from joining him. When he had sailed on 26 August Caesar had chosen the natural harbour at Dover for his landing, but the steep cliffs covered with defenders made a landing there impossible. He sailed north along the coast, probably landing between Walmer and Deal. The British had kept pace with his ships as they sailed from Dover and were ready to oppose his landing. Despite having to disembark in the water because of the sloping beach the troops forced their way onshore and routed the British, but pursuit was impossible without the cavalry. In this initial encounter the Romans had their first experience of chariot fighting. The chariot was still used by the British Celts long after it had been abandoned in Gaul and Caesar was impressed enough to add a digression on it to Gallic War.

A storm four days later severely damaged Caesar’s ships. This led to renewed fighting with the British, who were once again defeated. These successes had some effect. A number of tribes submitted and as a penalty for their initial refusal to surrender Caesar doubled the number of hostages he demanded and ordered the tribes to transport them to Gaul. Given the lateness of the season – it was close to the autumnal equinox – Caesar returned to Gaul. The expedition had almost ended in disaster because of the weather. The force was too small to achieve anything significant, insufficient attention had been paid to the weather in the Channel, and too little time had been spent in preparing for the crossing. Despite its shortcomings the British expedition produced the political results that were all that Caesar could have wished for: he was voted a twenty-day thanksgiving by the Senate.

Inchon and Seoul, 1950 I

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A Marine squad, supported by an M-26 General Pershing tank of the 1st Marine Tank Battalion, moves through Seoul under fire. (USMC)

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After World War II the American military jettisoned the vast bulk of the superb ground force that had fought and won the war. By 1950 that force was a hollow shell of its former self. The only remaining remnants of the combat-experienced ground forces were the non-commissioned officer and officer leadership of the skeleton divisions that remained in the force. The bulk of the force in 1950 was draftees with no experience, and in some cases their equipment wasn’t even the best of the World War II equipment. In the late summer of 1950, this force found itself in the midst of another large-scale urban battle against a wholly unanticipated foe in a theater of operations that many Americans had never heard of and would have a hard time finding on a map.

A Hot Cold War

In June 1950 the forces of Communist North Korea launched a surprise attack on the forces of South Korea. The military forces of the North, well trained and equipped by the Soviet Union, vastly outnumbered those of the South. In addition, though there were US Army advisors with the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) military, the US vision for the ROK Army (ROKA) was as a large military police force; which meant that there were no heavy weapons, tanks, heavy artillery or antitank weapons among the small South Korean force. Because of this, and the surprise of the attack, the North Korea People’s Army (KPA) was very successful, and in just six weeks managed to push the combined South Korean and American defenders back to a small perimeter at the toe of Korea around the important port city of Pusan.

At the end of the first week of the surprise attack, the US military entered the war decisively on the side of South Korea. The most effective and responsive weapon that the US had in Asia was the US Air Force, and air attacks against the advancing North Korean columns began on June 27. However, air attacks could slow, but not stop the North Korean advance. Therefore, the US Eighth Army, stationed in Japan, began to deploy to Korea. The problem was that the Eighth Army in 1950 was a shadow of the great American army that had fought its way across the Pacific Ocean under General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. Still under MacArthur’s command – MacArthur was the Supreme Commander Allied Powers in Japan, and Commander US Forces Far East – the Eighth Army was greatly debilitated by post-World War II defense cuts. The Eighth Army had four divisions organized into two corps. However, each of the army’s infantry divisions comprised only two regiments instead of the doctrinal three. Likewise, each regiment had only two battalions, and each battalion only two companies. Similarly, division artillery was reduced to two battalions, all the medium and heavy artillery had been removed from the force at all levels, and each battalion only had two firing batteries of light howitzers. The medium-tank battalions supporting each infantry division was similarly reduced to light-tank battalions of only two companies each. Finally, if the numbers alone were not bad enough, budget and facility constraints greatly inhibited training, leaving the units in a poor state of readiness. Though a formidable force on paper, the Eighth Army and all its subordinate forces were in reality only about 50 percent as capable as the World War II version of the army. This army was thrown as fast as possible into the path of the advancing North Koreans.

General Walton Walker commanded the combined US and South Korean armies on the peninsula. In the last weeks of August 1950 he managed to stem the North Korean onslaught around the city of Pusan. However, in the first eight weeks of the war the Communists captured over 80 percent of the land of South Korea. Clearly, Walker and his commander, General Douglas MacArthur, could not sit passively on the defensive. As early as the end of July, as Walker fought desperately to maintain a toehold in Korea, General MacArthur was thinking in terms of a counterstroke.

End Run to Seoul

MacArthur, in keeping with the operational thinking he had developed during the Pacific campaign of World War II, was keen to avoid the hard campaign that a counterattack back up the mountainous Korean peninsula would entail. He set his staff to investigating the various possibilities of an amphibious operation to bypass the major North Korean forces and land in their rear. This would avoid the tremendous casualties of a frontal assault, save invaluable time, and guarantee the complete destruction of the bulk of the North Korean army. The only problem was there was no suitable landing site for a major amphibious thrust along Korea’s very formidable coastline. The closest that the planners could identify was the city of Inchon on Korea’s west coast.

The command faced several significant problems executing a major amphibious assault at Inchon. These included the difficulty of the local tides, lack of suitable beaches, the difficulty of achieving surprise, and a shortage of trained troops available. MacArthur carefully considered the problems but also weighed the points in Inchon’s favor. The difficulty of the operation would lend itself to surprise and thus lessen opposition to the landing. Inchon’s geographic position put it close to Seoul. Thus, a successful landing at Inchon could easily lead to a quick conquest of Seoul. Seoul was MacArthur’s ultimate objective. The city’s geographic location put it astride the only important north–south maneuver corridor on the peninsula. Control of Seoul meant control of South Korea. More important than its position, which was extremely important, was that Seoul was also the capital city of South Korea. To many, the loss of Seoul had represented losing the war in the first week: recapturing Seoul represented snatching victory from apparent defeat. MacArthur recognized that the political and psychological importance of Seoul were beyond measure. MacArthur understood that the value of Seoul outweighed the operational risks inherent in an amphibious assault and therefore determined that the operation proceed over the objections of key subordinates and experts on amphibious operations.

To execute the operation to capture Seoul the Americans assembled a new unit, separate from the US Eighth Army fighting the battle at Pusan. This new unit, X Corps, was tailored for the amphibious operation, and reported not to Eighth Army, but directly to General MacArthur’s Far East Command. The two major subcomponents of the X Corps were the 1st US Marine Division, and the US Army 7th Infantry Division, all under the X Corps commander, Major General Edward Almond. In addition to the two infantry divisions, the corps had the direct support of the Marine Air Wing of the 1st Marine Division. It also included two ROK military units: the ROK Marine Regiment attached to the 1st Marine Division, and the ROK 1st Infantry Regiment attached to the 7th Infantry Division. These latter two units were critical for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to improve the flagging prestige and morale of the ROK military, and also to highlight the important political objectives which were an important goal of the operation.

Seoul was a city of over a million people when the war broke out – the fifth largest urban population in Asia. It was the ancient capital of the Korean peninsula and thus was extremely important to both North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK) and to South Korea. As the North Korean forces poured across the border in the summer of 1950, the population had panicked and attempted to flee. However, over a million people – largely without automotive transportation – cannot quickly pick up and move. So, as the Americans began to execute operations to recapture the capital, there were hundreds of thousands of South Korean civilians still living in Seoul under the occupation rule of North Korea.

The initial landing area at Inchon was opposed by about 2,000 troops. The KPA had a total of about 16,000 troops in the Inchon–Seoul area. This was a relatively light defensive force given the area’s strategic importance, but it reflected the North Korean high command’s focus on the battles in the south around the Pusan perimeter. In addition to the 2,000 troops positioned in the area of Inchon, another 2,000 troops of the 87th Infantry Regiment were positioned to defend the major suburb of Seoul at Yongdungpo. Additionally, Seoul was garrisoned and defended by the Seoul Defense Division, a unit of approximately 10,000 troops. The remainder of the initial KPA forces around the capital were various support units. Not part of the Seoul garrison, but able to respond quickly to any threat to the city or an amphibious landing, was the KPA’s theater reserve, the 105th Tank Division, equipped with T-34/85 tanks. This unit was the premier unit of the KPA, equipped with over 50 tanks, supporting artillery, and antitank and infantry subunits. It was refitting near Seoul when the landings at Inchon occurred.

The March to Seoul

On September 15, the 1st Marine Division landed two regimental combat teams (RCTs), the 1st and the 5th Marine Regiments, south and north of the city of Inchon respectively. The landings, unusually, took place late in the afternoon, due to the tides. The two regiments secured their initial objectives quickly, overcoming relatively light resistance in Inchon itself. The North Korean defenders were surprised, shocked by the pre-invasion naval and air bombardment, and gave up all resistance during the night. The next day the 5th Marines marched through the abandoned city of Inchon to link up with the 1st Marines and begin the 18-mile movement to the capital of Seoul. The 1st Marines were directed to advance directly west with the objective of securing Yongdungpo, the major suburb of Seoul on the west bank of the Han River. The 5th Marines veered north to secure Kimpo Airfield, the major air terminal of the capital and the largest and most modern airfield on the peninsula, also on the west side of the river.

By September 17, the 5th Marines were in position to attack Kimpo Airfield. Fighting through scattered North Korean strongpoints, the RCT secured the southern edge of the airfield by the end of the day. To the south the 1st RCT fought its way through a series of North Korean roadblocks on the main Inchon–Seoul highway. By nightfall the 1st RCT had advanced about two miles.

During the night the North Koreans defending Kimpo staged several small-scale counterattacks against the Marines, all of which were beaten off successfully. In the morning of September 18 the Marines advanced across the airfield against light resistance and by 10am the airfield and surrounding villages were secure. On September 18 the first troops of X Corps’ 7th Infantry Division began to land at Inchon. Their mission was securing the major highway south of Seoul that was the lifeline of the North Korean army fighting desperately at Pusan.

As the Marines closed in on the west bank of the Han River north of Seoul, the plan to recapture the city developed. The first phase of the plan involved securing a bridgehead on the east bank and bringing the entire west bank under control of the Americans. On September 20, the 5th Marine RCT crossed the Han north of Seoul and then wheeled right and began to attack the city from the north to the south. Simultaneously the 1st RCT entered Yongdungpo and began a building by building attack to clear the west bank of the Han. By September 23, the 1st RCT had accomplished its mission and was prepared to join the 5th Marines on the east bank.

The river assault of the 5th RCT was only lightly opposed. The Marines were mounted in LVTs (Landing Vehicles Tracked), literally amphibious armored personal carriers. These vehicles and crews were provided by the Marine 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion, and the US Army’s 56th Amphibious Tractor Company. In addition, some Marines at Inchon and at the crossing of the Han River rode in army DUKW amphibious trucks of the 1st Amphibious Truck Company. Importantly, X Corps had no assault-bridging capability, so they could not put a military bridge over the Han. This meant that it was very time-consuming to move the important M-26 tanks of the 1st Marine Tank Battalion across the river to support the 5th RCT. Finally, as the plan was fashioned, four RCTs would participate in the battle of Seoul, each attacking in a set sequence. The sequencing of these attacks was all determined by the requirement that all four RCTs be moved across the river by the same single LVT battalion. Thus, the Han River obstacle shaped the assault on Seoul more than any other single factor.

The intent of the attack of the 5th RCT was to get behind the defenses of Seoul as the assumption was that the North Korean forces would be oriented south and southwest towards the approaches directly from Inchon. What the planners of the operation failed to account for was that the area northwest of Seoul was a former Japanese army training area, and had been improved by the South Korean army as a defensive line, so the positions were oriented north against attack from North Korea. Those prepared defensive positions were still in place and the North Korean army occupied them in defense against the attack of the 5th RCT. In addition, the North Korean army moved approximately 10,000 troops into these positions just prior to the Marines crossing the Han. Thus, though the 5th RCT covered 4 miles on the afternoon of river crossing, September 20, it then ran into stiff resistance. It would take the Marines five more days to fight their way across the last four miles of ridges between their landing site and Seoul.