Antwerp 1914 Part I

Belgians manning a defence line at Antwerp.

Antwerp defence system included an area of countryside that could be flooded by opening sluices on the banks of the River Scheldt.

The port of Antwerp was designated as the National Redoubt and consisted of four defensive lines:

  1. A ring of 21 forts approximately 10 to 15 km outside the city.
  2. A secondary line of resistance of twelve older forts around 5 km outside to the city.
  3. A group of two forts and three coastal batteries defending the river Scheldt.
  4. Pre-prepared areas that could be flooded.


On Saturday, 10 October 1914 Admiral von Schroeder, Antwerp’s new military governor, and General von Beseler, commander of the siege troops that had captured the fortress, watched as the siege corps marched in review, celebrating the capture of the Belgian National Redoubt. The most noteworthy thing about that day was the absence of civilian bystanders. Antwerp was practically empty of its citizens, most of them having fled before the fall of the city. Buildings were smashed and the smoke from the petroleum tanks burning at Hoboken could still be seen rising above the city to the west. Antwerp had become a dead city.

The forts were also dead and empty, their defenders having either escaped to the west, surrendered to the Germans or fled to Holland, where they would be kept in internment for the remainder of the war. It seemed as if it was all over for Belgium. Since 4 August Belgium’s three fortresses had been crushed by German siege guns and the remnant of the Belgian army was fleeing to the French border. But the loss of the city and the forts was not the end. In fact, the Belgian army escaped to the west only because the forts and defenders held out long enough for them to do so. Thanks to the Belgian and British defenders of Antwerp, the Belgian army would live to fight on and to hold a small piece of west Flanders that would cost the Germans (and the Allies) hundreds of thousands of casualties over the next four years. The Germans captured the city but they lost the Battle of Belgium.

On 16 August the last forts of Liège fell. In short order the German First and Second Armies advanced across Belgium. On the 17th the Belgian government fled from Brussels to Antwerp. The following day King Albert moved his army headquarters from Louvain to Mechelen, 25km from Antwerp.65 On the same day the Belgian army, minus the 4th Division at Namur, withdrew from its concentration point on the Gette and headed to Antwerp. When it seemed as though Namur was about to fall, General Michel pulled the 4th Division out of the fortress and it eventually made its way via France to Antwerp. The Germans marched triumphantly through Brussels on 20 August and began to move south into France. General von Kluck detached and left behind III Reserve Corps, along with the German Naval Division, to keep watch on the Belgian forces at Antwerp, and to guard his lines of communication to Liège.

King Albert and his commanders ordered a number of sorties from Antwerp to disrupt the German forces guarding the city. If they succeeded, perhaps the Belgians could move further across the country and disrupt the German lines of communication. Regardless, the goal was to cause havoc. The first sortie occurred on 24 August in the direction of Mechelen. The Germans easily held their position and pushed the Belgians back. On 9 September a second sortie was launched towards Vilvoorde and met with greater success, this time reaching a point 16km from the fortress line. On that same day, realizing the danger Antwerp posed to the German flank, and needing to remove the obstacle blocking the seizure of the channel ports, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered its capture. A relatively ineffective third sortie took place on 27 September, at the same moment as the siege of the fortress began.

On 27 September the Battle of Antwerp began, just as the other fortress sieges had, with a heavy bombardment. The following day King Albert received reports that this wasn’t just a demonstration of strength but an all-out offensive to capture the city: large bodies of German reserves were observed assembling at Liège to move towards Antwerp.

There was a general belief among those in the army and the government, and perhaps also the Belgian population, that Antwerp would never fall to a besieger. It was one of the largest fortified places in the world, with numerous forts. On the map the defences seemed to be formidable and impregnable, but the only map that mattered to the Germans was the one that told them the distance between their heavy siege artillery batteries and their targets: Antwerp’s obsolete ring of forts.

Fortress Antwerp was built by the Spanish in 1567, as the northern bastion and major port city of the Spanish Netherlands. The Spanish surrounded the city with a bastioned wall fashioned with lunettes to the north, east and south, the Scheldt river acting as a major obstacle to the west. A large crown work called in later years the Vlaamsch-Hoofd or Tête de Flandres defended the left bank of the Scheldt. Two large citadels flanked the eastern and western ends of the enceinte where it met the river. This was what King Leopold’s commission of government and military officials found when he ordered a study of Belgium’s defences. In 1859 the decision was made to create a national redoubt and to improve the defences of Antwerp so it could serve as a place of refuge if Belgium were attacked. The army would retreat, along with the government, into the city, safe behind the ring of forts, and await rescue by the allied powers according to their terms of guaranteed neutrality.

Between 1861 and 1871 General Brialmont directed the construction of eight large forts along the southern flank of the city, between the outskirts of Wijnegem and Hoboken. These were simply called Forts I to 8. Their purpose was to extend the fortress perimeter in order to keep enemy guns out of range of the city. Flood zones were developed to protect the outlying portions of the perimeter. However, after the Torpedo Shell Crisis of 1885, and because the town had outgrown Brialmont’s inner ring, these defences had become obsolete. To counter the increased range of enemy guns, a second ring of forts was built further out from the city.

Due to financial constraints, only a few works were actually constructed. Two forts were built to the south at Walem and Lier, and a defensive dyke that could be controlled to create a flood zone was added on the left bank of the Scheldt, covered by Forts Zwijndrecht and Kruibeke. To the north Fort Ste-Marie was built and Forts St-Philippe and La Perle were modernized. Each of these forts was built of brick. Fort Steendorp was the first to be built using brick with a layer of concrete added on top. As funding became available in the late 1880s, Fort Schoten was built to the northeast, along with the small Fortin of Duffel to guard the Brussels–Antwerp railway. These were built entirely in non-reinforced concrete. The ring was completed in 1893 with the construction of Forts Oorderen, Berendrecht and Kapellen.

A new round of construction was planned in 1900 but was delayed for funding reasons until 1906. Thirteen new forts and twelve permanent interval redoubts were added. The forts were polygons, surrounded by a water-filled moat, with the entrance reached by a bridge across the moat. These forts more closely resembled the configuration of Brialmont’s earlier models,66 Forts 1 to 8, than the more modern Forts of the Meuse at Liège and Namur. The latter forts were built on high ground and had a central redoubt surrounded by a dry ditch. The terrain around Antwerp was flat and low-lying, with a high water table, so no ditch would stay dry for long.

By 1914 Antwerp was one of the largest fortresses in the world, with a circumference of some 95km. It consisted of thirty-five forts and twelve redoubts. The guns in the older forts were placed in open air batteries, but the new forts were equipped with 15cm, 12cm and 7.5cm guns in revolving steel turrets. The approaches to the forts were defended by 5.7cm rapid-fire guns in turrets. Like the forts of Liège and Namur, the Antwerp forts were built to withstand shelling from 21cm siege guns. Unfortunately the German siege corps brought much larger guns to use against the forts in 1914, including the 42cm and 30.5cm howitzers. Many of the forts were incomplete when the Germans approached in early September 1914.

The Opposing Forces at Antwerp

Belgium had six divisions to defend the fortress: a total of 80,000 men. Four divisions were tasked with defending the perimeter, with one division in reserve; the weakest division – the remnant of the 4th Division from Namur – was placed at Termonde to guard against a German crossing of the Scheldt. One cavalry division with 3,600 men was located southwest of Termonde to guard the lines of communication between Antwerp and Ghent. Finally, the forts were garrisoned with 70,000 fortress troops. General de Guise, who had left Liège in July, was in charge of the entire force.

The German siege corps was commanded by General Hans von Beseler and had a total strength of about 125,000 men. It consisted of III Reserve Corps, IV Ersatz Division, one division of Marine Rifles from Marine-Korps-Flandern, one Bavarian Division, the 26th and 27th Landwehr Brigades, one brigade of siege engineers, one brigade of light artillery and nine extremely powerful heavy siege mortar batteries. The heavy artillery batteries included the following:

  • KMK Battery 2: Hauptmann Becker with two 42cm Gamma
  • KMK Battery 3: Hauptmann Erdmann with two 42cm M-Gerät (which saw action at Liège)
  • SKM Battery 1: Hauptmann Neuman with two 30.5cm mortars (which saw action at Liège)
  • SKM Battery 4: with two 30.5cm mortars
  • SKM Battery 5: Hauptmann Sharf with two 30.5cm mortars
  • SKM Battery 6: Hauptmann Buch – one 30.5cm mortar
  • Festungsartillerie-bataillon Batteries 7 and 9, each with two 30.5cm Austrian mortars.

The Battle for Antwerp

Great Britain played a significant role in the battle for Antwerp. In fact, had it not been for the assurances of Sir Winston Churchill, there might not have been a battle in the first place. In support of his promises, the British sent a Royal Naval brigade and a brigade of Royal Marines – a total of 10,000 men under the command of General Archibald Paris – to Antwerp, although they were mostly raw recruits, poorly equipped and trained, with few, if any combat skills.

On 2 October, a few days into the battle for Antwerp, things were not going well for the Belgians. King Albert notified the British government of his intentions to pull out of Antwerp immediately to prevent his army from being trapped, as it was apparent that the fortress line was breaking and the Allies didn’t appear to be coming to the aid of the Belgians. General Kitchener, the British secretary of state for war, had planned to send British troops to relieve Antwerp, and the French had promised the same, but these forces were still a few days away and would not reach the area in time. Winston Churchill, Lord of the Admiralty, replied that the British would send a brigade of marines to arrive on 3 October. Churchill himself decided to make a visit to Antwerp to reassure his ally, not least because it was in Britain’s best interests that Antwerp hold out as long as possible so the channel ports were not seized by the Germans. Their loss would be a severe blow to the allied efforts.

Churchill worked out an arrangement with the Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles de Broqueville, under which the Belgians would hold out until the Allies arrived from the south. De Broqueville told Churchill he was confident they could hold for at least three more days, possibly more. Churchill assured him that if, in three days, they were not confident they could hold, they were under no obligation to stay and could retreat with Britain’s help: ‘If we can’t help them hold, we’ll help them get out.’ Thus, on the evening of 3 October some 2,000 marines were dispatched by train to Antwerp.

The fortress was far from complete at the start of the battle and the defences were still being organized. Concrete protection around the turret cylinders was not yet in place, and the engineers were obliged to use sandbags instead. Many of the turrets were without guns, and several of those that had guns were missing their firing sights. The forts also had other major construction flaws, in particular the quality of concrete used in their construction. They had been built to withstand 21cm shells, but the Germans had brought 30.5cm and 42cm guns to the front with an unlimited ammunition supply. Even if all the fortress guns had been available, the forward observation posts had not yet been set up so the guns would be firing blind. They also lacked an adequate supply of munitions. Worst of all, the Belgian guns did not have the range to reach the German batteries.

The engineers worked to overcome numerous geographic challenges presented by the region. The city had continued to expand outward, and obstacles blocking the guns’ lines of sight had to be cleared. Churches, farms and trees were levelled to the ground with explosives – nothing that stood in the way was spared. Because the land was flat, once the surrounding structures were cleared away, the outlines of the forts were easily visible to enemy observers. Worse, when the guns fired, they produced black smoke that could be seen for miles.

Preparation of a 100km defensive perimeter line was a monumental task. Interval trenches were dug along most of the perimeter, but they tended to be shallow and poorly organized, and had no bomb-proof shelters. In some places they were little more than gullies. Obstructions were placed across the access roads. Paving stones were pulled up and used as barricades. Miles of barbed wire was stretched along the perimeter and around the defensive strongpoints. Infantry parapets were built up along the streams and canals. Bridges and viaducts were strewn with explosives, ready to be destroyed at a moment’s notice.

The outer ring of fortifications extended three-quarters of the way around the city, beginning on the right bank of the Scheldt north of the city and ending on the left bank to the northeast. The outer perimeter consisted of large forts with permanent redoubts built between the forts to serve as rallying points for the interval defence. The outer ring, beginning on the right bank northeast of Antwerp, below the Netherlands border, was arranged as follows (see Map opposite): Berendrecht Redoubt (a), Oorderen Redoubt (b), Fort Staebroek (1), Staebroek Redoubt (c), Fort Ertbrand (2), Fort Cappellen (3), Fort Brasschaat (4), Dryoek Redoubt (d), Fort Schooten (5), Audaen Redoubt (e), Fort St Gravenwezel (6), Shilde Redoubt (f), Fort Oeleghem (7), Massenhoven Redoubt (g), Fort Broechem (8), Fort Kessel (9). The inner ring consisted of Forts 1 to 8 (23 to 30) and Fort Merxem (31). The Vlaamsch-Hoofd (32) was located across the Scheldt from the town centre.

The fortress was divided into five defensive sectors:

  • Sector 1: north – Forts St-Phillipe, Merxem, Cappelen
  • Sector 2: east – s’Gravenwezel, d’Oelegem
  • Sector 3: southeast – Nethe line near Lier and Duffel
  • Sector 4: along the Rupel – Bornem, Liezele
  • Sector 5: left bank of the Scheldt and in the area of Waes.

The Belgian army ordered the 1st and 2nd Divisions to Sector 3, while the 3rd and 6th Divisions were kept in Sector 4; the 4th Division occupied Termonde and the 5th Division remained as the general reserve.

The bombardment of the Belgian army headquarters at Mechelen had started on 18 October, as a result of which King Albert moved the headquarters to Antwerp. Once Mechelen was taken, the Germans moved their heavy guns forwards and began shelling the forts. The first German attack was directed against Sector 3. The strategy was to punch a hole in the defences of Sector 3 with the heavy guns, followed up by an infantry attack to cross the Nethe and Scheldt rivers. After that, the breach would be widened by the destruction of the forts in Sectors 2 and 4.

After the capture of Mechelen, the Germans advanced all along the line of Sectors 1, 2 and 4. They occupied Alost on the extreme left and Heyst-op-den-Berg on the right. The siege cannon were moved up into place and would concentrate on the forts in Sectors 1 and 3.

The first targets on 28 September were Forts Waelhem and Wavre-Ste-Catherine, using the 30.5cm and 42cm guns emplaced at Boortmeerbeek, about 10km south of the fortress line, at their maximum optimum range, as well as smaller-calibre guns. The effects were felt immediately in the forts, as the concrete cracked and fumes from the explosives spread throughout the tunnels. The 15cm turret of Fort Waelhem was put out of action and the telephone lines to the fort were cut.

On Tuesday, 29 September the Germans attacked Sector 4, pushing back elements of the 3rd and 6th Divisions some 1,500m from the main line. Then 30.5cm shells started falling on the entry bridge at Fort Breendonck. A German column reached Blaesveld bridge on the Willebroek Canal but was driven back by the defenders.

The bombardment of Fort Waelhem continued at the rate of ten shells per minute. The garrison fought to restore communications with headquarters, and all the fort’s guns remained operational (apart from the 15cm turret destroyed the previous day). The second 15cm turret was targeting the Mechelen–Louvain railway, where enemy activity had been spotted. At 1600 this turret was also damaged and put out of action. The ammunition magazine in the fort was hit and exploded, and seventy-five men inside the fort were badly burned. At 1830 the armoured observation post was struck, meaning the guns had to fire blind. During the night the guns were repaired and they continued firing in what they perceived to be the correct direction.

Fort Wavre-Ste-Catherine also suffered on the 29th. The turrets were destroyed one by one, and the garrison driven out of the shelters. At 1800 the fort was evacuated but the garrison would return later.

Captain Becker, commander of KMK 2, described the effects of the shells on Forts Koningshoyckt and Wavre-Ste-Catherine:

As shown by many photographs, the 42-cm shell was effective against the heaviest armour and concrete of the Belgian forts. As typical of this effect, I recall in particular two hits made by my own battery on the Fort of Wavre St[e] Catherine, in the outer line of forts of Antwerp, on 29 September 1914. On the morning of the 29th I fired with the second piece, the more accurate, at the heavy guns in the armoured cupolas, while using the first piece against the concrete casemates. On this day, I saw my eleventh shot strike fair upon the top of the cupola, where the enemy’s guns were actively firing. There was a quick flash, which we had learned at Kummersdorf [artillery proving grounds] to recognize as the impact of steel upon steel. Then an appreciable pause, during which the cupola seemed uninjured; then a great explosion. After a few minutes the smoke began to clear, and in place of the cupola we saw a black hole, from which dense smoke was still pouring. Half the cupola stood upright, 50 metres away; the other half had fallen to the ground. The shell, fitted with a delayed fuse action, had exploded inside.67

The outlying defences also suffered terribly from the shelling. The interval redoubts and trenches were hit with the same violence as the permanent works. The forts provided supporting counter-battery fire whenever possible, but the forward observers were driven from their positions throughout the day and were no longer able to direct fire against the enemy. It appeared the Belgian defenders in the trenches would suffer the same fate as at Namur: pounded by unseen guns without any means of reply, and driven off their positions by unseen troops.

Despite Churchill’s promises, the Belgian leadership were not confident of rescue by the Allies, who were still 200km away. On the night of the 29th they concluded that since Antwerp was not as impregnable as they had originally thought, the field army should be quickly withdrawn, and saved to fight another day. The field troops were to be pulled back to the Dendre river to await the Allies, who were now approaching Arras. The evacuation was scheduled to begin on 2 October. The army supplies from the Antwerp warehouses would be transported first by rail to Ostend. The rail journey began at the Tête de Flandre on the left bank of the Scheldt, passed through St Nicholas and Ghent, and finally arrived at Ostend. The transports had to cross the railway bridge at Tamise, and to reach that they needed to cross the Willebroeck bridge – within range of the German guns. Despite the danger, the operation was completed under conditions of absolute stealth between 29 September and 7 October. The lines of retreat were defended by the 4th Division, deployed at Baesrode, Termonde and Schoonaerde. The cavalry was moved to Wetteren to guard the left bank of the Dendre, where the field army would take up position on 3 October.


Antwerp 1914 Part II

Damage to Fort Lier, Antwerp.


German 17-inch (42cm) howitzer.

On 30 September the Germans continued their attacks in Sector 4. They attempted to cross the Willebroeck Canal at Blaesveld but Belgian troops from the 4th Chasseurs and the 12th Line Regiment, supported by their field guns, drove them back from the canal. The guns of Forts Liezele and Breendonck also fired on the advancing Germans.

Since the 28th the heavy bombardment in Sector 3 had continued, driving the men of the 1st Division out of their trenches. Fort Lier had fired continuously on the German infantry positions, and in support of Fort Koningshoyckt and the Tallaert Redoubt with its 15cm guns. The fort was struck for the first time on the 30th by 42cm shells and took heavy damage, including to a 5.7cm turret that was knocked out of its housing. Fort Koningshoyckt was also silenced, along with the Dorpveld and Boschbeek Redoubts.

Fort Waelhem was in equally deplorable condition but the garrison, driven on by Commandant Dewit, held out until all means of defence were exhausted. On 30 September Dewit ordered the evacuation of the fort, although he himself chose to remain behind to continue the defence as best he could; many of his men refused to leave without him, but were ordered to do so. At night the surrounding batteries drew the enemy fire away from the fort, and the men remaining inside made some repairs and continued to hold out. Repairs to the heavily damaged forts were made at night during brief lulls in the shelling, even at Wavre-Ste-Catherine, but there was not much to repair when the garrison returned after their brief evacuation. The fort appeared to the Germans to have been destroyed. They assumed, based on the experience of similar bombardments of the stronger forts at Liège and Namur, that the forts could be demolished after a few rounds from the heavy siege guns. It came as a shock to the German commanders that the forts at Antwerp were still occupied.

When Wavre-Ste-Catherine was found to be still occupied, General Beseler blamed the battery commander for not finishing the job and the guns were turned once more on the ruins. According to Becker, the problem was that too much time had elapsed between the order being given to cease fire and the movement of patrols towards the fort, giving the Belgians time to reoccupy it. They found many effective hiding places for their machine guns among the ruins.

On the night of 30 September the Germans attempted to force a crossing of the Scheldt at Termonde. Sentries spotted a large force moving quietly towards the bridge. Row after row of Germans heading towards the bridge were shot down by the defenders until the German guns opened fire on the trenches on the approach to the bridge. Several trenches had to be evacuated but the bridge was held until it was finally blown up by Belgian engineers.

On 1 October there was no let up in the heavy shelling. Fort Breendonck was shelled. Fort Kessel became a new target and the bombardment of Fort Lier continued with heavy shells falling every six minutes. The concrete around the 15cm turret was struck, displacing the turret and putting it out of action. The shells also produced heavy fumes that inundated the corridors and tunnels of the fort. The men could only sit and wait for the end. This time, however, the Germans were launching a pre-attack barrage. All along the Sector 3 line the Germans advanced, moving into the fortress line west of Wavre-Ste-Catherine and getting behind it and Fort Waelhem, forcing the final evacuation of Fort Wavre-Ste-Catherine. The 1st Division troops moved to reoccupy their evacuated trenches but the Germans were too strong. The 2nd Division was driven back to the Nethe river by artillery fire. Fort Koningshoyckt survived the attack but the Boschbeek redoubt was evacuated and at 1700 the central part of Dorpveld was seized. The Belgian garrison of Dorpveld became trapped in another part of the work.

The 1st Division was sent to the vicinity of Fort Lier to support the garrison’s riflemen. The men inside the fort, practically exhausted mentally from the effects of the bombardment and the destruction of the fort, were suddenly galvanized into action when they heard of the arrival of reinforcements and the news that the Germans were attacking. They rushed to the parapets and into the turrets and poured fire into the approaching Germans. An attack at 2100 was stopped, and two hours later a second attack was broken off. Attacks continued throughout the night in front of Fort Lier and on the Tallaert redoubt and between Forts Koningshoyckt and Lier. The fighting for the trenches was furious but the Germans retreated at 0200, having failed to break through the line. On 2 October the 1st and 2nd Divisions launched a counter-attack to retake positions lost along the trench line.

The garrison of Fort Waelhem continued to occupy the fort. They made repairs on 1 October and their guns remained operational, but the Germans believed the fort had been put out of action. A patrol approached the moat to see if anyone was left in the fort. They soon found out when Commandant Dewit ordered his men to open fire, scattering the Germans. The bombardment of the fort then resumed with greater intensity, destroying the bridge across the moat to the entrance. The defenders escaped across the rear moat using ladders. Fort Waelhem, despite a heroic defence, was finally in German hands.

In a frightening game of cat and mouse, the Belgian defenders of Dorpveld redoubt remained trapped in the wreckage while the Germans, in control of another section, hunted them down. Once they had located them, the Germans set off a mine in an attempt to finish off the garrison. Some of them escaped through a breach caused by the mine and fled across the fields. A second mine destroyed the redoubt, killing the remaining defenders.

At 1430 the magazine of Fort Koningshoyckt blew up, and the fort was finished. The Tallaert redoubt also exploded. The shelling of Fort Lier continued until it too was completely useless. Around noon the last turret was destroyed and at 1800 the garrison fled across the Nethe.

The Duffel redoubt had been pounded for four days, during which time the garrison made repairs whenever possible. The Germans, thinking that no further resistance was possible, set up a machine gun in the Wavre-Ste-Catherine railway station 700m from the fort and fired on the redoubt. They were surprised when a 5.7cm gun returned fire, driving the gunners away.

Most of the works on the south bank of the Nethe river had been destroyed. General de Guise decided to organize the defences to the north of the river. At this point the Belgian government notified the British of their intention to evacuate the field army from Antwerp and to use the fortress troops for the city’s defence. Winston Churchill immediately set out for Antwerp with the British Marines to persuade the Belgians to hold out a little longer.

On 3 October the Germans made another attempt to silence the Duffel redoubt. A German officer approached the redoubt with a truce flag. The defenders ceased firing but the officer was there simply to report his observations to the artillery batteries and the guns opened fire again. Duffel still held out but at 2200 the garrison ran out of ammunition and fled across the Nethe. Moments later the redoubt exploded. Likewise, the German batteries had continued to fire on Fort Kessel. Earlier in the day the three turrets were put out of action and the fort was evacuated.

Once all of the forts south of the Nethe had been destroyed or abandoned, the Germans prepared to cross the river. One attack was made on the Mechelen road at the railway bridge near Waelhem. Three attempts were made by German infantry against the approaches but each was repulsed. German engineers then decided to construct a temporary bridge across the Nethe near the village of Waelhem. They succeeded in putting together one bridge, but when the infantry advanced across it all the available Belgian guns were directed on it, causing major casualties. The bridge fell apart and the Germans retreated.

That evening the city’s spirits were lifted by the arrival of the first brigade of British marines, accompanied by Mr Churchill. The British troops included a brigade of Marine light infantry, approximately 2,200 strong, with several heavy guns. They had arrived by train from Ostend and were sent out to the Nethe front, where they were placed between Lier and Duffel. They relieved the Belgian 1st Mixed Brigade and supported the men of the 7th Belgian Infantry Regiment.

The morning of 4 October, the seventh day of the siege, was relatively quiet, but at around midday the German guns opened fire. The German artillery was being moved up towards the Nethe. The Belgians still held the trenches south of the Nethe, despite having lost the forts and redoubts. German shells now fell on these vulnerable positions, forcing the Belgians to flee across the Nethe, until the southern side of the river was completely in German hands.

The bombardment of the Nethe sectors continued all night and into Monday, 5 October, signalling an imminent infantry effort to cross the Nethe. The Belgian outposts were driven back and the Germans moved to the Nethe crossing points. German artillery fire pushed the defenders back even further from the river banks. Three German regiments crossed the Nethe at Lier but ran into the British troops defending the north side of the town. The British casualties were high but they held their ground and kept the Germans pinned inside the town. Here and there the Germans gained small bridgeheads on the north bank. In other locations they were pushed back by Belgian guns and infantry counterattacks. At around noon the 7th Line Regiment on the right flank of the British Marines was forced to fall back, exposing the British flank. A counter-attack by the 2nd Chasseurs, assisted by the British, regained the position.

The rest of the British reinforcements arrived on Monday, comprising two naval brigades with 6,000 men. Unlike the first group, these were mostly new recruits with little infantry training. Each brigade was composed of four battalions, and General Archibald Paris was in command.

In Sector 4 the 6th Division troops launched a counter-attack towards St-Amand. They reached and passed through the village but were met by a large German force and had to fall back. The Germans, meanwhile, bombarded Termonde and attempted a crossing of the Scheldt at Schoonaerde. A detachment of the 4th Division, guarding the approaches to the river, with artillery and cavalry support drove the Germans back, but the 4th Division’s position was becoming critical. A collapse would open the door for the Germans to march south of Antwerp and outflank it from the west, sealing in the Belgian and British defenders.

At 0200 on 6 October a surprise attack was launched by the Belgian 21st Line Regiment and two chasseur regiments from the 5th Division, making a bayonet charge against the German-held trenches. After the attack started, the Belgians heard cries of ‘Friend, English,’ coming from the trenches and they halted, unsure of what to do. Finally figuring out it was a ruse, they rallied and moved forwards. Hand-to-hand combat ensued in the dark and the Germans were pushed back to the Nethe. The Germans replied all along the line with machine guns and by daybreak the battle was over. The Belgians pulled back beyond Lier. This was the last allied offensive of the battle.

During the day German troops poured across the Nethe and moved towards the city. The Belgians pulled back to their secondary lines of defence. The British had mounted their heavy guns in the Brialmont forts and their shells now began to fall on the Germans. In the afternoon Fort Broechem fell, widening the gap to 20km. German attempts to cross the Scheldt were relentless. The Belgian command realized that the evacuation must begin now, and had to be done quickly.

Meanwhile, the French and Germans continued to move towards the channel ports. In early October the Germans had reached Lille and were moving rapidly to cut off the Belgian army. They were just 60km from Nieuport, while the Nethe was some 140km away. It was important for the Belgians to move as quickly as possible to Ghent to guard the lines of retreat to the west. They requested British reinforcements at Ghent as quickly as possible and the British government promised to send the 7th Infantry Division. The French also marched to the area at full speed.

On the night of 6 October King Albert ordered the Belgian field army to move to the left bank of the Scheldt. As we have seen, the army supply trains had already successfully reached Ostend. The Belgian army was to cross over the bridges at Tamise, Hoboken and Burght, and then move westwards. The defence of Antwerp would then be handed over to the 30,000 fortress troops, plus the 2nd Division and the three British brigades. The retreat began at midnight. The 1st and 5th Divisions moved first across the Scheldt near the Antwerp docks; 3rd Division crossed further north. The troops that were left to defend the city after the withdrawal of the field army quietly pulled back to man the defences adjacent to the inner circle of forts. The Germans had by now moved their guns north of the Nethe and began to shell the old forts, beginning with Fort 1.

On 7 October the Belgian government left the city by boat for Ostend; Churchill left at the same time. When the Belgian citizens of Antwerp discovered that the government had left, there was widespread panic, which resulted in the mass exodus of civilians from the city by all means available, both to the west and to the north into Holland. King Albert left at 1500 with his army. The 2nd Division, the fortress troops and the British forces continued to hold the second line of defence.

The Germans finally crossed the Scheldt at Termonde, Schoonaerde and Wetteren in the afternoon. At Schoonaerde the crossing was in force. The vanguard of three cavalry regiments advanced as far as Nazareth, 12km from Ghent.

On the night of the 7th the bombardment of Antwerp began in earnest, in order to compel the governor to surrender the rest of the operational forts. The Germans used incendiary bombs, and buildings all across the centre of town went up in flames. The Belgians set fire to the petroleum tanks at Hoboken, sending thick oily smoke 200ft into the air. Bombs fell all night long and the destruction was terrible. Belgian engineers contributed to the destruction by sabotaging everything in sight that could be useful to the Germans – gas pipes, electrical lines, warehouses and bridges – and ships were scuttled to block the harbour.

On the 8th the German III Reserve Corps, reinforced by the 26th Landwehr Brigade, occupied the ground in front of Forts 1 to 6 and the forts’ defenders were swept by German machine guns. At around 1730 General Paris decided it was time to move his troops out under cover of darkness. General de Guise agreed. The British moved first, followed by the Belgian 2nd Division. The naval brigade left last, at around 1930. Several units passed through the city and crossed the Scheldt. One battalion of the 1st Naval Brigade, the 2nd Brigade and the Marine Light Infantry covered the retreat and then marched west all night, finally catching a train to St-Gilles-Waes. Further along, the rails had been cut and these units, harassed by German patrols, fled across the Dutch border. Some made it to Ostend.

Three battalions of the 1st Naval Brigade, together with the Belgian fortress troops in front of Forts 1 to 4, received the news of the retreat much later than the others, and it wasn’t until 9 October that they passed through Antwerp towards the river. The bridges had already been destroyed. Some of the units found rafts to cross the river; others headed north to Holland.

On the evening of Thursday, 8 October General de Guise finally left the city and crossed the river to Fort Ste-Marie. He would eventually surrender to the Germans there on Saturday morning. The Belgians were the last to leave Antwerp, despite offers from General Paris for the British to guard the retreat. On Friday, 9 October most of the remaining forts of the first line gave up. Fort Merxem was sabotaged, as was the Dryhoek redoubt. The guns and electrical generators of Fort Brasschaat and Audaen redoubt were destroyed and those works vacated. Fort Liezele and Breendonck also surrendered.

Later in the day a delegation from the town sought out the Germans to surrender the town. At around noon the first Germans entered Antwerp: it was the start of a four-year occupation. The forts still remaining in Belgian hands were sabotaged and evacuated: Forts Schooten and s’Gravenwezel at 1430, followed by Fort Ertbrand, the Smoutakker redoubt and Fort Stabroeck. The commander of that last fort refused to leave and was killed in the explosion to sabotage the fort. The garrison troops in Sector 5 moved towards Holland. In all, 400 officers and 35,000 men of the Antwerp garrison were interned in Holland. The British lost 37 killed, 193 wounded and 1,000 missing, of whom 800 were captured by the Germans. Some 1,560 were interned in Holland. Of the 1st Naval Brigade, only one-third of the men returned to England.

In the evening of Friday, 9 October the mass of the allied army crossed the Terneuzen Canal and the British divisions arrived at Ghent.


In October 1707, Association, commanded by Captain Edmund Loades and with Admiral Shovell on board, was returning from the Mediterranean after the Toulon campaign. She was lost in 1707 by grounding on the Isles of Scilly in the greatest maritime disaster of the age.

This was a highly successful combined operation against Toulon with the total elimination of France’s Mediterranean fleet thanks to an Anglo-Dutch naval bombardment which was combined with a siege by Austrian and Piedmontese forces. The siege was stopped when it appeared clear that the city would not fall speedily and, instead, could resist until the arrival of overwhelming French forces. During the siege, the Anglo-Dutch fleet played a key role in supporting the siege, providing cannon, supplies and medical care. The Toulon campaign indicated both the growing importance of amphibious operations and the extent to which the key issue was not the seizure of territory, but the achievement of particular strategic goals in the shape of destroying the fleet.

In 1707 the Duke of Marlborough during the War of the Spanish Succession, proposed an assault from north and south. In the north he could depend on Belgian bases, but in the south Toulon had to be seized and made into a depot for an advance up the Rhone. There were delays before the Emperor could be coerced into any operation. Eugene advanced along the Provençal coast aided by Shovell’s fleet. The land operations against Toulon failed (July-Aug. 1707) but Shovell destroyed the naval base with the French fleet in it. The threat was enough to bring the French back from Germany and Spain, but the failure was an expensive strategic defeat.

Marlborough’s year of victory was followed by a year of disappointment. Louis XIV tried to open peace negotiations, but the triumphant Allies were having none of it, unless the French abandoned all dynastic claims to Spain. During 1706 the Imperialists had won a victory at Turin, which effectively cleared the French from much of Northern Italy. Plans were laid to build on this success in 1707 by staging an invasion of Provence, supported by an Anglo-Dutch fleet. Prince Eugene was sent to Italy to lead the offensive, and consequently Marlborough was starved of the German troops he needed to campaign effectively in Flanders. In the end Eugene advanced as far as Toulon, where a combination of disease and French reinforcements caused him to lift the siege and withdraw to Italy.

Toulon in 1707 was a well-fortified town with a modern earth wall with 7 bastions. They were well-armed with cannons from disarmed ships of Toulon squadron. There were two gates, one (St. Lazare) between Minims & St. Bernard bastions, & the other (New) between Royal & Arsenal bastions.  

Toulon fortifications (see above):

A – Mimins bastion

B – St. Bernard bastion

C – St. Ursule bastion

D – De la Fonderie (Foundry) bastion

E – Royal bastion

F – Arsenal bastion

G – Du Marais a Gauche

H – batteries at New Dock

I – batteries at Old Dock

J – Ponche-Rimade bastion

K – earth redoubt at Minims bastion

L – entrenched field camp

The War at Sea, 1701-1714

Opposing navies had resumed their familiar game on the high seas as soon as war broke out. The French resumed the guerre de course their Navy had practiced during the second half of the Nine Years’ War, prosecuting it to great effect. The privateers of Dunkirk alone brought in nearly 1,000 Allied or neutral prizes. The French effort was so effective Parliament passed the “Cruisers and Convoys Act” in 1708, specifically assigning additional warship escorts to convoy duty along the Western Approaches and off major British ports. This forced French cruisers and privateers to hunt in the West Indies, off the coast of Africa, and in other less well-defended waters. The Allies also practiced cruiser warfare and privateering against French convoys and individual merchantman. This forced the French to use some warships to escort Spanish convoys across the Atlantic and led to squadron-on-squadron fighting in the Caribbean in August 1702. Unlike the French, who cleaved to a strategy of guerre de course throughout the war, the Allies also sought to utilize their clear advantage in battlefleets to outflank the French operationally and strategically. The Allies suffered early failures at sea, however, notably their inability to take Cadiz through amphibious assault during August-September 1702. The troops were put ashore too far from the city, the officers were inept and lost control, and most of the expedition got drunk and began looting and desecrating Catholic churches (perhaps consciously recalling the tradition of Francis Drake). On the return journey, English escorts surprised the Spanish silver fleet and their French escorts at Vigo Bay (October 12/23, 1702). The Allies missed most of the silver, but captured or destroyed 12 rated French warships and 19 Spanish vessels. The outcome of the fight and the prospect of more amphibious assaults into Iberia helped persuade Portugal to switch to the Grand Alliance. The next year, England formally detached Portugal from its French alliance, signed the Methuen Treaties, and secured at Lisbon a base of operations for the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

An Anglo-Dutch amphibious operation failed to take Barcelona in June 1704. On its return journey, it took Gibraltar instead. That led to the only fleet action of the war, off Velez-Malaga (August 13/24, 1704). Although the French won a tactical victory, operationally the battle blocked them from retaking Gibraltar, thereby inflicting a major wound. Afterward, the French Navy and privateers cleaved to an effective and lucrative guerre de course: in the last decade of the war, the French took over 4,500 Allied prizes on the high seas, and sank or burned hundreds more Allied or neutral ships. French squadrons, usually under War of the Spanish Succession private loan if not privateer command, also raided and extorted various overseas outposts from West Africa to the Caribbean (and later, against Rio de Janeiro in 1711). An English squadron attacked a Spanish treasure fleet in the West Indies in 1708, intercepting or sinking the equivalent of £15 million of bullion.

Meanwhile, the Allies moved troops by sea into the Mediterranean from the north, as dominance at sea enabled them to sustain armies fighting in Spain. In 1704 an Anglo-Dutch fleet escorted 8,000 Redcoats and 4,000 Dutch to Spain, where they joined 30,000 Portuguese fighting Philip V ostensibly for the Grand Alliance. An Anglo-Dutch fleet parked off Barcelona for two years after an amphibious operation finally captured that city on September 28/October 9, 1705. The French Mediterranean squadron and fortified city of Toulon was bombarded, burned, and besieged from July 28-August 22, 1707. The French sank or burned 15 of their ships-of-the-line at anchor rather than see them captured or burned by Allied bombardment. However, the blockade had the principal effect of provoking an even large French commitment in Iberia. By 1708 Parliament authorized, and the Royal Navy transported, 29,395 men to campaign in Spain. That did not prevent a decisive defeat of the British at Almanza in April 1707. Sardinia fell to Allied marines in August, providing a potential naval base in the western Mediterranean close to France. Minorca was taken shortly thereafter, along with its superb harbor at Mahon. Once the Allied naval blockade of Barcelona was lifted at British behest, the end came into sight for Archduke Charles in Spain. Among the last significant actions involving sea power was a failed British expedition to take Québec mounted in 1711. It was a poorly planned disaster.

SHOVELL, Sir Cloudesley or Clowdisley (1650-1707), seaman, cut out the corsairs at Tripoli (1676) and cruised against the Barbary pirates until 1686. He was Rear Admiral in the Irish Sea in 1690 and 2-in-C at Barfleur (1692), where he broke the French line. He was C-in-C in the Channel in 1686-7, became M. P. for Rochester from 1698 and was Comptroller of Victualling as well as C-in-C in the Channel from 1699 to 1704 when, with Rooke, he captured Gibraltar and fought the B. of Malaga. Next he co-operated with Peterborough at Barcelona (1705) and with the Austrians and Savoyards before Toulon (1707), where he destroyed the French Mediterranean Fleet. His brilliant career ended abruptly in a shipwreck on the Scillies when he reached the beach exhausted and a woman murdered him for his ring.

A Brief History of WMDs before 1900

This is a Mongol style siege but not the siege of Kaffa [Caffa] from the early 14th century Jami al-Tawarikh  (Compendium of Chronicles) by Rashid ad-Din.  Edinburgh University Library

Transmission from Kaffa. (Wheelis, 2002)

In terms of referring to nuclear, chemical-and by inference, biological-weapons, the term “weapons of mass destruction” first came into use in 1956 when it was used in a speech by Soviet Red Army Marshal Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov. In fact, it was this speech that highlighted for U. S. policy makers the real or perceived threat from the Soviet Union, particularly in terms of the latter’s presumed arsenal of chemical and biological weaponry. As such, Zhukov’s speech invigorated United States Cold War research into WMD, including biological weaponry. During the Cold War, the United States-and, to a much greater extent, the Soviet Union-amassed large chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. The threat posed by these stockpiles has diminished greatly since the crumbling of the Berlin wall.

Regional threats posed by state-funded militaries from chemical and biological weapons also have declined. By the end of 2003, the U. S. government had admitted that there was little evidence that Iraq had possessed large chemical or biological weapon stockpiles after the mid-1990s. This has since led both the United States and British governments to begin inquiries into the faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq that was in large part the basis for justifying Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. Other regional threats, however, still remain. Among these, states such as Syria and North Korea are suspected of possessing chemical and biological weapons. Their bellicose posture regarding their immediate neighbors and regional rivals, as well as their possession of long-range delivery systems (such as Scud missiles), make these threats impossible to ignore. By contrast, Libyan leader Mohamar Qaddafi stated in early 2004 that he would renounce the possession of WMD, which demonstrates how quickly the threat of weapons of mass destruction seems to rise and fall on the global agenda.

The historical record shows that mass poisonings and the occasional plot to spread disease among armies and civilian populations go back many centuries. Still, chemical and biological warfare (CBW)-sometimes referred to in military parlance as “bugs and gas”-is essentially a modern phenomenon. It is modern in the sense that the science and industry required to produce these types of WMD have only existed since the early 1900s. However, there may indeed have been designs to use chemical or biological agents as a means of warfare (or possibly terrorism) before the Industrial Revolution. Before the late nineteenth century (the time of Louis Pasteur and many developments in chemistry), however, the requisite scientific knowledge and engineering capacity were insufficient to bring any such ideas to fruition. Obviously, this is no longer the case.

Many books and articles that discuss CBW often introduce the subject by bringing up past examples of chemical or biological warfare. In an excellent introduction to chemical weapons, a short book published by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army discusses a case of CW (chemical warfare) from China’s early history: In the Zuochuan, it is written that in the sixth century to about the fifth century B. C. E., “An official of the noble princes of the Xia, came from the Jin to attack the [forces of] Qin, and poisoned the Jing River, killing more than a division of men.” Another case is cited: “In the year 1000 [ C. E.], there was one named Tangfu, who made poi- son fire grenades and gave them to the Chao court of the Song dynasty. The poisonous smoke ball, containing arsenic oxide (As 2 O 3 ) and a type of poison derived from crotonaldehyde, looked a bit like a precursor to a chemical gas grenade. After alighting, this weapon would issue forth smoke to poison the enemy and thus weaken their ability to fight.”

These same authors also point out that this is a far cry from what one expects in modern times, for back then chemical warfare “was just in its infancy, and not only were its methods crude but its utility in actually killing people was limited. Because of this, chemical weapons were regarded as a method to generally assist in conducting warfare, and at the time did not draw any particular attention. Coming into the recent era, as the developments in technology continued, chemical weapons then really began to demonstrate their real menace.”

Another premodern military tactic that is often described as a form of BW (biological warfare) is the siege of Kaffa (1346 C. E.), in modern Feodosia, Ukraine. During a campaign by Mongol forces to defeat a heavily defended city of mostly Genoese merchants, bubonic plague struck the area: “The Tartars died as soon as the signs of disease appeared on their bodies: swellings in the armpit or groin caused by coagulating humors, followed by a putrid fever. The dying Tartars, stunned and stupefied by the immensity of the disaster brought about by the disease, and realizing that they had no hope of escape, lost interest in the siege. But they ordered corpses to be placed in catapults and lobbed into the city in the hope that the intolerable stench would kill everyone inside. . . .” We note here that “stench” was considered in the pre-germ theory era to be responsible for disease. Thus, miasmas, “noxious effluvia,” or “corrupt vapors” (febres pestilentiales) were synonymous with the spread of deadly epidemics-plague (causative organism: Yersinia pestis) being among the most notorious.

The suggestion later made by historians that the Mongols were in fact able to spread bubonic plague by hurling disease-ridden corpses over the fortress walls is an intriguing one. During the fourteenth century, however, a germ theory of disease did not exist. How would the people of that era have known exactly how the disease could spread? What they could not have known is that bubonic plague is spread by fleas, which collect the bacteria Yersinia pestis (the causative organism of plague) through feeding upon infected rats. Fleas do not linger near the body once the temperature of the host (be it rodent or human) cools following death, making it rather unlikely that the cadavers would have done much to spread the plague. In the end, it was not the use of projectile cadavers, but more likely the exceptionally large rat population around the Black Sea that led to a pandemic throughout the region (and indeed much of Europe). One could probably conclude, however, that the Mongols did have the intent to spread disease among their enemy, and at least in this respect they conducted an early form of BW.

Sixth Century B. C. Assyrians reportedly used ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea) to poison their enemy’s water wells

431-404 B. C. Spartan armies use sulfur and toxic arsenic smoke during Peloponnesian War

Fourth Century B. C. Chinese engineers use arsenic against underground sappers.

Circa 200 B. C. Officers in Hannibal’s army adulterate the wine of African rebels with mandrake, which contains belladonna alkaloids causing hallucinations.

187 B. C. Ambraciots (Greece) employ irritating smoke against Roman soldiers

7th Century C. E. The Byzantine architect, Callinicus (“Kallinikos”), reportedly invents the first liquid incendiary-“Greek Fire.”

Circa 1040 Scottish king poisons wine using a belladonna-like (“sleepy nightshade”) herb and gives to Norwegian enemies as “provisions” under pretense of surrender. Scots then slaughter the incapacitated Norwegians.

1347 Mongolians lay siege to Kaffa (in modern Ukraine) and throw corpses over city walls to spread bubonic plague. May have contributed to Black Death, which killed approximately 50 million people through the fourteenth century.

1672 Bishop of Münster attempted the use of atropine-like drug in grenades in siege against city of Groningen. Attack backfires.

1767 British plot to supply cloths from a smallpox hospital ward to American Indian tribes in hopes of spreading disease. Unknown if this strategy was ultimately successful.

1855 Sir Lyon Playfair suggests using cyanide-containing chemicals against Russian troops during Crimean War, but this tactic never found approval by the British High Command.

29 July 1899 First Hague Convention signed, prohibiting “the use of projectiles the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.”(Mauroni, p. 81)


The Mongol siege of the Crimean city of Kaffa in 1346 is often cited as one of the first recorded incidents of biological warfare-and perhaps even the cause of the spread of bubonic plague to Europe.

The city of Kaffa (or Caffa, now Feodosija, Ukraine), established in 1266 by agreement between the Mongols on the Black Sea and the Genoese, was an important trading hub between Genoa and the Far East. In 1289, the city fell under the suzerainty of the Khan (Toqtai) of the Golden Horde. The relationship between the Genoese and the Khan, however, was an uneasy one. Kaffa was first besieged in 1308 after the reported displeasure of Khan Toqtai over Genoese trading in Turkic slaves. (The sale of these slaves to the Marmelake Sultanate in Egypt reportedly upset the Khan by depriving him of an important source of foot soldiers for his own army.) The Genoese set fire to Kaffa and fled. After Toqtai’s death, Khan Uzbeg allowed the Genoese to rebuild their trading colony in 1312.

In 1343, after a brawl between Christian locals and Muslims in the Italian enclave of Tana inflamed the ire of Khan Janibeg, the Italians fled from Tana to Kaffa, bringing the Khan’s army to the gates of Kaffa behind them to besiege the city. In February 1344, the Italians managed to break the siege after killing 15,000 of the Khan’s Tartars and destroying their siege machines. Janibeg renewed the siege the following year, but the residents of Kaffa were able to maintain their position because they retained access by sea to supplies. In 1346, the Khan’s army besieging Kaffa suffered a natural outbreak of plague. The Tartars catapulted the plague-infected corpses of their dead comrades over the city walls. According to one historical account, the Tartars’ tactic finally broke the 3-year stalemate; the Genoese were crippled by the plague and fled Kaffa by sea-taking the disease to Europe with them.

The most contemporaneous account of the siege was written by Gabriele de’ Mussi, a notary of the town of Piacenza, north of Genoa. There is some debate as to whether de’Mussi witnessed the events at Kaffa. Written in 1348 or 1349, the account de- scribes the “mysterious illness “that struck the Tartar army besieging Kaffa. De’ Mussi recounts how the Tartars, desperate from the devastation of the disease on their army, thought to kill the inhabitants of Kaffa with the stench of their diseased dead. According to the de’ Mussi account, the people of Kaffa had no hope once the air and water had been contaminated, and only one in 1,000 was able to flee the city. Those that did flee took the plague with them as they left.

De’ Mussi’s account suggests that not only did the Tartars deliberately hurl their diseased dead over the city walls of Kaffa with the intent to kill their enemies, but those escaping Kaffa brought the disease into the ports of Europe. The disease was most likely brought within the walls of Kaffa through flea-infested rodents from the Tartar camps, or possibly through the transmission of the disease from direct contact with infectious body fluids from the Tartar dead.

Most scholars believe that the Genoans brought the plague with them to Naples, from where it then spread throughout Europe. Others have recently suggested that although the use of plague corpses against Kaffa was a true act of biological warfare, the siege had no significant impact on the spread of the Black Death through Europe. As Wheelis suggests, Kaffa was certainly not the only Tartar port that could have transmitted plague into European ports. Wheelis further argues that the rate and pattern of plague transmission suggests that it took 1 year to spread the plague into different European ports.

Though Kaffa may not have been the precise source of the Black Death that spread into Europe, the use of infected cadavers against its besieged inhabitants remains one of the most important instances of the intentional use of disease in warfare.

References McGovern, Thomas W., and Arthur M. Friedlander, “Plague,” in Russ Zajtchuck and Ronald F. Bellamy, eds., Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare (Washington, DC: Borden Institute, 1997), pp. 479-502. Watts, Sheldon, Epidemics and History: Disease, Power, and Imperialism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). Wheelis, Mark, “Biological Warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa,”Emerging Infectious Diseases, vol. 8, no. 9, September 2002, http://www. cdc. gov/ncidod/EID/ vol8no9/01-0536. htm.

Jasna Góra

The defence of the Pauline monastery of Jasna Góra against the Swedes, in November–December 1655. The engraving commemorates the miraculous intervention by the Blessed Virgin Mary to protect the monastery, which housed an icon of the Black Madonna, supposed to have been painted by St Luke the Evangelist (the icon dates from the fifteenth century). The failure of the siege marked a turning-point in the Swedish invasion, helping bring about a massive nationwide uprising, uniting all social classes against the invaders. In fact, of the comparatively small besieging force, only some 450 were Swedes. Most – around 1,000 – consisted of Polish troops who had defected in the early stages of Charles X’s invasion. This has done nothing to detract from the potency of the legend, which has helped to make the monastery the most celebrated religious site in Poland.

After the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648, tensions remained high between Catholics and Protestants in Eastern Europe. The 1655-60 Second Northern War was one of the major aftershocks, pitting King Charles X Gustav’s Protestant Sweden against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under King John II Casimir Vasa. Poland was supported by the Haps- burg monarchy, and while the duchy of Brandenburg-Prussia initially supported Poland, it switched sides twice during the war. By war’s end Prussia had become a sovereign state.

In 1655 the commonwealth was already at war with Russia on its eastern border when Sweden invaded from the west. Lithuania almost immediately broke away from Poland and allied with Sweden. The mixed Swedish and German mercenary forces of Charles X then swept through and occupied what was left of Poland and forced John II into exile in Hapsburg Silesia. Poles refer to the Swedish invasion and occupation as the Deluge.

By late November 1655 the monastery at Czçestochowa was the only fortified position in Poland that had not been captured. Charles X sent a mixed force of 2,250 Swedes and Germans and 10 light cannon under General Burchard Müller von der Lühne to finish the job. Jasna Gora also housed a number of valuable ecclesiastical treasures the Pauline monks were loath to let fall into Protestant hands. As a precautionary measure they replaced the Black Ma- donna with a copy and moved the original to the monastery at Glogowek for safekeeping.

Led by Augustyn Kordecki, the prior of the monastery, some 70 monks prepared to defend Jasna Gora. Kordecki had purchased 60 muskets and an extensive quantity of ammunition and hired 160 professional soldiers. Joining them were about 80 volunteers, mostly members of the szlachta, or Polish nobility. Mounted on the defensive walls were some 18 light cannon and a dozen heavier 12-pounders. Thus at the start of the siege while the attackers outnumbered the defenders 7-to-1, the Poles significantly outgunned the Swedes.

After several futile attempts to negotiate surrender, Müller began the siege on November 18. The superior Polish artillery held the attackers at bay, and on the 28th a nighttime sortie by the defenders destroyed two Swedish guns. At month’s end the Swedes received reinforcements of 600 men and three light guns. On December 10 more reinforcements arrived, including another 200 men, four 12-pounders and two 24-pounders. The Swedes now had proper siege artillery and a 10-to-1 advantage in men.

For a month the monastery withstood almost constant shelling. The Poles continually fired back, inflicting high casualties on the poorly entrenched Swedes. Additional Polish sorties killed more attackers and destroyed more guns, including one of the 24-pounders. The other 24-pounder exploded in position when it malfunctioned. Running low on ammunition and rations and surrounded by a hostile countryside in the midst of winter, Müller finally withdrew on December 27. The Swedes and Germans had suffered several hundred casualties, the Poles only a few dozen. Jasna Gora had held out, and Polish morale soared. After his return from Silesia in January 1656, John II held an April 1 ceremony in the cathedral at Lwow, entrusting Poland to the protection of the Virgin Mary and proclaiming her the patron and perpetual queen of Poland. By 1660 the Poles had driven out the Swedes, mopping up the Deluge.

A century later Jasna Gora was subjected to another major siege, after a 1768 revolt by the Bar Confederation of the szlachta against the Russian-dominated Polish crown. During the revolt a group of nobles under Casimir Pulaski defended Jasna Gora against a 1770-71 siege by a much larger Russian force that ultimately prevailed. Pulaski managed to escape but was forced out of Poland. Several years later he turned up in Paris where U. S. ambassador Benjamin Franklin recruited him for the Continental Army as a brigadier general and America’s first cavalry commander. Pulaski was killed during the 1779 siege of Savannah.

The Deluge, an 1886 novel by Nobel Prize-winning Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz, is a fictionalized account of the Second Northern War, its closing chapters devoted to the siege. Jasna Gora Monastery remains Poland’s most important pilgrimage site, as well as a major tourist attraction, with visitors numbering in the thousands on a typical day. The rebuilt defensive bastions appear much as they did in 1655, although no physical evidence of either the 1655 or 1770-71 sieges remain. For Poles Jasna Gora is hallowed ground twice over.

The Siege of Jotapata [Yodfat]

Jotapata was certainly the safest place in Galilee, hidden away in the mountains and practically invisible until you reached it. Perched around a precipice, guarded on three sides by ravines so deep that the bottom was out of sight, it could be attacked only from the north, where the lower part of the city sloped down the mountain and then up to a slight ridge. At this strategic point, another wall had recently been built, on Josephus’s instructions, to defend the ridge. The approach road through the hills was scarcely better than a goat track, just about adequate for men on foot but not for horses or even for mules, and the little mountain city must have seemed impregnable to those who had never encountered Roman sappers. Its one grave weakness was the lack of a spring inside its walls so that it depended for water on rain stored in its cisterns.

Our sole source for the siege of Jotapata is what Josephus cares to tell us in The Jewish War, since he does not make any mention of it in the Vita, and no other history of the period contains any reference to Jotapata. It has to be remembered, too, that as always he was writing some years later, with two very different audiences in mind: the Romans whom he had joined during the war and the Jews whom he had abandoned. In addition, he was trying to portray his behavior in the best light possible, as that of a heroic commander fighting against impossible odds.

Whether he liked it or not, he was in command and had to fight the Romans. If he attempted to escape, the Jotapatans would try to kill him, and even if he succeeded he stood a fair chance of being caught by enemy patrols who would give him short shrift. In The Jewish War he portrays himself as the gallant and determined leader, the strategos (general) who was always resourceful, always undismayed. In reality, during the forthcoming siege he became increasingly desperate to negotiate but was never given the opportunity.

Yet even if some of his account in The Jewish War is obviously distorted, most of it is plausible enough and carries conviction, in particular when he is not describing his own actions. There is another reason to believe that the broad outline of the siege is correct: when Josephus was writing his history, he knew that it was going to be closely read by the man who had been the commander of the Roman army in the siege. This was the eagle-eyed Vespasian, who lent him his notebooks of the Palestinian campaign. A substantial number of details, especially those concerning the Roman army—such as troop numbers and the names of the enemy commanders—can only have come from Vespasian’s notebooks.

Jotapata’s strength made it a priority for Vespasian. If he succeeded in taking the place, no other Galilean stronghold could think itself impregnable. Moreover, he knew that large numbers of fanatical Jews were in the city. When a deserter told him the governor of Galilee was there as well, he was delighted and thought it divine providence. “The man whom he considered his cleverest opponent had shut himself up in a self-appointed prison,” Josephus modestly records. The Roman general’s first move was to send Placidus and the decurion Ebutius, “an exceptionally brave and resourceful officer,” with a thousand men to surround the city and ensure that the governor did not escape. “He thought he would be able to capture all Judea if only he could get hold of Josephus,” says The Jewish War. This sounds like boasting, yet it may be true since he knew that Vespasian was going to read the account.

On 21 May, a few hours before Josephus reached Jotapata, Vespasian had arrived there with his entire army. He chose a small hill about three-quarters of a mile north as the site of his camp so that it was within full view of the defenders, whom, he hoped, would be terrified by the sheer number of besiegers. His first action was to fence the city off with a double line of infantry and another of cavalry, preventing anyone from getting in or out.

Next day, the Romans launched a full-scale assault. Some of the Jews tried to stop the attackers before they reached the walls, but Vespasian engaged them at long range with archers and slingers while he led his infantry up a slope to where the walls were easiest to climb. Realizing the danger, Josephus rushed out with his entire garrison and drove the legionaries back from the walls. The fighting went on all day, the defenders losing seventeen dead and six hundred wounded, while thirteen Romans were killed and many more wounded. The Jews were so encouraged that the next morning they again sallied out and attacked the enemy. Sorties and savage hand-to-hand fighting continued for five days, with many losses on both sides. When a lull at last ensued, the Romans had inflicted such heavy casualties that the Jews began to lose heart.

Even so, the Jews had fought effectively enough for Vespasian to realize that their city’s walls were a much more serious obstacle than he had appreciated. After consulting his senior officers, he ordered the construction of a siege platform next to the section of the wall that looked the weakest. His troops set about cutting down every tree on the neighboring mountains and gathering big stones and sacks of earth. Layers of wooden hurdles protected them from the javelins and rocks that rained down as they built the platform.

At the same time, the Roman siege artillery, a hundred and sixty “scorpions,” fired nonstop at the walls, together with the catapultae and the stone projectors. There seem to have been two types of scorpion—a big, repeating crossbow, and a smaller, portable version of the catapulta. Mounted on carts, catapultae had multiple strings of twisted catgut and shot armor-piercing bolts or stone balls at very high velocity. Stone projectors (onagers) were huge mechanical slings that hurled boulders, barrels of stones, or firebrands in bundles. This artillery was so effective that some defenders were too frightened to go up on to the ramparts. Nevertheless, some particularly gallant Jews made sorties again and again, pulling off the hides, killing the sappers beneath them, and knocking down the platform.

In response, Josephus built up the wall opposite the platform until it was thirty feet higher, using shelters covered in the hides of newly slaughtered oxen to protect his workmen against missiles. The moist skins gave but did not split when hit and were more or less fireproof. He also added wooden towers along the wall together with a new parapet. The Romans were taken aback by these measures, while the Jews took fresh heart and stepped up their sorties at night, raiding and burning the siege-works.

Irritated at the siege’s slow progress and impressed by the defenders’ pugnacity, Vespasian decided to starve Jotapata into submission, so he pulled back his troops while continuing the blockade. The city had all the food it needed, but not enough rain fell to replenish the cisterns, and water had to be rationed. However, when Josephus saw that the Romans suspected the inhabitants were suffering from thirst, he made them hang heavy garments from the walls, dripping with water. Vespasian was so discouraged that he resumed his daily assaults on the walls.

Despite a close blockade, for a time Josephus was able to communicate with the outside world and obtain at least some of the supplies that he needed. There was a narrow gully, so nearly impassable that the Romans did not bother to guard it, down which he sent couriers disguised by sheepskins on their backs. But eventually this stratagem was discovered, and the city became completely cut off.

What is fascinating about Josephus is how he sometimes lets us see into his mind, in a way that is almost akin to honesty. As he admits, he had gone to Jotapata for his own safety, but now he began to lose his nerve. “Realizing the city could not hold out much longer and that his life might be in danger were he to stay, Josephus made plans to escape with the local notables,” he blandly informs us. He had no qualms about leaving its people to be butchered. Hearing rumors of his plans, a large mob gathered and begged him not to abandon them. “It was wrong for him to run away and desert his friends, to jump from a ship sinking in a storm, in which he had embarked when everything was calm,” they cried. “By leaving, he would destroy the city—nobody would dare go on fighting the enemy if they lost their one reason for confidence.”

Without mentioning that he was worried about his own safety, Josephus replied that he was leaving the city for their sake. If he stayed, he could not do them any good even if they survived, while should the place be stormed he would be killed pointlessly. If he got away from the siege, however, he would be able to do a lot to help, since he could raise a new Galilean army, a huge one, and draw off the Romans by attacking elsewhere. But he really did not see how he could aid the people of Jotapata simply by staying put. It would only make the Romans intensify the siege because what they wanted more than anything else was to capture him.

This eloquent appeal had no effect. The citizens of Jotapata were determined that he should stay; children, old men, and women with babies fell down in front of him and clung to his feet, wailing. They all felt they would be saved if he remained in the city. Realizing that if he stayed they would think he was answering their prayers, but that if he tried to leave he would be lynched, he graciously agreed to remain. He even claims that what made up his mind was pity for them. “Now is the time to begin the struggle when hope of safety is there none!” he declaimed nobly. “What is really honorable is to prefer glory to life by doing heroic deeds that will be remembered from generation to generation.” Then, so he informs us, he immediately led a sally against the Romans, killing several of their sentries and demolishing some of the siege works. For the next few days and nights, “he never left off fighting.”

The legionaries had withdrawn from the front line, waiting for the moment they could mount a full-scale assault. The scorpions and stone throwers kept up their fire, as did the Arab archers and Syrian slingers, inflicting many casualties. The only way the Jews could respond was by repeated sallies, exhausting their strength. By now, the assault platforms had almost reached the top of the walls, so Vespasian decided it was time to use a battering ram. This was a huge baulk of timber like the mast of a ship, its end fitted with a massive piece of iron in the shape of a ram’s head, which was slung by ropes from scaffolding on wheels. Repeatedly pulled back by a team of men, then hurled forward, the iron head could demolish most sorts of masonry. While the Roman artillery stepped up its bombardment, the enemy hauled the ram into position, protected by hides and hurdles. Its first blow made the whole wall shake. “As though it had already fallen down, an awful shriek rang out from those inside,” recalls Josephus.

He tried to lessen the ram’s impact by letting down sacks filled with chaff, but the Romans pushed them aside with hooks on long poles. Recently built, the wall began to crumble. However, the Jews rushed out from three different sally ports and, taking the enemy by surprise, set fire to the ram’s protective superstructure with a mixture of bitumen, pitch, and brimstone, which destroyed it. “A Jew stepped forward whose name deserves to be remembered,” says The Jewish War. He was Eleazar ben Sameas, born at Saab in Galilee. Lifting an enormous stone, he threw it from the wall on to the ram, knocking off the head. Then, leaping down among the Romans, he seized the head, which he carried back to the wall, where he stood waving it until he collapsed, mortally wounded by five javelins, writhing in agony but still clutching his prize.

The besiegers rebuilt the ram and toward evening started to batter the same section of wall. Panic broke out among the Romans when Vespasian was wounded in the foot by a spent javelin (which shows he must have been standing dangerously close to the wall). As soon as they realized he had not been seriously hurt, they attacked with real fury. Josephus and his men fought throughout the night, sometimes sallying out to attack the team working the ram, although the fires they lit made them an easy mark for enemy artillery that was invisible in the dark. Clouds of the scorpions’ monster arrows cut swathes through their ranks, while rocks hurled by the ballistae demolished part of the ramparts and knocked corners off the towers. The lethal power of this weaponry is gruesomely described by Josephus; for example, he wrote that a man standing near him had his head torn off by a stone and flung over 600 yards and that when a pregnant woman was hit in the belly, the child in her womb was thrown 300 feet.

The siege machines made a terrifying clatter, and the endless whizzing of the arrows and stones fired by the Romans was no less frightening. The sinister thud of dead bodies hitting the ground as they fell down off the battlements was equally dispiriting. Women inside the city were shrieking incessantly, while many of the wounded were screaming with pain. The area in front of the wall flowed with blood, while the corpses were heaped as high as the ramparts. To cap everything, the noise was made even more dreadful by the echoes from the mountains that surrounded the city.

Toward morning the wall finally collapsed under the ram’s ceaseless battering. After letting his men have a brief rest, Vespasian got ready to launch his assault at daybreak. Dismounting the pick of his heavily armored cavalrymen, he stationed them three deep near the breaches, ready to go in as soon as the gangways were in position. Behind them, he placed his best foot soldiers. The rest of the horse remained mounted, in extended order farther back, to cut down anyone trying to escape from the city once it had fallen. Still farther back, he ranged the archers in a curved formation with bows at the ready, together with the slingers and the artillery. Other troops were ordered to take ladders and attack undamaged sectors of the wall, to draw off defenders from the breaches.

Realizing what was coming, Josephus placed the older men and walking wounded on the part of the wall that was still standing, where they were more protected and could deal with any attempts at escalade. The fitter men he positioned behind the breach, while groups of six—drawn by lot and including himself—stood at the front, ready to bear the brunt of the assault. He ordered them to plug their ears to avoid being frightened by the legionaries’ war cry and to fall back during the preliminary rain of missiles, kneeling under their shields until the archers had used up their arrows, and then to run forward as soon as the Romans pushed their gangways over the rubble.

“Don’t forget for one moment all the old men and all the children here, who are about to be horribly butchered, or how bestially your wives are going to be put to death by the enemy,” he exhorted them. “Then remember the fury that you feel at the idea of such atrocities and use it in killing the men who want to commit them.”

When daylight came and the women and children saw the three ranks of Roman troops menacing the city, the great breaches in the walls, and all the hills around covered by enemy soldiers, they raised a last, dreadful, despairing scream. Josephus gave orders for them to be locked in their houses to stop them from unnerving their menfolk. Then he took up his post in the breach. Strangely, he had prophesied to some of those around him that the city would fall and that he would be taken prisoner—predictions that were plausible but scarcely good for morale.

Suddenly, the serpentine Roman trumpets sounded their booming summons to battle, the legionaries bellowed their war cry, and the sun was blotted out by missiles—javelins, arrows, scorpion bolts, slingshot, and a hail of stones from the onagers. Josephus’s men, remembering his instructions, had plugged their ears, and they sheltered under their shields. As soon as the gangways went down, they charged forward to meet the attackers. They had no reserves, however, while the enemy, who had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh troops, formed a tortoise with their big, oblong shields and began to push forward over the main breach.

Josephus had expected this, however, and was prepared. He ordered boiling oil to be poured down from the sections of wall that flanked the breach onto the tortoise. Leaping and writhing in agony, the legionaries fell off the gangways, their close-fitting armor making it impossible to save them from an excruciating death. When the Jews ran out of oil, they threw a slippery substance—boiled fenugreek—on to the gangways, which made it hard for new waves of attackers to keep their balance, some falling over and being trodden to death. Early that evening Vespasian called off the assault.

He then ordered that the three assault platforms further along the wall should be raised much higher, equipping each one with a fireproof, iron-plated siege tower that was fifty feet tall. His archers, slingshot men, and javelin throwers were able to shoot down at the defenders in comparative safety, and at close range, from the tops of these towers, which also mounted the big repeating crossbows.

In the meantime, Vespasian did not confine himself to besieging Jotapata. He sent 3,000 troops under Ulpius Traianus, commander of the Tenth Legion—and father of the future Emperor Trajan—to sack the town of Japha seventeen kilometers away, whose people had joined the revolt, and he sent his son Titus to help him with additional troops. Together, Trajan and Titus killed over 15,000 Jews, taking another 2,000 prisoner. At the same time, Sextus Cerealis, prefect of the Fifth Legion, marched into Samaria, which despite its traditional hostility to Jews looked as if it was on the verge of rebellion, and slaughtered more than 11,000 Samaritans who had gathered on Mount Gerizim

On the forty-seventh day of the siege of Jotapata, the assault platforms overtopped the walls. A deserter informed Vespasian that the defenders had become too exhausted to put up much of a fight and that sentries often dropped off to sleep in the early hours of the morning. Just before dawn the Romans crept to the platforms, Titus being one of the first to climb over the walls, accompanied by a tribune, Domitius Sabinus, with some men from the Fifteenth Legion. They cut the throats of the watch and then entered the city very quietly, followed by the tribune Sextus Calvarius, Placidus, and other troops. (Josephus must have obtained these details from Vespasian’s campaign notebooks.)

Within a short time the Romans had captured the citadel on the edge of the precipice and were sweeping down into the heart of Jotapata, yet even at daybreak the defenders had not realized that their city had fallen. Most were still fast asleep, having collapsed from fatigue, while a dense mist enveloped everything. The few who were awake were too tired to be alert. Only when the Jotapatans saw the whole Roman army running through the streets and killing everybody it met did they understand that it was all over.

The city quickly turned into a slaughterhouse. The legionaries had not forgotten what they had suffered during the siege, especially the boiling oil. The weapon they used was their principal sidearm, the “gladius” or short, doubled-edged Roman thrusting sword (more like a big knife than a sword), which was ideally suited for massacre. They drove the terrified crowds down from the citadel to the bottom of the hill through the narrow streets, so tightly jammed together that those who wanted to fight could not raise their arms. When they were able, some of Josephus’s best men cut their own throats in despair.

A few held out in one of the northern towers but were overwhelmed, seeming to welcome death. The legionaries suffered only a single casualty. A Jotapatan who had hidden in a cave shouted up to a centurion called Antonius that he wanted to surrender, asking him to reach down and help him out, but when Antonius did so he was stabbed in the groin from below with a spear. Having killed everybody they found in the streets or houses, the Romans spent the next few days hunting down defenders hiding underground. During the siege and the storm they killed at least 40,000 Jews. (This is the figure given by Josephus, who for once may not be exaggerating.) The only prisoners they took were about 1,200 women and children.

Even so, the little city of Jotapata had put up an astonishing resistance. It was a heroic achievement to hold out for nearly eight weeks against the most efficient and best-equipped army in the world. Once again, the Jews had shown that they knew how to fight as if by instinct and that despite their lack of any sort of military training and their pitifully inadequate weaponry, they could be formidable opponents.

Although Josephus may have been a disaster as governor of Galilee in peace time, during the siege of Jotapata he had shown himself to be a gallant and resourceful commander—even if at one point he had thought of running away and deserting his men. His leadership of the city’s defense was one of the great triumphs of his life.

Fort William and Fort Augustus 1746 I

These forts had been put in place by Field Marshal George Wade in the wake of the earlier Jacobite rebellion in 1715. As part of his pacification policy for the north of Scotland, Wade was responsible for the construction of defensive points at Fort George, Fort Augustus and Fort William, the aim being to control the important line of communication through Loch Ness and Loch Lochy, the route of the later Caledonian Canal.

The Hanoverian government ordered their commander-in-chief in Scotland, Lieutenant-General Sir John Cope, to make preparations for the defence of the Highlands, as that remote land mass would be the most likely focus for the raising of a revolt in support of the Stuart cause.

Reacting to the government’s orders, Cope ordered three companies of Guise’s Regiment to march to Fort William, the southernmost strongpoint, while an additional three companies moved to Fort Augustus and two others deployed to Fort George outside Inverness. At the same time single companies were sent to smaller garrisons at Bernera and at Ruthven near Kingussie. There was also a small presence at Castle Duart on the island of Mull. Each company should have been about seventy strong, but detachments had had to be withdrawn to furnish working parties on the roads, so the garrisons in place were inadequate to mount a serious defence to a determined attacking force. The challenge was not long in coming.

The first news of Charles’s landing had arrived in London, where the initial reaction was one of muted indifference. The only member of the Cabinet alert to the threat was the Duke of Newcastle, Pelham’s brother and foreign secretary, who wrote to the Duke of Cumberland, commander-in-chief of the government forces in Flanders, warning him that he might have to send back some of his infantry regiments. A warning was also sent to the Earl of Stair, who commanded the army in England, but the elderly field marshal believed that the 6000 soldiers at his disposal were ample to meet the challenge. At the same time Cope was proceeding with his intention of strengthening the lines of communication in the Highlands and had ordered two companies of the Royals to make their way without delay from Fort William to Fort Augustus to reinforce the garrison. It was a distance of no more than thirty miles but the order was fraught with difficulty: the barely trained infantrymen were unused to the mountainous terrain, having served only at the depot in Perth prior to embarking for service in Flanders.

On approaching Wade’s High Bridge (close to present-day Spean Bridge) on 16 August, the Royals, under the command of Captain Scott, were ambushed by a group of Highlanders loyal to Donald Macdonnell of Keppoch. Unnerved by the sudden and unexpected firing, Scott’s men retreated back down the track, and after a brief skirmish they were forced to surrender to Keppoch. Scott and three other officers, together with eighty NCOs and infantrymen, were taken prisoner and marched off to Achnacarry, where Charles showed leniency by offering parole on condition that they did not serve against him again. The same treatment was meted out to Captain John Swettenham, a military engineer sent by Wentworth to gather intelligence who had also fallen into Jacobite hands.

Both incidents were good for the morale of Keppoch’s men and they undoubtedly influenced Lochiel in his decision to support the uprising. From a military point of view the skirmish and Swettenham’s capture would also influence the following course of events.

The key to the tactical situation lay in the government forts, which were suddenly open to attack. Wentworth recognised the danger and told his cousin Thomas Watson-Wentworth, Lord Malton and Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding, that ‘the Pretender with 3,000 highlanders is six miles off’. Cope also saw what was happening and realised that if the forts fell it would hamper his own plans to march into the Highlands to destroy the rebellion before it gathered momentum. On 19 August he rejoined the government forces in Stirling, before heading north to Dalwhinnie by way of Crieff and Dalnacardoch with a small force of 1500 infantrymen representing Murray’s, Lascelles’ and Lee’s regiments, most of them under strength and all untested. From there he proposed marching towards Fort Augustus, a route that would take him over the wilds of the Corrieyairack Pass, the only passable crossing place in the western Monadhliath mountain range – Wade had recognised its importance when he built his twenty-eight miles of zig-zag military road in 1731. Corrieyairack was the strategic equivalent of Afghanistan’s Khyber Pass: the commander who held this position was in possession of the only viable route for a rapid descent from the West Highlands into the Lowlands.

Before leaving Edinburgh, Cope had discussed his tactics with a number of leading grandees, including Lord President Duncan Forbes of Culloden, and throughout his march he was in constant correspondence with the Marquess of Tweeddale, the ineffectual Secretary of State for Scotland, who was inclined to minimise the threat posed by the Jacobites. With so many political masters having to be placated, Cope was in a parlous position, but once he had committed his force to move into the Highlands his military thinking was sound enough. Recognising that in such terrain artillery and cavalry would not be helpful, he decided to leave behind his field guns and two regiments of Irish dragoons and to move as quickly as possible with his infantry. According to the testimony of one of his officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Whitefoord, Cope ‘kept the Highlanders always advanced, extended to the left and right, with trusted officers who were to make signals, in case of the enemy lurking in the hills’.14 On 26 August Cope reached the small village of Dalwhinnie, which justified its Gaelic name Dail Chuinnidh (‘meeting place’), for it was here that he had to decide whether or not to continue towards the Corrieyairack Pass or to veer north-east towards Inverness. It was here, too, that he received the intelligence that a superior force of Jacobites had already beaten him to the pass.

What is more, the information was confirmed by Captain John Swettenham, who although on parole passed on the intelligence to Cope as his superior officer. Earlier Swettenham had witnessed one of the high points of the uprising (and an iconic moment in Jacobite historiography) when he was present at the gathering of Prince Charles’s supporters at the head of Glenfinnan. Having given instructions to muster at the meeting point of the glens of the Shlatach, the Finnan and the Callop, Charles and his retinue arrived shortly after midday. To begin with he only had a small bodyguard of some four hundred Macdonalds, a handful of Macgregors and Glenbucket’s Gordons, but as the afternoon dragged on and tensions no doubt grew, the sound of bagpipes was heard from the east, heralding the arrival of eight hundred Camerons. Lochiel had been true to his word and in so doing produced a wonderfully dramatic scene which Charles was able to milk to the full. The Jacobite standard was unfurled, James Stuart was proclaimed king and the blessing was provided by Hugh Macdonald, Bishop of the Highlands. Several onlookers remarked that Prince Charles had never looked happier than he did at that moment. He had 1200 men under his command and the rebellion was now a reality.


By the beginning of March 1746, having established himself at Inverness and its environs, the Prince Charles Stuart’s key immediate objectives were to reduce Fort William and Fort Augustus, to disperse Lord Loudoun’s army and to keep possession of the coast towards Aberdeen for supplies. Lord Loudoun had retreated, with Lord President Forbes and a majority of his men (excepting the garrison at Fort George), to Dornoch, taking all the available boats with him (as Captain MacLeod had stated) and therefore making pursuit extremely difficult. Once at Dornoch he was able to successfully defend himself against an attack by Lord George. He and his party eventually withdrew to Skye. At the same time Lieutenant General Walter Stapleton of Berwick’s regiment, accompanied by the Royal Ecossais, three Irish picquets and, crucially, the chief engineer Colonel James Grant of Lally’s (who had been mysteriously absent at Stirling) advanced to Fort Augustus, then under the governorship of Major Hu Wentworth. The siege began on 3 March. After some well-aimed shelling, which set fire to the powder magazine and eventually blew a breach in the outer wall, Major Wentworth surrendered on the 5th.

After the successful siege of Fort Augustus, Lieutenant General Stapleton had left Lord Lewis Gordon in command and marched on to Fort William accompanied by the Camerons and MacDonalds of Keppoch, who ‘were particularly interested in the success of it, as Fort William commands their country; and during the Prince’s expedition to England, the garrison made frequent sallies, burnt their houses, and carried off their cattle’. The garrison was commanded by Captain Caroline Scott. Colonel Grant began raising the batteries on 20 March and proceeded to pound the fort for over a week, during which he was injured. The comte de Mirabel took over and ‘succeeded no better . . . than he had done at Stirling’. On 31 March two parties sallied out from the fort to attack the batteries and succeeded in spiking the guns in one battery and taking prisoners from both. A few days later the siege was abandoned and the Jacobite troops retired back to Inverness. At about the same time, Lord George and his men were also ordered to return to Inverness, allowing Major General Crawford the opportunity to relieve the starving garrison at Blair Castle.

The Siege of Port Augustus, 3-5 March 1746

The forts Augustus and William had been thorns in the sides of the western clans, and when their chiefs saw how easily Fort George had been taken they clamoured for the siege of those two offending objects. Prince Charles accordingly released the Irish picquets, Royal Ecossais and more than 1,500 of the clansmen of Lochiel, Lochgarry and Keppoch, who descended on Fort Augustus at the end of February:

God knows what pains we had to send them the artillery, ammunition, meal and even forage, for there was not a scrap to be had in that part of the country; die roads were frozen, the horses reduced to nothing, and not a carter who knew how to drive or guide them. Our small pieces of cannon could be of no great use, only to fire on the barracks. All that we had to depend upon were two pieces of eight that were found in the Casde of Inverness [Fort George], and three or four small mortars that were taken at the battle of Falkirk … there were but sea carriages for our piece of eight pounds. The French ambassador [d’Eguilies] undertook to get carriages made, and so he did, but only one of these pieces arrived, the other carriage broke, and the cannon was left on the road.’

It was fortunate for the Jacobites that Fort Augustus had been designed ‘more … for ornament than strength’, as a demonstration of Hanoverian presence in the Highlands. It was badly sited, the curtain walls were feeble, and vital installations were installed in full view in conical towers on top of the four bastions. The garrison was more powerful than that of Fort George, being made up of three companies of Guise’s 6th, but the governor, Major Hu Wentworth, placed one of them in an isolated position in the old barracks of Kiliwhimen on the higher ground to the south.

Lieutenant Colonel Walter Stapleton, as commander of the ‘French’ troops, evicted the redcoats from the barracks by a straightforward assault, and Colonel James Grant was able to open his first trenches against the fort proper on 3 March. The Jacobite cannon were of little use against even these unimpressive ramparts but on 5 March a bomb from one of the coehorn mortars broke through the roof of the magazine. The resulting explosion breached the bastion beneath, which laid the fort wide open to an assault. The governor surrendered without more ado, which was only sensible, though he was later court-martialled and dismissed from the service.