The Siege of Antwerp

Parma’s bridge across the Scheldt at Antwerp

Over the next few years the Duke of Parma consolidated the line between the loyal south and the rebellious north, and set about reducing the northern strongholds by means of a long succession of sieges, a process that culminated in the thirteen-month-long Siege of Antwerp – one of the most fascinating operations of the Eighty Years War. Parma’s plans involved cutting the city off from the north by building a bridge across the Scheldt. To many this was the strategy of a lunatic. That a river half a mile wide could be bridged while there were so many rebels around to prevent its construction was one reason for the scepticism. The other reason was that some years previously, when Antwerp was still in Spanish hands, William the Silent had attempted to build a bridge, only to see his creation swept away with the coming of winter and the pounding of ice floes. Nevertheless, William remained one of the few people to take Parma’s threat seriously, and he proposed a drastic course of action to frustrate Parma’s plans.

William’s plan involved the almost total inundation of the area. Downstream from Antwerp, the Scheldt was confined within its banks by a complex system of dykes, the most important of which extended along its edges towards the sea in parallel lines. On the right bank this barrier became the mighty Blauwgaren dyke, which was met at right angles by the equally formidable Kowenstyn dyke. Not far from where they joined, the Dutch had a strong fortress called Lillo. If the Blauwgaren dyke was pierced, it would take the Kowenstyn dyke with it and would cause such an extensive flood that Antwerp would become a city with a harbour on the sea. It would then be almost impossible to starve out.

Had William the Silent’s orders been carried out immediately, then Antwerp might indeed have been safe, but a fateful and time-wasting debate took place, and just a few weeks later William was assassinated. The idea of a massive flood was certainly not well received. In an echo of Alkmaar, it was pointed out that twelve thousand head of cattle grazed upon the fields protected by the two dykes. If Parma was intent upon starving Antwerp’s citizens, then surely there was no better way of helping him than by the Dutch destroying such a huge food supply.

The tiny village of Kallo, which lay about nine miles from Antwerp, became the construction site for Parma’s bridge, but the scheme was such a huge undertaking that by the autumn of 1584 little seemed to have been achieved. Antwerp continued to be supplied by flotillas of craft, which exchanged fire with Parma’s forts as they boldly made their way upstream. The Antwerp authorities then made an astounding blunder. It transpired that grain bought in Holland could be sold for four times its original price in beleaguered Antwerp, a mark-up that was attractive enough to make Spanish cannon fire an acceptable hazard. But the city fathers then set a fixed price for supplies brought in, and simultaneously regulated the accumulation of grain in private warehouses. Seeing their profit wiped out, the ships’ captains stopped the traffic stone dead. Even Parma could not have created such an effective blockade!

At the same time, the inundation urged by William the Silent had actually begun, albeit in a much-reduced fashion. Yet, ironically, the opening of the sluices on the Flanders side actually made Parma’s communications that much easier, because the flooded countryside now enabled him to give Antwerp a wide berth. By the time it was finally decreed that the dykes of Blauwagaren and Kowenstyn should be cut there were strong Spanish garrisons in place to prevent this happening. The Kowenstyn in particular now resembled a long, bastioned city wall bristling with cannon and pikes.

Meanwhile, the bridge grew slowly. On the Flemish side a fort called Santa Maria was erected, while on the Brabant side opposite developed one named in honour of King Philip II of Spain. From each of these two points a framework of heavy timbers spread slowly towards the middle of the river. The roadway was twelve feet wide, defended by solid blockhouses. Numerous skirmishers attacked the workmen in order to prevent the two halves meeting, but skirmishes is all that these attacks were. In spite of entreaties from Antwerp the vacuum of power since the death of William the Silent prevented any concerted attack from occurring.

Parma was also suffering from a lack of money. His army had not been paid for two years, and he was not yet in a position to promise early payment from loot. A botched attempt by the rebels to capture s’Hertogenbosch, Parma’s main supply centre for the siege, served only to increase the commander’s determination to complete his bridge, against which the wintry weather was now providing the only real challenge. The ocean tides drove blocks of ice against the piers, which stood firm, but in the centre portion of the construction the current was too strong to allow pile-driving, so here the bridge had to be carried on the top of boats. There were thirty-two of them altogether, anchored and bound firmly to each other and armed with cannon.

Parma’s bridge was completed on 25 February 1585. It was twice as long as Julius Caesar’s celebrated Rhine bridge, and had been built under the most adverse weather conditions. As an added precaution, on each side of the bridge there was anchored a long heavy raft floating upon empty barrels, the constituent timbers lashed together and supported by ships’ masts, and protected with iron spikes that made the construction look like the front rank of a pike square. An entire army could both sit on the bridge and walk across it, and, to impress the citizens of Antwerp, Parma’s soldiers proceeded to do both.

So that they should be under no illusions as to the strength and size of the edifice, a captured Dutch spy, who expected to be hanged, was instead given a guided tour of the bridge and sent safely back to relate in wide-eyed wonder what he had seen. `Tell them further’, said Parma to the astonished secret agent, `that the siege will never be abandoned, and that this bridge will be my sepulchre or my pathway into Antwerp.’

The Dutch ship Fin de la Guerre (“End of War”) during the Siege of Antwerp in 1585.

The first marine application of mine warfare occurred in 1585 at the city of Antwerp. Fighting for their independence from Spain, the Dutch were under siege by Spanish forces, who had built a fortified bridge across the Scheldt River to prevent supplies from entering the city. Frederigo Gianibelli sent a small ship loaded with gunpowder down the river, with a time fuse. The ship detonated directly beneath the bridge, destroying it and the Spanish soldiers guarding it.

The Diabolical Machine

The besieged citizens of Antwerp, however, still possessed one possible winning card. In their city lived a sympathetic Italian engineer by the name of Frederigo Gianibelli, and in a similar display of enthusiasm to that with which Parma had built his bridge, so did this Gianibelli determine to destroy it using exploding ships. His proposal to the city authorities involved the construction of a fleet, but by the time his project was approved the parsimonious city fathers had reduced the fleet to two ships, which disgusted Gianibelli, even though each of the vessels, to be optimistically named Hope and Fortune, was enormous. The two ships were nothing less than artificial volcanoes. In the hold of each was a chamber of marble, along their entire length, built upon a brick foundation. This chamber was filled with gunpowder under a stone roof, on top of which was a `cone’ – also of marble – packed with millstones, cannonballs, lumps of stone, chain-shot, iron hooks, ploughshares and anything else that could be requisitioned in Antwerp to cause injury when blown up. On top of all of this were piles of wood that gave the vessels the appearance of conventional fireships. The one difference between the two ships lay in the means of ignition of the volcanoes within. On the Fortune this was to be done by means of a slow match. On the Hope the business would be done by clockwork and flint, rather like an enormous wheel-lock pistol. The progress of these infernal floating mines was to be preceded on the ebb tide by thirty-two smaller vessels laden with combustible materials, which would keep the defenders of the bridge busy until the two great ships reached Parma’s masterpiece and utterly destroyed it.

The date for the attack was to be dusk on 5 April 1585, and the enterprise was placed into the hands of Admiral Jacob Jacobzoon. He began badly, sending all the thirty-two vanguard ships down the Scheldt almost all at once rather than in the steady progression previously agreed upon. On each bank, and from every dyke and fortress, the Spanish troops gathered in their thousands to gaze at the burning flotilla that was turning the night back into day with its ruddy glow. Some of the boats hit the forward barges of the bridge and stuck on the spikes, where they burned themselves out ineffectively. Others struck the banks or ran aground. Some simply sank into the river as their own fires consumed them.

To the guardians of the bridge the attack seemed to be having no effect, but behind these minor vessels there now loomed the two great ones. They meandered somewhat aimlessly with the tide and the current, because their pilots had long since abandoned them. There was a moment of concern for the Spanish when the Fortune swung towards the side of the river, completely missing the forward protective raft. It eventually ground itself while, unknown to the Spanish defenders, the slow match burned through. There was a small explosion, and some minor damage, but so slight was the effect that Parma sent a boarding party to examine the interior of the ship.

They did not stay long, because the Hope had now followed its sister downstream. Its precision in finding its target could not have been better if it had been guided until the very last moment, because it managed to hit the bridge next to the blockhouse where the middle pontoons began. However, as Parma had confidently expected, the bridge had been so strongly built that the impact alone caused it no damage. Expecting it to be another fireship, Spanish boarders leapt on to the deck, and with excited whoops of laughter promptly extinguished the decoy fire. With some sixth sense, an ensign rushed up to his commander and begged him to leave the scene. So earnest were the man’s pleas that Parma reluctantly withdrew to the Fort of Santa Maria. This saved his life, for at that very moment the Hope exploded.

Not only did the ship vanish, so did much of the bridge, the banks, the dykes, the fortresses, and for a brief moment even the waters of the Scheldt, as possibly the largest man-made explosion in history up to that date lit up the night sky. The facts and statistics of the act took months to establish, and still have the power to cause amazement. The entire centre section of the bridge disintegrated. More than a thousand Spanish soldiers died instantly, and their bodies were never found. Houses nearby collapsed as if hit by an earthquake, and the pressure wave blew people off their feet. From the sky there began to fall the cannonballs and stones that had been crammed into the ship, accompanied by the mortal remains of its immediate victims. Slabs of granite were later found buried deep in the ground having travelled six miles from the scene of the explosion.

The personal tales were also quite remarkable. One Marquis Richebourg, who had been in command on the bridge, simply disappeared. His body was located several days later, its progress through the air having been arrested by one of the chains Parma had strung across the river. Seigneur de Billy’s body was not located until months afterwards when his golden locket and an unpleasant stain on one of the surviving bridge supports provided identification. The fortunate Duke of Parma was merely knocked unconscious by a flying stake. One captain was blown out of one boat and landed safely in another. A certain Captain Tucci was blown vertically into the air in his full armour and dumped in the river, where he still retained the presence of mind to remove his cuirass and swim to safety. Another young officer was blown completely across the river and landed safely after a flight of half a mile.

The original plan was that immediately after the expected explosion Admiral Jacobzoon should launch a signal rocket that would send boatloads of armed Dutchmen pouring on to the scene. Instead, he was totally stupefied by the explosion and gave no order. No rocket was fired and no one advanced. During the hiatus Parma regained consciousness, and by displaying leadership skills of unbelievable quality he managed to marshal his men to begin to repair the damage. Even though the Dutch advance was expected at any moment, it never came. By daybreak, even Parma began to believe the unbelievable – that the Dutch rebels, having set off the largest explosion since the introduction of gunpowder to Europe and blown a hole in his bridge, were now going to let him mend it. Yet this is precisely what happened.

The battle for the Kowenstyn dyke

The Kowenstyn Dyke

With the initiative lost it took the defenders of Antwerp a full month to mount another attack on Parma’s besieging army. The new attack was not against his damaged bridge but on the mighty Kowenstyn dyke. As the target was an earthen dam explosives would not have been effective, so the goal of breaking the great barrier would be made by men capturing the dyke with pike and musket and then cutting it with pick and shovel. It was a low-tech solution, and it was likely to be a very bloody one.

Following a successful landing a fierce `push of pike’ began on top of the Kowenstyn dyke. The rebels could well have been shoved back into the water had it not been for the arrival of the other half of their army downstream from Antwerp. For once in this campaign a co-ordinated effort had actually worked, and three thousand men now occupied this small section of the dyke. Among them was an eighteen-year-old youth called Maurice of Nassau, the son and heir of William the Silent, who was experiencing his first real taste of combat in what was to become a renowned military career. While two walls of soldiers shot, cut and speared their enemies, the sappers began two very different but complementary operations: to reinforce the dyke with trenches and mounds, and also to cut a hole through it. At last a loud cheer went up as the salt water rushed in a torrent through the newly created gap. A few moments later a Zeeland barge sailed through.

It is to the great credit of the Spanish commanders on the scene that they did not immediately panic; they stayed calm, even though their leader was some distance away. They were also sensible enough to realise that a breach sufficient to allow a Zeeland barge through was by no means sufficient to permit the passage of an entire fleet, and if the dyke could somehow be recaptured then the rupture might even be repaired. Five attacks followed along the dyke in a manner that demonstrated beyond all doubt why the Spanish were regarded as the finest infantry in Europe. The last assault was successful, and it was not long before intelligence arrived in Antwerp that the wild celebrations currently taking place were somewhat premature.

The failure plunged Antwerp into despair and forced its rulers back to the negotiating table. They sought three reassurances from Parma: that religious freedom would be granted, that troops would not be stationed in the city, and that the hated citadel would not be rebuilt. Knowing that King Philip II would accept none of these `exorbitant ideas’, as Parma termed them, he reminded the citizens of Antwerp of the stranglehold he still had on their city. But he had other cards to play, and drew their attentions to the role of Antwerp as the `great opulent and commercial city’ that it had been in the past and could be again. What cause, what real cause, did rich Antwerp have with the heretical Sea Beggars of Holland and Zeeland? Surely the loyal south was more to their liking?

Parma’s own fears lay with the winter that was fast approaching. It turned out to be so severe that Parma’s bridge would have been unlikely to survive, but by the time winter came a settlement had already been reached. A minor concession regarding the troops to be stationed in Antwerp proved sufficient for all parties to be satisfied, and Antwerp capitulated with honour on 17 August 1585 without a shot having been fired at the city itself. There was no massacre, no sack, no pillage and Parma’s soldiers were paid not by loot but in hard cash. The noble Duke of Parma had achieved his objectives, and, unknown to him at the time, he had actually achieved something quite remarkable. By detaching the fate of Antwerp and the lands to the south from the United Provinces of The Netherlands he had effectively created a recognisable and workable border. In 1648, as part of the Treaty of Westphalia, this border was to be given both recognition and reality, confirming that Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, had invented Belgium.


The Relief of Derry I

As July dawned those within the walls could not be certain what the future held for them. True, they had beaten off Rosen’s attempt to storm the city and foiled his plan to hasten their starvation by forcing them to take so many of their fellow Protestants inside the walls. The latter Jacobite plan had even had some beneficial effects for the defenders who had been able to enlist some able bodied men from the ranks of those who had been driven to the walls; these volunteers remained in Derry until the end of the siege. The latters’ presence helped steel the resolve of the garrison not to surrender, since many of the newcomers had had protections from either King James or Hamilton which provided evidence to others of the perfidy of the Jacobites.

Of course, the defenders had tried to get some of their weakest citizens out of the city when the gallows was taken down and the hostages were allowed to return home. However, many of these individuals were obvious to the Jacobites who recognized ‘them by their colour’, a polite way of saying that they were dirtier than the average seventeenth-century citizen. Those so identified were sent back, but there were many, womenfolk among them, who were able to get away from the city. The Jacobite prisoners in the city were returned to their lodgings.

Mackenzie notes that Walker’s sermon was a discouraging one’ rather than one that boosted the morale of soldiers and citizens. He notes that Captain Charleton chose this time, 28 July, to abandon the city and go over to the Jacobites. There is an implication here that Charleton had listened to Walker preach and had not been impressed. Mackenzie’s analysis of the morale within the city is probably much closer to the truth than Walker’s. The Presbyterian minister commented that ‘the desperate necessities that were growing upon us had almost sunk us all into a despair of relief.

Mackenzie’s comment that the city was despairing of being relieved made all the more wondrous the sighting that evening, at about 7 o’clock, of three ships in Lough Foyle approaching Culmore. Walker wrote that this sighting was made ‘in the midst of our extremity’ while Ash described the day as one ‘to be remembered with thanksgiving by the besieged as long as they live’. Ash and Mackenzie date this day of thanksgiving as 28 July, whereas Walker places it two days later on the 30th. And while Walker and Mackenzie number the ships at three, Ash observed four vessels that ‘came swiftly to Culmore without harm’. One other source, the account by Joshua Gillespie, names the fourth ship as being the cutter Jerusalem; this vessel was about the same size as the Phoenix.

Irrespective of the date, or of the exact number of ships, relief now appeared close at hand. HMS Dartmouth, Captain Leake’s frigate, was escorting three merchant vessels, the Mountjoy of Derry, under Captain Michael Browning, a Derryman, the Phoenix of Coleraine, whose master was Captain Andrew Douglas, also of Coleraine but a Scot by birth, and the cutter Jerusalem, commanded by Captain Pepwell. We have seen how Richards observed three ships in Lough Swilly being loaded with provisions and setting sail for Lough Foyle on 20 July: these are the same vessels on the final leg of their journey. According to Richards, Kirke accompanied the little convoy in HMS Swallow, which does not feature in the accounts from Ash, Mackenzie or Walker, suggesting that Swallow left the others at some point and that only HMS Dartmouth, the cutter and the two merchant ships made the run up Lough Foyle as far as Culmore. It seems that Swallow drew too much draught to allow the ship to sail up to the city; although the water was quite deep at Culmore where the river enters the lough it became shallower on the approach to the city. With Major-General Percy Kirke on board, Swallow anchored in the lough where she dropped her longboat which was to play a significant part in the breaking of the boom; from the ship’s maintop, Kirke was able to watch what was happening, although he was too far away to see in detail the events at the boom.

The choice of the Mountjoy and Phoenix seems to have been deliberate on Kirke’s part since it permitted two local vessels to play the central role in the concluding act of the drama at Derry. According to Mackenzie, Browning had volunteered to make the run for the city before, while both Ash and Mackenzie agree that Kirke chose him to lead the relief because he was a Derryman. Ash wrote that Browning ‘had that honour conferred upon him by Major-General Kirke, to be the man who should bring relief to Derry.’ Honour it may have been, but it also placed Browning at great risk and he was to pay, with his life, the full price for accepting that risk. Of course, there might have been a more pragmatic reason for Kirke’s choice of Browning and Douglas: their familiarity with the waters of the Foyle. As a native of the city, Browning would have known the Foyle better than any of the other captains, and Douglas of Coleraine must also have been very familiar with its waters. One eminent naval historian has commented that ‘to Captain Browning the soundings and tidal sets in the River all the way to Londonderry would be thoroughly familiar and Mountjoy as it were, knew her own way home!’ Whatever the circumstances, Kirke had now heeded the appeal from the city for immediate help; to its inhabitants the appearance of the relief vessels seemed to be a miracle.

As the ships approached Culmore Fort, HMS Dartmouth hove to, ‘drew in her sails and cast anchor’.6 An artillery combat between the ships and the gunners in Culmore Fort then began as Dartmouth’s role was to attempt to draw the fire of the fort from the two merchant ships while trying to suppress that fire with her own guns; Leake’s frigate, a fifth-rater, carried twenty-eight guns, about half of which could be brought to bear on Culmore. Rather than firing broadsides the frigate would have ripple-fired her guns at the fort, increasing the pressure on the latter’s gunners by maintaining a constant fire which would not have been possible with broadsides. Leake had also placed his ship between the fort and the channel that the merchant ships would use. The latter were not helpless since they also carried cannon (Douglas of the Phoenix had earlier in the year been issued with letters of marque as a privateer by the Scottish government) and each had forty soldiers on board. Now, as Leake’s ship hammered at the fort, Browning, Douglas and Pepwell prepared to take their ships through the narrow channel at Culmore and upriver towards the boom. Leake’s orders were that Mountjoy would sail with Dartmouth, Phoenix would not weigh anchor until Dartmouth was engaged with the fort and Jerusalem would await a signal from Leake that one of the other ships had passed the boom before weighing anchor. It was a well-conceived plan but one still fraught with danger for all the ships.

In a subsequent despatch to London, Kirke noted that

Captain Leake, commander of the Dartmouth, behaved himself very bravely and prudently in this action, neither firing great or small shot (though he was plied very hard with both) till he came on the wind of the Castle, and there began to batter that the victuallers might pass under the shelter of his guns; then lay between the Castle and them within musket-shot and came to an anchor.

Covered at Culmore by the guns of Leake’s warship, Mountjoy led the way and Browning sailed his ship into the boom in the hope that the force of the vessel striking it would break the structure, thereby clearing the way for the other vessels. But he was unsuccessful. His ship struck the boom, rebounded and ran aground on the east bank. Mackenzie’s interpretation of events is slightly different, with the wind dying as the Mountjoy reached the boom, the ship failing to strike it in the ‘dead calm succeeding’ and then running aground. From this version it would seem that it was the tide that pushed Browning’s ship aground; other sources indicate that Mackenzie was correct. Whatever the circumstances of the grounding, the result was the same: Mountjoy was at the mercy of the Jacobites. And it was then that the ship’s redoubtable captain perished. Within sight of his home town, and with his mission almost accomplished, Browning was struck in the head by a musket ball and fell dead on Mountjoy’s deck. William R Young, who, in 1932, produced a gazetteer of the principal characters of the siege, wrote this highly imaginative paean on the breaking of the boom:

Nothing perhaps in the story of the siege is more thrilling than the rush of the Mountjoy on the terrible Boom. We can picture the captain, sword in hand, standing on by the wheel and commanding operations until killed by the fatal shot.

It may be noted that Ash wrote that Browning ‘stood upon the deck with his sword drawn, encouraging his men with great cheerfulness’ and this is, presumably, Young’s source.

With loud cheers large numbers of Jacobite soldiers raced towards the water’s edge where some prepared to take to boats from which they might board the stricken Mountjoy. Farther along the river, closer to the city, other Jacobites took up the exuberant cheering of their comrades and called to the garrison that their ships had been taken.

We perceived them both firing their guns at them, and preparing boats to board them, [and] this struck such a sudden terror into our hearts, as appeared in the very blackness of our countenances. Our spirits sunk, and our hopes were expiring.

But once again circumstances conspired against the Jacobites. The Mountjoy discharged a broadside, obviously from the port side, and this, with the rising tide, freed the ship from the grip of the mud to set her afloat again. According to Ash, it was the inrushing tide that floated the Mountjoy. All the while, both HMS Dartmouth and the Phoenix had been firing at the Jacobites. Restored to her natural element, Browning’s ship began to engage the Jacobite batteries and steered once more for the boom. This was to be the crucial test of de Pointis’ creation. It will be remembered that the French engineer’s first effort had been an abject failure, sinking below the water due to the weight of the oak used in its construction. The boom that now stretched across the Foyle was constructed of fir beams held together with metal clamps, chains and rope and with both ends anchored firmly on dry land.

Walker believed that the Mountjoy had broken the boom when first it struck and this version is also included in Gillespie’s narrative, but the boom was actually broken by sailors in HMS Swallow’s longboat.16 These men do not feature in any of the indigenous siege narratives, and it appears that, if the writers of those narratives were told the detail of the breaking of the boom, they decided not to tell the full story. The longboat had been lowered from Swallow to accompany the ships that would make the run upriver and it was the ten-man crew of that boat who finally broke the boom. Since their part in this episode is so important, it is pleasant to record that the names of these seamen have been preserved in Admiralty records. Boatswain’s Mate John Shelley commanded the longboat and his crew were Robert Kells, Jeremy Vincent, James Jamieson, Jonathan Young, Alexander Hunter, Henry Breman,4 William Welcome, Jonathan Field and Miles Tonge. And it was Shelley who used the axe, leaping on to the boom to do so and receiving a splinter wound in the thigh in the process. This involvement of the longboat crew is supported by a Jacobite report that indicates that both the Mountjoy and Phoenix were towed by longboats.

The principal Jacobite account of events suggested that it was actually HMS Dartmouth that made the run upriver:

The ship then aforesaid [Dartmouth] took the opportunity on this day of the tide and a fair gale of wind, and so came up to the fort of Culmore, and at all hazards ventured to sail by. The fort made some shots at her, but to no purpose. She, being got clear of that fort, arrived before the next battery, which fired also at her, but the ball flew too high. She came to the last battery; this did her no damage. She struck at the boom, which she forced presently, and so went cleverly up to the quay of Londonderry. What shouts of joy the town gave hereat you may easily imagine.

It should be remembered that A Jacobite Narrative of the War in Ireland was written some years after the siege and the author’s information came from other individuals. Thus it is not so surprising that he believed Dartmouth to have been the vessel that ran the gauntlet of the Jacobite batteries along the Foyle, broke the boom and took relief to the beleaguered city.

Richards also includes an account of how the boom was broken which was delivered to the camp at Inch on 30 July by ‘several people . . . from the Irish camp’ who had seen the ships pass up the Foyle ‘with provisions to Derry quay on Sunday night last past’. These witnesses had seen the man of war lie within Culmore and batter ‘all the upper part of the wall down, so that there is now no shelter for men’. But they differed in telling how the ships got up to the city. Two versions of the breaking of the boom were offered, one of which told of Shelley and his fellow seamen in the longboat. This was, however, an exaggerated version which included a ‘boat with a house on it’ that came to the boom where it stopped ‘and of a sudden a man (a witch they say) struck three strokes with a hatchet upon the Boom, and cut [it] asunder, and so passed on’ with the ships following. The ‘house’ might have been a form of protection against musket fire, as Kirke indicated by describing the longboat as being ‘well barricado’d’. The second version held that the two ships made the run together and struck the boom simultaneously, breaking it so that both were then able to pass on to the city. Kirke’s despatch to London noted that it was the weight of the Mountjoy that broke the boom after Shelley had wielded his axe. That report also contains the information that there were about four Jacobite guns at the boom ‘and 2,000 small shot upon the river’; it also notes that five or six Williamite soldiers were killed, that Lieutenant Leys of Sir John Hanmer’s Regiment was wounded and that Shelley was also injured.

The passage of over three centuries has obliterated the stories of most of the individuals involved in the siege and associated operations and this has been the case especially with those who did not hold commissioned rank. Even the small boy who did such sterling service carrying despatches is not named by any of the chroniclers, and we know only the surname of that unfortunate swimmer McGimpsey who volunteered to carry despatches from the city to Kirke. However, there are a few exceptions and these include the men who broke the boom, John Shelley and his shipmates who manned Swallow’s longboat. Not only did Captain Wolfranc Cornwall reward them with a guinea apiece, although Shelley received five guineas, but he also wrote to the Admiralty on 8 October recommending each of the men to whom further payments were made, bringing their awards to £10 each.

Pointis’ efforts had been in vain and suggest either that the boom had not been strong enough or that the metal used to hold the beams together had rusted to such an extent that at least one joint had broken when the Mountjoy hit. In spite of the first failed effort with the oaken boom, it seems most unlikely that de Pointis would have been guilty of creating a sub-standard defence since he was both an engineer and a naval officer who should have known exactly the pressure that was likely to be put on the boom. Against this, Louis’ representative, Comte d’Avaux, considered that the breaking of the boom proved how poor a job de Pointis had done: ‘the boom was so badly built that it could not resist the little boats that towed the two small vessels carrying the supplies’. He went on to say that the boom had ‘more than once’ already been damaged by the wind and the force of the tide. This further comment suggests that maintenance work on the boom had been inadequate, which was probably due to the fact that de Pointis was ill much of the time and unable to exercise the control he might otherwise have done. There is also the fact that Richard Hamilton did not regard the boom as being important which would have reduced the importance given to maintenance when de Pointis was not exercising regular supervision.

However, the boom had never been intended to be the sole counter against Williamite ships coming up the Foyle. It formed part of a defence system in which the artillery batteries along the river were also crucial. We have seen that the Williamite commentators wrote that the Jacobite artillery poured a heavy fire into the relief squadron but the principal Jacobite account, from A Light to the Blind, takes a very different viewpoint.

But it is not so easy to understand how came this ship to pass scot-free by so many batteries, and yet in four or five weeks before, three vessels attempting the same fact were repulsed. The king’s soldiers answer that the gunners of the batteries, or some of them, were this morning, the thirty-first of July, drunk with brandy, which caused them to shoot at random. But still there remains a question, whether these officers became inebriated without any evil design, or whether they were made to drink of purpose to render them incapable to perform their duty that day; and whether the English money aboard the fleet in the pool was not working upon them for this effect during the time they lay there on the coast.

The writer of that narrative goes on to state that ‘these gunners lost Ireland through their neglect of duty’. His suggestion that the gunners – by which he really means the officers commanding the guns – had been bribed by the Williamites is implausible and more likely to be the result of paranoia than to be based on any real evidence. A similar accusation was made following the Jacobite defeat at Aughrim in 1691: that the Jacobite general Henry Luttrell had, literally, sold the pass to the Williamites. And there is, of course, a parallel with the accusations made about Lundy, Walker and other leading Williamite figures. Both sides in this war were eager to attribute success to the intervention of the Almighty but any failures or setbacks were seen as being the result of human perfidy. The writer was also unaware of the fact that the three vessels that he thought had been trying to sail upriver some weeks before had not been doing so but had been carrying out a reconnaissance.

With the remains of the boom floating useless in the water, the two merchant ships passed through. HMS Dartmouth remained on station at Culmore and the Jerusalem ‘came near the man of war, but no farther that night’. The cutter had been due to weigh anchor and enter the river on a signal from Leake’s ship but ‘the wind slackened, grew calm and changed about to the SW’. In fact, Dartmouth remained on station at Culmore until 8 o’clock next morning ‘by reason of the tide’ during which time she returned the Jacobite fire five or six shots for one. The ship also endured considerable musket fire from the Jacobites on either side of the river but her casualties were remarkably light with but a single soldier killed and another wounded, while the ship’s purser, Mr Lee, suffered a contusion. No serious damage was incurred.

As the other ships ‘made their way majestically to the City, to the inexpressible joy of the inhabitants, and to the utter disappointment of the enemy’, Phoenix took the lead and was first to dock at the city where Captain Douglas was received by Governor Mitchelburne who told him that ‘this will be a night of danger’. Both vessels berthed at about 10 o’clock ‘not saluted by the turbulent acclamations of the garrison, but with heartfelt and devout gratitude to him who is the unerring disposer of all events’. Young conjectures that

We can see the arrival of the Mountjoy and the Phoenix at Derry’s quay. We can almost hear the acclamations of the starving population, and we can sympathise with the captain’s weeping widow, who was meeting a dead husband.

In Ireland Preserved, Mitchelburne attributes the following words to ‘Evangelist’, or Walker:

Heaven has heard our prayers, the sighs and groans and shrieks of the distressed have reached the heavens, and has delivered us from the implacable, wicked and designing malice of our merciless enemies.

Of the contemporary accounts, only that from Richards mentions that the merchant ships were towed in by longboats. He claims that these were manned by local people, who came out when the ships were close to Pennyburn, but where the boats came from he does not explain; apart from the locally-built boat and the Jacobite boat captured at Dunalong, there were supposedly no boats in the city. Significantly, none of the local accounts include any mentions of these boats, suggesting that Richards, still on Inch, might have been misinformed. As the ships tied up at the quay the guns in the cathedral tower were fired to let the fleet know that the relief vessels had reached the city safely.

The Relief of Derry II

Sadler, William; The Relief of Derry; National Museums Northern Ireland;

The arrival of this squadron of the relief fleet brought an angry reaction from the Jacobites who opened fire on the quay and the city from across the river. Such was the danger to those unloading the vessels that blinds had to be constructed along the quay; these were improvized from casks and hogsheads filled with earth and built up to form a wall. In the course of the night the blinds were tested fully as the gunners over the river maintained a ‘brisk and continued cannonading . . . against the town’.

From the Phoenix those acting as stevedores, men detailed from each of the companies in the city, unloaded 800 containers of meal that had been brought from Scotland and for which a petition had been presented to the Scottish government. Browning’s Mountjoy which could carry 135 tons, had brought ‘beef, peas, flour, biscuits etc all of the best kind’ which had been sent from England. These were all carried to the store houses. This restocking of the stores brought, in Walker’s words, ‘unexpressible joy’ to the garrison which he reckoned had but two days’ rations left ‘and among us all one pint of meal to each man’. Nine lean horses were all that remained for meat – where these came from is not made clear; the last horse had supposedly been slaughtered long since – and hunger and disease had reduced the one-time garrison of 7,500 to about 4,300, of whom at least a quarter were unfit for service. The first issues of food from the newly-arrived provisions were made the following morning and must have been as great a boost to the morale of the garrison and people of the city as the sight of the Mountjoy and Phoenix making for the quay.

The siege was over. Richard Hamilton knew that the arrival of the relief ships would allow the garrison to hold out longer and how he must have rued his decision to countermand de Pointis’ plan for a second boom and to carry out maintenance work on the boom that had been completed. He knew also that Kirke had a strong force on Inch and that this might march for Derry at any time while Schomberg was preparing an even larger force that would soon land in Ulster to link up with Kirke’s contingent and the Enniskillen garrison. There was no alternative but for the Jacobite army to quit Derry. It had failed in its objective with every plan adopted seemingly doomed. On the day following the arrival of the Mountjoy and Phoenix, Ash commented that there was ‘nothing worth note’ although Mackenzie recorded that the Jacobites continued to fire on the city from their trenches.

But the decision to quit was taken that day. According to the writer of A Light to the Blind, the decision was made by de Rosen who

seeing the town relieved with provisions contrary to expectation, and that there was no other way at present to take it, judged it in vain to remain there any longer, and so he commanded the army to prepare for rising the next day, and for marching back into Leinster, and approaching to Dublin.

On 1 August the Jacobite army decamped from Derry. It had lain before the city for fifteen weeks with the loss of some 2,000 men dead, a figure that probably underestimates considerably the true losses. Walker, who wrote that the enemy ‘ran away in the night time, [and] robbed and burnt all before them for several miles’, also estimated the Jacobite dead at between 8,000 and 9,000 plus a hundred of their best officers. The scorched-earth tactic is confirmed by Ash who wrote that the enemy ‘burned a great many houses in the County of Derry and elsewhere’ and that, when he went to visit his own farm on 1 August, he found ‘the roof of my house was smoking in the floor, and the doors falling off the hinges’. Berwick was later to attain notoriety for his use of the same tactic elsewhere in Ireland, and it is possible that he was also advocating its use at Derry. A deserter from Berwick’s camp who arrived at the Williamite base on Inch said that he had been with the duke at Castlefinn when several officers arrived with the news that relief had reached the defenders of the city, An enraged Berwick

flung his hat on the ground and said, ‘The rogues have broken the siege and we are all undone.’ He says also, it was at once resolved to immediately quit the siege, and burn, and waste, all before them; but upon second consideration they have despatched a messenger to the late King James at Dublin, of which they expect an answer. In the mean time, they have sent out orders to all the Catholics to send away all their goods and chattels, and to be ready to march themselves whenever the army moves. It is also resolved to drive all the Protestants away before them, and to lay the country in waste as much as they can.

So it would seem that Berwick was the man responsible for ordering so much destruction. The troops at Inch saw several ‘great fires’ in the direction of Letterkenny, to the south-west, which they believed to be villages set alight by the retreating Jacobites. Under cover of darkness, a company of musketeers, under Captain Billing, crossed from Inch to the mainland near Burt castle and then marched about a mile before surprising a small guard of Jacobite dragoons and securing a safe passage to Inch for several Protestant families with their cattle and whatever other goods were found en route. Confirmation that the Jacobites were quitting the area was provided when several parties of their horsemen were seen ‘setting fire to all the neighbouring villages, which gives us great hopes that they don’t design any long stay in these parts’. Kirke reported that the Jacobites ‘blew up Culmore Castle, burnt Red Castle and all the houses down the river’. By then he had returned to Lough Swilly in HMS Swallow and come ashore at Inch.

According to Walker, some of the garrison, ‘after refreshment with a proper share of our new provisions’, left the city to see what the enemy was doing. Jacobite soldiers were observed on the march and the Williamites set off in pursuit. This proved to be an ill-advised move as they encountered a cavalry unit performing rearguard duty for the Jacobites and the horsemen engaged their pursuers, killing seven of them.

Of course, there had been two wings of the Jacobite army, separated by the Foyle. These made their discrete ways to the nearest point at which a junction could be effected, in the vicinity of Strabane. Retreating from before the city’s western and southern defences, the Jacobites made their way to Lifford, back to the area of the fords where they had achieved one of their few real successes of the campaign. Likewise, those who had formed the eastern wing of the besieging force withdrew to Strabane, although some are known to have moved east towards Coleraine. Strabane appears to have been a temporary stop for the army as the commanders awaited further news. What news they received was not good: the Jacobite force in Fermanagh had been defeated at the battle of Newtownbutler where Lord Mountcashel had suffered the greatest defeat yet inflicted on Jacobite arms in Ulster.

On 3 August news reached the camp at Inch that the main Jacobite army was now at Strabane, and Kirke felt confident enough to send Captain Henry Withers to Liverpool on board HMS Dartmouth with a despatch for ‘King and Parliament [detailing] our great success against the Irish Papists’. Ash recorded that, at Lifford, the Jacobites were in such haste to be away that they ‘burst three of their great guns, left one of their mortar pieces, and threw many of their arms into the lake’. By bursting the guns he meant that the Jacobite gunners had destroyed their weapons; this was usually done by dismounting the barrels, filling them with powder and burying them muzzle down before discharging them. This action had been taken following news of the disaster at Newtownbutler which was the final factor in the Jacobite decision to quit Ulster. In their going they dumped many weapons in the river and left behind many of their comrades who were sick. Between the city and Strabane, some groups of Jacobite grenadiers who were engaged in setting fire to houses were taken prisoner by Williamite troops.

A few Williamites were probably fit enough to take part in such forays outside the town, but it is more likely that the patrols were from the fresh troops who had landed in the city with the Mountjoy, Phoenix and Jerusalem, although they would have numbered only about 120 men. Some foragers from the city brought in a ‘great number of black cattle from the country for the use of the garrison’, but these dairy cattle were restored to their owners the following day. It seems that not everything had been destroyed by the Jacobites and, since these cattle belonged to Williamites, it also appears that those in the vicinity of the city had not suffered too much in the days of the siege. Much of their losses probably occurred as a result of the Jacobite forces venting their anger at failing to take the city.

With the Jacobite army withdrawing, Walker expressed some impatience to see Kirke, whom he described as ‘under God and King, our Deliverer’. He sent a delegation of five men, including two clergymen, to Inch to meet Kirke, give him an account of the raising of the siege, convey the city’s thanks to him and invite him to come and meet the garrison. The latter invitation was superfluous since Kirke would have intended to come to the city anyway. Richards recorded that Walker’s men stayed all night at Inch due to the very wet and windy weather. Following the visit of that delegation, Kirke sent Colonel Steuart and Jacob Richards to the city ‘to congratulate our deliverance’ according to Walker but, according to Richards, to give the orders necessary for repairs to the city and its fortifications. This was a precursor to Kirke’s own arrival which took place on Sunday 4 August. On the same day he had ordered a detachment of seventy-two men from each regiment ‘to march over to Londonderry, there to encamp and make up huts for the several regiments against they arrive’.

Windmill Hill had been chosen as the site for the encampment of the relieving forces. The local regiments were to remain within the walls, and the two forces were to be segregated to prevent an outbreak of disease among the newly-arrived troops. The camp at Inch was to be abandoned save for the hospital and a small garrison of 200 men with six artillery pieces commanded by Captain Thomas Barbour. Moving the relief force’s supplies and impedimenta required the deployment of the ships to carry them out of the Swilly and around the north of Inishowen into Lough Foyle and hence to the city. That a small garrison was to be left at Inch suggests that there was some concern that not all the Jacobites had departed the region. On the 5th some ‘Irish skulking rogues came back to Muff, Ballykelly, Newtown and Magilligan, and burned houses which had escaped’ the previous depredations. These ‘skulking rogues’ would have been from that part of the Jacobite army that was falling back to Coleraine. (The Muff referred to here is the modern village of Eglinton in County Londonderry, while Newtown is Limavady.6)

Kirke was unimpressed by Derry and its defences, writing that

since I was born I never saw a town of so little strength to rout an army with so many generals against it. The walls and outwork are not touched [but] the houses are generally broke down by the bombs; there have been five hundred and ninety one shot into the town.

The major-general had already had a report from Richards about the state of the city. This had also included the observation that there was ‘little appearance of a siege by the damage done to the houses or walls’. However, Richards went on to report that

the people had suffered extremely, having for 5 weeks lived on horses, dogs, cats etc. They lost not during the whole siege 100 men by the sword, but near 6,000 through sickness and want and there still remained about 5,000 able fighting men in the town, who abound with the spoil of those they have killed or taken prisoner.

When Kirke arrived at Bishop’s Gate he was received with courtesy and some ceremony. There Mitchelburne, who would have already known him, and Walker, with other officers of the garrison, members of the corporation and ‘a great many persons of all sorts’ met him and offered him the keys to the city as well as the civic sword and mace, all of which Kirke returned to those who had presented the individual items. Soldiers lined the streets to receive their deliverer while the cannon on the walls fired in salute. Even the city’s sick, of whom there were many, made the effort to crawl to their doors and windows to see Kirke and his entourage. Mitchelburne and Walker entertained Kirke to dinner which was described as being ‘very good . . . considering the times; small sour beer, milk and water, with some little quantity of brandy, was and is the best of our liquors’. Following dinner he went to the Windmill to look at the camp for his soldiers. Ash noted that he rode on a white mare that belonged to Mitchelburne which the latter ‘had saved all the siege’. Presumably this was ‘Bloody Bones’, the charger gifted to Mitchelburne by Clotworthy Skeffington. One wonders that this fine animal had survived, but perhaps she had been kept outside the city?

As Kirke was preparing to return to Inch, three horsemen arrived carrying letters from the governors of Enniskillen. These brought official news of the success of the Williamite forces under Colonel Wolseley and Lieutenant-Colonel Tiffin at Newtownbutler. Details of the battle were included while, later that night, Kirke also received the news that Berwick was decamping from Strabane and that most of the army that had been before Derry had gone to Charlemont en route to Dublin. Kirke then rode back to Inch while Richards remained in the city to make further preparations for the arrival of the remainder of the relief force. Meanwhile Kirke had invited several of the leading citizens to dine with him on Inch the following day. This might not have been the most convivial of occasions for Walker, since Kirke took the opportunity to suggest that it was time for him ‘to return to his own profession’.

Kirke’s three regiments arrived in the city on the 7th with the major-general at their head; their baggage was en route by sea. Once again there was a rapturous reception, with the defenders coming out in force to give the troops three cheers as well as a salute from their cannon. It also seems that all the garrison’s personal weapons were discharged as part of a feu de joie. And there was another dinner after which a council of war was held to which only field officers were invited. This meeting discussed regulating the local regiments, the civil administration of the city and ‘several other necessary things’, which included the market and cleansing the town. The latter task must have been of almost Herculean proportions. It was further decided that the following day would be one of thanksgiving.

And so, on 8 August, the city rejoiced for its deliverance. There was considerable merry-making but the day began with a sermon preached by Mr John Know, who told his congregation, which included Kirke, of the nature of the siege and ‘the great deliverance, which from Almighty God we have obtained’. That evening the city’s regiments were drawn up around the walls and fired three volleys while the cannon, too, were fired in salute. A proclamation was also issued stating that anyone who was not in the ranks of one of the regiments and had not resided in the city prior to the siege should return to their own homes before the following Monday. Nor were any goods to be taken out of the city without permission. With the Jacobites now far away, the bureaucrats were back in place. And it seemed that the closest Jacobites were at Coleraine ‘where they were fortifying themselves’.

Walker took ship for England the next day, there to produce and have published his ‘true account’ of the siege. Needless to say, this true account would be centred around the activities of Governor Walker, who would thus become the hero of the siege. The London Gazette for 19–22 August carried a report from Edinburgh that Walker had reached that city on the 13th with news that the Enniskilleners, under Colonels Wolseley and Tiffin, but whom he called Owsley and Tiffany, had routed the Jacobites on their retreat from Londonderry and caused heavy losses. This was Walker’s version of the battle of Newtownbutler which, in fact, had been fought between a different Jacobite force from that retreating from Derry and the defenders of Enniskillen. From Edinburgh he made his way to London and was received at Hampton Court by William and Mary; one report suggests that he received £5,000 ‘for his service at Londonderry’. For Mitchelburne, Murray and many others their sole reward was to be thanked for their services.

For those left behind in the city there were some indications of what lay in store for them. All who expected pay for their service in defending the city were told to appear in their arms at 10 o’clock on the following Monday. Whatever they anticipated, they were to be disappointed: no payment was ever made. There was a popular belief among the soldiers that Kirke would distribute £2,000 but ‘they soon found themselves mistaken, not only in that, but in their hopes of continuing in their present posts’. One man who had provided £1,000 to support the city in its travails was the Stronge who owned the land across the river. When Sir Patrick Macrory was writing his book on the siege he was told by Sir Norman Stronge, a direct descendant of that landowner, that he still held two notes, signed by Mitchelburne, promising that the money would be repaid. In 1980 Sir Norman calculated that the IOUs represented, with interest, some £60m. These notes were lost when republican terrorists attacked Sir Norman’s home at Tynan Abbey in County Armagh in 1981, murdering both Sir Norman and his son James before setting fire to and destroying their home.

On the 12th Kirke reduced the garrison’s regiments to four. Colonel Monroe’s and Colonel Lance’s Regiments were amalgamated, Walker’s Regiment was given to Colonel Robert White, Baker’s to Colonel Thomas St John – the would-be engineer of Inch – and Mitchelburne retained the regiment he had commanded throughout the siege, that which had been Clotworthy Skeffington’s. As White died soon after this re-organization his regiment passed to Colonel John Caulfield. No records have survived of the regiment formed by the amalgamation of Monroe’s and Lance’s Regiments, and so it would seem that the new unit had a very brief existence. This might have been less than a month, as Kenneth Ferguson notes that a royal warrant of 16 September adopted only three Londonderry battalions; Kirke was ordered to treat unplaced officers as supernumerary until vacancies could be found for them. Caulfield’s Regiment had been disbanded by 1694 and the surviving regiments, Mitchelburne’s and St John’s, were disbanded by 1698 by which time the War of the League of Augsburg had ended. In contrast, those regiments formed in Enniskillen had a much longer existence with three of them surviving, albeit in much changed form, to this day: Tiffin’s Regiment was the progenitor of the present Royal Irish Regiment while today’s Royal Dragoon Guards may be traced back to dragoon regiments raised in Enniskillen in 1689. However, in 1693 some survivors of the siege formed part of a new regiment, Henry Cunningham’s Regiment of Dragoons, raised in Ulster. In time, this regiment was ranked as the 8th Dragoons and later as 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars. In 1958 amalgamation with 4th Queen’s Own Hussars created the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, the regiment that led the coalition advance into Kuwait in the Gulf War of 1991; the Hussars’ leading tank was called ‘Derry’ and the regiment was commanded by a Derryman. Perhaps some of the spirit of Murray’s Horse had passed down the centuries to the men who manned the Hussars’ Challenger tanks.

To return to 1689, Kirke continued his work on reforming the garrison, but he also organized a force to attack the Jacobites at Coleraine. However, when that force, led it seems by Kirke himself, approached Coleraine, the local garrison decided that it did not want to engage in a battle with the butcher of Sedgemoor and the town was abandoned. A plan had been made to destroy the bridge leading into Coleraine, thus at least delaying any Williamite advance if not assisting a Jacobite defence. This had involved coating the timbers of the bridge with pitch which would then be set alight as the foe approached. In the event the Jacobite garrison was so keen to quit the town that the bridge was left standing, those whose assigned task it had been to start the fire showing no heart for the job. The news that Coleraine had been regained reached London at the same time as the news that the town of Sligo had also been abandoned by the Jacobites. The latter information was far from accurate: Sligo did not fall into Williamite hands until 1691, following the battle of Aughrim.

The Williamite army continued its task of clearing Ulster. On 16 August Schomberg sailed from England ‘with a fair wind’ at the head of the main body of the force that was to be deployed in Ireland. At the beginning of September this army was engaged in the siege of Carrickfergus where Jacob Richards was wounded in both thigh and shoulder. Before long most of Ulster was in Williamite hands, with only pockets of Jacobite resistance remaining in the southern part of the province.

The key element in this campaign had been the siege of Derry. Had the city fallen to the Jacobites in April, or failed to hold out as it did, then the Williamite cause in Ulster would have been lost. Enniskillen could not have held out against a Jacobite army no longer distracted by the task of reducing the recalcitrant city and nor would Sligo have been able to sustain a defence for much longer. That the city on the Foyle was the vital element in saving all Ireland for the Williamites was recognized across the three kingdoms. George Walker, the soi-disant governor of Londonderry, was feted in London and took full advantage of the opportunity to further his own reputation with the publication of his book A True Account of the Siege of London-Derry. On 19 November he was thanked by the House of Commons for his services at Londonderry and responded:

As for the service I have done, it is very little, and does not deserve this favour you have done me: I shall give the thanks of this House to those concerned with me, as you desire, and dare assure you, that both I and they will continue faithful to the service of King William and Queen Mary to the end of their lives.

As the tide of war flowed elsewhere the people of north-west Ulster tried to begin their lives anew, safe from the threats that had so recently beset them. But it would be a very difficult task and one in which many of them would not succeed. The scars of those 105 days in 1689 would never fade and the attitude of the government at Westminster towards the survivors would help to ensure that.

Warsaw 1939 I

On September 8, 1939, one week into the Nazi invasion of Poland, German armoured troops reached the gates of Warsaw. The Polish government and High Command had left the city but a determined garrison awaited the enemy invader and the Poles were able to stave off two consecutive German attempts to take the capital by armoured attack. Thus began a siege that would last for three weeks and subject the Warsaw Army of over 100,000 and the civilian population of over one million to a ruthless campaign of aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling, causing thousands of casualties and widespread destruction. It was a hopeless battle that could only end in defeat and on September 27 the Polish garrison capitulated. The photos of the first penetration by tanks and infantry of the 4. Panzer-Division taken on September 9 became standard repertoire of German propaganda publications on the Blitzkrieg in Poland.


On September 8 – eight days after the start of the campaign and after an amazing dash of 80 kilometres in ten hours – lead elements of the 4. Panzer-Division suddenly appeared on the outskirts of Warsaw. Taking advantage of the surprise, the Germans immediately launched an attack into the city, hoping to capture it on the run. The first attack, in the late afternoon of the 8th and by Panzer-Regiment 35 only, was quickly stopped by the fierce Polish resistance in the outer borough of Ochota. The second attempt, by the entire division and on a double axis, on the morning of the 9th penetrated deeper into the city but was again repulsed in heavy fighting in Ochota and Wola. A Propaganda-Kompanie photographer, Bildberichter Otto Lanzinger, accompanied one of the attacking columns into the city and his pictures have become classic images of the 1939 fighting for Warsaw. Here a number of PzKpfw I and IIs roll forward while supporting infantry keep close to the houses.


A PzKpfw II advances past another one. These photographs were taken on Grojecka Street, the main thoroughfare entering Warsaw from the south-east and leading into the borough of Ochota, at its intersection with Siewierska Street. Grojecka was the axis of attack of Panzer-Regiment 35 both on the afternoon of the 8th and again during the morning of the 9th. The long shadows in Lanzinger’s photos show the sun in the east, which proves that they were taken on the 9th.


Some 150 metres back along Grojecka, near its junction with Przemyska Street, Lanzinger pictured a 7.5cm le. IG 18 light infantry gun set up to engage enemy troops defending behind a barricade. The gun has just fired off a round and smoke is still curling from its barrel. Panzer I and IIs are waiting behind. Black smoke rises up from a disabled vehicle in the background.


Back up front, and right in front of where Lanzinger is taking cover, another gun – this one a 3.7cm Pak 36 – has been set up. Across the street is its Krupp Kfz 69 towing vehicle. Two Panzer Is roll forward. The 4. Panzer-Division had begun the campaign with 341 tanks: 183 Panzer I, 130 Panzer II, 12 Panzer IV and 16 Panzerbefehlswagen. However, by the time it reached Warsaw, both tank regiments had suffered losses and all four tank battalions were below strength.

Map of initial ground attacks on Warsaw. Poles-blue, Germans-red.


Warsaw in 1939 was a city of 1.3 million inhabitants. From the very first hours of the campaign, this huge metropolitan area became the target of an unrestricted aerial bombardment campaign by Luftwaffe bombers and dive-bombers, mainly from Kesselring’s Luftflotte 1 supporting Heeresgruppe Nord.

On September 1, a force of some 90 Heinkel He 111 bombers from Kampfgeschwader 27, protected by 36 Me 109 fighters from Jagdgeschwader 21, together with 35 He 111s from II./Lehrgeschwader 1 raided the capital. They hit military targets, such as infantry barracks, the aerodrome and the PZL aircraft factory at Okecie in the south-west and the Warsaw radio station in Fort Mokotow in the south. However, right from the start, they also freely bombed civilian facilities such as waterworks, hospitals, market places and schools, and strafed civilians with machinegun fire. The attacks came as a complete surprise. The streets were crowded and dozens died in the first few minutes. Later that week, in order to disrupt communications, the bombers and dive-bombers attacked the city’s railway stations and the Vistula bridges – the latter without success. On September 3 alone 1,500 civilians were killed. A girls’ school was hit on the 4th.

Warsaw’s air defence depended mostly on the fighters of the Polish Air Force’s Pursuit Brigade (Brygada Poscigowa) under Colonel Stefan Pawlikowski. It comprised two squadrons and was equipped with 54 fighter aircraft, chiefly the PZL P. 7 and PZL P. 11 types. The city’s anti-aircraft artillery under Colonel Kazimierz Baran had 86 AA guns and various detachments of anti-aircraft machine guns.

Initially the air defence of the capital was fairly successful. During the first six days, the Pursuit Brigade managed to shoot down 43 enemy aircraft, while the anti-aircraft artillery destroyed a similar number. In addition, there were nine unconfirmed victories and 20 damaged aircraft. However, the brigade had itself also lost 38 machines, or approximately 70 per cent of its strength. The city’s air defence began to crumble on September 5 when the military authorities ordered 11 of the AA batteries withdrawn from Warsaw towards Lublin, Brest-Litovsk and Lwow. The following day, September 6, the remnants of the Pursuit Brigade were also transferred from the Warsaw sector to Lublin.

With rumours of the rout of the Polish armies reaching the capital, thousands of inhabitants packed their belongings and fled to the east, only to meet up with other refugees heading westwards. At the same time, masses of people entered the city from the west, fleeing before the German invading forces. Stukas swooped down on the long columns of people, strafing and striking terror at leisure.

On September 4, Polish President Ignacy Moscicki and his government evacuated from Warsaw, transferring their seat to Lublin, 150 kilometres to the south-east. Commander-in-Chief Marshal Smigly-Rydz and the Polish General Staff also left the capital, on the night of September 6/7, moving to Brest-Litovsk, also 150 kilometres to the rear. Their departure led to further panic and chaos in the capital.

At one time, it had been the Government’s intention to declare Warsaw an `open city’, but this idea was now abandoned. The capital would be defended at all cost. On September 3, before he left, Smigly-Rydz ordered the creation of an improvised Warsaw Defence Command (Dowodztwo Obrony Warszawy). General Walerian Czuma, the head of the Border Guard (Straz Graniczna), was appointed its commander and Colonel Tadeusz Tomaszewski its Chief-of-Staff.

Initially the forces under command of General Czuma were very limited. Most of the city authorities had withdrawn together with a large part of the police forces, firefighters and military garrison. Warsaw was left with only four battalions of infantry and one battery of artillery. Also, the spokesman of the Warsaw garrison had issued a communiqué in which he ordered all young men to leave the city. To co-ordinate civilian efforts and counter the panic that threatened to engulf the capital, Czuma appointed the President (Lord Mayor) of Warsaw, Stefan Starzynski, as the Civilian Commissar of the capital. Starzynski immediately started to organise the Civil Guard to replace the evacuated police forces and the fire-fighters. He also ordered all members of the city’s administration to return to their posts. In his daily radio broadcasts he asked all civilians to construct barricades and anti-tank barriers at the city outskirts.

Defensive field fortifications were constructed mostly to the west of the city limits. Streets were blocked with barricades and overturned tram cars. Cellars of houses were turned into pillboxes. Gradually, the forces of General Czuma were reinforced with volunteers, as well as rearguard troops and various army units, primarily from the Lodz and Prusy Armies, retreating before the onslaught of German armoured units. One was a stray battalion of the 41st Infantry Regiment `Suwalski’ from the destroyed 29th Division. On September 7, the 40th Infantry Regiment `Children of Lwow’, part of the 5th Division and commanded by LieutenantColonel Jozef Kalandyk, was transiting through Warsaw towards previously assigned positions with the Pomorze Army. The unit was stopped and joined the defence of the capital.

By the 8th General Czuma had gathered some 17 infantry battalions under his command, supported by 64 pieces of artillery and 33 tanks. The latter – 27 light tanks of the Vickers E, 7-TP and R-35 types and six TK-3 and TKS tankettes – were formed into the 1st and 2nd Light Tank Companies.

The last Polish formation defending before Warsaw was the 13th Infantry Division, positioned near Koluszki in central Poland. After bitter fighting with Hoepner’s XVI. Armeekorps on September 6-7, its lines were broken by the 4. Panzer-Division, which captured the town of Tomaszow Mazowiecki, located 115 kilometres southwest of Warsaw, During the night (September 7/8), most of the soldiers of the 13th Division panicked and deserted, enabling the 4. Panzer-Division to carry on to Rawa Mozawiecka, another 35 kilometres closer to the Polish capital.


On the morning of September 8, the 4. Panzer-Division – now well ahead of the rest of the 10. Armee – made a lightning dash towards Warsaw, 80 kilometres away. Moving out at first light from Rawa Mozawiecka, with Panzer-Regiment 35 in the lead, it brushed aside pockets of enemy resistance and reached Radziejowice, 35 kilometres on. With Polish soldiers surrendering by the thousands, the panzers rushed forward another 35 kilometres to Wolica, an outer suburb south-west of Warsaw, hoping to secure crossings over the Utrata river at Raszyn. Attacking at 1.15 p. m., the panzers destroyed two Polish light tanks and pushed back the Polish infantry but they could not prevent the Poles from blowing up two bridges right in front of them. Undaunted, the light panzers forded the brook, while attached engineers from Pionier-Bataillon 79, protected by infantry from SchützenRegiment 12, quickly repaired the crossings. Soon the lead troops were approaching Okecie, the airfield right on the south-western edge of the metropolitan area. Panzer-Regiment 35 had reached the city limits of Warsaw.

Back at the divisional command post at Nadarzyn, ten kilometres to the rear, Generalleutnant Georg-Hans Reinhardt was just receiving a visit from his army and corps commanders, Generals Reichenau and Hoepner. Having heard rumours that the Poles had declared their capital an open city, the three generals did not expect serious resistance and together they worked out exact plans for the seizure of the city. The division was to advance in two columns, with Panzer-Regiment 35 and Schützen-Regiment 12 on the right and Panzer-Regiment 36 and Infanterie-Regiment 33 on the left. However, the latter three units were still moving up and it would take some time for them to reach the start line.

Up front, the commander of Panzer-Regiment 35, Oberst Heinrich Eberbach, thought he could take the city on the run. Conferring with Hoepner and Reinhardt, he recommended that the surprise of the enemy be exploited and that he be allowed to continue the advance without waiting for the rest of the division. Permission was granted. A Storch light aircraft hurriedly flew in a few street maps of Warsaw and a plan of attack was made. Entering from the south-west, the regiment’s II. Abteilung was to advance across Pilsudski Square and then cross the Vistula to the east bank; the I. Abteilung was to remain in the centre of the city. Aerial support for the attack was quickly arranged through Kesselring’s Luftflotte 1 (nominally in support of Heeresgruppe Nord) which sent in 35 Henschel HS 123 biplane divebombers from II./Lehrgeschwader 2.

At 5 p. m. Eberbach’s regiment began the assault, advancing towards the borough of Ochota. A few rounds were fired. Just beyond the Rakowiec settlement the houses momentarily stopped, an open area partly filled with suburban vegetable gardens stretching out before the tankers’ eyes. The tanks moved across a road bridge, the actual outskirts of the city being 400 metres beyond. As they entered the built-up area, the road ahead was blocked by a barricade of overturned streetcars and furniture trucks. Suddenly, a rain of fire fell on the force. From four-storied apartment buildings, ventilation openings in the rooftops, windows and basement openings, Polish soldiers of the 40th `Children of Lwow’ and 41st `Suwalski’ Regiments opened up on the tanks with everything they had. One of the few PzKpfw IV (the whole regiment had just eight of these in its 4. and 8. Kompanie) received a direct hit. It was recovered under fire but the attack was stalling.

By now the sun was setting. Realising that Warsaw was not an open city and that the Poles were strongly defending it, Eberbach called off the attack and withdrew his tanks behind the bridge. For now, all by itself and well ahead of the rest of the division, the regiment needed to secure itself on all sides.

At 7.15 p. m. that evening – a point in time when the panzers were still battling in Ochota – German radio already broadcast the OKW communiqué bringing the headline news that German troops had penetrated into Warsaw.

During the night, the remaining elements of the division caught up with Panzer-Regiment 35: the tanks of Panzer-Regiment 36, the infantry of Schützen-Regiment 12 and Infanterie-Regiment 33 and the divisional artillery. Thinking he was now strong enough to take the city, Generalleutnant Reinhardt ordered the attack to be repeated the following morning with all available forces. PanzerRegiment 35, supported by Schützen-Regiment 12, was to repeat its attack along the main road into Ochota. Panzer-Regiment 36, supported by Infanterie-Regiment 33 and two engineer companies, was to launch an attack from positions further to the north, along the main road leading into the borough of Wola.

At 7 a. m. on September 9, following a tenminute preparatory artillery barrage on the city’s edge, the 4. Panzer-Division again moved into the assault. Dive-bombing support was once more provided by Luftflotte 1, which had dispatched the HS 123s from II./LG2 and 140 Stukas from StG77 and III./StG51.

Leading the attack into Ochota, the I. Abteilung of Panzer-Regiment 35 (Hauptmann Meinrad von Lauchert), with infantry mounted on the tanks, once again rolled across the bridge, followed by more infantry and attached engineers. The first road barricade was eliminated. Despite strong Polish resistance a second bridge was taken and the tanks reached the streets of Warsaw. Once in the built-up area, the German infantry had to take each house and clear it. The Poles resisted fiercely with burst of machine-gun fire, hand-grenades dropped from above and tossed from cellar openings, even with blocks of stones dropped from the roofs. Anti-tank mines buried in the road verges and adjoining fields disabled several panzers. The fiercest fighting in Ochota was at the barricade erected near the junction of Grojecka and Siewierska Streets and defended by the 4th Company of the 40th Regiment.

The panzers attempted to continue by themselves. The lead tank, commanded by Leutnant Georg Claass of the 1. Kompanie, was hit by a well-camouflaged anti-tank gun. The first round failed to knock it out but the second set the vehicle on fire. Claass and his radio operator managed to bail out but both later succumbed to their wounds. The same Polish gun immobilised the vehicle of the regimental adjutant, Oberleutnant Heinz-Günther Guderian (the son of the panzer general). Dismounting and escaping through a courtyard gate, Guderian came across the tank of Leutnant Diergardt and a platoon of infantry. Taking both under his command he continued the attack.

Advancing through courtyards and gardens, Leutnant Wilhelm Esser and two platoons of tanks from the 2. Kompanie were able to advance as far as the railway line, where Polish defences knocked out his radio. Oberfeldwebel Ziegler in his PzKpfw III assumed command of the remaining vehicles and managed to advance as far as the main railway station. All by himself in the middle of the capital, he eventually had to pull back. Leutnant Gerhard Lange worked his way forward to an enemy artillery position and opened fire on the guns with everything he had. The Poles attacked by throwing shaped charges against his tracks, which tore off one of the roadwheels and blocked his turret, and he too had to pull back.

Throughout the battle the Stukas of StG77 and III./StG51 gave support by attacking the Polish main artillery positions which were located in Praga, on the far side of the city and east of the Vistula. In addition to divebombing the gun sites, they swooped down on the city’s main avenues and on the railways in an attempt to obstruct Polish troop movements.

Around 9 a. m. Oberst Eberbach committed the II. Abteilung (Major Wilhelm Hochbaum), which had been held in reserve and was supported by another battalion of Schützen-Regiment 12, to the area one kilometre north of the main road, where the Polish defences appeared less well organised. This force initially made good progress, overrunning Fort Szczesliwice, one of the old fortifications surrounding the capital. However, as they reached the park beyond, the mounted riflemen received rifle and machine-gun fire from the high-rises on the left. Just as they deployed to engage it, Polish artillery fell among them and a few vehicles caught fire. Meanwhile, Polish anti-tank guns stopped the advance of the tanks. Oberleutnant Heinz Morgenroth, the commander of the 8. Kompanie, was fatally wounded. Of the two panzer platoons that advanced into the park, only three tanks came back.

The story was much the same with PanzerRegiment 36, attacking north of the railway line and into Wola. Here too, well-placed Polish 75mm anti-tank guns firing at pointblank range, and the barricades erected on main streets, managed to repel the German assault. The civilian population took an active part in the fighting and the Germans were halted with severe losses.

On several occasions the Poles made up for their lack of armament by ingenuity. Colonel Zdzislaw Pacak-Kuzmirski, commander of the 8th Company of the 40th Regiment, found 100 barrels of turpentine in the Dobrolin Factory and ordered his men to position these in front of the barricade at the intersection of Wolska, Elekcyjna and Redutowa Streets. When the German armour approached, the liquid was ignited and several tanks were destroyed without a single shot being fired.

The TP-7 tanks of the Warsaw Defence Command were actively engaged in the battles. Those of the 1st Light Tank Company joined in the heavy fights around Okecie airport, but they were no match for the German panzers and suffered considerable losses. Those of the 2nd Company took part in the successful defence of Wola.

At 10 a. m., after three hours of fruitless attack, Generalleutnant Reinhardt saw that the fighting could not be prolonged if his division was to remain as an operational unit and ordered his men to retreat to their initial line of departure. Casualties in tanks and infantry had been very heavy. Of the 220 tanks that had taken part in the assault, some 80 had been lost. Panzer-Regiment 35 alone, which had started the assault with 120 tanks, had only 57 left operational, including a single Panzer IV. Even the command tank of Generalleutnant Max von Hartlieb-Walsporn, commander of the 5. Panzer-Brigade

(which controlled the two panzer regiments), was immobilised by anti-tank fire as it made its way back. When the XVI. Armeekorps sent an order to renew the attack immediately, Reinhardt drove back to the corps command post and convinced Hoepner that this was absolutely impossible. All that could be done for now was to lay siege to the capital from the west.

During the night, a large number of the disabled panzers, including some that had run over mines, were recovered by their crews, in some cases from out of the Polish lines. Additional reinforcements arrived in the form of Infanterie-Regiment Leibstandarte-SS `Adolf Hitler’ (mot.), the Führer’s bodyguard unit turned into a motorised infantry unit and commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich.

Warsaw 1939 II


Having warded off two consecutive ground attacks on the city, the defenders of Warsaw were now suddenly given a very welcome respite due to unexpected developments that were unfolding 100 kilometres west of the capital. That evening, September 9, the Poznan Army under Lieutenant-General Tadeusz Kutrzeba and the Pomorze Army under Lieutenant-General Wladyslaw Bortnowski launched a very strong surprise counter-attack against the left flank of the Heeresgruppe Süd forces advancing towards Warsaw.

With the two German pincers moving north and south of him, Kutrzeba’s army had until then been largely unaffected by the fighting and was still completely intact. As it moved back eastwards from Poznan, German army intelligence had somehow lost track of it and mistakenly assumed it had already pulled back behind the Vistula. Joining up with Bortnowski’s Pomorze Army, Kutrzeba saw a chance to strike at the northern flank of the German southern pincer. The Polish High Command initially turned down his proposal, ordering him to continue withdrawing to the Vistula, but early on the 8th he was given the green light. It was a desperate manoeuvre to stall the German advance and buy time for the organisation of Warsaw’s defence.

The attack, by eight infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades, fell on the 30. Infanterie-Division of Blaskowitz’s 8. Armee, which was holding a thin screening line along the Bzura river. The Poles inflicted considerable losses on the Germans, killing 1,500 and capturing 3,000 in the initial push. To avoid a serious reverse, Blaskowitz was compelled to completely suspend his army’s advance on Warsaw and divert all his troops to come to the rescue of the 30. Division. Nonetheless, the Germans were thrown back southwards some 20 kilometres.

Von Rundstedt and his Chief-of-Staff Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein initially underestimated the Polish advance and judged it a problem the 8. Army should solve by itself. However, on 11 September, realising they had a major crisis on their hands, they changed their mind and decided to redirect the main force of the 10. Armee plus army group reserves and most of the aircraft from Luftflotte 4 towards the Bzura. Thus reinforced, the Germans managed to hold the Poles in a vicious battle on a narrow front along the river. Raging for a full ten days, it developed into the largest, longest and single most-important battle of the campaign.

However, as a direct result of this Polish counter-offensive, the 4. Panzer-Division and the Leibstandarte-SS were withdrawn from Warsaw and sent westward to help stave off the threat. Their positions were taken over by the 31. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Rudolf Kämpfe), one of the follow-up divisions of the XVI. Armeekorps, the lead regiment of which – Infanterie-Regiment 82 – arrived in front of Warsaw on the 11th. Its troops were fatigued by long days of marching in hot weather and already weakened by earlier battles, so they were ordered for the time being to refrain from a direct attack on the city and just maintain siege positions. In this sense the attempt to buy time for Warsaw was a success. However, the aerial attacks on the city continued. On September 10, nicknamed `Bloody Sunday’, there were more than 70 German bombers above Warsaw and 17 consecutive bombing raids.

Meanwhile, there had been an organisational change on the Polish side. On September 8, the day of the first German assault, Marshal Smigly-Rydz had ordered the creation of an improvised Warsaw Army (Armia Warszawa) under Lieutenant-General Juliusz Rommel. Until then the commander of the Lodz Army on the border, Rommel had got separated from his operational forces and had just arrived in Warsaw with his staff (some critics say he more or less abandoned his army and defected to the capital). From his headquarters at Brest-Litovsk, Smigly-Rydz sent him a signed order to `defend the city as long as ammunition and food lasts, to hold as many of the enemy forces as possible’.

The newly-created army was composed of the forces defending Warsaw (under General Czuma); the garrison of Modlin Fortress – a 19th-century citadel located at the junction of the Vistula and the Narew rivers some 30 kilometres north of the capital and blocking a main approach to it (under Brigadier-General Wiktor Thommée) – as well as all Polish units defending the Narew and Vistula riverlines north-east and south of Warsaw. General Czuma continued as the commander of the Warsaw Defence Force, which he split into two sectors, one on each side of the Vistula: East (Praga) under LieutenantColonel Julian Janowski and West under Colonel Marian Porwit.

Meanwhile, the defenders of the city were joined by various units of the routed Prusy Army, notably the 44th Infantry Division (Colonel Eugeniusz Zongollowicz), a half-complete reserve formation made up of regiments of the Border Defence Corps (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza – KOP), which had been dispersed by the 1. Panzer-Division at Belchatow and had been ordered to head to Warsaw.

Other stray units came from the defeated Lodz Army, notably the 4th Battalion of the 30th Infantry Regiment from the 10th Division under Major Bronislaw Kaminski, which arrived on the 10th and took up defensive positions in Plackowka and Mlociny in north-western Warsaw.

In addition, several new units were created in the capital itself out of reserve centres of two Warsaw-based formations. Reservists from the 8th Infantry Division formed the 360th Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Jakub Chmura. It comprised five battalions which would be deployed at various points in the city’s defensive lines. The rear-echelon battalion of the 36th `Academic Legion’ Infantry Regiment, a unit made up mostly of university students, served as a core of the 336th Regiment. Split onto two separate units, the 1st and 2nd `Defenders of Praga’ Regiments under Colonels Stanislaw Milian and Stefan Kotowski respectively, it helped defend the Praga sector on the east bank of the Vistula.

During all this time, Stefan Starzynski, the Civilian Commissar of Warsaw, was a tower of strength in the besieged city. His daily radio speeches were crucial in keeping the morale of both soldiers and civilians high. Starzynski commanded the distribution of food, water and supplies as well as the firefighting brigades. Assisted by his Deputy, Julian Kulski, he also managed to organise shelter for almost all civilian refugees from other parts of Poland and for people whose houses had been destroyed by German bombing.


Meanwhile a new threat to Warsaw was developing from the north-east, this time coming from Heeresgruppe Nord. On September 10, von Küchler’s 3. Armee had broken through the Polish lines along the Narew river and started its march southwards, aiming to cut off Warsaw from the east. Its I. Armeekorps under Generalleutnant Walter Petzel crossed the Bug at Wyszkow on the 11th and was now rapidly approaching the capital.

As this new menace got near, the city’s garrison again received welcome reinforcements in the form of units from the Modlin Army pushed back by the German advance. The remnants of the 5th Infantry Division under Major-General Juliusz Zulauf reached Warsaw on the 14th, re-uniting with the division’s own 40th `Children of Lwow’ Regiment. With Zulauf’s force came the 21st `Children of Warsaw’ Regiment, commanded by Colonel Stanislaw Sosabowski (of later Battle of Arnhem fame), which had got separated from its parent 8th Division on the third day of the invasion and had fought its way back from the north by itself. The battered remains of the 20th Infantry Division under Colonel Wilhelm Andrzej Lawisz. Liszka arrived from Mlawa on the 15th. All new arrivals were incorporated into the Warsaw Army and assigned to the defence of Praga on the east bank, General Zulauf taking over command of the East sector from Lieutenant-Colonel Janowski.

They had just made it in time for on that same day – September 15 – the 61. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Siegfried Hänicke), leading element of the I. Armeekorps, reached the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. The Germans must have been unaware of the exact Polish positions in this part of the city, for a large column of troops came marching into Grochow, the south-eastern working-class borough of Praga, along Aleja Jerzego Waszyngtona (Washington Avenue), straight at the positions of Sosabowski’s 21st Regiment. His 1st Battalion opened up a hurricane of fire that took the enemy column completely by surprise. Stalled, the Germans tried to deploy into assault formations, bringing direct artillery fire and tanks to bear. Polish anti-tank guns positioned down the avenue knocked out two of the panzers but the Germans nonetheless managed to gain a foothold in eastern Grochow, wiping out a platoon of Polish riflemen that was covering the withdrawal of their company. However, the German advance was held at the next street and by 7 p. m. the attack had been repulsed. Sosabowski’s command tallied a loss of 320 men killed, wounded or missing.

The following day, September 16, another three of Küchler’s infantry divisions arrived at the eastern gates of Warsaw: the 11. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Max Bock), the 32. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Nikolaus von Falkenhorst) and the 217. Infanterie-Division (Generalmajor Richard Baltzer), the latter two both of the II. Armeekorps. Together with the 61. Division, they now formed an unbreakable cordon around Warsaw east of the Vistula. With the 31. Division of the 8. Armee enclosing much of the city on its western side, only a broad strip of land along the Vistula towards the Kampinos Forest in the north-west and the Modlin Fortress in the north now remained in Polish hands. Though not yet completely encircled, Warsaw was effectively under siege.

That morning, Sosabowski’s men were surprised to see an open car flying a large white flag, followed by two tanks with the crews standing up in the open turret, slowly coming down Washington Avenue towards the barricade on Grochow Street. It was a party of truce. The German parliamentaire, Major Kiewitz, commander of the I. Bataillon of Infanterie-Regiment 151 of the 61. Division, handed Sosabowski a letter addressed `to the Officer Commanding Warsaw’ and containing a demand for the surrender of the city. Sosabowski sent the note to General Rommel’s headquarters and within an hour the answer came back that the Army Commander would neither talk with, nor see, the enemy emissary.

Within two hours after Major Kiewitz returned to his lines, a furious artillery bombardment fell on the Polish positions. An hour later, at 5 p. m., the 11. Infanterie-Division launched an assault against Sosabowski’s regiment. Again, the Poles waited until the attackers had approached within 100 metres of their positions before opening a withering fire with rifles, machine guns and mortars. After three hours of bitter fighting, the assault was repulsed with heavy losses to the Germans, the attacking unit – Infanterie-Regiment 23 commanded by Oberst Johann-Georg Richert – being practically annihilated. A similar thing happened when Infanterie-Regiment 96 of the 32. Division attempted to enter Brodno in northern Praga. It was met with intense artillery and mortar fire and thrown back with heavy casualties, losing 150 men.

Meanwhile the battle for Poland was continuing. Well to the east of Warsaw, on Heeresgruppe Nord’s far left wing, von Kluge’s 4. Armee was speedily moving south. Its XIX. Armeekorps, under General der Panzertruppe Heinz Guderian, dashing forward far in advance of the infantry formations, had crossed the Narew at Wizna and, moving on east of the Bug, reached BrestLitovsk on September 14, capturing the citadel on the 16th.

Then, on September 17, Poland received a further shock when the Soviet Red Army, following the secret protocol of the German-Russian non-aggression pact signed in Moscow just three weeks earlier (August 23), entered the country from the east. With the Poles having no forces other than border guard troops to oppose this move, and many of these initially even being uncertain over whether to welcome or fight the new invaders, the Soviets rapidly occupied eastern Poland. Now under attack from all sides by two different countries, Poland was fighting a losing battle. Realising that defence had become impossible, Marshal Smigly-Rydz issued orders for all Polish forces to retreat towards Romania and avoid fighting the Soviet aggressors. The Polish government and High Command crossed into Romania, where they were interned.

On September 18 Guderian’s panzer corps made contact with armoured units of the 14. Armee of Heeresgruppe Süd at Wlodawa on the Bug river, 200 kilometres south-east of Warsaw, thus completing the planned giant pincer movement and the encirclement of virtually all Polish forces. The Germans soon met up with the Soviets, at Brest-Litovsk and elsewhere, beginning an uneasy alliance that would last just 22 months. (To their chagrin, they had to abandon some of the territory already won to the Russians, retiring to the pre-arranged boundary line.) Meanwhile, due west of Warsaw, the battle of attrition on the Bzura had reached its inevitable conclusion. Having halted the Polish attacks, the 8. Armee launched its own attack across the river. With the armoured and motorised troops from the 10. Armee rushing up from the south-east and east, and forces from the 4. Armee from Heeresgruppe Nord closing in from the north and north-west, the Germans soon managed to encircle the very considerable Polish forces in a large pocket around the town of Kutno. The battle of annihilation raged for a week but by September 19 it was all over and an estimated 170,000 Polish troops surrendered.

However, large fragments of the Poznan and Pomorze Armies managed to break through the German encirclement. Desperately fighting their way through the Kampinos Forest, they succeeded in reaching the Warsaw-Modlin perimeter, mostly around September 19 and 20, considerably reinforcing the latter’s defensive strength. From the Poznan Army came the bulk of the 25th Infantry Division (General Franciszek Alter) and two cavalry brigades (the Wielkopolska under Brigadier-General Roman Abraham and the Podolska under Colonel Leon Strzelecki); 431 survivors of the 14th Cavalry Ulan Regiment under Colonel Edward Godlewski, plus smatterings from three more infantry divisions, the 14th, 17th and 26th. The Pomorze Army brought in 1,500 survivors from the 15th Infantry Division (General Zdzislaw Przyjalkowski), the Pomorze Cavalry Brigade (Colonel Adam Bogoria-Zakrewski) and what little remained of the 4th and 16th Divisions. General Kutrzeba of the Poznan Army, who reached Warsaw on the 16th, was made deputy commander of Warsaw under General Rommel. General Bortnowski of the Pomorze Army had been heavily wounded on the Bzura and was captured on the 21st.

Two-thousand men of the 13th Division’s 43rd `Bayonne Legion’ Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Franciszek Zbigniew Kubicki), survivors of the rout against the XVI. Armeekorps on September 7, tried to fight their way towards besieged Warsaw, but were stopped by the 11. Infanterie-Division during a night battle in Falenica, a south-eastern suburb of Warsaw, on September 19. As a result, only a few hundred men of the division managed to reach the capital.

With these reinforcements – the last to come in – the Polish forces defending Warsaw had risen to approximately 100,000 soldiers.

Warsaw West (under Colonel Porwit) was divided into three subordinate zones:

In sub-sector North were the 60th Regiment (25th Division), the 4th Battalion of the 30th Regiment (10th Division), the 59th and 61st Regiments (15th Division) and the 1st Battalion of the 144th Infantry (44th Division) defending Bielany, Mlociny, Zoliborz, Powazki and Kolo, with the 3rd Battalion of the 26th Regiment (5th Division) holding an outer position near Wawrzyszew.

In sub-sector West were the 40th Regiment (5th Division) and the 2nd Battalion of the 41st Regiment (29th Division) holding Wola, Ochota and Rakowiec, with the 1st and 5th Battalions of the 360th Regiment and a Volunteer Workers Battalion defending outer positions at Blizne and Gorce Okulicki.

In sub-sector South, charged with the defence of Mokotow, Czernieskow and Sierkierki, were a Volunteer Workers Battalion, remnants of the 4th Battalion of the 21st Regiment, the 1st Hunters Battalion and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 360th Regiment.

Warsaw East (under General Zulauf) was divided into two zones:

In sub-sector North were the 78th, 79th and 80th Regiments of the 20th Division (Colonel Lawisz-Liszka), with the 1st Battalion of the 43rd Regiment (13th Division) attached, manning positions in Brodno, Pelcowizna and Elsnerow. In sub-sector South (commanded by Colonel Zongollowicz of the 44th Division) were the 26th Regiment (5th Division) defending the easternmost borough of Utrata; Sosabowski’s 21st Regiment (8th Division) guarding Grochow in the south-east, and the two `Defenders of Praga’ Regiments holding Saska Kepa and Goclaw in the south.

In general reserve were the 29th Regiment (25th Division), 56th and 62nd Regiments (15th Division), and the three cavalry brigades (the latter now amalgamated into a Combined Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier-General Graham), plus groups of light artillery and a heavy artillery group.

After the battle of the Bzura had ended, several of the German divisions from that battle rushed eastwards to tighten the ring around the Warsaw-Modlin perimeter. The XI. Armeekorps – with the 18. Infanterie-Division (Generalmajor Friedrich-Carl Cranz), 24. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Friedrich Olbricht) and 19. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Günther Schwantes) – progressively filled the line on the left of the 31. Division. The Leibstandarte-SS returned to take up positions between Warsaw and Modlin, Hitler having ordained that his elite SS force should be present to take its share of the glory of the upcoming final victory.

On the 22nd, the 3. (leichte) Division (Generalmajor Adolf Kuntzen) inserted itself to the right of the 31. Division, along the south side of the perimeter, only to be relieved two days later by two divisions from the XIII. Armeekorps, which had come marching up from the south-west and south: the 10. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Conrad von Cochenhausen) and the 46. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Paul von Hase).

Warsaw 1939 III

Map of the Battle of Warsaw. Germans-red, Poles-blue.


By September 19 1939 – the day Hitler made his triumphal entry into Danzig – the campaign in Poland was essentially over. The war of movement had come to an end and the bulk of the Polish armies had been destroyed. Except for a few isolated pockets of resistance remaining on the Soviet border and on the Baltic coast, only Warsaw and Modlin were still holding out. The perimeter that linked the two strongholds was completely surrounded and – as the German General Staff told Hitler – their fall was now merely a matter of time.

In mid-September, Hitler had personally intervened in the conduct of the campaign, not for military but for political reasons. Knowing the Soviets would soon invade Poland from the east, and that the agreed partition line between German and Soviet territory ran along the Vistula, he wished to make absolutely sure that Warsaw would fall before the Russians reached it, which was planned to happen on October 3. He therefore told his surprised generals that he wanted the city captured by September 30 at the latest. Rather than take it by a direct assault, he now chose to lay siege to the city and blast it into submission. He ordered von Rundstedt to assemble all his army group’s heavy artillery and mortars around the city and instructed Hermann Göring, the C-in-C of the Luftwaffe, to embark on a ruthless and all-out area bombing of the metropolis (Operation `Wasserkante’).

The renewed aerial offensive began on the 13th when 183 Stukas and He 111s from Löhr’s Luftflotte 4 dropped their loads on the north-western part of Warsaw. The Jewish quarters were especially hard hit. The attacks continued on a daily basis, reaching a new crescendo on the 17th. Although the orders instructed the pilots to concentrate on strategic and military targets, such as the city’s water, gas and electricity works, military barracks, ammunition dumps, artillery positions and command centres (specifically the Citadel, the War Ministry and the General Inspectorate of the Army) and traffic hubs, in actuality the bombers and dive-bombers engaged in an indiscriminate area bombing, which by necessity led to massive collateral damage and thousands of civilian casualties.

At the same time, German heavy and medium artillery, drawn up all around Warsaw under overall command of Generalmajor Johannes Zuckertort, began a ceaseless bombardment of the city, which added considerably to the damage and casualties. Every move in the Polish front line brought down a salvo of shells and mortar bombs and every crossroads was subjected to periods of concentrated fire. The heavy artillery included big railway guns, large-calibre siege guns and heavy mortars, one round of which could pulverise entire blocks of buildings. The civilian population lived permanently in a twilight of dust, acrid smoke and gloom of underground shelters.

The atmosphere in the beleaguered city had now turned decidedly bleak. All the shops were closed, with windows barred. No street was without damage. Broken water mains spouted fountains into the air and the smell of bust sewage pipes pervaded every corner. Many buildings had their windows shattered and walls scarred with shrapnel. Rescue workers were digging in smoking ruins, searching for survivors. Most of the inhabitants looked shabby and tired, many of them with blood-soaked bandages and the light of desperation in their eyes. Every cellar, subway, ditch and trench had its civilian occupants. Even in the front line there were women and children who could not be sent away. The troops shared out their food and water but it was a great problem to produce enough for all. Hospitals overflowed with wounded and thousands lay on blankets on stone floors waiting for attention from overworked doctors. Drugs and other medical supplies were getting scarce. With water mains hit so often that it was impossible to get water, fires blazed throughout the night, providing markers for the enemy pilots. Buildings collapsed without warning and burning gas mains lit up the debris-littered streets.

In the late afternoon of the 16th – shortly after General Rommel had refused the German demand for surrender and Colonel Sosabowski had sent back the German parliamentaire to his own lines – 12 Heinkel He 111s from I./KG4 dropped a million leaflets over Warsaw calling upon the civilian population to evacuate the city towards the east within 12 hours `in order to prevent useless bloodshed and the destruction of the city’. Loudspeaker vans, from positions close to the front line, blared out the same message.

The dropping of leaflets was repeated on the 18th, 19th, 22nd and 24th. The only result of the whole action was an agreement that enabled the entire diplomatic corps and all foreign nationals to leave the city. The 178 diplomats and 1,200 other foreigners crossed the lines at Marki, north-east of Warsaw, during a temporary truce on the morning of the 21st – an event that German propaganda exploited to the full to demonstrate Germany’s goodwill.

Meanwhile, there were outbursts of fierce fighting, mostly at night and mainly in the sector on the east bank of the Vistula. During the day, German machine guns sprayed the forward areas; the Polish guns mostly kept silent, unless they were certain of hitting a target, and many of the men slept in order to be fresh for night-fighting. Nearly every night, the Poles launched company-sized sallies against the German lines, or even regiment-sized break-out attempts to the east. On the 20th, the 11. Infanterie-Division repulsed one such attack, taking 100 prisoners.

On September 22 forces of the 18. and 24. Infanterie-Division, attacking eastwards from the Kampinos Forest, reached the Vistula between Warsaw and Modlin, thereby cutting the last remaining lines of communication between the two strongholds and splitting the Polish perimeter into two separate cauldrons. Warsaw was now truly surrounded by a continuous ring of German troops.

September 22 was also notable for a curious combat incident that happened on the German front line at Praga in eastern Warsaw. It involved Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch, the former Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (Commander-in-Chief of the Army), who was killed by a Polish sniper while openly moving about in the forward areas of the 61. Division. Fritsch had been relieved of his post by Hitler in February 1938, the victim of false accusations of homosexuality levelled against him in the so-called Blom-Fritsch Affair. Though later cleared of all blame, his reputation and honour were irretrievably stained and it is pretty certain that Fritsch chose to inspect the Warsaw front lines, where he had no real business, in order to seek death deliberately.


Meanwhile, everything was being readied for the final German assault on the besieged city. By now the forces surrounding Warsaw numbered eight divisions and some 175,000 soldiers. The plan was for a concentric attack by all divisions, with the main attack to be delivered by those of the XI. and XIII. Armeekorps from the west. On September 24, all German units, including those of the I. and II. Armeekorps of the 3. Armee east of the Vistula, were put under command of Blaskowitz’s 8. Armee, this to ensure good co-ordination in the forthcoming assault. Generalmajor Wolfram von Richthofen, the Fliegerführer z. b. V. in Luftflotte 4 (responsible for co-ordinating Stuka and other close-support operations), was put in overall command of the air formations deployed in the attack.

The final assault began on September 25 – `Black Monday’ as it came to be known by the people of Warsaw. As part of the offensive, the Luftwaffe launched its largest bombing raid to date. Starting at 8 a. m., some 370 aircraft from Luftflotte 1 – 240 Stukas from five different Geschwader (StG 51, 76 and 77, and LG1 and 2), 100 Dornier Do 17 bombers from KG77 and 30 Junkers Ju-52 transport planes from IV./Kampfgeschwader z. b. V. 1 – unloaded an endless stream of bombs and incendiaries on the city. The Stukas and Dorniers could only drop bombs, not incendiaries, and Heinkels 111 were not available, so the Ju 52s were used to drop the phosphor bombs, both from their bomb racks and with dispatchers manually shoving the ordnance out of the open cargo doors. Rotating from their bases, with each crew flying three or four sorties, the 370 aircraft dropped a total of 500 tons of high-explosive bombs and 72 tons of incendiaries on the city. Warsaw became an inferno. The entire centre was badly damaged. In parts it was hardly possible to recognise streets as all the landmarks disappeared under the rubble. Columns of black smoke rose high above the city.

For the Germans the air operation was a mixed success. The few remaining Polish anti-aircraft guns, firing off their last rounds, managed to shoot down two of the slow-moving Junkers. As the day went on, smoke from fires and large clouds of dust obscured targets and greatly reduced accuracy. As a result, a significant number of the bombs landed on German infantry positions in the north-west suburbs, leading to acrimonious discussions between Luftwaffe and Army commanders.

Among those observing the bombing that day was Hitler himself. Ever since September 4, the Führer and his Führerhauptquartier retinue had been touring the Polish battleground, visiting command posts, meeting troops, inspecting destroyed Polish materiel and viewing battered fortifications. On the 22nd he had already observed besieged Warsaw from the balcony of the tower of a race and sports stadium overlooking Praga in the 3. Armee sector, but today his schedule included a visit to the 8. Armee west of the city, timed to coincide with the start of the final assault and the culmination of the aerial and artillery bombardment of the beleaguered city. Using trench binoculars, Hitler and his entourage observed the bombing and shelling, watching the columns of smoke billowing up from the built-up area.

Meanwhile, the German land assault was underway. Starting at dawn, five infantry divisions assailed the western half of the city – anti-clockwise from north to south the 18. and 19. Infanterie-Division (under XI. Armeekorps) and the 31., 10. and 46. Infanterie-Division (under XIII. Armeekorps). The offensive was supported by 70 batteries of field artillery, 80 batteries of heavy artillery and the entire available Stuka and closesupport capability of Luftflotten 1 and 4.

The initial attacks focused on capturing the various 19th-century forts that ringed the city and formed the outer core of the Polish defences. Each was to be tackled by assault teams of infantry and engineers equipped with ladders, pontoons, flame-throwers and explosive charges. In the 18. Division sector, teams from Infanterie-Regiment 51 and Pionier-Bataillon 48 managed to take Fort I (Mlociny) but failed to take Fort II (Wawrzyszew). In the 19. Division zone, Infanterie-Regiment 74 succeeded in taking possession of Fort III (Blizne) but the attack against Fort IIa (Babice) by Infanterie-Regiment 73 was repulsed with heavy casualties. In the 10. Division area, after a two-hour fight, assault teams from Infanterie-Regiment 20 and Pionier-Bataillon 10 seized Fort Mokotow, one of the city’s inner ring of fortifications, taking 269 prisoners. Further to the right, in the 46. Division sector, InfanterieRegiment 42 and Pionier-Bataillon 62, after an initial setback, captured Fort Pilsudski, another of the inner forts.

Although four key forts had now been captured, the Germans were unable to push on across the open ground beyond and nowhere the attacking forces made much headway. By evening all attacks were halted, to be resumed the following morning. During the night, the Polish forces counter-attacked and managed to destroy several German outposts, especially in Mokotow in the south and Praga in the east.

The story was much the same on the 26th. Again three of the forts were taken. The 18. Division in its second attempt managed to capture Fort II and the 19. Division grabbed hold of Fort IIa. In the 46. Division zone, Infanterie-Regiment 72 together with assault engineers of Pionier-Bataillon 88, after a bitter and prolonged fight, took possession of Fort IX (Dabrowskiego) at Czerniakow, taking 475 prisoners. Everywhere, the Polish garrison fought back with great courage and determination, and German progress remained slow, gains being measured in just a few hundred metres. Casualties were heavy on both sides.


Despite having held off and slowed down the first blows of the offensive, the situation for the Polish commanders in Warsaw was now clearly and utterly hopeless. Although the garrison was still sufficiently strong in manpower to defend the city for several more weeks, it was only a question of time before their ammunition, rations and supplies would run out. Worse, the plight of the capital’s civilian population had become completely intolerable. The constant bombardment had resulted in heavy and mounting casualties. The destruction of the waterworks had caused a lack of both drinking water and water with which to extinguish the many fires raging all over the city. There was a lack of food and medical supplies and the hospitals were overtaxed by thousands of wounded soldiers and civilians. Irrespective of all that, strategically, the lack of support from the Western Allies, and the Soviet Union’s entry into the war, had made any further defence of the city completely pointless.

In the late afternoon of the 26th General Rommel called a `council of defence’ to discuss the situation. Among those attending were Mayor Starzynski and Generals Kutrzeba, Czuma, Zulauf, Alter and Abraham. After listening to each participant’s views, Rommel announced his decision to open surrender negotiations with the Germans. All agreed and General Kutrzeba was appointed head of the parliamentary delegation.

Early on the morning of September 27 Kutrzeba and Colonel Aleksander Praglowski, Rommel’s Chief-of-Staff, crossed the German lines to begin the capitulation talks. At 9.30 a. m. they met with General Blaskowitz. Many German units, as soon as news of the surrender talks reached them, immediately stopped their attack operations. At noon a cease-fire agreement was signed and all fighting halted.

The formal capitulation was signed by General Kutrzeba at 1.15 p. m. the following day (September 28) in the 8. Armee’s command bus parked at the Skoda engine works at Rakowiec in south-western Warsaw. The surrender terms stipulated the following:

On September 29 all Polish units were to lay down their arms in specified areas; disarmed units were to gather in indicated areas; barricades, road-blocks and trenches on the main roads were to be destroyed and mines removed; units were to march out of Warsaw along certain routes according to a programme, under their own officers; privates and NCOs were to be released from prisoner of war camps and returned home after a few days; officers were to go to POW camps but to retain their sabres; officers not surrendering would, on capture, be treated as criminals and not accorded rights under the Geneva Convention; and troops were to carry enough food for three days.

Several of the Polish units declined to put down their weapons and stop firing, and their commanding officers had to be visited by Generals Czuma and Rommel personally. Many units chose to hide or destroy their heavy armament rather than surrender it. The few remaining 7-TP tanks were destroyed by their crews. (Some of the hidden war material would later be used during the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944). At 6 p.m. on September 29 the evacuation of Polish forces to German prisoner of war camps started. It continued all day on the 30th. The following day, October 1, German units entered the city. The battle for Warsaw was over.

Hohentwiel Fortress

The fortress resisted five Imperial sieges in the Thirty Years’ War, under the command of Konrad Widerholt between 1634 and 1648. The effect was that Württemberg remained Protestant, while most of the surrounding areas returned to catholicism in the Counterreformation.

The mountaintop fortress of Hohentweil under attack in October 1641.

1643 illustration of Festung Hohentwiel (Hohentwiel Fortress), near modern Singen, Germany.

The only feasible way from Alsace for an army is around the southern end of the Black Forest where the route divided. One branch ran north east to the upper reaches of the Danube around the Württemberg enclave of Tuttlingen and thence to Bavaria. This route was overlooked by the duke’s impregnable castle of Hohentwiel perched on an extinct volcano 263 metres above the surrounding plain. The other branch ran east through the towns of Überlingen, Lindau and Radolfzell along the northern shore of Lake Constance to the Bregenzer Klause, the pass giving access to the Tirol and Valtellina. The area between the lake, the Danube and the Bavarian frontier was studded with walled imperial cities, notably Ravensburg, Kempten, Memmingen, Ulm and Augsburg. The emperor was rarely able to devote significant resources to defending these positions, despite a strategic importance that grew with French intervention in 1635. Defence was left largely to local militia, especially in Villingen and the imperial city of Rottweil which guarded the back door from Württemberg through the Black Forest to Breisach.

Sweden Loses Southern Germany

Against this the Habsburg loss of 2,000 seemed slight and enabled them to claim a major triumph. Following a long succession of defeats, Nördlingen appeared to be vindication for Wallenstein’s murder and cemented the influence of Gallas and Piccolomini by associating them with victory. As at Breitenfeld, the scale was magnified by the demoralization of the enemy army. News of the defeat reached Frankfurt on 12 September along with a flood of refugees. The remaining Heilbronn delegates fled the next day. Oxenstierna tried to improvise a new line of defence along the Main to contain the defeat to the south. No one cooperated. Johann Georg failed to launch the requested diversionary attack against Bohemia, while Duke Georg refused to move south to hold the middle section of the river. Wilhelm of Weimar abandoned Franconia and fell back with 4,000 men to his base at Erfurt, exposing the upper Main to Piccolomini and Isolano who approached with 13,000 troops from Nördlingen and north-west Bohemia. Piccolomini took Schweinfurt, while Isolano destroyed the Suhl arms workshops that had supplied most of the Swedes’ small arms and munitions since 1631. Isolano and 6,000 Croats then swept down the Main in November, rampaging into the Hessian possession of Hersfeld.

The main imperial army moved west, bypassing Ulm to enter Stuttgart on 19 September. Duke Eberhard III fled to Switzerland and the last Württemberg fort surrendered in November. Only the isolated Hohentwiel on the upper Danube held out. While the Imperialists made themselves at home, the Spanish continued westwards and the Bavarians, now under the command of Werth, captured Heidelberg on 19 November, though its castle remained defiant. Riding ahead, Werth’s cavalry harried the remnants of Bernhard’s army as it fled to Frankfurt. The commanders of Sweden’s Rhine army refused to join him, on the ground this would spread demoralization to their own troops. Birkenfeld abandoned Heilbronn and retreated to the Kehl bridgehead opposite Strasbourg. His hopes of replacing Bernhard were dashed by Oxenstierna, who felt there was no realistic alternative to the defeated general. The death of Count Salm-Kyrburg to plague on 16 October enabled Bernhard to incorporate the former Alsatian units into his command.

Leaving Werth and Duke Charles to complete the conquest of the Lower Palatinate, Fernando continued his march down the Rhine, crossing at Cologne on 16 October to reach Brussels nineteen days later. Meanwhile, Philipp Count Mansfeld collected the Westphalians at Andernach, allegedly accompanied by a hundred coach-loads of Catholic lords and clergy eager to recover their property. As Philipp marched south, it looked as if Bernhard would be crushed between his hammer and Gallas’s anvil.

The situation mirrored that of 1631, only this time Protestant areas were the ones affected as government collapsed in the wake of the headlong flight of Sweden’s German collaborators. Suffering was also more general because the plague hindered the harvest, causing widespread hardship. There were signs that Emperor Ferdinand had learned the lessons of 1629 as efforts were made to restrain over-zealous Catholics. He intervened to stop Bishop Hatzfeldt punishing the Franconian knights for collaborating with the Swedes and the Jesuits were refused permission to take over Württemberg’s university at Tübingen. Political considerations undoubtedly influenced this, since Vienna did not want to jeopardize promising negotiations with Saxony. Archduke Ferdinand’s presence was another moderating factor. However, it often proved impossible to stop officers and administrators exploiting the situation, either to enrich themselves or to find cash for the perennially underpaid imperial army. Catholic government resumed relatively quickly in Würzburg despite the Swedish garrison holding out on the Marienberg and in Königshofen until January and December 1635 respectively.

Oxenstierna worked feverishly to salvage what he could of the situation, reconvening the Heilbronn League congress at Worms on 2 December. Though some members were willing to fight on, most sought a way out through Saxon mediation. Saxon and Darmstadt envoys agreed draft peace terms, known as the Pirna Note, on 24 November. Oxenstierna tried to stem desertion by publishing what he could discover of the terms, notably the suggestion of 1627 as a new normative year that would secure many of the Catholic gains.

Partisan Leaders

The horrendous losses of the 1638 Rhine campaign were a major factor behind this decline. Bernhard of Weimar was determined to achieve the objective set the year before and establish a firm foothold for France east of the river. This time he prepared thoroughly. Since he had wintered in Mömpelgard and the bishopric of Basel, he was already close to the stretch of the Rhine along the Swiss frontier to Lake Constance. This route offered an alternative to the previous year’s attempt to punch directly across the Black Forest. Though he had been joined in person by Rohan, who had escaped from the Valtellina, he still had few troops. Savelli’s Imperialists held Rheinfelden with 500 men, with other garrisons in Waldshut, Freiburg and Philippsburg and Reinach’s regiment in Breisach. These posts would have to be taken if the river was to be secured. He also needed a base beyond the Black Forest to tap the richer resources of Württemberg and the Danube valley.

Fortunately, Bernhard had an excellent spy network and knew how weak his opponents were. He also had the services of Colonel Erlach, a veteran of Dutch service who had been wounded at White Mountain and subsequently served Mansfeld and Sweden until 1627. Since then he had commanded the militia of his homeland, the Protestant canton of Bern. He joined Bernhard’s army in September 1637, although he did not leave Bernese service until the following May. His contacts with the canton’s patriciate ensured a good flow of supplies to Bernhard’s army.

Erlach also opened negotiations with Major Widerhold, a Hessian who was the Württemberg militia’s drill instructor and commandant of the Hohentwiel, the duchy’s only fortress still holding out against the emperor. Though he has now faded from the local popular consciousness, Widerhold occupied a prominent place in Swabian patriotic folklore into the twentieth century. He exemplifies the partisan leaders who played an increasingly important role as the rapid escalation of the conflict left numerous isolated garrisons scattered across the Empire. These sustained themselves by raiding and acted as potential bases should friendly forces return to their area. The Swedes in Benfeld, Ruischenberg’s Imperialists in Wolfenbüttel and Ramsay’s Bernhardines in Hanau are three examples encountered already. Others included the Hessians in Lippstadt under the Huguenot refugee Baron St André and his subordinate, Jacques Mercier from Mömpelgard, known as Little Jacob, who rose through the ranks of Hungarian, Bohemian, Russian and Dutch service. Both were contemporary celebrities incorporated by Grimmelshausen into his novel. A counterpart in Habsburg service was the Swiss patrician Franz Peter König, ennobled in 1624 as von Mohr, who distinguished himself in skirmishes around Lake Constance in the early 1630s. As these background sketches indicate, such men generally came from relatively humble backgrounds and made reputations and fortunes through daring exploits. They never rose to command armies and were often difficult to control. König was dismissed after becoming embroiled in a feud with the highly disagreeable Wolfgang Rudolf von Ossa, Habsburg military commissioner for south-west Germany.

Widerhold acted nominally in the name of Duke Eberhard III of Württemberg, but pursued his own agenda. Mixing terror with benevolence, he spared the immediate vicinity of the Hohentwiel and concentrated on longer-range raids against Catholic communities, forcing 56 villages, monasteries and hamlets to provision his garrison that rose to 1,058 men and 61 guns by the end of 1638. He was well-supplied with intelligence from friendly villagers who often participated in his plundering expeditions. He returned the favour on his death, leaving a large endowment for the local poor. His exploits became legendary. Once he caught the bishop of Konstanz out hunting and stole his horse and silver, and later he netted 20,000 talers by capturing the local imperial war chest in Bahlingen.

Blockaded since Nördlingen, Widerhold agreed to remain neutral after February 1636 because of renewed talks to include Württemberg in the Prague amnesty. Ferdinand III made surrender a condition for restoring Eberhard III in 1637, but Widerhold ignored ducal orders to comply and declared for Bernhard in February 1638. He remained a constant thorn in the Habsburg side, not least by raiding the Tirolean enclaves, and did not submit to ducal authority until 1650.


By draining other regions of their troops, Ferdinand III managed to collect 44,000 men in Bohemia by January 1640. Of these, only 12,400 were available as a field army under Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, reinforced by 4,100 under Hatzfeldt who had wintered in Franconia. Piccolomini was down to 13,000 in Westphalia, while the Saxons mustered 6,648, or only a quarter of their strength five years earlier. The Brandenburgers had effectively been knocked out. The Bavarians still totalled about 17,000 men, most of whom were on the Upper Rhine where there were perhaps 10,000 in total, including a few Imperialists. The rest were in winter quarters around Donauwörth and Ingolstadt. As these figures suggest, it was now very difficult to launch major operations in more than one region at a time.

His enemies were in a similar position. Banér was reduced to 10,000 effectives, while the other Swedish commanders had only enough men to hold their current positions. Banér had little choice but to evacuate Bohemia in March and fall back the way he had come the previous year to join Königsmarck at Erfurt. The units left to hold Saxony were defeated at Plauen on 20 April 1640, forcing the garrison in Chemnitz to surrender while most of the others abandoned their positions.

The challenge over the coming two years was for France and Sweden to establish a viable framework for military and political cooperation that had to include the Hessians and Guelphs, while Ferdinand pinned his hopes on frustrating this with one last effort to rally all Germans behind the Prague settlement. The emperor’s preference for negotiation was cruelly exploited by the Guelphs and Hessians who had used the winter to gather their strength and now declared their hand in May 1640. Duke Georg did this openly by sending troops to Banér, counting on Swedish help to prevent an invasion of Hildesheim. He nominally mustered 20,000, but in fact had 6,000 at Göttingen and garrisons along the Weser, plus a field force of 4,500 under Klitzing. Amalie Elisabeth acknowledged her French alliance in March, but still promised to respect the truce in Westphalia. With French agreement, Melander moved the 4,000-strong Hessian field force east to the Eichsfeld in May to reinforce Banér. Richelieu summoned de Longueville from Italy, hoping that he possessed sufficient personal authority as a duke to master the 8,000-strong Bernhardine field army. This moved back down the Rhine to join the allied concentration.

The emperor was obliged to match these moves. He still hoped to win over the Hessians and so accepted Amalie Elisabeth’s assurances. Nonetheless, Wahl, the new Cologne commander, was authorized to recover the positions her troops had seized over the last two years in breach of the truce. Hessian garrisons also became bolder, now raiding Paderborn. Piccolomini followed Melander east and joined Leopold Wilhelm at Saalfeld, south of Erfurt, on 5 May. They entrenched to block the way into Franconia. After a two-week stand-off, Banér fell back north-west into Lower Saxony, alarming the Guelphs who feared he would abandon them. Once they had promised another 5,000 men, he marched south again to Göttingen and Kassel. Leopold Wilhelm shadowed him, moving through Hersfeld to entrench again at Fritzlar in August. It was cold all year, the summer was wet and miserable and food proved hard to find. Banér’s second wife died and de Longueville fell ill, relinquishing command to Guébriant again. The Bavarian field army arrived from Ingolstadt, bringing Leopold Wilhelm back up to 25,000 men. After another four-week stand-off, Banér withdrew, allowing the archduke to advance north down the Weser to join Wahl’s 4,000 field troops. Together, they took Höxter in October, but the men were exhausted and ill-disciplined. The weather grew windy and even colder. Leopold Wilhelm retreated south to winter at Ingolstadt. Banér left 7,000 to blockade Wolfenbüttel, while the rest of his army made themselves comfortable at the expense of the Guelphs’ villagers.

Seemingly uneventful, this campaign completely shifted the war’s focus to northern Germany, transplanting the ‘little war’ of outposts from Westphalia to the Upper Rhine instead. Under Erlach’s direction, the Bernhardine garrisons operated from Breisach and the Forest Towns in conjunction with Widerhold in the Hohentwiel. The Bavarians retaliated from Philippsburg, Heidelberg and Offenburg, while the Imperialists sortied from Konstanz and Villingen. Neither side managed to spare more than 3,000 men from their fortresses, severely restricting what they could achieve. Erlach helped disrupt plans to besiege the Hohentwiel in 1640 by sending cavalry to collect the Swabian harvest. Claudia scraped together another expedition against Widerhold in 1641, but heavy snow and lack of food forced this to be abandoned in January 1642. Erlach and Widerhold scored the only success, briefly combining the following January to take Überlingen by surprise.

The Freiburg Campaign

The situation appeared promising for the emperor at the beginning of 1644. Sweden’s decision to attack Denmark at the end of the previous year removed the threat to the Habsburg hereditary lands. The forces there were reduced to 11,000 men under the rehabilitated Field Marshal Götz, allowing Ferdinand to mass 21,500 under Gallas who marched down the Elbe to help the Danes. Buoyed by their success at Tuttlingen the previous year, Mercy’s Bavarians totalled 19,640, or twice the size of France’s Army of Germany despite Mazarin spending 2 million livres to rebuild it during the winter. This was the first time since 1637 that the emperor and his allies began the year with an army large enough to go on the offensive on the Upper Rhine.

General Turenne had been recalled to command in Alsace, but his forces were too weak to fulfil Mazarin’s expectations of conquering land beyond the Black Forest. Mercy attacked instead, retaking Überlingen on 10 May, eliminating the last French gain from 1643. Having been repulsed from the Hohentwiel, he left 1,000 men to blockade Widerhold’s garrison and crossed the Black Forest to recover the areas lost in the 1638 campaign. Turenne was forced to abandon his own advance through the Forest Towns, double back into Alsace and re-cross to save Breisach. Duke Charles broke off another of his periodic negotiations and renewed raiding into Lorraine. Mazarin was obliged to redirect d’Enghien from covering Champagne to retrieve the situation on the Rhine. Despite dashing 33km a day, d’Enghien arrived too late to save Freiburg, which had surrendered to the Bavarians after a prolonged bombardment on 29 July.