Austria Rebels Against Napoleon

Napoleon at Wagram, painted by Horace Vernet

Archduke Charles with his staff during the battle Aspern.

The Lightning Campaign of Five Days (APRIL 19-24, 1809)

Without a formal declaration of war, the Austrian army opened hostilities on April 8, 1808, by invading Bavaria.

Yet again, Napoleon had to leave his desk to take command of the army, once more leaving important matters in suspense. His strong sense of annoyance was reflected in his traditional proclamation to the troops, in which he clearly denounced the warmonger:

Soldiers: The territory of the Confederation has been violated. The Austrian general wants us to flee at the sight of his arms and to abandon our allies. I will be with you at the speed of light. Soldiers, you surrounded me when the Austrian sovereign came to my bivouac in Moravia. You heard him ask for my clemency and swear eternal friendship. Defeated in three wars, Austria owes everything to my generosity: three times it has perjured itself. Our past successes are a certain talisman of victory that awaits us. Let us march, and at sight of us the enemy will recognize their conquerors!

Commanded by Archduke Charles, the Austrian army was a family affair. Composed of 320,000 active soldiers and 200,000 Landwehr (the recently created territorial militia), this army was divided into three groups: (1) Opposite the Rhine, a striking force of 220,000 combatants under the direct orders of Archduke Charles. Archduke Ludwig commanded a corps; (2) In Italy, 60,000 soldiers commanded by Archduke Johann; (3) Opposite Poland, Archduke Ferdinand had 20,000 men. In the capital, Vienna, a garrison of 20,000 remained under the authority of Archduke Maximilian.

A European force of more than 270,000 men, Napoleon’s army was not composed of his best troops, who were engaged in Spain. The emergency mobilization of this army was barely completed in time. It was deployed in four theaters: in Germany, the Army of the Rhine, with 180,000 combatants under the direct control of the emperor; in Italy, 60,000 soldiers commanded by Prince Eugene; in Dalmatia, 15,000 men with Marmont at their head; and in Poland, a corps of 15,000 Poles commanded by Poniatowski.

Once again, Napoleon’s military genius achieved miracles. In only five days, and despite his great inferiority of numbers, he overthrew and routed the army of Archduke Charles, who barely escaped in Bohemia. Each of these days was marked by a stunning victory: the 19th at Tengen, the 20th at Abenberg, the 21st at Landshut, the 22nd at Eckmuhl, and the 23rd at Ratisbon. In his victory proclamation, Napoleon boasted of “50,000 prisoners, 100 cannon, 40 colors, 3,000 harnessed wagons, and all the regimental strongboxes.”

The cost to the enemy would have been much heavier if Napoleon had possessed sufficient cavalry, much of which had been left behind in Spain, for the pursuit. Vienna capitulated on May 13. In Italy, Archduke Johann retreated to Hungary, where he suffered defeat at Raab on June 14.

The conquest of Vienna did not end the war, however. The Austrian army had suffered very heavy losses but was not completely out of action. Its remnants regrouped and reorganized east of the capital, sheltered by the Danube. There would be no peace without a decisive victory on the far bank of that river.

The emperor would have to reengage the Austrians twice more: at Essling (also known as Aspern) on May 21-22 and at Wagram on July 5-6.

The Lost Victory of Aspern-Essling

In the aftermath of capturing Vienna, the emperor decided to pursue Archduke Charles. He crossed the Danube some ten kilometers south of Vienna, opposite the island of Lobau, using it as a platform from which to launch a bridgehead. For this purpose, he had a great bridge constructed across the wider arm of the river, on the friendly side, as well as a shorter bridge on the enemy side.

The French established a bridgehead on May 21, including the villages of Aspern and Essling. The bridgehead successfully withstood the Austrian counterattack and continued to expand. The next day, Napoleon personally commanded a general offensive. Beaten, the Austrians retreated in disorder. Lannes was on the verge of penetrating the Austrian line when the news arrived that the great bridge had been destroyed by fire rafts that the enemy had launched from upstream in the Danube. The flooded Danube made this particularly destructive. Davout’s corps, which was supposed to exploit the breach, was unable to reach the battlefield. The victory was lost!

The archduke immediately exploited this gift from heaven. With a numerical superiority of four to one, he counterattacked with all his forces, aiming to destroy the bridgehead that suddenly had been deprived of all hope of support.

A nameless butchery ensued, impossible to avoid for lack of any room to maneuver. Aspern and especially Essling were taken and retaken repeatedly. The slaughter was equal on both sides. Lannes, the “Roland” of the army, was mortally wounded. Gazing helplessly at this carnage, Napoleon barely escaped himself on several occasions.

The bridgehead resisted all day. Yet, its survival depended on withdrawing to the other bank of the river. During the night, Massena performed a masterwork in the delicate task of disengagement.

Because of this bridge, the emperor lost a decisive victory while mourning the cost of 18,000 killed and wounded, slightly less than the Austrian casualties. The decisive battle remained to be fought.

The Expensive Peace of Wagram

After the butchery of Aspern-Essling, the two belligerents had to lick their wounds and reorganize, which explains the forced 43-day truce that followed the battle.

Encouraged by his partial success at Essling, the Archduke decided to give battle on the Marschfeld between the Danube and Wagram. He had reorganized his forces, bringing them up to 180,000 men and more than 400 cannon.

Napoleon transformed the island of Lobau into a gigantic operational base crowded with a strike force of 150,000 men and 450 guns.

All Europe held its breath. On a field measuring 15 by 10 kilometers, more than 300,000 men confronted each other in a sort of judgment of God, to the deafening sound of 800 artillery pieces. No one had ever seen a battle of such scope.

Napoleon opened hostilities on July 4. While making a diversion toward Aspern, he launched a surprise crossing of the Danube during the night of the 4th to the 5th under cover of the sound of the river, and three kilometers away from the diversion. Without pausing, he attacked the Austrian positions all along the line.

The archduke expected an envelopment, especially on his left so as to cut the natural line of communication with Bohemia, from which must come any reinforcement from Archduke Johann. This was the type of maneuver that any good tactician might undertake and that the emperor had taught the Austrian army to expect during the past 13 years. Yet, Napoleon again deceived his adversary. His secret thrust was to strike where he was not expected, at the vulnerable point in the enemy’s dispositions. Reinforcing the wings of the Austrian line out of fear of an envelopment had of necessity weakened the center. It was there that Napoleon would apply his offensive effort. And at that point stood Wagram.

After several hours of relentless combat, Wagram was on the point of being taken and the Austrian line broken. At that moment, a foolish event occurred that put everything at risk. Reaching the Wagram plateau, two of Bernadotte’s Saxon battalions were attacked by Macdonald’s Italians, who mistook them for Austrians because of similarities of uniform. This produced a rout in Bernadotte’s corps, a rout that the Imperial Guard had enormous difficulty in containing. Oudinot’s neighboring corps was constrained to pull back to protect its flank, and the Austrians profited by sealing the breach in their lines.

An imminent victory dissipated in a few seconds. Night approached, forcing the opponents to recommence on the next day, July 6.

But this time it was the Archduke who took the initiative, undoubtedly emboldened by the French disappointment of the previous day. Beginning at 4:00 a.m., he launched a violent attack on the French right, held by Davout, as much to preempt any attempt at envelopment as to make a diversion. Soon thereafter he attacked Massena on the left wing, along the Danube, with the evident intention of cutting Napoleon’s communications with the island of Lobau and seizing its bridges. The archduke attempted to strike a blow similar to that of Napoleon at Friedland.

Napoleon was on the point of succeeding when Bernadotte’s Saxons again routed, dangerously exposing the right wing of Massena, who already had all he could handle. Under fire, the emperor moved quickly to Massena. With one accord, the two organized a defensive block to halt the Austrian envelopment.

Napoleon did not forget his own plan, which the archduke’s dangerous offensive had indirectly favored. Charles’ pronounced effort on his right had of necessity denuded his center, in the area of Aderklaa-Wagram. In that region, the emperor rapidly reassembled a striking force destined to slice open the Austrian line.

At 9:00 a.m., the emperor ordered a general counter-attack. All units advanced at the same time. In the center, on which everything depended, the artillery concentration would enter history under the name of the “Battery of Wagram.” Concentrated on a one-kilometer front before the assault troops, more than 100 cannon fired simultaneously, pulverizing everything with their shot and shell. Continuing to fire, they advanced in good order for two kilometers, always in the lead. After having thus opened the breach, the artillery gave way to Macdonald’s infantry as well as the cavalry and the Grenadier Guards.

At 2:00 p.m., Archduke Charles recognized his defeat and ordered a timely general withdrawal toward Bohemia, thereby permitting a large portion of his forces to escape Davout’s pincer movement. Disheartened, the Landwehr recruits threw down their arms and went home. The exhaustion of the French troops prevented an immediate pursuit.

Despite this delay, the Austrian rear guard was defeated at Znaim on July 11. Fearing total destruction, the archduke requested an armistice, which Napoleon authorized against the advice of his marshals. “Enough blood has been shed!” he told them in the episode already recounted.

At Wagram, the Austrians lost 44,000 killed, wounded, and captured, as well as 20 cannon and ten regimental colors. The French suffered 30,000 killed and wounded. Among the dead was the legendary light cavalryman General Charles Lasalle. The 1809 campaign in Germany was finished, giving way to peace negotiations.

Speculating on the results of the British landing in the Netherlands, the Machiavellian Klemens von Metternich, who had replaced Stadion as Austria’s foreign minister, temporized for three months. The disastrous outcome of the British expedition at Walcheren on September 30 convinced him to sign the Treaty of Vienna on October 4, 1809.

Napoleon permitted Francis to retain his crown, but severely punished his perjury by reducing the Habsburg possessions. Bavaria, an active and courageous ally of France, received the Austrian region of the Inn. Russia, surprisingly, gained a portion of Galicia (Ternopol). This gift to a fainthearted ally illustrated Napoleon’s obsession with peace in the east. He would be poorly repaid for it! The Grand Duchy of Warsaw received the other part of Galicia (Cracow). The remaining Austrian possessions on the Adriatic, including Trieste, Fiume, some remnants of Carnolia, and Croatia, were transferred to France for their strategic importance and as a portal to the east. They became the Illyrian provinces. In addition to these lost territories, Austria was to pay an indemnity of 85 million francs.

To demonstrate yet again that he cherished no territorial ambitions in Germany, Napoleon immediately abandoned his military positions, with the exception of Westphalia and the Prussian fortresses, which were indispensable pledges for the security of France.

But, like its predecessors, the Treaty of Vienna was considered by France’s enemies to be nothing but a new and temporary ceasefire. Two-and-a-half years later, it would again be Russia’s turn in the tag team of war.

The Battle of Wagram

The Battle of Aspern-Essling

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Stalin and the Korean War

The propaganda war intensified between the USSR and the Western Allies. Soviet diplomats treated their American and British counterparts as enemies and the feeling was reciprocated. Cultural contacts ceased. The countries of eastern Europe as well as the communist parties of western Europe fell in line with the Kremlin’s orders. In the West Stalin was depicted as the most evil dictator alive, quite as evil as the German Führer whom he had defeated. At the same time Pravda denigrated Truman and Attlee, characterising them as having the global ambitions – and the methods to match – which Hitler had developed. The two sides shared the assumption that a Third World War might occur between states which until 1945 had been united in armed struggle against the Wehrmacht. Two camps existed around the world, armed to the teeth and rivals for supremacy.

Neither camp, however, was looking for military conflict. Even Stalin, whose gloomy axiom was that a Third World War might be postponed but was ultimately inevitable, did not wish to bring the USA to blows with the USSR. But events were stiffening his resolve to face down the Americans. The coincidence of the Soviet Union’s acquisition of the A-bomb and the communist seizure of power in China altered the balance of power in the world. Although American weapons technology remained ahead of its rival, Stalin was no longer going to be easily intimidated in diplomatic exchanges. Pravda announced the achievement with pride. The USA was depicted as a militarist menace to world peace and the Soviet state was put forward as the sole power which could resist American pretensions. What is more, the Chinese Revolution meant that the geopolitics of Asia in particular could never be the same again. Mao Tse-tung’s initial willingness to defer to Stalin in the interests of obtaining economic assistance was especially cheering to Moscow. Fours years after the end of the Second World War the Soviet Union was reclaiming its right to be treated as a global power on a level with the USA.

Few gifts, of course, come without wrapping; and Stalin knew that China’s resurgent power under communist leadership had the potential to complicate his statesmanship. Mao might assert himself like a Chinese Tito. The world communist movement, until then largely unified, would undergo fissiparous strain. There might be a direct clash between the People’s Republic of China and the USSR. Or things might deteriorate more indirectly. The People’s Republic of China could start acting in international relations without consulting the Kremlin and yet somehow entangle the USSR in the adverse consequences.

Stalin with all this in mind sent out his Minister of Communications, Ivan Kovalëv, to Beijing to see how closely the Chinese communists were following his recommendations. Unusually he showed Kovalëv’s report to Mao. Stalin’s motives were hardly comradely. Probably he wanted to impress on Mao that the USSR knew more about China’s politics than Mao had imagined. Kovalëv revealed that little serious effort had been made to win over the Chinese working class to the revolutionary cause. He mentioned that land reform was geographically patchy. Kovalëv was also unimpressed by the ideological preparation of the party cadres. Indeed he noted tensions in the Beijing leadership. Kovalëv told Stalin directly that some leaders were not only anti-American but also anti-Soviet. Mao’s close associate Chou En-lai had been heard to wonder why, if Beijing was being told to avoid annoying the USA, it should reject overtures from blackballed Yugoslavia. There was plenty to provoke Stalin’s suspicions and he let Mao know that, unless China toed the Soviet line, assistance from Moscow would not be forthcoming.

Diplomatic relations between the USA and the USSR were not broken, but both Moscow and Washington understood that global politics had entered a period of intensified uncertainty. Stalin especially wanted to secure Soviet interests vis-à-vis communist China. He started as he meant to go on. Devastated by decades of civil war, China urgently required foreign economic assistance, and the USSR was the sole possible source for it. Stalin intended to drive a hard bargain. While content to nudge China towards spreading communist political influence in eastern Asia, he demanded Chinese acceptance of the primacy of the Soviet Union in the world communist movement.

Yet events in the Far East tempted him to risk moving over to an offensive foreign policy. Since Korea’s liberation from Japanese occupation there had been intermittent civil war, and two separate states had emerged on the peninsula in 1948. The same American military shield which defended Japan protected southern Korea with Seoul as its capital. Meanwhile northern Korea had a communist government, based in Pyongyang, which looked to Moscow for assistance. The armies confronting each other had abundant supplies of equipment and advisers; and both Korean states behaved on the assumption that sooner or later a definitive resumption of hostilities would take place. The Korean communist leader Kim Il-Sung went to Moscow in March 1949 and requested a large increase in assistance so that he might attack the south. Stalin refused, advising the Korean comrades to get on with their preparations but to fight only if invaded. Kim Il-Sung, however, wanted to go to war and continued to act provocatively towards Seoul. He refused to cease making representations to Stalin. In March 1950 he returned to Moscow and argued passionately that the south was there for the taking. If China could be unified under Mao Tse-tung, he asserted, Korea was ready for similar treatment under Kim Il-Sung.

Stalin had customarily parried such demands from foreign communist leaders, but Kim Il-Sung touched a raw nerve and Stalin suddenly gave way. It cannot have been the Korean’s persuasiveness which led to the turnabout: Stalin was too circumspect for that. Much had happened since 1945. The USSR’s acquisition of both its own nuclear-bomb capacity and a powerful communist ally in China encouraged him to think that it no longer needed to play its hand weakly against the USA.

He had badly underestimated the revolutionary potential of the Chinese Communist Party. He confessed this in the presence of Bulgarian and Yugoslav leaders at a Kremlin discussion on 10 February 1948. According to Dimitrov’s diary, he said:

I also doubted that the Chinese could succeed, and I advised them to come to a temporary agreement with Chiang Kai-shek. Officially they agreed with us, but in practice they continued mobilising the Chinese people. And then they openly put forward the question: ‘Shall we go on with our fight? We have the support of our people.’ We said: ‘Fine, what do you need?’ It turned out that the conditions there were very favourable. The Chinese proved to be right, and we were wrong.

Stalin was performing the role of a leader who recognises his own fallibility in order to get his way on the Balkans. But a bullying style came more naturally to him. The People’s Republic of China, with its military and economic potential, could become a handful inside the world communist movement and Mao Tse-tung could become his nightmare. So for once he was probably blurting out what he really thought.

Belatedly he saw the need to deal more tactfully with Mao. Kim Il-Sung had made his final plea at a moment when Stalin was most amenable to having his mind changed; and anyway Stalin could not be certain that the Chinese would not support Kim Il-Sung even regardless of the USSR’s consent. Stalin did not disclose his calculations. Molotov was by then in semi-official disgrace and was no longer privy to his thoughts, and everyone in the Ministry of External Affairs simply followed Stalin’s orders.

Thus it came about in their meetings in Moscow in April and May 1950 that Stalin sanctioned Kim Il-Sung’s request to support the Korean communist resumption of war. Both Stalin and Mao had allowed themselves to be persuaded that the military campaign would be short and successful. Soviet arms, munitions and other equipment were carried by the Trans-Siberian Railway to Korea. Kim Il-Sung began his offensive on 25 June. Superior in every sector of military resources, the Korean communist forces swept south and captured Seoul three days later. It looked as if the basic premise of Stalin’s discussion with Kim Il-Sung was about to be realised as a rapid victory was achieved before the rest of the world could blink. But the two communist interlocutors had made a profound miscalculation. Truman was shocked but not deterred. Instead he ordered his diplomats to go before the United Nations Organisation Security Council and secure a vote in favour of armed intervention to prevent the overrunning of South Korea. This task was facilitated by a previous blunder by Stalin who, objecting to the continued recognition of Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in Taiwan as the legitimate Chinese government and its right to occupy China’s seat in the Security Council, had been boycotting the body. In the absence of a Soviet veto, the Security Council approved the American proposal. Stalin repudiated the advice of his Ministry of External Affairs to drop the boycott so as to prevent the Americans and their allies from landing with the legitimacy conferred by the sanction of the United Nations.

This was ham-fistedness on a scale he had not shown since 1941. The United Nations forces, primarily American, were led by General Douglas MacArthur. Their rapid deployment was made possible by the American occupation of nearby Japan, and by the end of September they had already halted the communist advance and retaken Seoul. Next month they had crossed the 38th Parallel into north Korea. Kim Il-Sung was desperate; he had no alternative but to turn to Stalin for direct military assistance even though he knew the likely response. Mao Tse-tung was less reluctant since he assumed that war between the USA and the People’s Republic of China was just a matter of time. The Chinese resolved upon aid for the Korean communists before consulting Stalin. But Mao still expected the Kremlin to send weapons for the use of the twelve divisions about to be dispatched by China. The news of MacArthur’s success came through to Moscow; it was relayed to Stalin beside the Black Sea. His was a curiously semi-detached oversight over Soviet security interests notwithstanding his ability to stay in touch by phone and telegrams. When he was down in the south he held none of the frantic face-to-face discussions with political and military leaders such as had been his wont in the Second World War. Suddenly the crisis on the Korean peninsula deepened, and Stalin had to take a strategic decision. Kim Il-Sung demanded urgent additional assistance, pointing out that without help the communists would soon lose the entire war.

Stalin had the choice either to accede to Kim Il-Sung’s request or simply to withdraw from the war before things got entirely out of hand. The problem was that geopolitics would certainly be transformed in favour of the USA unless the Korean communist cause was supported; and the humiliation for Stalin and the USSR would be immense since it was an open secret that Soviet covert assistance to Kim Il-Sung had already been substantial. It was a tricky moment. While cursing himself for having been taken in by Kim Il-Sung earlier in the year, he could hardly fail him in his time of crisis. Yet he also had to be wary of escalating the hostility between the USSR and the USA to the point that open war might break out between them. He chose the option of cunning. On 1 October he sent a telegram to Beijing calling on Mao to transfer ‘six or seven divisions’ to the 38th Parallel. This was the line of latitude which cut Korea politically in half. If the communists could repel the American advance at that point, Kim Il-Sung would hold on to an area of respectable size. At all costs Stalin needed to avoid a direct collision between the forces of the USA and the USSR while continuing to protect Soviet geopolitical interests. Mao needed some persuading that the Chinese alone should take such responsibility for the defence of north Korea. It seemed odd that Stalin, having recently pulled rank over Mao as the leader of an already mighty military and economic power, should shuffle off the burden of war so readily. How could Stalin square the circle?

He did it mainly by force of argument. Writing to Beijing, he stated:

Of course I had to reckon with the fact that, despite its lack of preparedness, the United States may still pull itself into a big war for reasons of prestige; consequently China would be dragged into the war, and the USSR, which is bound to China by the pact of mutual assistance, would be dragged into the war as well. Should we be afraid of this? In my opinion we should not since together we will be stronger than the United States and Great Britain . . . If war is inevitable, let it happen now and not in a few years when Japanese militarism will be restored as a US ally and when the United States and Japan will have a beach-head on the [Asian] continent ready in the form of Syngman Rhee’s Korea.

The effrontery of this case is unmistakable. Still he was essentially claiming that the Americans would have no stomach for a fight. But if this was true, why did Stalin insist on the Chinese doing his fighting for him?

The People’s Republic of China in any case had a continuing horror that its territorial integrity would be threatened if Syngman Rhee, the Korean politician supported by the Americans in the south of the country, were to rule all Korea. Tense negotiations followed. While Stalin tried to get the Chinese to fight in the Far East on behalf of world communism, Mao and his comrades sought the maximum amount of Soviet equipment. Both sides came close to breaking up their talks about Korea.10 Stalin’s brinkmanship on 12 October involved sending a letter advising Kim Il-Sung that the war was lost and that he should evacuate his forces to safety in China and the USSR. Mao gave way next day, and Stalin was able to announce to Kim that the Korean comrades would soon be receiving massive reinforcement by Chinese troops. Theoretically the troops would be volunteers, but in practice they would consist of divisions drawn directly from the People’s Liberation Army. On 19 October they crossed the Yalu river on to Korean territory. Within days they were engaging the forces led by the Americans. They fought with the assistance promised by Stalin. Soviet armaments and munitions were abundantly supplied; and, in the case of fighter planes, Stalin was sufficiently keen that the aircraft should be properly handled that he provided his own aviators dressed in Chinese uniforms.

Stalin after some vacillation had complied. What had started as a war fought on the far edge of Asia had the potential to explode into a global conflict with the victorious members of the Grand Alliance at each other’s throats. Stalin did not reveal his calculations but probably he was exercised by a mixture of factors. He did not want an American puppet state of Korea on his borders. He did not wish the USSR to lose prestige in the world communist movement when the People’s Republic of China aided a fellow communist power. He may also have felt that Mao had a serious chance of pulling off what Kim had failed to do. The logistics of military supply were easier for China and the USSR than for the USA. Perhaps Stalin was also guessing that American forces would be tied down and exhausted in Korea even if they were not defeated outright. Stalin’s basic assumption was that world war could be postponed but not made avoidable. Whatever he may have calculated about the Korean situation, though, he let on to nobody what it was. He was in a position, as in August 1939 when Ribbentrop came a-courting to the Kremlin, to ignore the opinions of others; and he made it a habit to leave few traces of his mental pathway to each important decision. This helped him to go on keeping the rest of the world guessing. The more enigmatic he was in global politics, the less likely he was to be taken for granted.

Events in Korea increased in difficulty as Stalin and his associates pondered what to do. Broader factors came into play. Stalin the pragmatist was also a man of ideological assumptions, and he genuinely believed that the treaties signed at the end of the Second World War were documents destined to be ripped up when the world descended into a Third World War. Chances to expand communist influence in the meantime had to be seized. Stalin’s spies led him to conclude that Truman would not intervene to save the unpopular southern government. The USSR had acquired effective nuclear weapons in August 1949 and had to be handled more carefully by the USA. The Sino-Soviet alliance boosted Moscow’s global weight still further – and indeed Stalin had to take account of the fact that Mao Tse-tung was fully capable of offering active support to Kim Il-Sung regardless of Stalin’s wishes: Mao had greater freedom of choice than even Tito.

The Chinese entry into the Korean War turned the scales in favour of the communist cause. Mao’s People’s Liberation Army crossed the Yalu river into Korea on 19 October 1950 and MacArthur’s campaign hit serious trouble, especially after the arrival of the Soviet air units in the following month. The movement towards a world war shifted up another notch on 31 December when Chinese forces thrust south and crossed the 38th Parallel. Seoul was taken the next month. MacArthur demanded permission to carry the fighting on to Chinese soil. At this time neither Stalin nor Mao was in the mood for compromise. Mao’s own son was mobilised for the war. (He was killed in action.) It looked as if the Americans were about to lose the war on the Korean peninsula.

Meanwhile Stalin had to deal with Europe, and he was especially concerned about Italy and France. Greece was already settled in Stalin’s mind: he had not intervened in the Civil War there, had resented Greek communist demands for permission to operate as if a socialist seizure of power was possible and had left Athens to the repressive zeal of the Alexandros Diomidis government. Italy and France were a different matter: their communist parties gave him much less trouble and it had been easy to quell those of their leaders who seriously contemplated insurrection in Rome and Paris. As relations worsened with the Western Allies, they became pawns in Stalin’s European game. Although his strategy remained the avoidance of war with the USA, he did not mind making things awkward for the Americans wherever he could. For this reason he demanded a more boisterous policy for the Italian Communist Party and the French Communist Party. This was explained to the representatives from Italy and France at the Second Conference of the Cominform in June 1948. As usual, Stalin and the Soviet leaders admitted no mistake on their part. Instead Togliatti, Thorez and their subordinates were blamed for not seeing the need for more radical measures than the Kremlin had previously stipulated.

By the beginning of the 1950s Stalin’s grip on world affairs was weaker than in previous years. The Korean War was raging and, with Soviet pilots and military equipment involved, was capable of spiralling into a Third World War. The Chinese People’s Republic complicated everything by urging Stalin to fight to the bitter end; Mao Tse-tung by his behaviour showed he could be just as independent of Moscow as Tito – and the stakes of China’s foreign adventures were very high indeed. Stalin could not even control all the communist parties in Europe. When he summoned Palmiro Togliatti to leave Italy and take the leading position in the Cominform, he received a brisk refusal. Togliatti wanted to guide the Italian Communist Party through the complications of post-war Italian politics and had no interest in putting his life at risk by working in proximity to Stalin. Meanwhile Tito stayed imperturbably in supreme office in Belgrade. Elsewhere in eastern Europe there was the silence of the political graveyard; but the People’s Democracies were far from quiet below the surface: resentment of the communist seizure of power in these countries was deep, and only the threat of unconditional repression kept order for Stalin.

Yet it was the Korean War which constituted the most deadly danger to Soviet interests. Stalin could not overlook the Americans’ advantage in the number of nuclear weapons and in the proximity of their foreign airbases to the USSR. Perhaps, though, he knew more about Truman’s intentions than anyone realised at the time. Soviet agents existed in the British establishment. Among them were Kim Philby and Donald Maclean. When Prime Minister Clement Attlee flew to Washington in early December 1950 to protest at confidential American discussions on using nuclear bombs in the Korean War, he was given an assurance by President Truman that only conventional weaponry would be deployed. It is highly probable that Maclean, head of the American desk at the Foreign Office, dispatched the news to Moscow. Stalin would thereby have known that Truman was not looking for a fight. Even so, there could still have been a world war with conventional weaponry; and there was no way of guaranteeing that one side or the other would not, in a desperate moment, resort to its nuclear arsenal. Although he was not a totally reckless gambler, Stalin was not a cautious one either. He risked much, much more than he should have done if he really regarded peace around the world as a supreme priority.

The Third World War did not break out. But the situation developed in a manner perilously close to all-out global conflict; and much responsibility lay on Stalin’s shoulders. If he had not financed and equipped Kim Il-Sung, the civil war in Korea could not have been resumed with the intensity it attained.

KATANGESE AIR FORCE

Force Aérienne Katangaise

The second phase the fight for Katanga commenced with Security Council authorization to take “all appropriate measures” to prevent the occurrence of civil war in the Congo, including “the use of force, if necessary, in the last resort”.  This resolution was used to justify UN military operations to end the Katangan secession. Ironically, Prime Minister Lumumba’s death triggered the fulfillment of his demands that the United Nations forcefully support his country’s campaign against the secession. Also looming large was the threat of intervention by the Soviet Union, which was emboldened and angered after Lumumba’s murder, and Moscow’s offer to provide the Congolese government with personnel and materiel to suppress the secession. These developments combined to mobilize Western powers to request the United Nations to fulfill that role.

Katanga’s leader, Moise Tshombé, professed anti-Communism and was backed by powerful Belgian and other Western interests, especially the company Union Miniere du Haute Katanga. Also Tshombé controlled Katanga’s gendarmerie and a large cadre of mercenaries. The resolve of his secessionists hardened after some 1,500 of the central government’s troops reached north Katanga in January 1961. Until that initiation of hostilities, the neutral zone negotiated by the United Nations with Tshombé on 17 October 1960 had held up but “it all came apart as pro-Lumumba troops captured Manono” in north Katanga. After Manono, the situation deteriorated rapidly and negotiations broke down.

On 28 August 1961, the United Nations launched Operation Rumpunch to arrest and deport mercenaries in Katanga. Then, in September, the Indian-led UN forces in Katanga launched Operation Morthor (“morthor” is the Hindi word for “smash”), to further round up foreign mercenaries and political advisers and to arrest Katangese officials. The “arrest” operation, which violated Hammarskjöld’s explicit directions to ONUC, quickly escalated into open warfare.

Almost immediately, air power in Katanga was brought in as a game-changer – but not by the United Nations. At this early stage of the conflict, the Aviation Katangaise (Avikat), also known as Force Aérienne Katangaise (FAK), held air superiority, though it consisted of only three Fouga Magister jet trainers. Remarkably, these aircraft were brought to Katanga in February aboard a Boeing Stratocruiser by the Seven Seas Charter Company, later identified as a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor and possibly a front company. After UN officials observed the unloading of the aircraft, the mission grounded the company’s entire fleet of planes, which the United Nations had earlier contracted to carry food. President John F. Kennedy decried the jet delivery and alleged in correspondence with President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana that the transaction had taken place before the US government could stop it.

In any case, the KAF fleet was quickly reduced in effectiveness: one Fouga Magister was lost when its pilot tried to fly under (rather than over) a power line; and UN forces captured another when they seized the airfield at Elisabethville, the Katangan capital, on 28 August 1961. This left the FAK with only one plane, but this single aircraft attained world renown during the hostilities of September by paralyzing UN supply efforts, which were mostly conducted by air transport aircraft. The single jet, flown by a Belgian mercenary from the Kolwezi airfield, also strafed UN positions, including the UN Headquarters in Katanga, and helped isolate a company of Irish troops who were forced to surrender to Katangan forces. Furthermore, the Fouga jet destroyed several UN-chartered aircraft at Katangan airports, including Elisabethville, the Katangan capital. A US State Department official, Wayne Fredericks, commented: “I have always believed in air power, but I never thought I’d see the day when one plane would stop the United States and the whole United Nations”.

Deadlock prevailed throughout 1961, and the indecisive outcome of the UN’s August and September 1961 ground initiatives in Katanga (Operations Rumpunch and Morthor) spurred Hammarskjöld to try to negotiate a ceasefire with Tshombé. As the Secretary-General was flying to meet with the Katangan leader at the border town of Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, his plane crashed on the night of 17 September 1961, killing all onboard. Complicating the rescue effort, the plane had largely maintained radio silence and flew a circuitous route mostly at night in order to reduce the possibility of an attack by the “Lone Ranger” Fouga Magister. The Katangan jet had shot bullets into UN aircraft only days before. And Hammarskjöld’s aircraft had been damaged by ground fire but was quickly repaired before take-off. The cause of the UN plane crash was never determined with certainty, though a UN commission concluded that it was probably due to pilot error during the approach to Ndola.

With Hammarskjöld’s death, the battle for Katanga entered a new phase. The new Secretary-General, U Thant, did not share Hammarskjöld’s belief that the United Nations should not interfere in Congolese internal politics. Moreover, the general escalation of events spurred the Security Council to pass Resolution 169 on 24 November 1961, strongly deprecating the secessionist activities of Katanga and authorizing ONUC to use “the requisite measure of force” to remove foreign mercenaries and “to take all necessary measures to prevent the entry or return of such elements”.

Meanwhile, the United States, fearful of communist encroachment on the continent, was resolved in the Congo to keep the Soviet Union out, the United Nations in, and Belgian interference down in the former colony. The Americans also wanted to stop the country from falling apart, viewing secession of mineral- rich Katanga as a threat to the economic vitality of the new country. In the background, decolonization was one of the great movements of the era and the United States was keen to show newly independent countries that it supported integral, viable new states. The disintegration of the Congo was a major concern, as was Soviet intervention. Therefore, international (United Nations) intervention in Katanga was deemed necessary, even if it meant intervention into the internal affairs of a new state (although at the request of that state). Thus the United States, which had previously refused Hammarskjöld’s requests to ferry troops within the Congo and had only brought troops to the Congo from abroad, now provided four transport planes without conditions. President Kennedy even offered to provide eight fighter jets if no other member nations were willing to do so. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested these jets could “seek out and destroy, either on the ground or in the air, the Fouga Magister jets”. However, Thant sought to avoid direct superpower involvement in combat. Having promises of fighter jets from other nations, the American offer was turned down. Instead, the United States provided over 20 large transport planes to ferry reinforcements and anti-aircraft guns into Katanga.

Before his death, Hammarskjöld had managed to obtain from several UN member states promises of combat aircraft, which were desperately needed for the field mission. In October 1961, Sweden provided five J-29 Tunnan (“The Flying Barrel”) fighter jets. Ethiopia sent four F-86 Sabre jets, and India backed the mission with four Indian B(I)58 Canberra light bombers. These aircraft became what mission personnel dubbed the first “UN Air Force”.

The UN’s aerial assets soon joined the fray. In December, they attacked a military train east of Kolwezi and Katangan airfields at Jadotville and Kolwezi. The United Nations created havoc among Katangan forces in much the same way that the armed Fouga Magister had earlier done to the UN mission. Charanjit Singh, one of the Indian UN pilots, described his attack on a Katangan camp in Elisabethville on 8 December 1961 in a cavalier fashion:

…attacked an army police camp 2 km NE of old runway. Some vehicles were parked outside what looked like a headquarters building. I fired a full burst on those and saw them going up in smoke and flames. As I pulled out of the dive, I saw hundreds of men running out in utter panic. As I flashed past them, I gathered an image of men running in all directions, some in undies, others in halfpants, some in uniforms. I saw some enter a billet. Attacked the HQ building and vehicles again. Saw a vehicle turn over. At the end of four attacks, the whole thing looked like the Tilpat [air-to-ground practice firing range near Delhi] show.

The net result of the UN buildup and its December 1961 offensive was that Katanga’s “air superiority” was temporarily ended. The fate of the infamous jet trainer became an object of much speculation. The UN pilots claimed to have destroyed it on the ground in an air attack on the Kolwezi airfield, but they actually hit a carefully crafted dummy. It was then believed that the Katangan Fouga had crashed while its South African mercenary pilot had parachuted to safety, but this too was found to be false.

But even the UN’s new aerial hardware was deemed insufficient for the robust mandate. The UN field mission pressed headquarters to obtain bombs for the Indian Canberra jets. “We need those bombs”, Secretary-General U Thant would insist to the British government. After weeks of stalling, the government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan finally agreed on 7 December 1961 to supply 24 1,000-lb bombs. But the offer came with the condition that they could only be used “against aircraft on the ground or [against] airstrips and airfields”. Even still, Macmillan worried that his government might fall over its handling of the Congo crisis, given the fierce support in some Conservative quarters for the anti-communist Katanga regime. In the end, the United States transported bombs directly from India.

Realizing what an enormous role a single Fouga jet had played in the success of Katangan operations in September 1961, Tshombé began purchasing new aircraft and hiring foreign mercenary pilots of various nationalities to fly them. Indeed, throughout 1962, UN Air Command desperately tried to monitor the Katangan aerial buildup through both aerial surveillance of Katangan airfields and intelligence gathered by ONUC’s Military Information Branch (MIB). In an attempt to procure immediate intelligence on Katanga’s air capability, a desperate ONUC on 9 March 1962 noted that aircrews from UN military air units and from its charter companies were making “important observations during their flights and stops at various airfields in the Congo”. The mission began mandatory debriefings of aircrews after landing. The mission also sought to create an air reconnaissance unit capable of meeting both long-term reconnaissance and immediate operational requirements. One memo dated 10 March 1962 stated “it becomes imperative that the air recce unit should be allotted with both C-47s and jet recce aircraft such as S-29s or photo-recce Canberras”. ONUC’s Chief of Military Intelligence requested three C-47 aircraft “to check the Katangan air movements through systematic visual reconnaissance of their airfields”. On 6 June 1962 the ONUC Force Commander cabled Ralph Bunche, the Under-Secretary-General at UN Headquarters responsible for peacekeeping operations that:

ONUC suffers from a grave lack of reconnaissance facilities. As a result even the photographs available may contain much more information which it is NOT possible to get because of inadequate facilities in equipment and personnel for interpretation.

In 1962, Sweden provided two J-29Cs, the photo-reconnaissance versions of the J-29 jet aircraft that proved of great worth. The mission consequently added personnel designated as air intelligence officers. At the same time, the threat of re-emerging Katangan aerial capabilities was real. ONUC concluded in May 1962:

[M]ercenaries, fighting for money and receiving higher salaries as FAK pilots than even Generals receive in UN service, are ruthless, cunning, non- conventional, clever and inventive. They have war experience, and they know where, when and how to hit. there is no alternative but to consider FAK as a dangerous enemy in the air.

ONUC had success uncovering the extent of Tshombé’s aircraft acquisitions through intelligence gathered by the MIB. Defectors and informants interviewed by the MIB revealed a wealth of information about Katangan aircraft both in Katanga and neighbouring countries. Lieutenant-General Kebbede Guebre (Ethiopia), the ONUC Force Commander, cabled Bunche at UN Headquarters on 24 August 1962, referencing a report that Katanga-owned jet fighters were hidden in Angola and/or Rhodesia. Kebbede requested Bunche to “check with Australia [about] the possibility of Australian trained jet [mercenary] pilots being available to Tshombe”. In another cable to Bunche dated 27 September 1962, he stated that:

a fully reliable source reported…that twelve Harvard aircraft have recently left South Africa, bound for Katanga…equipped with guns and French rockets…[and that] an unspecified number of P-51 Mustangs may have left South Africa recently…intended for Katanga.

Clearly, the United Nations perceived itself in an aerial arms race with the Katanga government. It was trying to persuade its member states to provide aircraft while the Katanga government was purchasing them clandestinely wherever possible.

General Kebbede again cabled Under-Secretary-General Bunche on 1 October 1962, comparing the air capabilities of the two protagonists. Katanga (FAK) was now estimated to have twelve Harvard single-propeller aircraft, eight or nine Fouga Magister trainer jets, four Vampire jet fighters and a large number of P-51 Mustang single-propeller fighters (being delivered). The UN mission possessed six Canberra jet fighter-bombers, four Saab J-29B fighter-bombers, and four Sabre F-86 jet fighters. At the time, the UN Air Division possessed no bombs – a serious deficiency, as it was considered the weapon needed to neutralize air bases and enemy forces on the ground. Great Britain was still dithering on UN pleas for bombs for its Canberra aircraft. ONUC concluded once again that air resources were inadequate to meet the FAK threat. Due to serviceability problems, only about 60 to 70 percent of ONUC aircraft would be available for operations, which would make it impossible to keep even a section of fighters on readiness and thus impossible to simultaneously defend even one airfield, conduct offensive sweeps, and escort transport aircraft. Moreover, since ONUC was entirely dependent on supplies delivered by air, of which 95 percent were lifted by civil chartered companies, a Katangan air threat would ground essential supply planes in the absence of UN fighter escorts.

In the same October 1962 report to Bunche, General Kebbede recommended immediate steps be taken to reinforce the UN Air Division. The first recommendation was for the acquisition of two S-29E photo-reconnaissance aircraft and a complete photo-interpretation unit to monitor developments and activities at Katangan air bases. The second was to increase two UN fighter squadrons to eight fighters each (for a total of 16 fighters). The third was the addition of two additional Canberra aircraft. Also recommended was the acquisition of anti-aircraft defences for UN air bases and radar for Elisabethville, as well as heavy-calibre and napalm bombs for the Canberra bombers and additional communications equipment. These recommendations were considered to be the bare minimum necessary for the operation.

Things became even worse when Ethiopia abruptly withdrew its Sabre aircraft after losing one in an accident. Furthermore, India experienced an urgent need to repatriate its Canberra bombers to fight in a border war with China. On the positive side, Sweden promised more Saab jets and Norway offered an anti-aircraft battery. New air surveillance radars were deployed at Kamina and Elisabethville.

A few days following Kebbede’s UN requests, a cable from Robert Gardiner, the UN representative in the Congo, to Bunche reported that a South African aircraft company had offered Katanga 40 Harvard aircraft, each equipped with 40 rockets, for US$27,000 each. The planes were thought to be transported into Katanga through Angola, a Portuguese colony. Moreover, intelligence reported that the same company had previously sold 17 aircraft to Katanga. On 17 October, Gardiner cabled Bunche that aerial photography had confirmed the presence of six Harvard aircraft at Katanga’s Kolwezi-Kengere airfield.

The UN mission was clamouring to increase its air force, particularly its fighter strength, despite UN Headquarters’ concerns about costs, having overcome earlier inhibitions on combat. Intelligence evidence mounted regarding the acquisition of new aircraft by Katanga. The growing strength of Katanga’s air force relative to ONUC’s had immediate military and strategic consequences. The ANC were frequently bombed and harassed by Katangan aircraft. The UN Commander’s assessment was that:

Due to ONUC’s limited strength of four fighters, we have to confine our action to Recce the area in question as often as possible during daylight and attack any Katangese aircraft flying in that area. We are not attempting to destroy any aircraft found in the airfield in the vicinity of that area because if we do locate one or two aircraft and destroy them, we feel that FAK will react against [our] Kamina Base and also disperse their aircraft from Kolwezi to other airfields, thereby making our task of locating and destroying these aircraft on the ground very difficult. Please advise dates by which additional four Swedish fighters, as promised, will be available and if any additional aircraft expected from other nations.

The UN Commander’s strategy was to wait until the new aircraft gave ONUC a fighter force capable of destroying the bulk of Katanga’s air force on the ground in one overwhelming surprise attack. Another cable from Kebbede to Bunche on the same day (24 November 1962) stated that:

on request from the ANC, air recce missions over Kongolo area are being provided by UN fighters. Missions will be confined to recce and destroying any Katangese aircraft if found flying over that area. Instructions have been issued NO repeat NO ground targets to be attacked.

The ONUC Commander did not want to give the Katangese any reason to disperse or hide their aircraft but rather wanted them to feel that they were safe and secure when on the ground at their major airfields.

 

The Great Viking Army in Wessex

The warrior bishop was an idea that interested creator Michael Hirst a great deal, and he saw Heahmund as a great foil for Ivar, the two being such wild cards. His role in the show is largely enhanced from the accounts in the history books. Because Jonathan Rhys Meyers has such an explosive performance in this role, it is likely that he has been given more opportunity to shine than the real Heahmund would have had in the history books.

In 871 the Viking army crossed the frontier of Wessex and occupied Reading. This was a royal residence and so was a collecting point for taxes and the royal feorm (food rents). As such it offered an attractive proposition to the raiders. The Viking army was led by two kings: Bagsecg and Ivar the Boneless’ brother, Halfdan. While two Viking jarls (high-ranking nobles) took a force further into Wessex to forage, the remaining invaders stayed at Reading and, according to Asser, fortified their camp by building an earth rampart between the rivers Thames and Kennet.

The West Saxons reacted swiftly to the occupation of Reading. Æthelwulf, ealdorman of Berkshire mustered the fyrd and attacked the foragers at Englefield (Berkshire), west of Reading and defeated them, killing a jarl named Sidroc. Four days later the ealdorman was joined by the West Saxon king, Æthelred, and his brother, Alfred. With their combined force they attacked the main Viking camp at Reading. In a ferocious battle the Vikings eventually gained the upper hand and the West Saxons retreated, carrying with them the body of Ealdorman Æthelwulf. It was a sharp reversal of the previous West Saxon success.

Within four days they were fighting yet another major battle. This time it was further west at Ashdown, on the Berkshire Downs. The exact location is difficult to ascertain but was probably overlooking the Vale of White Horse and on the line of the Icknield Way, a major routeway into central Wessex from the north-east. It seems that the Vikings reached the battlefield first, since Asser records that they held the high ground. The Chronicle explains that they assembled in two formations: one commanded by their two kings, Bagsecg and Halfdan; the other led by the jarls. Without giving much detail of the battle it goes on to say that King Æthelred fought against the Viking kings’ troops, killing Bagsecg, while Alfred’s troops faced the jarls and killed five of them. Both Viking armies fled before the victorious West Saxons. Asser – probably working from material provided by Alfred himself – adds the detail that Alfred began the battle first, since Æthelred had not yet finished attending Mass. The battle raged around a solitary thorn tree which Asser claimed to have seen. In a memorable phrase, Asser describes Alfred as charging the enemy `like a wild boar’.

Despite this resounding victory, and within two weeks of it, Æthelred and Alfred again faced the Viking army at Basing (Hampshire), but this time the Vikings won and the West Saxons were forced to withdraw. After this the pressure eased a little, but only two months later another major battle was fought at Meretun (the site is unidentified but was probably in Hampshire). There were a huge number of casualties and, once again, the Vikings emerged victorious. Amongst the West Saxon dead was Bishop Heahmund of Sherborne, [1] with Æthelweard’s Chronicle adding that he was buried at Keynsham; situated on the north Somerset border the location may have been chosen as a spiritual marker on the frontier of Wessex. As if these were not troubles enough, the Chronicle informs us that a new Viking force, the `micel sumorlida’ (great summer fleet) came up the River Thames to Reading, where they reinforced Halfdan. This may well have been the first appearance of the three Viking `kings’ Guthrum, Oscetel and Anwend, who are named in the Chronicle in its later entry for 875. Given reductions in the size of the micel hæden here due to casualties and the necessary forces required to hold down York and East Anglia, these additional forces must have been very welcome for the Vikings; and the last thing the West Saxons wished to see arriving. King Æthelred may have been seriously wounded at the battle of Meretun since, soon after Easter, he died and was buried at Wimborne (Dorset). By an arrangement that had been made between the royal brothers of the House of Wessex the throne did not pass to one of Æthelred’s young sons. Instead, it passed to Alfred. Wessex was in too great a danger for entering into minority rule and the potential instability that would have accompanied this. This shrewd piece of practical politics may well have been the major factor which saved the kingdom.

Within a month of his succession, Alfred faced a large Viking army at Wilton (Wiltshire) and lost. Asser says that an initial West Saxon advance at the expense of the Vikings was eventually reversed when the Vikings regrouped and turned on their pursuers. While the sources vary as to the exact number, it seems that perhaps nine major battles took place in 871. However, this does not take account of the many skirmishes against smaller groups of Vikings, foraging away from the main army, fought by groups led at various times by Alfred, his ealdormen and king’s thegns. By the end of the year the Vikings made peace with the West Saxons and withdrew.

[1] Anglo-Saxon bishops and abbots led royal armies in 825 and 848, and bishop Heahmund was killed at Meretun in 871. Warrior-clerics were not unheard of in Anglo-Saxon England, a fact that is confirmed by the celebrated military actions of notable clerics in both 1016 and 1066.

While the relatively peaceful nature of English society (or, at least, avoidance of internecine warfare) probably lessened the importance of personal military ability for English clerics, they were still expected to contribute to the defense of the realm, both through their landholding and their personal stature in the kingdom. While some contemporary observers, such as Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, claimed that English bishops did not have the same military responsibilities as their continental counterparts, due to a lack of landed endowments, a glance through the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle demonstrates this to be false. The contents, including military hardware, of surviving wills of prelates demonstrate this, as do the attempts by reformers to prevent clerics from engaging in warfare. The simple possession of such items does not, of course, represent evidence of direct military action, nor even an endorsement of such violence by clerics, but it arguably represents a familiarity with warfare and a recognition of the role played by clerics in support of royal campaigns. The earliest of the wills comes from Bishop Theodred of London, and dates from between 942 and 951. He granted to his lord, among other things, `four horses, the best that I have, and two swords, the best that I have, and four shields and four spears.’ The inclusion of the phrase `the best that I have’ indicates that Bishop Theodred not only possessed more swords, horses, etc., than he was leaving to his lord, but that he was also cognizant of their relative value and qualities. Tis theme is reinforced by the terms of Bishop Arfwold of Crediton’s will. Bishop Arfwold left an immense amount of military gear and equipment to a variety of people, including to fellow clerics. His will read, in part, `And he grants to his lord four horses, two saddled and two unsaddled, and four shields and four spears and two helmets and two coats of mail .’ The bishop also left horses and tents to several people, including Alfwold the monk. He left his kinsman Wulfgar three coats of mail, among other valuables. He also left a man named Cenwold `a helmet and coat of mail.’

The amount, variety, and value of the military equipment even elicited a comment from Dorothy Whitelock, the editor of this section of the document. She writes,

Alfwold’s will is remarkable for the amount of military equipment and the number of horses he bequeathes [sic], in addition to his heriot and a large ship. One wonders whether he was a fighting bishop. Homilists would not have needed to preach as they do against the clergy taking part in military affairs if this did not sometimes take place, and two ecclesiastics, Bishop Eadnoth of Dorchester and Abbot Wulfsige of Ramsey, were killed at Ashingdon in 1016.

Alpine Armageddon?

One thousand German officers and men captured in the “Alpine Redoubt” are marching back over the mountain road that they once defended in Austria.

This map shows the U.S. Ninth Army’s plan for the advance to Berlin.

The final operations of the Western Allied armies in Germany between 19 April and 7 May 1945.

The battle maps of Germany, filled with arrows, strings, and the tiny symbols used by the generals and their staffs to assess the current status of operations, covered large walls, while others were barely large enough to cover the hood of a jeep or staff car. But all had in common a forest of arrows depicting the movement of Allied forces eastward and the relentless advance of the Red Army toward the west. To the uninitiated, such maps may have seemed chaotic but, notes historian Charles B. MacDonald, it was an illusion, and “in reality from each of the columns strings led, as from puppet to puppeteer, to General Eisenhower’s supreme command.” Whether pointing east or west, the arrows were all aimed at one key location on the map: Berlin.

On the evening of his shocking visit to the Merkers mine and Ohrdruf, Eisenhower revealed privately to Patton that he was soon to halt the First and Ninth Armies at the Elbe River to await the arrival of the Red Army. Third Army would be given a new mission to drive southeast toward Czechoslovakia. “From a tactical point of view, it is highly inadvisable for the American Army to take Berlin and I hope political influence won’t cause me to take the city,” he said. “It has no tactical or strategic value and would place upon the American forces the burden of caring for thousands and thousands of Germans, displaced persons and Allied prisoners of war.”

Patton’s reaction was incredulity. “Ike, I don’t see how you figure that out. We had better take Berlin, and quick—and on to the Oder!” Later on, in the presence of his chief of staff, Patton reiterated the need to drive on to Berlin, arguing that it could certainly be done in forty-eight hours by Ninth Army. Eisenhower wondered aloud, “Well, who would want it?” Patton did not reply at once, but placed both hands on his friend’s shoulders and said, “I think history will answer that question for you.”

Bradley admitted that he was sorely tempted by the lure of his troops capturing the greatest political prize of the war but realized it was simply not militarily feasible. A strong dose of reality set in when he calculated the cost, and noted that to have sent Montgomery on a mission to capture Berlin would have necessitated detaching a U.S. army-size force to guard his flank and correspondingly thwart the defeat of the German army on the 12th Army Group front. “As soldiers we looked naively on the British inclination to complicate the war with political foresight and nonmilitary objectives.”

Among those dismayed by Eisenhower’s decision was Simpson, who when ordered by Bradley to halt his Ninth Army at the Elbe, replied, “Where the hell did you get this?” Told, “From Ike,” Simpson obeyed his orders but was convinced it was a terrible mistake, and that his army could have advanced to Berlin. The U.S. official historian agrees: “The American armies, the Ninth in particular, could have continued their offensive some fifty more miles at least to the fringe of Berlin. The decision of the Supreme Allied Commander and nothing else halted the Americans at the Elbe and the Mulde [Rivers].”

As Patton prepared for bed after his conversation with Eisenhower later that fateful April 12, he tuned to the BBC to obtain the correct time, and learned of Roosevelt’s sudden death in Warm Springs, Georgia. Patton immediately awakened Eisenhower and Bradley, who was also spending the night at Third Army. In their bathrobes the three generals somberly contemplated Roosevelt’s loss and its impact until two A.M. the following morning. All agreed that FDR would be sorely missed at a critical moment of history. No one knew much about their new commander in chief, Harry S. Truman, who would turn out to have little use for either Eisenhower or Patton. Truman’s fellow Missourian, Omar Bradley, thought that “[f]rom our distance, Truman did not appear at all qualified to fill Roosevelt’s large shoes.” Eisenhower would later recall, “We went to bed depressed and sad.”

With the Russians already astride the Oder, a mere thirty miles east of the German capital, the question of Berlin was of paramount importance. Eisenhower’s concern over a collision with the Russians was high, and on March 19 a Russian observer and unofficial liaison, Gen. Ivan Susloparoff, arrived at SHAEF. To Susloparoff, Eisenhower conveyed his deepening concern regarding the impending linkup and coordination problems with the Red Army, but the Russian had scant knowledge of the Red Army situation along the Oder, and had no authorization from his Soviet masters to reveal what little he did know.

On March 28 Eisenhower, without reference to the Combined Chiefs, felt compelled to take the unusual step of sending a cable directly to Stalin, to whom he laid out his plans for the final weeks of the war and asked if the Soviet leader could “tell me your intentions, and let me know how far the proposed operations outlined in this message conform to your probable action.”

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At the time of his decision the four occupation zones of Germany had already been decided on. At Quebec in September 1944, the United States and Britain approved some of the provisions—first drawn up in early 1944 by the European Advisory Commission (EAC), based on British suggestions—rejected certain others, and, notes Warren Kimball, “allowed still others to apply by failing to act. But, either way, by 1945 the Big Three had set the parameters for much of the German settlement from presumably temporary occupation zones to the frontiers between the Germans and other European states.” At Yalta the Soviet Union ratified the Anglo-American recommendations, which included the division of Berlin into four separate sectors, each to be administered by one of the four Allied powers (which for purposes of the occupation included France). Thus when controversy flared over Berlin, Eisenhower’s decision had already become a moot point. The real problem was not Berlin but the occupation zones of Germany that left the German capital a virtual island deep in the Soviet sector, a fact about which Eisenhower could do nothing.

While the Western Allies wrung their collective hands over the fate of postwar Poland, which the Yalta agreements failed to protect adequately, Berlin had already slipped through the cracks. Roosevelt thought the Soviets ought to be given a fair chance to implement the Yalta accords, and was loath to challenge Stalin over Berlin. And when Churchill raised the issue of an Allied race for Berlin, he was rebuffed. FDR had been urged by Marshall not to interfere with Eisenhower and wholeheartedly rejected any attempt to compromise Eisenhower’s authority. The question of Berlin was not one in which Eisenhower was operating in some sort of vacuum. To the contrary, with the Red Army nearly at its gates, Marshall and the U.S. chiefs saw little value in making the city an objective. Moreover, with the war against Japan as yet far from won, the United States was anxious to end the fighting in Europe and begin deploying troops home, and to the Pacific.

The United States also had cause for concern over Churchill’s impossible Balkan notion of sending Alexander’s armies through the so-called Ljubljana Gap and into the plains of the Danube and Vienna, a scheme scarcely more than a Churchillian fantasy. Thus such British proposals targeting Berlin and the Ljubljana Gap received short shrift from the United States at this stage of the war.

At the time Berlin was already under siege by a score of Russian divisions, and an estimated 2,200 big guns would pound the city into rubble during the operation. “The fact that the Soviets were so close to Berlin, in such strength,” said Eisenhower, “would seem to give pause to those armchair strategists who say, ‘Of course, the Western Allies could have captured Berlin without any trouble.’” The cost, he noted, would have been high, including the diversion of forces sent to free Denmark and Austria.

On this issue the differences between Britain and the United States were as deep as they were fundamental. Britain was anxious to carve out a postwar role for what was left of its fragmented colonial empire, whereas the intentions of the United States were to see the war ended victoriously, and to bring home its fighting men promptly, before too many more lost their lives, which, in the case of Berlin, Eisenhower was convinced would be needless.

From the time of Eisenhower’s original directive from the Combined Chiefs of Staff in February 1944, Berlin had been the key objective that had permeated Allied thinking and planning. Certainly it was foremost in Eisenhower’s mind when he took command of the Allied ground forces in September 1944. “Clearly, Berlin is the main prize,” he wrote to Montgomery, “and the prize in defense of which the enemy is likely to concentrate the bulk of his forces. There is no doubt whatsoever, in my mind, that we should concentrate all our energies and resources on a rapid thrust to Berlin.”

Roosevelt first articulated his position on the postwar occupation of Germany in November 1943, while en route to the conferences in Cairo and Teheran, on the battleship USS Iowa. FDR not only viewed Berlin as a key Allied objective but fully expected that “[t]here would definitely be a race for Berlin. We may have to put United States Divisions into Berlin as soon as possible.” On a National Geographic map he drew in pencil his view of the proposed zones of occupation. On Roosevelt’s sketch Berlin was incorporated into the U.S. zone.

Inexplicably the president’s wishes vanished almost immediately into the vortex of a nasty bureaucratic clash between the War and State Departments over the occupation of Germany. The map actually disappeared into a desk drawer in the Operations Division of the War Department and was never acted on. “The shelving of the Roosevelt plan by his own military advisors,” wrote Cornelius Ryan, “was just one of a series of strange and costly blunders and errors of judgment that occurred among American officials in the days following the Iowa meeting.” The turf wars in Washington and months of wrangling within the EAC itself between Britain and the United States and with the USSR ultimately resulted, in the final version ratified at Yalta, in the placement of Berlin in the Russian zone—with no provision for U.S.-British access to the city. Although Roosevelt had doubts about Stalin’s postwar aims, his optimism, articulated at Quebec in September 1944, won out. He could “manage Stalin,” and the United States, he said, “could get along with Russia” and indeed must do so in the postwar world, a position also taken by Churchill, who in his heart had serious misgivings. FDR did not contest the final EAC proposals. It was one of the most fateful political decisions of World War II. Within six weeks of signing the Yalta agreements, Stalin had already broken one of its provisions.

Bound by the Big Three protocols, Eisenhower had by the end of March 1945 come to regard Berlin as “no longer a particularly important objective,” at best a diversion. Certainly, however, a precedent existed for unilateral action as supreme commander. Decisions ranging from Darlan to Normandy and the broad front had been made, and Eisenhower deemed Berlin as simply yet another problem requiring action. Less certain is the extent to which Eisenhower anticipated the buzz saw of controversy, criticism, and dissension his Berlin decision would produce. His grandson suggests that for Eisenhower to have acted aggressively over Berlin would likely have fractured British and American cooperation with the USSR and “probably destroyed the emerging settlement of World War II.”

Nor was Eisenhower in any mood to be dissuaded at this critical juncture of the war. He complained to Marshall that the British had opposed virtually everything he did as supreme commander, from Anvil to the advance to the Rhine. And now came their latest proposal: that Montgomery advance across the plains of northern Germany, whose wet conditions, he argued, were unsuitable terrain at that time of year. “I submit that these things are studied daily and hourly by me and my advisors and that we are animated by one single thought which is the early winning of this war.”

Notes John Eisenhower, “Dad felt seriously that he’d been given a military objective: to defeat the armed forces of Germany. All of our military doctrine from the days at West Point emphasizes that the object of military operations is the enemy’s armed forces, not cities … in the last days of the war, [Dad] was going to fight a military rather than a political war, unless told otherwise. … This was paramount in his thinking. That doesn’t mean to say he wasn’t suspicious of the Russians. He had been suspicious of them from as far back as the days at O.P.D. [Operations Division, War Department] in 1942 when a couple of them had come there, and they were so arrogant that he said, ‘My God, what are these people? What are they about?’”

Eisenhower formalized his views in a letter to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on April 7. “I regard it as militarily unsound,” he wrote,

at this stage of the proceedings to make Berlin a major objective, particularly in view of the fact that it is only 35 miles from the Russian lines. I am the first to admit that a war is waged in pursuance of political aims and if the Combined Chiefs of Staff should decide that the Allied effort to take Berlin outweighs purely military considerations in this theater, I would cheerfully readjust my plans and my thinking so as to carry out such an operation.

Eisenhower’s intentions remained to capture Berlin “only if feasible and practicable,” and he did suggest to Montgomery, “Naturally, if I get an opportunity to capture Berlin cheaply, I will take it.” Otherwise Eisenhower’s intentions were to continue implementing his present plan, which included a broad-front advance into the heart of Germany, establishing the Allied left flank on the Baltic Sea around Lübeck, and to disrupt any German effort to establish a national redoubt in the Bavarian Alps.

Eisenhower retained bitter memories from his experience in North Africa over Darlan, and knew better than to invade a political sphere without directions from above. However, in the case of Berlin, Eisenhower’s decision had the enthusiastic backing of Marshall, who likewise wanted no part of the German capital, and despite strong remonstrations from both Churchill and his military chiefs that Eisenhower had committed a political gaffe and exceeded his authority, the U.S. chiefs gave the supreme commander their full backing to run the war his way.

If the United States and Britain (collectively or individually) had developed a strategy to deal with the Russians, it was never communicated to Eisenhower. Thus, when the Combined Chiefs failed to take up the question of Berlin or instruct him what action he should take regarding the city, Eisenhower felt free to continue operating under his original broadly worded mandate to “enter the continent of Europe, and in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” With Roosevelt’s health failing badly, there was a power vacuum in Washington that, in military matters, was filled by Marshall. In Eisenhower’s mind the lack of response from the chiefs constituted tacit acceptance of his present intentions. He would therefore continue to direct the final weeks of the war on a strictly military basis.

Although Churchill protested that Allied failure to take Berlin would “raise grave and formidable difficulties in the future,” Roosevelt endorsed Eisenhower’s decision to halt at the Elbe. The final humiliation for the British was that with Leipzig and the Elbe the principal Allied objectives instead of Berlin, Montgomery not only lost Ninth Army, which was given back to Bradley, but he was now placed in the unaccustomed role of supporting Bradley’s advance.

Churchill and Eisenhower exchanged spirited telegrams over Berlin, but the prime minister’s entreaties that the city was too important to ignore (“the supreme signal of defeat to the German people”) fell on unresponsive ears. When the prime minister expressed dismay that His Majesty’s forces would be relegated “to an unexpectedly restricted sphere,” Eisenhower retorted that he was “disturbed, if not hurt, that you should suggest any thought on my part to ‘relegate His Majesty’s forces. … Nothing is further from my mind and I think my record of over two and a half years commanding the Allied forces should eliminate any such idea.” Exasperated, Churchill exclaimed to Brooke, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them!” To Roosevelt he expressed his disappointment over Eisenhower’s telegram to Stalin, but assured FDR that he and Ike remained on good terms with each other, as characterized by Churchill’s rare use of a Latin quotation: Amantium irae amoris integratio est, which evoked smiles when someone in the War Department translated the phrase and sent it to Eisenhower: “Lovers’ quarrels are a part of love.”

Churchill cabled Roosevelt that he wished to place on record “the complete confidence felt by His Majesty’s Government in General Eisenhower, our pleasure that our armies are serving under his command and our admiration of the great and shining qualities of character and personality which he has proved himself to possess.” Nevertheless, it was simply not in Churchill’s nature to concede defeat, and he renewed his argument over Berlin to Roosevelt, “as the truest friends and comrades that ever fought side by side as allies. … I say quite frankly that Berlin remains of high strategic importance.” The following day he cabled Eisenhower, “I deem it highly important that we should shake hands with the Russians as far east as possible.” Churchill’s entreaties failed to sway Roosevelt or to alter Eisenhower’s intention to halt at the Elbe.

Any attempt by the United States and Britain to capture Berlin might have brought about open conflict not only with the Red Army, but certainly with the city’s German defenders, and the resulting bloodbath of Allied casualties would have all but ruined Eisenhower’s reputation. What remains indisputable is that Eisenhower’s hands were already tied by the Big Three agreement over the division of occupied Germany, and had the British or Americans captured Berlin, most of the territory taken west of the city would have had to be ceded right back to the Russians. “Why should we endanger the life of a single American or Briton to capture areas we soon will be handing over to the Russians?” Eisenhower would remark more than once at SHAEF staff meetings.

While most of the postwar controversy was second-guessing, hindsight also serves to raise the obvious question of why there was no policy in place regarding Berlin and the Russians other than the zones of occupation formally agreed to at Yalta. Robert Murphy believes that Eisenhower had been so deeply affected by the scenes at Buchenwald and Ohrdruf that his “hatred for Nazism intensified his determination to have no conflict with Russia about Germany.”

Eisenhower nevertheless remained apprehensive about the meeting of Russian and Allied forces: “You know the Russians have been arrogant, and I just don’t know what our future is going to be with them. I’ve got to send Patton down into Austria to take as much of Austria as possible. But I sure wish I had more of my divisions concentrated up here on the First Army front, ready to meet these people when they come in, on the Elbe and Mulde Rivers.”

In the early morning hours of April 17 the Russians launched their final offensive along the Oder, which led to the capture of Berlin. Twenty-two divisions backed by massive artillery and rocket fire rained some half million rounds on the Germans, who, in one of their final paroxysms of defensive fury, managed to slow but not stop the vast numbers of tanks and infantry arrayed against them. On both sides it was butchery rivaling the Somme or Verdun.

Shortly before noon on April 25, two separate patrols of the U.S. 69th Division made contact with the Red Army at the Elbe, and in one of the most epic moments of the war the eastern and western fronts were joined. After the war Bedell Smith had mixed emotions over Eisenhower’s decision. “The line of the Elbe,” he said,

was decided on as a primarily military tactical matter. We frankly wanted water between us and the Russians. … We needed a definite line of demarcation. The Elbe was the most convenient one. Berlin had ceased to have military value. The political heart of Germany was Berlin, the industrial one the Ruhr. The latter had ceased to beat, while the former was about to stop. … Churchill bitterly opposed our stopping and … I have often thought … it would have been better to follow him. But the American people wouldn’t have put up with it. They would have hanged us to a lamp post. We leaned over backward to give them a proper deal, and it was a mistake.

The Berlin controversy spawned various wildly erroneous scenarios, including that Eisenhower made some sort of “deal” to keep Allied forces out of Berlin. Smith has emphatically stated, “Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no political consideration involved and there was no agreement on this score with the Russians.”

Eisenhower rarely defended himself publicly, but in the postwar years the debates and criticism over his Berlin decision did lead to a testy defense of his decision during the 1952 presidential election campaign: “None of his critics, he noted bitingly, had offered ‘to go out and choose the ten thousand mothers’ whose sons would have been killed capturing ‘a worthless objective.’”

Eisenhower’s numbers were, in fact, very conservative, and when Eisenhower asked Bradley for his estimate of what it would cost in casualties to take Berlin, was told to expect at least one hundred thousand. Given the ferocious street-by-street fighting between the Red Army and the last Nazi holdouts, Bradley’s estimate also appears to have been conservative. In mid-April the Red Army began a three-week siege of Berlin. Russian losses were staggering. During the siege, between April 16 and May 8, 1945, German troops responded to Hitler’s order to fight to the death by inflicting a staggering 361,367 casualties on the Red Army before Berlin was reduced to smoking rubble.

The final word on Berlin is summed up by Marshall’s official biographer, who points out that “[t]he crux of the argument lies in the charge that Marshall and Eisenhower failed to think politically. … It was not the failure by the military leaders to think of political consequences but their refusal to make political decisions that their critics apparently deplore. On that point the position of Marshall and Eisenhower was in the soundest tradition of the Republic.”

Eisenhower’s Berlin decision was closely tied to one of the war’s great fantasies: the so-called but mythical National Redoubt in the mountains of southern Bavaria and northern Austria, where Hitler and a group of Nazi leaders were thought to have planned to retreat and conduct a last-ditch fight to the death. The myth had its origins in September 1944 when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) element operating in Bern, Switzerland, headed by Allen Dulles, reported that Nazi leaders were preparing to make their final stand in the Bavarian Alps centered on Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. This was followed by a report issued by the OSS HQ in Washington that not only asserted German intentions but stated that the Redoubt was all but a reality. However, the OSS predictions were at odds with intelligence reports emanating from SHAEF and—with one exception—its subordinate armies. “Most Allied intelligence officers discounted the likelihood of any formidable, self-contained fortress in the Alps,” noted an official U.S. historian. The British official history concluded that “the very name ‘National Redoubt’ seems to have been introduced by the Allies, who borrowed it from the Swiss.”

Although the fiction ought to have died, it could no longer be ignored when its three strongest proponents became Eisenhower, Bedell Smith, and Bradley, all of whom grew obsessed with the notion that Hitler was planning a final stand in a National Redoubt, which might well prolong the war for a lengthy period of months, perhaps more than a year.

The theory was fueled at SHAEF by Smith, who believed that the Germans could muster between 100 and 150 divisions. This utterly preposterous notion was arrived at despite the fact that there was almost nothing of substance in SHAEF’s own intelligence estimates to encourage such a conclusion, particularly one so wildly inaccurate. Kenneth Strong headed the skeptics and would allow only for the possibility that Hitler might leave a core of Nazis in the Alps to one day restore Nazism to Germany. Smith and Eisenhower may have been misled initially by the SHAEF intelligence summary of March 11, 1945, which reported various signs of preparations in the area thought to be the redoubt, along with “considerable numbers of SS and specially chosen units” withdrawing into Austria.

The value of intelligence as a commander’s coin of the realm cannot be overemphasized. However, intelligence is only as useful as it is current, and by early April SHAEF’s intelligence summaries were increasingly discounting the possibility of such organized resistance. By mid-March it was clear that resistance was crumbling so fast that even the hard-core Nazis no longer believed they could avoid defeat. Moreover, any lingering doubts about the existence and threat of a National Redoubt ought to have been satisfied by a report issued by the SHAEF Joint Intelligence Committee on April 10, which stated unequivocally, “There is no evidence to show that the strategy of the German High Command is being conducted with a view to occupying eventually the so-called National Redoubt.” Moreover, “the area is not one which could support large forces for any length of time even if, as is improbable, large quantities of supplies have been dumped [there].”

“The plot,” notes Smith’s biographer, “might more properly have been found in the cheap spy novels Eisenhower and Smith liked to read than in the councils of the Allied high command.” At a press conference on April 21 Smith admitted,

This so-called “national redoubt” is something we don’t know a whole lot about. We do know that the Germans have, as they could, shifted men and matériel and supplies down there. … Just what we will find down there we don’t know. We are beginning to think it will be a lot more than we expect. … Our target now, if we are going to bring this war to an end and bring it to an end in a hell of a hurry, is this national redoubt and we are organizing our strength in that direction. … We may find that when we have cut the head from the snake the tail won’t wiggle very long.

Smith not only completely misjudged the issue, but even when it was clear that the Russians were in Berlin, he refused to alter his view that a quick victory was still not probable.40 There can be little doubt that Smith’s miscalculations played into Eisenhower’s concerns about the National Redoubt. “The evidence was clear,” an unrepentant Eisenhower wrote after the war, “that the Nazi intended to make the attempt and I decided to give him no opportunity to carry it out.”

Eisenhower had the full endorsement of Bradley, who was likewise convinced of the existence of a National Redoubt, which, he said, was “too ominous a threat to be ignored and in consequence it shaped our tactical thinking during the closing weeks of the war.” Bradley, wrote Chester Hansen in his diary, “is convinced that we shall have to fight the Germans in the mountain wilderness of southern Germany and there destroy the core of his SS units which are determined to carry on the battle.” Bradley predicted there might be twenty SS divisions, “supplied through a system of underground factories and supported by aircraft from underground hangers [sic]” from which “he could presumably have held out for a year.” No one seems to have questioned where these divisions might have come from, particularly in view of the fact that Model’s forces in the Ruhr had been thoroughly bottled up and then surrendered. In A Soldier’s Story Bradley ruefully admitted that it had existed “largely in the imaginations of a few fanatic Nazis.” Only after a senior German general in a position to have known surrendered to Ninth Army did it finally become clear, at least to Bradley, that they had been chasing a ghost. “I am astonished we could have believed it as innocently as we did.”

Not until a week before his death did Hitler issue a rather broadly worded directive outlining the creation of a “last bulwark of fanatical resistance” in the Alps, which came far too late in the war to have been established. The British official historian was unable to discern “any clear intention” on the part of Hitler

to make a “last-ditch” stand in the Alps or anywhere else in particular unless it were in Berlin. … Indeed, the greater the threat to Berlin, the more tenaciously did Hitler cling to the idea of holding out there at all costs … for Hitler the notion of a “redoubt” was no more than a momentary idea. … An examination of the contemporary German evidence available to us [in 1968] shows quite conclusively that the so-called “National Redoubt” never existed outside the imaginations of the combatants.

The final irony was that in the last days of the Third Reich, when Joseph Goebbels learned of the Allied delusion over the Redoubt, his propaganda machine scored one of its greatest coups by effectively playing on Allied suppositions in much the same way that the Germans had been hoaxed before D-Day by Fortitude.45

The myth of the National Redoubt might have been merely incidental and a lesson in leaping to false conclusions had it not been for its profound effect on Eisenhower’s strategic thinking. As Russell Weigley points out, despite evidence to the contrary, “Eisenhower and Bradley had already moved their armies as though the threat of the Redoubt merited a high strategic priority, higher than Berlin.”

The decision to turn de Lattre’s French First Army, Hodges’s First Army, and Patton’s Third Army south toward Switzerland, Bavaria, and Austria came at a time when Montgomery’s army group was thinly spread. With Ninth Army committed to securing and guarding the Elbe, there was no American force available to provide support to carry out his mission of capturing northern Germany, securing the Baltic ports, and liberating Denmark.

Eisenhower’s controversial decisions regarding Berlin and the National Redoubt notwithstanding, during the month of April 1945 the death knell of the Third Reich sounded as the rampaging Allied armies began mopping up pockets of resistance from the central plains to the Alps, capturing tens of thousands of prisoners and drawing the noose ever tighter.

With his nation in ruins and his armies destroyed, Hitler designated the head of the German navy, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, to carry on the fight as his successor, then committed suicide on the night of April 30. His corpse and that of his mistress, Eva Braun, were burned on a funeral pyre outside his Berlin bunker in a scene that would have done justice to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. To the bitter end the German madman who had unleashed the worst conflagration in history entertained fantastical delusions that somehow he could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

By May 1, 1945, both the U.S. First and Ninth Armies were astride the Mulde and Elbe Rivers, where they halted as ordered, while to the south the Seventh Army was advancing deep into Bavaria and Austria. To the north Montgomery’s troops were nearing Hamburg and Lübeck. Patton’s Third Army had driven into Austria and Czechoslovakia, but—in yet another controversial decision by Eisenhower—his troops were forbidden to enter the capital of Prague. At Churchill’s instigation the British chiefs of staff exhorted the U.S. Joint Chiefs to compel Eisenhower to liberate Prague and Czechoslovakia before the arrival of the Red Army. The State Department, agreeing that Czechoslovakia was a political prize that should be denied the Russians, urged Truman’s concurrence. Truman consulted Marshall, who passed the request back to Eisenhower, who replied that he thought that the Red Army would liberate Prague before Patton could get there, and thus elected to halt Third Army at the prewar border near Pilsen (now Plzeň). Marshall supported his decision. “Personally and aside from all logistic, tactical or strategical implications, I would be loath to hazard American lives for purely political purposes.”

However, Third Army, which had captured Nuremberg, advanced to the Danube, and been astride the Czech border for several weeks, was primed to advance into both Czechoslovakia and Austria. Patton had begged for permission to push on but had been firmly restrained by a stop line beyond which Third Army was not to advance without permission. Bradley thought that Prague could have been liberated within twenty-four hours. On May 4 Eisenhower finally authorized Third Army to cross the Czech border, but there was to be no advance beyond Pilsen. That same day units of the U.S. Seventh Army and the U.S. Fifth Army driving north from Italy made contact at Austria’s Brenner Pass.

Bradley believed that Patton might ignore the new stop line, and on May 6 excitedly telephoned to reaffirm Eisenhower’s order. “You hear me, George, goddamnit, halt!” Reluctantly Patton complied. This decision brought about the repercussions Churchill had correctly feared. An uprising by the Czech Resistance against the SS in Prague was ruthlessly suppressed, while Third Army sat idle, a mere forty miles away, but under orders not to intervene. Although conceding that Eisenhower’s reasons for halting at Pilsen were sound, Patton wrote shortly before his death, “I was very much chagrined, because I felt, and I still feel, that we should have gone on the Moldau River and, if the Russians didn’t like it, let them go to hell.”

Rush to Manchuria – Twin Dangers

There were two dangers in the approach of MacArthur’s troops to the Manchurian frontiers. One was military, the other political. The military danger was the possibility of a clash on the frontier between troops of the great powers. The political danger—for some people—was that no such clash would occur. The liquidation of the Korean War, which had been unsettling the Far East, would end military operations and clear the way for political decisions. In an atmosphere of peace, it would be difficult to keep Communist China out of the United Nations and prevent its recovery of Formosa. And MacArthur after Wake Island held “unalterably” to the view that Formosa must not be allowed to “fall into the hands of a potential enemy.”

Here Chiang Kai-shek and MacArthur had a common outlook, while Rhee for the first time threatened to diverge from them. The intervention of Communist China in Korea could be utilized in the United States to raise Chiang from an inconvenient dependent to a full ally, while the need to hold Formosa as an American base would be made undeniable by the logic of war. For Rhee, on the contrary, intervention would mean the loss of Korea again. And when the Chinese—as we shall see—did intervene, “some South Korean officials were suggesting,” the New York Times noted cryptically on November 5 in its weekly news summary, “a deal with Peiping —withdrawal of Chinese troops in return for a guarantee of continued power” from the Yalu dams.

Only those with some knowledge of American advertising and publicity methods can fully appreciate the Korean War. It was a war fought with one eye on the headlines. Tokyo Headquarters had something to “sell.” What it was trying to “sell” was the idea that the Korean War was not and could not be “localized.” In accord with this strategy, every bit of evidence which might show, or be made to show, Chinese or Russian intervention was highlighted and exaggerated except during one short period. In that period, the three weeks after the Wake Island meeting, when Chinese military intervention actually began, every effort was made by Tokyo Headquarters to discount and disparage reports of this intervention, as if to avoid new directives from Washington to prevent a large-scale clash.

The sequence of events is most revealing. On October 20 MacArthur’s troops captured the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. MacArthur, personally directing a sensational paratroop jump to cut off the escape route of its fleeing defenders, declared the Korean War was “definitely” coming to an end. At the same time, on the other side of the peninsula, the First Marine Division had moved into the port of Wonsan and MacArthur had “ordered the South Korean divisions under his command to push for the Manchurian border as fast as they could go.”

It did indeed look as if the Korean War was over. On October 21 Hanson Baldwin reported from Wonsan: “There are increasing evidences that the Russians have cut their losses in Korea and are pulling out altogether. The flow of traffic down the east coast highway from Vladivostok apparently has been halted altogether and the Russian advisers and technicians, who were present in fairly large numbers here at Wonsan and elsewhere, apparently have fled over the border after attempts to destroy or conceal the supplies and material they could not evacuate.”

The Chinese Reds also appeared to be ready to accept the North Korean defeat in Korea and to concentrate on their main interest, Formosa. On October 24 a Peking radio broadcast said Chinese Premier Chou En-lai had asked Trygve Lie to make arrangements for a Peking delegation to attend Security Council talks on Formosa. “This,” the United Press reported from Tokyo, “was a complete about-face for General Chou.” A week earlier the Peking radio said the Premier had rejected an invitation to take part in that discussion. It looked as if peace might be about to break out.

That there were increased concentrations of Chinese troops in Manchuria near the Korean frontier was well known. Movements toward that frontier had been reported, as we have seen, from Hong Kong and elsewhere. Hanson Baldwin’s dispatch from Wonsan on the 21st, from which we have just quoted, said there were believed to be 250,000 Chinese Communist troops massed near the frontier, with another 200,000 elsewhere in Manchuria, and that while the number of planes at their disposal was unknown it might, including Russian planes at Port Arthur and Dairen, amount to more than 3000.

“The increased concentration of some of these planes and troops near Korea,” Baldwin cabled, “although it is being carefully watched, is not viewed too seriously.… With South Korean troops moving steadily northward up the east coast and with Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in United Nations hands, it is considered natural for the Chinese Communists to strengthen the frontier.”

“However,” Baldwin added, “it is possible that the Communists’ concept of defense might include an advance south of the Korean frontier for a limited distance to set up a buffer zone between Manchuria and Korea.… The Chinese Communists and perhaps the Russians too may be sensitive about the Yalu River power complex, which supplies not only North Korea but parts of Manchuria, including Port Arthur and Dairen, with power. The grids and distribution system are believed to be on the North Korean side of the frontier.”

The 38th Parallel had been crossed on the 7th of October by non-Korean forces without provoking Chinese intervention. It appeared that Peking had abandoned North Korea and decided to reverse itself and take part in United Nations discussions on Formosa but had massed troops to protect its frontier. Its vital interests in the power facilities of the Yalu border were well understood, and the American government seemed to be doing all in its power, too, to avoid a clash. On October 24 a spokesman for the United States First Corps in Korea announced that “foreign troops,” that is, non-South-Korean troops in the peninsula, “would halt forty miles south of the Manchurian border in their pursuit of the shattered North Korean Communist army.”

United States and British troops were then still about sixty miles from the border, while South Koreans were already within thirty miles of it. The “directive,” said a cable from the New York Times correspondent in Tokyo, would not cover the South Koreans but meant that “United States, British, and other non-Korean forces will refrain from invading the strip of ‘buffer territory’ between the international boundary and the lands wrested from Communist control.” The same dispatch also announced the establishment of a new “bomb line” to protect advancing South Koreans. But this did not mean that there would be bombing “directly along the Yalu River where a series of power plants provide electric current both for Manchuria and North Korea, and might be considered vital to the interest of the Chinese Communist government, the Air Force spokesman emphasized.”

Something else had happened in North Korea, which was not made known until later—when its significance was distorted. When the forty-mile buffer zone was announced by the United States First Corps in Korea, troops had already been sent southward across the border by the Chinese Reds to protect the dams. These are the facts: On October 16 “the 370th Regiment of the 124th Division of the Chinese Communist Forty-Second Army, consisting of approximately 2500 troops,” crossed the Yalu River, the frontier between China and Korea, “and proceeded to the area of Chosan (Changjin) and Fusan (Pujon) dams in North Korea.”

On October 20 “a Chinese Communist task force known as the ‘Fifty-sixth’ unit consisting of approximately 5000 troops” crossed the Yalu frontier “and deployed to positions in Korea south of the Suiho dam.” These troop dispositions showed the intention of the Chinese Reds to protect the dams. They also showed the danger of a clash if UN troops, especially American or British troops, were sent into the area.

The buffer zone order was announced by the spokesman for the United States First Corps in Korea on October 24. Two days later President Truman told his press conference in Washington that “it was his understanding that only South Korean troops would occupy the north frontier of Korea in the final drive of the war there.” In reply to questions he announced that this “would apply to the entire northern border.”

That same day, October 26, the South Koreans finally reached the Yalu frontier. And, that same day, the New York Times man cabled from Tokyo: “General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters for the first time formally denied repeated reports that United Nations forces would halt south of the Chinese Communist line and establish ‘buffer territory’ along the Yalu River in an attempt to avoid possible international incidents. A spokesman told correspondents, ‘The mission of the United Nations is to clear Korea.’ This, a spokesman asserted, he had been ‘authorized to state’—presumably by General MacArthur.”

I believe that this was a clear act of insubordination on MacArthur’s part. Perhaps MacArthur gambled on the hope that with the Congressional elections less than two weeks away on November 7 the President would hesitate to make an issue of it. If so, the gamble proved correct. MacArthur got away with it. If MacArthur was also gambling that penetration of the buffer zone by non-Korean troops would be sure to provoke Chinese intervention, he won that gamble, too.

The day after MacArthur Headquarters made clear its intention to defy the President, the news from the battlefield was that “enemy resistance for the first time in several days included large organized bodies of troops, artillery, and mortar fire.” “The most dangerous situation came around Onjong, where the South Koreans had been thrusting in that area toward the Yalu River’s great Supung dam that provides electric power not only for North Korea but for Mukden and Dairen—a matter of considerable importance to both Manchurian and Soviet industry.”

Were these the Chinese Communist troops deployed to protect the dams? A radio message from the Second Regiment of the South Korean Sixth Division on October 26 said it had been surrounded by three Chinese Communist battalions near Onjong, but a spokesman for the United States Eighth Army “ridiculed” these reports in a briefing on October 28.

“The Eighth Army spokesman,” said a cable datelined “With U.S. Forces, Korea” in the New York Times that day, “said investigation showed the report was based on the stories of two prisoners of war ‘each of whom told six different stories, adding up to twelve stories, which added up to nothing.’”

Were these prisoners Koreans or Chinese? The dispatch did not say, but it did go on to report that the Eighth Army spokesman “pointed out that individual Chinese were in the North Korean Army and occasional ones had been taken prisoner as far south as the Pusan front two months ago.” A few weeks earlier MacArthur Headquarters would not have allowed the possibility of “individual” Chinese in the North Korean forces to be dismissed so lightly.

Were there only “individual” Chinese fighting in North Korea at that time? Then the dispatch quietly made an amazing statement: “The Army concedes the possibility that a token force of Chinese Communists, perhaps a regiment, may be somewhere in North Korea but discounts the possibility that any large force from across the Manchurian border is now in action.” Why was the possibility of “a token force … perhaps a regiment” conceded?

This raises two further questions, which we shall consider seriatim. The first is, was this fact “conceded” because Army intelligence already knew of those crossings? The second is, if military intelligence already knew of those crossings, why did it say nothing about them, choosing instead to ridicule reports of Chinese intervention?

The authority for the statement on the border crossings of October 16 and October 20 is General MacArthur himself. The source is the special report he sent the Security Council on November 6, 1950, the text of which was published in the New York Times of November 7, 1950.

The report does not say when this information became known to American military intelligence—much less why it was held back until November 6. But the wording of the paragraph on the first crossing, that of October 16, would seem to indicate that it became known immediately. This is how it reads: “The 370th Regiment of the 124th Division of the Chinese Communist Forty-second Army, consisting of approximately 2500 troops … proceeded to the area of Chosen (Changjin) and Fusan (Pujon) dams in North Korea … [and] came in contact with United Nations forces approximately forty miles north of Hamhung.” It does not say they clashed. It merely says they “came in contact.” If United Nations forces came in contact with Chinese Communist troops in the area of these dams, they must have notified Headquarters at once. Apparently they were not ordered to advance and fight, to repel the invaders or capture the dam area. Why not? Was there a kind of truce at the point in pursuance of earlier directives?

In any case that first crossing was on the 16th. Ten days later MacArthur made it clear that, despite the President’s views and earlier announcement of a “buffer zone,” he intended to send not only South Korean but other troops all the way to the Yalu frontier. Was he still ignorant of the fact that his troops were already “in contact” with Chinese Communist troops who had crossed the Yalu ten days earlier and proceeded to the area of the Changjin and Pujon dams? Was he still ignorant of the fact that four days later another Chinese Communist task force had crossed the Yalu and been “deployed” (the word is his) south of the Suiho dam?

The MacArthur report of November 6 to the Security Council is also significantly silent as to when he learned about the border crossing of the 20th. Beyond what we have already quoted, all it said about this task force was that “a captured Chinese Communist soldier of this task force states that his group was organized out of the regular Chinese Communist Fortieth Army stationed at Antung, Manchuria.” When was he captured? How was he captured? The report does not say there was any clash between this task force and MacArthur’s forces, yet they must have been pretty close to take a prisoner from the Chinese Communists. Was he a scout? Was there an unofficial truce at that point, too?

We do not know. What we do know from the MacArthur report is that there was almost immediate “contact” with the first force and that a soldier had been taken prisoner from the second. We also know MacArthur did not lack aerial reconnaissance in the area; unlike the bombing flights, reconnaissance flights were officially permitted all the way to the border. It is almost impossible to believe that by October 26 MacArthur Headquarters did not know of the second border crossing six days before. That MacArthur’s intelligence knew would explain why the Eighth Army spokesman on October 28 gratuitously “conceded” the possibility of “a token force … perhaps a regiment” of Chinese Communists below the border.

If military intelligence already knew of these crossings, why would it keep silent and allow a military spokesman instead to “ridicule” reports of intervention? The answer may be that if the crossing of the border by Chinese Communist troops to defend the dam areas had been publicized, public opinion would have been alerted to the danger of permitting the buffer zone to be invaded even by South Korean troops—a danger still greater if the troops were American and British.

The day the Eighth Army spokesman ridiculed reports that Chinese Communist troops were in Korea, the day’s war roundup from Tokyo said that United States Marines on the east coast, after landing behind South Korean lines, were preparing to move forward. “Their first destination,” the dispatch said, “was understood to be the Hamhung-Hungnam area, from where they could strike up the coast toward the Soviet border or through the mountains to the headwaters of the Yalu River.” The Marines, in other words, were headed straight for trouble, either on the Soviet or the Chinese border.

At the same time there was evidence of some squirming at MacArthur Headquarters, perhaps under the impact of alarmed protests from Washington on the buffer zone question. The confusion and equivocation were apparent when Parrott cabled the New York Times that day from Tokyo that “Meanwhile, a somewhat complex situation has arisen over President Truman’s declaration that the Yalu frontier would be occupied by South Koreans, not Americans, coupled with statements by responsible officers here that the mission of the United Nations is to clear North Korea, and United States divisions are free to advance wherever the tactical situation demands.”

This reference to “tactical” considerations, as an excuse for strategic decisions with basic political implications, was typical of MacArthur Headquarters whenever the 38th Parallel or any other line on which to halt short of the frontiers was suggested. The possible “tactical” need to repulse an enemy foray became an excuse for large-scale advances in contravention of political decisions.

The kind of rearguard excuses which were passing over the “telecon” from Tokyo Headquarters to the Pentagon may also have been reflected in what Parrott added. “Speculation is,” he cabled, “that the plan was to permit the South Koreans and other United Nations troops to advance to the border by themselves, supported only by United States planes, guns, and armor, if they proved able to do so.” (Italics added.) That sounded as if Tokyo Headquarters was hedging by admitting that the South Koreans were supposed to advance while the American troops held back but insisting that a loophole had been left for aid by American ground forces “if necessary.” Unlike the camel and the needle’s eye, whole American divisions seemed to thread with ease through loopholes of this kind under MacArthur’s expert hand.

“In any case,” Parrott concluded, “it was indicated the border zone would be ‘occupied’ by South Koreans after hostilities end.” Was this Tokyo Headquarters’ concession to the Pentagon? It slyly dodged the one main point, which was not who would occupy the border zone but how to avoid clashes between the troops of the great powers in the closing days of the war.

While the argument went on, the advance of American, British, and Australian forces into the border area continued. MacArthur Headquarters on October 29 “continued to minimize reports from the South Korean Army that 40,000 Chinese Communist troops had crossed the border to join in the defense of the perimeter along the Yalu River, with its important hydroelectric plants serving both North Korea and the Sino-Soviet Mukden-Dairen industrial complex.”

That day, however, MacArthur Headquarters started to change its tune a bit. “A spokesman for the intelligence section of General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters asserted,” the same dispatch went on, “that the United Nations Command’s G-2 was not in a position either to confirm or deny the presence on the front of some Chinese soldiers.” Were the facts in the front lines becoming too obvious?

Headquarters was still anxious to soft-pedal talk of Chinese intervention. “It was the headquarters belief,” the cable continued, “that these will prove to be more Manchurian-bred Koreans, like the men of the two Korean divisions of the Chinese Communist Army, which were transferred to the North Korean Red regime after the Chinese Civil War. The situation, the spokesman said, was ‘not alarming.’”

The reader will note how flexibly these two Korean divisions of the Chinese Communist Army were “deployed” by MacArthur Headquarters. Not many weeks earlier, as we have seen, they were marched out as evidence of Chinese Communist intervention. Now they are used in a quick flanking action against reports of such intervention. This may not be in accord with Clausewitz, but it was smart by Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn standards. It was slick “public relations.”

When front-line dispatches reported that “Chinese and North Korean elements” were trying to block the advance of the Eighth Army’s First Division to the border, Lieutenant General Walton Walker, the Army’s commander, “declined comment but he appeared inclined to doubt that the capture of a few Chinese soldiers in the border area had great significance.”

Never were Army officers so anxious to deny what only a few weeks earlier they had been striving to prove. “Officers of the United States Eighth Army in Korea,” a cable from Tokyo reported, “said that as far as verified information was concerned, the United Nations forces were still in contact only with the North Korean army. A few allegedly Chinese prisoners, who were taken near Unsan last week, the spokesman said, told several conflicting stories regarding their presence in Korea, and there certainly has been ‘no great influx’ of Chinese soldiers across the Yalu River.”

The term Chinese was even put in quotation marks in reports emanating from these briefings, as if to indicate its dubious worth. “The tendency,” the cable went on, “was to regard the ‘Chinese’ captured on the front as Koreans from the border zone where—on both sides of the river—the Korean-Chinese population is strongly intermixed and often bilingual.”

While the Peking radio on October 29 termed the MacArthur advance to the frontiers a threat to Manchuria and called on the Chinese people to support the Korean people against “American imperialism,” Headquarters still insisted on the 30th that “hardening resistance” and the appearance of “Soviet-made armor, in somewhat larger numbers than a week ago” merely indicated that the North Koreans had pulled together their remaining weapons for “a last stand,” not that “any large-scale reinforcements had been received from Communist China.” By that time the contrast between what the front lines knew and what Headquarters admitted must have been so wide that if MacArthur had been a New Dealer instead of a right-wing darling, he would have been suspected of covering up for the Reds.

On October 31, MacArthur Headquarters began at last to concede that Chinese Communists were fighting in Korea. A spokesman for the Tenth Army Corps in Tokyo that day identified as soldiers of the Chinese Red Army a force which had cut the communications of South Korean Capital Division advance guards “pushing in from the east coast toward Pujon reservoir.” He said unofficial reports indicated that the Chinese Communists “were at least in regimental strength and possibly numbered as much as one division.”

This first tentative admission followed “repeated assertions by South Korean Army leaders that their men for several days had been facing elements of the Chinese Fortieth Corps, which supposedly had been concentrated along the Yalu River.”

Correspondents in Tokyo began to notice offstage rumblings which sounded remarkably like preparations to exploit this intervention. From Tokyo that day the New York Times correspondent reported, “Some sources here believed that this stiffening resistance and the reports of a Chinese counteroffensive indicated a breakdown in the plan to permit South Koreans and possibly other non-American United Nations troops to drive to the Manchurian border while United States forces remained outside some ‘buffer area’ south of the Yalu.”

In Washington, the State Department’s press spokesman, Michael McDermott, said with premature clairvoyance that if the reports of Chinese units in Korea should be proved “the matter would be one for the United Nations,” and “probably would result in a report from General Douglas MacArthur to the world organization.” McDermott was a little ahead of schedule.

General MacArthur still seemed reluctant to acknowledge the fact of Chinese intervention. The longer the fighting continued, the harder it would be to order him to disengage his troops and withdraw. A United States or United Nations order to disengage and withdraw would have set the stage for peace negotiations. On the other hand, a gallant military order by MacArthur himself for his troops to withdraw before this new onslaught would set the stage for a demand that China be labeled the aggressor.

On November 1 the battle report from Tokyo based on that day’s military briefing said: “The Communists were fighting with the assistance of Russian-made weapons and Chinese troops to force the United Nations to wage a costly, difficult campaign in the unmapped snow-covered hills.” But the Headquarters spokesman insisted it “always” had been known that North Koreans “throughout the war” had received from Manchuria “men trained in the Chinese Communist forces” and “General MacArthur’s intelligence section frankly [sic] does not know whether or not actual Chinese Army units—as such [sic]—have been committed to the Korean War, the spokesman continued.”

The spokesman insisted that the evidence was still “insufficient to confirm that Chinese Communist forces in Chinese Army organizations under the direction either of Chinese or North Korean general headquarters were taking part in the conflict.” Ten Chinese soldiers had been captured in combat two days before, and some had already been flown back to Seoul for questioning. “An intelligence officer insisted there was no deliberate attempt to withhold information on this touchy political subject but he said he did not know,” the same dispatch reported, “in what language the prisoners were being interrogated.” Why was the presence of Chinese soldiers in Korea suddenly a “touchy” subject at Tokyo Headquarters?

The evaluation of the extent of Chinese intervention, Tokyo Headquarters insisted on November 1, must come from the commander in the field. But while MacArthur Headquarters was being so coy on the subject, a delayed dispatch dated two days earlier but published the same day in New York from the New York Times man at Tenth Corps Headquarters reported “the first official confirmation that a large force of Chinese as such was fighting against the UN forces in Korea.” Confirmation, it said, came from Major General Edward M. Almond’s Headquarters after a day filled with reports of heavy Red Chinese movements into Korea, and concluded, “Cheerful hopes that the war was virtually over were squelched here this evening.” It would be interesting to know why this dispatch was delayed two days in transmission, and whether MacArthur Headquarters on November 1 was still as ignorant as it claimed to be of a fact which Tenth Corps Headquarters had officially confirmed two days earlier.

On November 1, as heavy fighting spread in the border regions, jet-propelled fighter planes made their first appearance in the air on the Communist side, as did a new type of heavy rocket fired from launchers on the ground. There were grave indications of a readiness on the Chinese and Soviet side for a showdown as MacArthur’s forces approached the frontiers.

But on November 2, while a corps spokesman during the daily Tokyo briefing officially admitted that “Chinese troops” were in action, he added, “We don’t know whether they represent the Chinese government.”

Such delicacy was unusual. Perhaps one reason for it was alarm in Washington. There were indications that a halt might be ordered. The only United Nations gains on the ground November 1 were made by the Twenty-Fourth Division. But it halted, and “reports from the front said orders to suspend the advance had come from Headquarters of the United States Eighth Army, a statement that was not confirmed there, however.” On November 2 there were “unconfirmed reports” again in Tokyo “that the United Nations forces would not thrust to the Chinese border, but would leave a ‘buffer’ territory between them and the sensitive international frontier.”

Whatever might have been brewing over the “telecon” between Washington and Tokyo on November 2, an attack on a particularly sensitive spot was launched next day. A Tenth Corps spokesman said United States Marines started a general attack November 3 “toward the Changjin reservoir.” It was the Tenth Corps Headquarters which had first officially confirmed the entrance of Chinese forces into the Korean War. The day before the attack opened “toward the Changjin reservoir,” Major General Edward M. Almond, the Corps commander, denied to correspondents that any limit had been put on the United Nations forces, and said they would “fight their way all the way to the frontier.”

It was this same front-line dispatch dated November 2 which first disclosed the October 16 crossing. The dispatch cited General Almond himself as authority for saying that a regiment had crossed the Yalu at that time, but said his Headquarters “still does not choose to name the unit or either confirm or deny that there are more Chinese in the area.” “Korean officers and United States advisers who are considered to be in a position to know,” the dispatch continued, “say that the Chinese are of the 370th Regiment of the 124th Division of the 42nd Corps of the Chinese Communist Eighth Route Army. The South Koreans feel certain that the whole corps has been assigned to duty in Northern Korea.”

Under the circumstances, the launching of a general attack by American forces on Changjin reservoir on November 3 can only be regarded as a deliberate invitation to a fight with the Chinese Communists. The meagerness of the information squeezed out of Headquarters would seem to indicate that the General did not want the brazenness of his challenge understood by public opinion at home. If the Chinese had sent troops in to guard the reservoirs, that was a good reason for staying away from those areas; control of them was not necessary to complete the victory in Korea.

The effort to hide the dangerous potentialities in the situation reached its climax in the attitude of an Air Force spokesman who was questioned on November 3 about the jet fighters which had suddenly made their appearance. The spokesman insisted there were still air strips left on the Korean side which could handle fighter aircraft “possibly even jets.” Although the existence of neighboring air strips on the Manchurian side was well known, “Headquarters stuck to the thesis that ‘the war exists in Korea’ and an Air Force spokesman declined to discuss the Manchurian air strips.”

Fighting increased in intensity, but MacArthur Headquarters was still reluctant to admit Chinese intervention. Of all the weird statistics emanating from MacArthur Headquarters none was stranger than its estimate of November 4 as to the size of the North Korean forces. Six days earlier, on October 30, “a spokesman for General MacArthur” said in Tokyo that the North Korean Army had suffered 460,000 casualties in dead, wounded, and captured, and had only 37,000 men left, including guerrillas. On November 4, a spokesman at MacArthur Headquarters said the North Koreans “now had at least elements of twelve divisions and five independent brigades in the northern area.” The New York Times correspondent noted that at the peak of North Korea’s war effort it had only thirteen divisions in the field, and added that the enemy “apparently had an almost equal number of organizations again available for action, although some of the present ‘divisions’ probably numbered only a few thousand men.”

MacArthur Headquarters was still speaking only of “North Koreans.” It acknowledged that a major battle was under way in the western area and that the UN position was “uncomfortable” but denied that the situation was “critical.” The official spokesman “insisted that the United States and South Korean forces still were on the strategical offensive with the enemy making tactical counterattacks.”

MacArthur might be “recruiting” his North Koreans rather rapidly—to avoid a direct admission of Chinese intervention—but his friend Chiang on Formosa was not deceived. “Whatever Chinese Communist involvement in Korea may mean to the rest of the world,” said a cable from Formosa on November 4, “to Nationalist China it is held to mean new hope and restored confidence.… Prices disastrously high during the summer because of doubts over Formosa’s status, have swung downward sharply in the last four days. Currency is moving upward against gold.… Many persons feel there is hardly any doubt that Nationalist China now will be admitted as a full partner with the democracies opposing Communism.”

At Lake Success on November 4 it became known that the United States was considering the possibility of “accusing Communist China of participation in the Korean War.” In London the Foreign Office was reported alarmed over the extent of the intervention. On November 5 the Associated Press from Seoul was estimating the number of Chinese troops in Korea at 75,000, and the New York Times from Tokyo was talking of estimates of 50,000.

Behind a kind of smoke screen of denials, evasions, and underestimates from Tokyo, full-scale fighting was under way. On November 5 the American government was “reported tonight to be considering telling Communist China that power plants on the North Korean-Manchurian border would be attacked and destroyed if more Red troops were sent against the United Nations forces in Korea.”

And the next morning, November 6, General Douglas MacArthur finally let loose with his celebrated special communiqué accusing the Communists of committing “one of the most offensive acts of international lawlessness of historic record” by intervening in Korea from their “privileged sanctuary” across the border. The fat was in the fire.

Operation Brazil and Lone Wolf U-507 1942

B-25B “Lero-Lero”

Unit: Agrupamento de Aviхes de Adaptatio (Adaptation Airplane Group), Forca Aerea Brasileira

Serial: 10 (FAB-2310, US 40-2310)

Circa 1942. This is one of the first B-25’s of FAB.

FAB B-25’s arrived at Salvador in 1942 and then located at BANT, BAF and BAS (BAF – Base Aerea de Fortaleza (Fortaleza AB), Ceara / BANT – Base Aerea de Natal (Natal AB), Rio Grande do Norte / BAS – Base Aerea de Salvador (Salvador AB), Bahia). Her sisters was 40-2263, 40-2255, 40-2306, 40-2309, 40-2316 and 40-2245. The last one, the ’45’ was the first Brazilian airplane to engage an enemy in battle. In this case, the Italian submarine ‘Barbarigo’ in May 22, 1942.

Brazil’s air force had become active in hunting and attacking German submarines so it was already in the fight though the nation was officially neutral, but between August 15 and 19, the sinking of six ships off the Brazilian coast took the republic into the war. Notably the army wanted to revenge the deaths of the 16 officers and 125 men of its Seventh Artillery Group on the passenger ship Baependy (sunk on August 15). The sinking of the Baependy raised questions that went unaddressed, about the competence of army leaders who did not take adequate precautions against the known submarine threat. They may have thought that peaceful coastal traffic would not be attacked. It may puzzle readers that the Brazilian Navy did not provide an armed escort. The two services were not accustomed to cooperating, and the navy did not yet have an anti-submarine capability. A Brazilian officer of that era, Nelson Werneck Sodré, in his memoir, condemned the ineptitude of Dutra and Góes for allowing such an obviously dangerous troop movement and the insensitivity of the army bureaucracy in indemnifying the survivors with a mere month’s pay, whose payment was delayed. Unfortunately Sodré fertilized the Nazi-created rumors of American responsibility for the sinkings by saying that there was no proof that the submarines were German.

Of course there was proof, Sodré was either ignoring it or perhaps he did not want to believe it. Both Germany and Italy had submarines operating in the South Atlantic. On June 2, 1942, the Brazilian press reported that Brazilian air crews flying B-25s had sunk two Italian subs. Radio Berlin warned that retaliation would be swift. Authorities in Natal ordered a blackout to make night attacks more difficult. Marines at the Natal Air Base dug trenches and set up machine guns. Fear gripped the people of Natal because of the radio threats. The German government saw Brazilian cooperation with the American forces as the end of Brazilian neutrality and believed that when Brazil was ready it would formally enter the war. Likewise German officials seemed offended that a military nonentity of mixed race would dare take defensive measures against Axis vessels. The commander of the German Navy, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, on June 15, 1942, met with Hitler, who approved a massive submarine attack on Brazilian ports and coastal shipping, called “Operation Brazil.” Thereafter a number of subs, variously reported as eight to ten, left French ports for the South Atlantic.

The Brazilian fleet was all but obsolete and had no experience or appropriate vessels to combat submarines. The great 305 mm guns on its two 1910 battleships were useless against subs. The ports without anti-submarine nets were defenseless. Submarines could stealthily enter the great bays at Rio de Janeiro and Salvador da Bahia to sink vessels anchored there, and at Recife the area protected by the seawall was so small that many ships were anchored outside it. They made easy prey. The German submarines would encounter a Brazilian fleet “incapable of efficiently reacting to a surprise attack.” The hard truth was that “the extreme fragility of Brazilian naval defense was similar to that in the Army and in the recently created Air Force.” Brazil was paying the price for successive governments’ inability to pull the country out of its deep underdevelopment.

The reader should recall that Brazil of 1942 was totally dependent on the sea for transport among its coastal cities north of Rio de Janeiro. Vitória, Salvador, Maceió, ecife, Natal, Fortaleza, São Luis, and Belém were basically islands separated one from the others by vast stretches of land. Brazilians, at the time, described the country as an archipelago. There were no long-distance connecting railroads or all-weather highways. Indeed in 1942–1943, “there were eighty miles of paved road in that vast country outside of the cities.” Rudimentary aviation was available only to a small portion of the elite. The first regular flight between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo began in August 1936 with two 17-passenger German-made Junkers . That same year construction began on Brazil’s first civilian airport, Rio’s Santos Dumont , which would be completed only in 1947! Significantly it was built on landfill in Guanabara Bay partly to accommodate the seaplanes of international airlines. Everything moved by water, which meant that the Brazilian economy could be shattered by submarines. The consequences of such an attack for the political situation could only be bad. Vargas was slowly recovering from his May automobile accident and would be in no condition to hold things together. Moreover, despite the political-military accord signed with the United States in May, the Brazilian high command was not hurrying to implement it.

Providentially, Hitler had approved “Operation Brazil” with the stipulation that before it was launched there should be a review of the diplomatic situation. That brought the plan to the foreign ministry and the desk of former ambassador to Brazil, Karl Ritter, the same who had been declared “persona non grata” and expelled by Oswaldo Aranha. Ritter was responsible for liaison between the foreign ministry and the military. Such a submarine offensive against still officially neutral Brazil would mean expanding the war. Ritter argued that pushing Brazil into the conflict could have negative consequences for interactions with Chile and Argentina, who still had diplomatic and commercial relations with the Axis. Besides he thought that Italy and Japan ought to be consulted before such an attack. From an operational point of view, an attack was complicated by the great distance from Europe and the submarine’s vulnerability during the 26 days en route. The submarines would have to surface regularly to recharge their batteries and so would be vulnerable to attack. It was true that because Brazil was neutral, its cities would be lit up at night making it easier to see targets in silhouette, and Brazilian coastal shipping would likely still be brightly lit. It should be noted that submarine attacks on ports had some recent precedence. In February 1942, a German submarine attacked a refinery on Aruba and a Japanese sub fired on a refinery at Santa Barbara, California.

There is some confusion regarding when “Operation Brazil” was cancelled and when and who ordered the attacks in August. Colonel Durval Lourenço Pereira carefully reconstructed the dating and origins of the various orders and contra-orders showing that Admirals Donitz and Raeder in their defense testimonies during the Nuremberg trials and American historians were inaccurate about timing and responsibility. The startling reality is that, instead of a wolf pack of submarines, there was only one submarine, U-507, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Harro Schacht, whose attack procedures were strikingly inhuman.

Korvettenkapitän Harro Schacht

U-507 was one of the original vessels designated for the campaign against Brazil. When the foreign ministry, that is, Karl Ritter, objected to “Operation Brazil,” it was cancelled and the submarine commanders were told to destroy their orders. They were given other missions in the Atlantic. On August 7 Lieutenant Commander Schacht requested by radio to “freely maneuver” along the Brazilian coast. Jürgen Rower, a distinguished German historian, was puzzled by U-507’s mission, but suspected that it might have been motivated by the naval command’s desire for retaliation for Brazil’s participation in allied anti-submarine operations. He thought that it contradicted Hitler’s cancelation of “Operation Brazil” and that it was a “foolish mistake.” It was a mistake that had frightful consequences for the passengers and crews of defenseless Brazilian coastal transports.

U-156 (foreground) and U-507 (background) on 15 September 1942

On the afternoon of July 4, 1942, Schacht’s U-507 and a companion vessel U-130 headed into the open ocean from the port of Lorient on the coast of Brittany. Their destination was a stretch of ocean between the tiny Brazilian islets of São Pedro and São Paulo and the islands of Fernando de Noronha. The islets are 590 miles from Brazil’s northeastern shore. Their mission was to patrol one of the quadrants by which the German navy divided the vast ocean. The outward voyage was uneventful except for an encounter with a sonar-equipped destroyer, which detected the U-507 and launched four depth charges. The charges missed the submarine but caused some slight damage that produced a constant loud pinging sound that Schacht feared could be detected at a distance.

After passing the Azores, Schacht was ordered by radio to operate jointly with U-130 commanded by Captain Ernst Kals and the Italian sub Pietro Calvi, but that very day a British destroyer sank the Calvi. On the afternoon of July 23, the two German subs were given their patrol quadrants being told that traffic crossed those quadrants in scattered fashion in a northeasterly direction and vice versa. They were patrolling a stretch of the Atlantic narrows between Dakar and Brazil, focused on convoys and single vessels coming from Trinidad and Georgetown. Their orders took the two subs in autonomous directions. Brazil itself was beyond their area. So how did U-507 end up in Brazilian waters?

Schacht’s U-507 was now on its own and seeing no targets, the crew practiced submerging and firing the deck gun. Isolated from his colleagues deployed across the South Atlantic, Schacht was the only commander who did not have any “victories.” His earlier companion Kals had sunk two ships, but in more than a month since leaving Lorient, U-507 had not fired a single torpedo. For ten days he did not see any ships at all, which led him to think that maritime traffic had been diverted westward toward the Brazilian coast. The boredom and tedium must have been corrosive on the crew’s morale. On the surface the heat of the equatorial zone, the glare of the sunlight reflecting off the sea would have been physically draining, and while submerged the stink of the diesel engines and the sulfuric acidy smell from the electric batteries mixed with the odors of the unwashed crew wearing the same uniforms for weeks must have been extremely distasteful. There was only one toilet available for the 56 crew men. On August 3 the sub was 90 nautical miles from the coast of Ceará when it turned back toward the open ocean. Reaching a point northeast of the islets São Pedro and São Paulo, Schacht made a decision that “would bring unexpected consequences for the Axis war effort.”

Late on the night of August 7, he asked permission from the Submarine Command to operate freely on the Brazilian coast. Some 15 hours later, he received the go-ahead from Submarine Command: “Change course and head for Pernambuco.” This exchange of radio messages shows that historians have been wrong for decades attributing the attacks on Brazilian coastal shipping to the considered planning of the German navy or to orders from Hitler. In reality, it was the decision of a lone sub commander seeking victims. It coincided with the presence of a convoy (AS-4) at Recife ready to head to Africa carrying critically important Sherman tanks for British forces, and German naval leaders hoped that U-507 could do some damage to it and subsequent convoys. In an analysis related to “Operation Brazil,” German naval planners had given Pernambuco considerable importance for the security of Allied convoys. On August 14, a radio message to Schacht emphasized Recife as a resupply and gathering point for convoys and ships from Florida via Georgetown to Natal, St. Helena Island, and Cape Town. Schacht had other ideas. He considered heading toward Rio de Janeiro, however, was dissuaded by his declining fuel supply. The meaning of Submarine Command’s repeated instructions to Schacht was that he was to attack the allied convoys heading toward Cape Town and not Brazilian coastal shipping. On his own he did the opposite. Did Schacht’s disobedience allow Convoy AS-4 to escape unscathed? If so perhaps he contributed to the German defeat at El Alamein? He apparently believed that the reason he had not encountered ships during the previous days was that the Allies had shifted their routes further to the west along the Brazilian coast. He had the idea that oil tankers were coming into the Atlantic through the Strait of Magellan and up the South American coast to a crossing point to Freetown in Africa. He shied away from Pernambuco, which perhaps he thought was too heavily protected. Admiral Ingram had chosen Recife for his headquarters because he believed that Recife’s closeness to Cape São Roque, the nearest location to Africa and thus “most strategic point in South America,” made it the best port for his operations.

August 1942 Disaster on the Coast of Sergipe and Bahia

Schacht took up station off the coast of Bahia and its great port of São Salvador. There he ran less chance of discovery before he could strike. If U-507 was detected, it could plunge into the deep waters off Bahia. The captain was not a coward, but he was cautious. He was one of the German Navy’s 2% of submarine commanders responsible for 30% of sinkings during the war. It is notable that of the 870 U-boats sent after Allied shipping, fully 550 did not sink or damage a single ship. Of a total of 2450 Allied merchantmen sent to the bottom, 800 were sunk by only 30 commanders. Harro Schacht was among that number and was one of Germany’s most intrepid and daring submariners. It is not clear whether he thought he was disobeying orders, perhaps he considered a radio message of July 5 authorizing attack without warning “against all Brazilian merchant ships, including disarmed and recognized as Brazilian” as sufficient sanction. Of course, the July 5 message did not give permission to attack vessels in Brazilian waters. The German Submarine Command never gave an order to attack Brazilian coastal shipping. Recall that Hitler had expressly vetoed “Operation Brazil.” At the Nuremberg trials, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, commander of the German Navy, testified that his submarines had attacked Brazilian ships because they lacked clear identification as neutral and that Germany had advised all South American countries to illuminate their vessels so that they could be recognized at night. However, Brazil had not been so advised, even though Raeder’s testimony implied that it had. Schacht did not long survive these events and left no explanations of his conduct, but all the evidence points to his action as violating orders by sinking seven ships in Brazilian coastal waters. The leading scholar of the submarine attacks, Durval Lourenço Pereira, reached the firm condemning conclusion: “The massacre in the waters of the northeastern litoral happened thanks to the initiative and the personal decision of Lieutenant Commander Harro Schacht”.

Since February 1942 Brazil had lost 12 ships to Axis submarines, but they had all been off the East Coast of the United States or in the Caribbean and adjacent waters. Somehow such losses could be accepted as costs of doing business traversing known war zones. Being attacked while traveling from one state to another via “our territorial waters” would elicit very different emotions. Meanwhile the South Atlantic took on increasing importance in the summer of 1942 because the Germans successfully shut down British convoys using the Arctic above Scandinavia to reach the Russian port of Archangel. The losses were so heavy that the Arctic route had to be discontinued. FDR and Churchill were determined to keep the Soviet Union fighting. The best alternative route was to convoy from the United States via the South Atlantic, around Africa through the Indian Ocean to Iran and thence overland to Soviet territory. An idea of the importance of the route can be seen in the 47,874 aircraft that were shipped disassembled to Russia via the “Persian Corridor.” The route was some 10,000 nautical miles longer than the Arctic one, but there was no other choice. This meant that Brazil and the bases there increased in significance. Brazil was literally the keystone in the edifice of the logistical war. And the war was not going well for the Allies. On January 2, 1942, Manila fell to the Japanese, who also swept over the Netherlands East Indies, then in the next month, the British surrendered Singapore, losing 130,000.

troops taken captive. The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on April 18 was predictive of the future and boosted Allied morale, but did little to change the immediate dark trend. In Egypt, on June 21, Rommel’s supposedly weakened Africa corps surprised the British by seizing Tobruk in a relatively brief combat, losing another 6,000 soldiers to the Nazi forces, along with all their armament. Loss of the Suez Canal loomed as an alarming possibility. The Germans would get to 70 miles from Alexandria before being stopped at El Alamein on June 29. Without doubt the war could be won or lost in the South Atlantic. Armies cannot fight without weapons and all sorts of supplies and so safe routes for shipping were crucial to obtain victory. That is why the Axis was sending submarines into the South Atlantic and why the Allies had to destroy them.

Ironically Schacht’s impatience and decision to head to Brazil caused him to miss the S.S. Seatrain Texas which was carrying 250 Sherman tanks steaming for Cape Town and, via the Red Sea, for Port Suez. At Cape Town the British gave it the code name “Treasure Ship.” The US Merchant Marine history concluded that “These Sherman tanks, the first Allied tanks which matched the German Mark IV Panzer in firepower, were a decisive factor at the battle of El Alamein which began on October 23, 1942, and resulted in an Allied victory.” Of course, the intense air cover that Army Air Corps planes gave to the British Eighth Army played an extremely important role, and they would not have been there without Brazilian cooperation and the Parnamirim base at Natal.

Leaving his assigned quadrant caused U-507 to miss the important cargo targets. Schacht’s next action would cause war between Brazil and Germany. He was heading south away from Recife and toward Salvador da Bahia. Submarine Command’s instructions allowed attacking without warning all merchant vessels cruising with their lights out. He was aware that Brazilian coastal ships carried both cargo and passengers. Strictly speaking passenger vessels were not on the list of approved targets, but he could have been frustrated after 40 days at sea and still carrying his compliment of 22 torpedoes. He was moving southeast and would encounter the passenger steamer Baependy on a north-northeast heading. The confrontation of these two vessels had a certain irony to it. They had the same birthplace, at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg. The Baependy had been launched 40 years before and had fallen into Brazilian hands during World War I. U-507 was laid down in 1939. The Brazilian vessel had its running lights on, but its flag and name were in the dark. As Schacht maneuvered into attack position, he saw a light on the horizon, likely another ship. If he acted quickly, he could get two victims. He launched two torpedoes each with an explosive mixture equal to 280 kilos of TNT.

It was 1825 hours and the unwary Baependy was 1500 meters away [1600.4 yards]. On board the Brazilians had just finished dinner and were gathering to celebrate a crew member’s birthday. Soldiers, most of whom were Cariocas, were on the rear deck playing their pandeiros, drumming on cans, and singing sambas. This happy scene was undisturbed as both torpedoes missed their mark and continued on in the darkness. Schacht had miscalculated the speed of the Baependy. He raced ahead and came back at a better angle before launching two more torpedoes at 1912 hours. In his diary he noted “two shots to prevent any possibility of radio transmission by the steamer.” An SOS from the ship could reveal the submarine’s presence. Even if the captain of the Baependy could have seen the torpedoes, at their 40 knot speed, he could not have avoided them. The two torpedoes hit the Baependy about 30 seconds apart.

The 320 passengers were stunned, some frozen in absolute fear, others screaming and trying to reach the deck. Captain Lauro Mourinho dos Reis of the Seventh Artillery Group recalled that glass and wood fragments flew in every direction cutting and killing indiscriminately. The second torpedo had hit the engine room; the lights went out, leaving everyone to struggle for a way out in the dark. Up on deck flames shot into the night. It had happened so rapidly that, despite frenzied efforts, only one of the lifeboats could be let down. Finally on deck Captain Lauro understood that he had to jump overboard to avoid getting sucked under by the sinking ship. A machinist saw the ship’s captain covered in blood on the bridge sounding the ship’s whistle repeatedly as it went under. Those who could not swim thrashed about uselessly, while others held on to floating pieces of wreckage. It had been four minutes from impact to the ship going down prow first. For the 28 survivors in the lone lifeboat, it would be a long dramatic night of terror before they reached land.

Schacht knew he had hit a passenger vessel but did nothing to help the survivors. Instead he attacked the second ship, the Araraquara, a relatively new, luxury vessel He noted that it had its running lights on and was “brilliantly illuminated” but it lacked any mark of neutrality. Two hours after sinking the Baependy, the U-507’s torpedo exploded amidship plunging the Araraquara into darkness. It listed and broke in half and within five minutes it and its 131 passengers were gone. Four crewmen clung to wreckage, one hallucinated and threw himself into the sea, and the others lived to tell the tale.

On August 16 at 0210 in the morning, on the north coast of Bahia, the third victim was the Anibal Benevolo, with 154 passengers and crew on board. Asleep, they had no time to panic; the vessel went down in 45 seconds. Only four crewmen managed to save themselves. U-507 continued toward Salvador. So far it was very successful from a coldly martial point of view. The three ships had not been able to sound an SOS; the German submarine was advancing on Salvador undetected. One of the reasons Schacht chose this region is that the depth of the sea plunges from 40 meters north of the city to 1000 meters at the bay’s mouth. If discovered, he could easily dive to the sub’s maximum depth of 230 meters. Unhappily for Schacht nothing seemed to be afloat in the great bay, except a small sailboat that he did not regard as worth his bother. Before dawn on the 17th, he went back to deep water, where at 0841 he spied a steamer going north. It was the Itagíba, carrying the rest of the army’s Seventh Artillery Group among other passengers. At a distance of 1000 meters, the torpedo hit the ship in the middle. Its passengers managed to get off in lifeboats, although two of the boats were hit or dragged under by the sinking ship. Ten minutes had elapsed.

In an act of temporary mercy, Schacht chose not to sink the yacht Aragipe which came to rescue the people in the crowded lifeboats. Likely he simply did not want to surface to use his deck gun, so as not to reveal his position. The Aragipe was able to crowd on 150 terrified survivors; the remainders were picked up by two of the lifeboats. Meanwhile in Salvador an alarm had been sounded and vessels were held in port. One ship, the Arará, unaware of the warning, had gone amidst the floating wreckage to pick up 18 survivors. Observing through his periscope from 200 meters away, he waited until all were onboard before firing the torpedo. Raising the periscope again to survey the scene, he could only see one lifeboat with five “non-whites” in it.

Later in the afternoon, Schacht saw a passenger ship coming his way. It was painted gray and did not have a flag or other marks of neutrality. He fired and the torpedo hit its mark but it did not explode. The unnamed vessel was moving too fast for U-507 to catch it before it reached safety in the port. He noted in his log: “It is not possible to stop it with artillery during the day, considering the nearness of the port and the aerial danger.”

It was now clear to the Brazilian and American authorities that submarines were operating in Bahian waters. From Recife the destroyer USS Somers and cruiser USS Humboldt steamed south, and seaplanes from VP-83 squadron flew out on patrol. Meanwhile Schacht, on August 18, had taken U-507 out to sea to make repairs on a mechanical problem in a launch tube. The seaplane PBY Catalina 83P6 found it exposed on the surface and attacked with machine guns and depth charges. U-507 dived rapidly. The pilot, Lt. John M. Lacey, USN, thought he had sunk it because an oil slick and air bubbles appeared on the surface. But all the attack had done was cause a leak in an oil tank. Schacht steered his boat south toward Ilhéus in search for more targets. But the only vessel encountered was a small coastal sailing boat, on August 19, that his crew boarded but not understanding Portuguese learned nothing useful. The Jacyra was carrying a disassembled truck, cases of empty bottles, and cacao. The mestiço crew were sent toward shore and the Germans blew up the vessel. Why they took the trouble to destroy such a harmless craft is a mystery. The smell of fuel oil alerted them to the leak in the tank and the need for repairs. The next day U-507 returned to the entrance to the Bay of All Saints where he found the lighthouses were shut down, but oddly Salvador was still lit up brightly. On the 22nd Schacht encountered the Swedish ship Hammarem without lights and launched a torpedo, but missed. A second one hit its mark but did not explode. As dawn broke he surfaced and fired the 105 mm gun on the rear deck hitting the bridge. The crew abandoned the burning ship, while Schacht maneuvered to fire his last torpedo from the stern tube. Turning north he set course for France. He left behind a Brazil lusting for revenge.

Businesses with German names were sacked. Police rounded up Germans. What some called Brazil’s “ Pearl Harbor” provoked clamorous street demonstrations throughout the country. The streets of Fortaleza, Ceará, filled with people breaking into stores owned by real or supposed Germans and Italians and setting them afire. The police could not control the mob. In Vitória, Espírito Santo, on the 17th the authorities could not quell the rioters, who wrecked some 25 buildings, but took all Axis nationals into custody, while in Belém do Pará, news of the sinkings resulted in mobs destroying some 20 stores, offices, and houses of alleged Axis nationals and sympathizers. In Manaus there were loud anti-Axis demonstrations that saw numerous Axis nationals being beaten and injured. In Natal there was destruction of Axis property and “genuine enthusiasm against enemy for the first time….” São Paulo saw large groups of students shouting for war and a huge number in the plaza in front of the Cathedral clamoring for action. The US Consulate in Porto Alegre reported that there was a systematic smashing of shops belonging to supposed Axis sympathizers. “All around the Consulate at this minute stores are being demolished.” The material damage was already great.40 The outraged Brazilian people demanded a response.

Inadvertently, U-507 would contribute to the eventual Allied victory by its unauthorized attack on Brazilian shipping. After pulling Brazil into the war, Schacht returned to his home base at Lorient in France. Unlike a previous voyage this time there were no medals and the reception was not warm. U-507 retuned to sea in late November and cruised back to Brazil, where it patrolled off of Ceará and Rio Grande do Norte. In conducting attacks Schacht changed his procedure to take prisoner the fated ship’s captain to obtain precise information about cargoes and navigation routes. By New Year’s 1943, he had three British merchant marine captains on board the U-507. In a twist of fortune, on January 13, 1943, a USN Catalina PBY, flying out of the base at Fortaleza, spotted the submarine and dropped four depth charges totaling 884 kilos of TNT making direct hits.

U-507’s voyages of death were ended thanks to the Brazilian-American alliance.