The Long Turkish War – Austria and Hungary

Raids along the Habsburg-Ottoman borders in Croatia led to a renewal of the war in Hungary in 1593. In Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II’s “Long Turkish War” (1593-1606), the Ottomans briefly lost Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldavia before anti-Habsburg revolts restored the territories to Ottoman control. The bitter stalemate of the war signaled an important shift in the strategic balance of power of the Ottoman Empire vis-a-vis its European enemies. A succession of weak sultans, financial difficulties brought about by an inflationary crisis, and social turmoil combined at the turn of the seventeenth century to erode Ottoman military capacity. Subsequent wars added little territory to the empire and were fought primarily to recover or round out earlier conquests.

Rudolf confidently took up a challenge to his lands from the Ottomans in 1593, embarking on what became the Long Turkish War that proved a fiasco for both sides. The thirteen-year struggle contributed to a chain of problems that kept the Ottoman empire out of the Thirty Years War and ensured a period of relative tranquillity for Hungary. With hindsight, this was of undoubted benefit for the Habsburgs, since it enabled them to concentrate on the problems of the Empire and their western and northern European enemies. However, this was not clear at the time and the Turkish menace remained a constant source of anxiety. Worse, the Turkish War left the Habsburgs financially and politically bankrupt, in turn contributing to the outbreak of renewed conflict in 1618.

The Scourge of God

These events and their consequences have not received the attention they deserve, leaving the Ottomans as a shadowy presence in most accounts of the Thirty Years War. Their empire was the superpower of the early modern world, stretching for 2.3 million square kilometres across three continents with at least 22 million inhabitants, well over three times the number in the Habsburg monarchy. Much of the original dynamism was lost after the death of Süleyman the Magnificent in 1566, but it would be wrong to categorize the Ottomans as in decline. They remained the terror of Europe, associated by Protestants and Catholics alike with the scourge of God sent to punish a sinful mankind and viewed with a mixture of awe and revulsion. Their empire continued to expand, particularly in the east where they seized Georgia and Azerbaijan from the Shiite Persian empire between 1576 and 1590. The Habsburgs were sufficiently alarmed by this that they accepted humiliating terms in November 1590 to obtain an eight-year extension to the truce agreed at the end of the previous Turkish war in 1568. Despite the expense, the emperor maintained a permanent embassy in Constantinople, whereas the sultan disdained to deal with the infidel and rarely sent ambassadors to Christian courts. The Austrian diplomats struggled to secure accurate intelligence at a court that was truly the successor to medieval Byzantium. They were kept waiting for weeks before being received by officials who gave evasive or contradictory answers. The presence of Dutch, English, French, Venetian and other Christian embassies was a further source of concern as these were all powers considered hostile to the emperor.

The difficulty in obtaining a clear picture prevented outsiders from perceiving the Ottomans’ mounting internal difficulties. The absence of accepted rules of succession bred bitter family feuds and forced each new sultan to command his deaf mutes to strangle his immediate brothers and sisters. The internal intrigues weakened the sultanate that lost direction at a time when their most dangerous foes to the east were entering a period of renewed vigour under the Safavid dynasty in Persia. The new conquests failed to bring sufficient rewards to satisfy the groups essential to the running of the Ottoman empire – notably the army, which had once been a pillar of strength and which now entered politics with disastrous results. Accustomed to rich bonuses from new sultans, the regular Janissary infantry began extorting rewards in return for continued loyalty, leading to the assassination of Osman II in 1622, setting a precedent that was repeated in 1648 and again later in the seventeenth century.

The internal problems of their empire made the Ottomans more unpredictable in their actions, adding to an already unstable situation in south-east Europe at the point where their empire met that of the Habsburgs to the west and the lands of the Poles to the north. The war that broke out in 1593 was essentially a struggle between two of these powers to extend influence over the intervening region while denying access to their rivals. Hungary to the west was already split into Habsburg and Ottoman spheres, with the emperor controlling the north and south-west, along with Croatia, while the sultan commanded the central area and south-east. Neither side had a clear position in the region further east that was split into four principalities, all nominally under Turkish suzerainty, but pursuing varying degrees of autonomy. The area along the northern shores of the Black Sea belonged to the Crimean Tartars, the descendants of Ghengis Khan who had paid tribute to the sultan since the later fifteenth century. They provided useful auxiliaries for his armies, but were largely left alone since they served as a buffer between Ottoman territory and that of the Russian tsar further to the north-east. The three Christian principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania lay to the north and west of the Tartars. They likewise paid tribute, but were more open to influence from Poland and Austria. The Poles sought access to the Black Sea by pushing into Podolia, between Moldavia and the Crimea. Polish influence grew pronounced in Moldavia during the 1590s and they also intrigued in Transylvanian and Wallachian politics.


Of the three, Transylvania is the most significant to our story, and an examination of its internal politics reveals much that was typical for Moldavia and Wallachia as well. Formed from the wreckage of old Hungary in the 1540s, Transylvania was a patchwork of four major and several minor communities. In addition to pockets of Turkish peasants and Eastern Slavs, there were Orthodox Romanians, Calvinist Magyars, Lutheran German immigrants, called Saxons, and finally the self-governing Szekler people, living in the forested east, who remained Catholic. The prince maintained power by brokering agreements between these groups, particularly the three ‘nations’ of Magyar nobles, Saxon towns and Szekler villages entitled to sit in the diet. The balance was enshrined in the Torda agreement from 1568 that extended equal rights to Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and the radical Unitarians (who rejected the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and refused to believe that Christ had been human in any way). Separate princely decrees extended toleration to Jews and the substantial Romanian population.

It was an arrangement that worked surprisingly well at a time when people elsewhere in Europe were murdering each other in God’s name. All parties recognized Transylvania’s vulnerability and wanted to deny predatory outsiders a chance to intervene. Over time, toleration became embedded in society and political culture, enhancing princely power since he could pose as the defender of all faiths and their liberties against Habsburg confessionalization and absolutism. However, it created confusion for external relations, particularly once the prince converted to Calvinism in 1604. While nine-tenths of his nobles now shared his faith, the peasantry were mainly Catholic or Orthodox, while the burghers were Lutheran. Christian powers looking to Transylvania only saw its leadership and mistook the principality as a Protestant champion ready to save them in their hour of need. While it might serve his purpose to present himself as such to outsiders, the prince remained conscious that his rule depended on preserving the balance between the ethnic and confessional groups.

There were also significant material obstacles that inhibited Transylvania from playing a major role in European affairs. Over half its territory was covered by forest and barely a fifth lay under cultivation. The population was concentrated in isolated pockets largely cut off from each other by trees and mountains. It was impossible to maintain a western-style regular army, and in any case, such an army would be ill-suited to operating in such conditions. Like its immediate neighbours, Transylvania relied on lightly armed cavalry able to cover 35km a day, supported by smaller numbers of irregular musketeers to hold outposts on the border. Such forces lacked staying power in a formal battle, which they generally avoided, preferring to break their opponent’s will to resist by rounding up livestock and civilians. These tactics were thwarted if the enemy took refuge in walled towns or fortresses, since the Transylvanians lacked artillery and the disciplined infantry needed for a siege. They were also unable to sustain operations for more than a few months, waiting until the grass grew in the spring for their horses before setting out, and returning home with their booty before the high summer scorched the ground.

Strategy and Logistics

These logistical problems were found elsewhere in the Danube valley and across the Hungarian plains (puszta) where temperatures soared in the summer and plummeted below freezing in winter, and hampered all combatants. The surrounding mountains were blocked by snow from the autumn until the spring thaws that swelled the rivers and flooded a third of the plains for much of the year, providing a rich breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes. Hungary lay at the north-west periphery of the Ottomans’ world empire, 1,100km from their European base at Adrianople (Edirne). A field army of 40,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry required 300 tonnes of bread and fodder a day. Crop yields in eastern Europe were half those of Flanders and other western agricultural regions that could support ten times more non-producers. Even Poland, rapidly becoming the bread basket of western European cities, exported only about 10 per cent of its net crop in the later sixteenth century. It was often impossible to requisition supplies locally in the Danube area, especially as the population tended to be concentrated in isolated pockets, as in Transylvania. The Turks were forced to follow the line of the river during hostilities, reducing their advance to 15km a day. If they set out in April, they could not reach Vienna before July. Not surprisingly, Ottoman armies relied on Belgrade once war broke out, since this was already two-thirds of the way to the front and was the first major city on the Danube west of the Iron Gates (Orsova) pass between the Transylvanian Alps and the northern reaches of the Balkan mountains of modern Bulgaria. These strategic and logistical factors imposed a certain routine on the Turks’ campaigns. Operations began slowly with the collection of troops from across the empire at Adrianople or Belgrade. The main army reached the front in July, leaving only a few months to achieve success before the autumn rains set in during September, while the sultan traditionally suspended campaigns on 30 November with the onset of winter.

Major operations were the exception and most fighting involved cross-border raiding that remained endemic due to political, ideological and social factors. The region lay at the extremity of both the Ottoman empire and the kingdom of Poland, and while physically closer to the heart of Habsburg power, it was still politically distant. All the major powers were forced to rely on local landowners and their private armies who commanded the resources, loyalty and respect of the scattered population. Though wealthy, the magnates in Hungary and Transylvania were adopting expensive new lifestyles, with decorated country houses, foreign university education and grand European tours for sons and heirs. They could not afford large permanent forces to defend the frontier and also needed to satisfy poorer clients who relied on banditry to supplement their incomes from livestock, horse breeding or farming. Those at the centre tolerated the situation as the only way to retain the loyalty of the unruly border lords, and as a convenient means to put pressure on their international opponents. As the secular representatives of opposing world religions, neither the emperor nor the sultan could accept permanent peace without implying recognition of an alternative civilization. The lack of clear frontiers allowed a policy of gradual expansion by encroachment, whereby whichever side was currently stronger exploited weakness in the other to assert the right to collect tribute from border villages. Frontiers shifted back and forth like sand with the tide, while major fortified towns remained immovable rocks that required open war to crack.

Such fortresses began to be built during the 1530s as both the Ottomans and Habsburgs entrenched their hold over Hungary. The Turks had the advantage of shorter interior lines of defence, with a compact position along the middle Danube and in Bosnia to the south-west. They relied on around 65 relatively large castles held by 18,000 regular soldiers, with 22,000 militia recruited from their predominantly Christian subjects to patrol the gaps. The Habsburgs were forced to defend an 850km-long arc to the west and north, partly detached from Austria and Bohemia by chains of mountains. Lateral movement was restricted, since all the rivers drained eastwards into the Ottoman-held Hungarian plain. Each Austrian and Bohemian province had its own militia, but mobilization depended on the Estates who wanted them mainly for local defence. The Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1529 proved a shock and prompted the construction there of new bastioned fortifications in the Italian manner between 1531 and 1567. Plans to modernize these had to be shelved in 1596 due to the peasant unrest and a lack of funds, leaving the capital weakly defended when the Bohemians and Transylvanians attacked in 1619. The civic militia was converted into a regular garrison in 1582, but they numbered only five hundred men.

The Military Frontier

To keep the Turks at bay, the Habsburgs revived and expanded existing Hungarian defence measures to create what became known as the ‘military frontier’. This militarized zone around 50km deep ran the entire length of the frontier and rested on 12 major and around 130 minor fortified posts held by over 22,000 men by the 1570s. Its development and upkeep was heavily subsidized by the Reichstag, which voted eight grants with a nominal value of around 12 million fl. between 1530 and 1582, plus well over another million towards fortress construction. At least four-fifths of this amount was actually paid, despite the confessional tension in the Empire, since the Ottomans were considered a common menace to all Christians. Indeed, the largest two grants had been made in 1576 and 1582 at a time when many historians think confessional tension was growing worse. However, disagreements did ensure there was no immediate renewal when the last grant expired in 1587, increasing the dynasty’s dependency on taxes voted by its Estates to maintain particular sectors. Only about half the border troops could be spared from their garrisons, limiting the scope for offensive operations. A major army of 55,000 men was reckoned to cost at least 7.4 million fl. for a single campaign, a figure way in excess of the monarchy’s entire revenue.

Financial considerations forced the Habsburgs to place large sections of the frontier in local hands. The southern or maritime border, based around Senj on the Adriatic, was held by a people known as the Uskoks, after the Serbian for ‘refugee’. This mountainous region could not support the growing number of refugees who were supposed to be paid by the government to defend the frontier with Ottoman Bosnia. Chronic indebtedness forced the Habsburgs to tolerate Uskok raiding and piracy instead. The next sector to the north was the Croatian border around the castle of Karlstadt that had been built in 1579 with funds granted by the Inner Austrian Estates in return for the Pacification of Bruck, and which protected the upper reaches of the Save river, blocking an invasion of Carniola. The Slovenian border around Warasdin on the upper Drava was also subsidized by Inner Austria since it protected Styria. Around half of all the minor posts were concentrated in these two sectors and were manned by colonists settled on crown land in return for militia duty. They received little help from central coffers and were expected to supplement their meagre existence from farming by raiding villages across the frontier.

The Hungarian border was split into three sections, with that in the south stretching from the Drava to the southern end of Lake Balaton and containing the important fortress of Kanizsa. The middle section ran north from Lake Balaton to the Danube, before curving east around the Ottoman salient at Gran where the river makes a right-angled turn from due east to flow south past Buda and Pest. This was the most heavily contested sector, because the Danube valley gave the best access for both sides. The Ottomans were concerned to protect Buda as the seat of their Hungarian government and as a forward base for an attack against Vienna. To forestall this, the Habsburgs built Komorn at the east end of Schütt Island, a large area that stretched west to Pressburg which was formed by two branches of the river and often flooded. Another fortress was constructed at Raab, approximately 40km south west of Komorn, to guard the only practicable route south of Schütt Island into Lower Austria. The lesser fortress of Neuhäusel covered Komorn’s northern flank by blocking the Neutra river. The final Hungarian section stretched eastwards from there to the Tisza river and Transylvania. Its main fortress was Erlau, which blocked the road north over the Matra mountains into Upper Hungary and so safeguarded communications between Austria and Transylvania. Central funds covered only the principal garrisons, leaving the intervening sections in the hands of Hungarian magnates who maintained private armies of haiduk infantry. The haiduks were originally nomadic oxen drovers who had been forced by the partition of Hungary to accept a semi-settled existence as border guards, living in their own villages under elected headmen and relying on banditry between wars to supplement their irregular pay.

The Long Turkish War – Transylvania

A New Crusade

There were few opportunities to test these tactics in large battles during the Turkish War of 1593–1606, which mainly consisted of sieges and skirmishes like the Spanish operations in Flanders against the Dutch. Hostilities arose from the systemic problem of endemic banditry and unstable frontiers. The Habsburgs could do little for the Uskoks who were facing overpopulation and were forced to intensify their piratical activities in the Adriatic. Venice, the chief target of their seaborne attacks, encouraged them to redirect their attention to Ottoman Bosnia and Hungary after 1591. The pasha of Bosnia retaliated by besieging a Croatian border fort and was captured and executed by its defenders. Sinan Pasha, the energetic grand vizier, persuaded a reluctant Sultan Murad III to agree general war in 1593. As an opening move, Sinan seized the Habsburg embassy and enslaved its staff: an occupational hazard for those posted to Constantinople.

Rudolf’s advisers believed the war offered a golden opportunity to expand Habsburg influence in the region and extend control over Transylvania. The Croats’ minor victory convinced them the Ottomans were in decline and they thought war against the Turks would rally Christians within the Empire and so reduce problems there. Certainly Rudolf was roused from his depression, and readily embraced what he saw as his traditional role as defender of the true faith. The Reichstag reconvened in 1594 and voted another substantial tax grant, renewing this four years later and again in 1603. At least four-fifths of the 20 million florins promised actually reached the imperial treasury, along with a further 7 to 8 million paid when Rudolf appealed to the Kreis assemblies as well. The Habsburg lands raised around 20 million, and another 7.1 million flowed in from the pope, Spain and Italy. Even the maverick Henri IV of France promised assistance, and many Catholics, recently defeated in that country’s civil war, now flocked to the imperial standard. Others came from further afield, including Captain John Smith, the later founder of Virginia. The princes of the three subject principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia followed suit, and although the Poles refused to help directly, their Ukrainian Cossacks attacked the Crimean Tartars and so prevented these from aiding the sultan. The imperial field army doubled to around 20,000 men, supplemented by about 10,000 Hungarians and about twice that number of Transylvanians and other auxiliaries.

After all the effort, the result was a crushing disappointment. Some of the assistance proved rather meagre in practice, as in the case of the Russian tsar who sent a huge consignment of furs that flooded the market and brought little return. Worse, imperial planning was unrealistic. Talks were opened with Morocco and Persia to open additional fronts, but an embassy from Shah Abbas did not arrive until 1600, by which time it was unlikely the emperor could win. The sultan managed to keep 60–100,000 men in the field and so generally held the initiative.

The war opened in the south, where the main Ottoman offensive made some gains at Croatian expense in 1593 before the onset of winter forced Sinan to suspend operations. Thereafter, the Croatian, Slovenian and Senj border defenders held their own. Other Ottoman assaults against both ends of Lake Balaton were driven off, and from November 1593 the Habsburgs made periodic counter-attacks from this sector, trying to seize the Turkish fortress of Stuhlweißenburg that guarded the south-western approaches to Buda. The next Ottoman offensive hit the crucial central Hungarian sector, scoring a major success with the capture of Raab in September 1594, thus outflanking Komorn and opening the way to Vienna. Habsburg efforts concentrated on reversing, or at least offsetting, this blow and Archduke Matthias managed to puncture the Ottoman salient by taking Gran and Visegrad the following year. The sultan retaliated by shifting the war north-eastwards, leading his army in person to take Erlau in 1596, and defeating a relief army at Mezökeresztes, the war’s only major field battle, that October. All attention now focused on the three principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia that had defied the sultan and entered the war on the emperor’s side.

Intervention in Transylvania

Habsburg planners saw the new Transylvanian alliance as a means of extending Habsburg suzerainty, and even forcing that country back under royal Hungarian control. The moment seemed opportune, since the current prince, Sigismund Báthory, appeared to welcome a Habsburg takeover. Polish influence had been strong under his predecessor but was now on the wane due to that country’s new preoccupation with Sweden. Imperial troops retook Raab in 1598, stabilizing the main front, while mounting difficulties in the Ottoman Empire sparked widespread revolts there from 1599. The apparent success of Catholic reform in Austria contributed to the growing sense of confidence among the emperor’s advisers, and led to the fateful decision to invade Transylvania in conjunction with Prince Michael of Wallachia, who hoped to get Moldavia out of the bargain. A period of confused fighting ended with the Habsburgs’ complete defeat thanks to unofficial Polish intervention that restored Sigismund and installed Polish puppet-rulers in the other two principalities.

Rather than cutting their losses, the Habsburgs stepped up operations in the region, entrusting new, larger forces to Giorgio Basta whose subsequent conduct earned him the reputation of a cruel tyrant among Hungarian and Romanian historians. Basta was one of the many Italians in Habsburg service and had risen from drummer boy to commander of a company of mounted arquebusiers in Spanish service in Flanders. He came to Hungary with a Spanish contingent in 1597 and soon acquired a general’s rank. Schlick, Marradas, Collalto and Ernesto Montecuccoli all served under him, but his influence spread further thanks to his numerous theoretical writings and military commentaries, many of which heavily criticized his employers for failing to pay their soldiers properly. The subsequent campaign presaged much that later followed in the Empire after 1618. As the man on the spot, Basta was forced to act quickly in rapidly changing circumstances. It was often impossible to refer back to the imperial government in Prague where Rudolf’s intentions were, in any case, far from clear. Having successfully conquered Transylvania again with Prince Michael’s help in August 1600, Basta had his ally murdered the following year, because he considered him a liability. As the Poles refused to rescue him a second time, Sigismund abdicated in return for a Habsburg pension in June 1602, leaving the Transylvanian diet no choice but to pay homage to Rudolf in return for confirmation of its privileges.

It was a pyrrhic victory. The diversion of manpower to Transylvania weakened the defence of the other sectors, and the Turks advanced up the Save in the summer of 1600, taking Kanizsa and opening the way to Styria. Though Archduke Matthias captured Stuhlweißenburg in 1601, this was lost the following year to one Turkish army, while another broke into Styria. Worsening financial problems prevented a coordinated defence as parts of the imperial army were paralysed by mutinies, with some of the French and Walloons even defecting to the Turks. Matthias retrieved the situation by capturing Pest in October 1602, precipitating a crisis for the Ottomans who now faced revolts in five provinces. Sultan Mehmet died of a heart attack and was succeeded by his thirteen-year-old son Ahmet I. Shah Abbas seized his chance and attacked from Persia, recapturing Azerbaijan and Georgia by 1604. Faced with a war on two fronts, Ahmet opened peace talks with the emperor in February 1604.

By making excessive demands, Rudolf squandered this last chance to end the war before his own position collapsed. Prolonged warfare had devastated Transylvania to the extent that it could no longer support the Habsburg garrisons. With no prospect of help from Prague, Basta resorted to seizing the property of any nobles who opposed his government. Matters spiralled rapidly out of control once the general received secret instructions from the emperor to implement the Austrian policies of Catholic renewal. As in Austria, this began with the towns, with the intention to repopulate the country with Catholic settlers and discharged soldiers after the war. Other measures targeted Upper Hungary where General Jacopo Belgiojoso began evicting Lutheran pastors from the strategic town of Kassa in January 1604, while the garrisons of 90 border posts were rotated to replace the Hungarians with 12,000 German troops. The policy of confiscations was extended to Hungary where Matthias even seized the manors of István Illésházy, a Protestant magnate who was stripped of his post as Hungarian palatine. This proved too much and the disaffected Magyars now made common cause with the oppressed Transylvanians.

The Bocskai Revolt 1604–6

Opposition coalesced around István Bocskai, a Calvinist landowner from Wardein in Upper Hungary. Bocskai’s journey from loyal servant to rebel leader encapsulates how Habsburg policies were alienating many of their most influential subjects. He had led the Transylvanian auxiliaries during the initial campaigns but was distrusted on account of his religion by Rudolf, who deprived him of his command and had him brought to Prague in 1598. He escaped execution, and retired to his estates that became a centre for malcontents. Though hailed by the local Calvinist clergy as a Hungarian Moses, Bocskai avoided inflaming religious passions for fear of alienating potential supporters, drawing instead on widespread popular discontent at the seemingly endless Turkish war. Having intercepted letters from the conspirators, Belgiojoso advanced from Kassa with his 3,500 men to arrest Bocskai, but Bocskai escaped and rallied 5,000 haiduks by granting them noble status and distributing abandoned land. Belgiojoso retired on Kassa, but the disgruntled citizens opened the gates to Bocskai who entered in triumph on 12 December 1604. The fall of Kassa severed the communications between Belgiojoso in Upper Hungary and the 5,000 Habsburg troops holding down Transylvania. As more haiduks rallied to his standard, Bocskai was able to leave a blocking force against Belgiojoso and invade Transylvania with 4,000 light cavalry in January 1605. Though the Habsburgs had the backing of the Szekler people, their troops were scattered in isolated garrisons which had all fallen to Bocskai by September. The Transylvanian diet had already proclaimed Bocskai as their new prince in February, while he was welcomed as the ‘illustrious prince of all Hungary’ when he returned westwards with the rest of his army in April.

By now, the Habsburg position was on the verge of collapse. Basta had been recalled to the main Hungarian sector in July 1604, but despite having 36,000 men, he had been unable to relieve Pest, which fell to the Ottoman besiegers. The imperial army disintegrated as it retreated northwards, allowing the Ottomans to recover both Gran and Visegrad. Bocskai captured Neuhäusel and met the new grand vizier, Lala Mehmed Pasha, outside Pressburg on 11 November 1605 where he was crowned king of Hungary with a special crown made in Constantinople.

Bowing to pressure from his relations, Rudolf reluctantly replaced Basta with Archduke Matthias who was empowered to open negotiations with Bocskai in May. The Bohemian Estates mobilized 17,000 militia, including units commanded by Wallenstein and Count Thurn, to stem the rebels’ advance into Moravia during that summer. Many of Bocskai’s aristocratic supporters were growing concerned that he was simply exchanging Habsburg rule for that of the Turks. They also doubted his ability to control the haiduks, to whom he had promised so much, and felt that the rebellion had achieved its original objectives of halting re-Catholicization and liberating Transylvania. Following a ceasefire in January 1606, the Hungarian and Transylvanian nobility concluded the Treaty of Vienna with Matthias on 23 June at the expense of both Rudolf and their own supporters. Lutheran and Calvinist Hungarian nobles received formal toleration that was extended to the royal towns and Military Frontier, but denied to peasants. Hungarian political autonomy was strengthened by restoring the post of palatine, removing financial control from Vienna, reserving administrative posts for natives, and replacing the German troops with Hungarians in the frontier fortresses. Transylvanian autonomy was also enhanced. Bocskai renounced his new Hungarian crown but kept the courtesy title of king and was recognized as prince of Transylvania by the Habsburgs, who ceded the territory another five Upper Hungarian counties east of Kassa.

While Bocskai did not live long to enjoy his success, his revolt set an important precedent. Militant Catholicism had been reversed, not by the passive resistance that had failed so miserably in Inner Austria, but by armed force. Whereas the Austrian Protestants had used their influence in the provincial Estates to bargain local concessions in the 1570s, the Hungarians and Transylvanians established a viable alliance between their countries. It was an example the Bohemians were to follow in 1618.


Mozambique was ravaged by war for nearly 30 years before it slowly returned to peace at the beginning of the 1990s. First came the war of liberation against the Portuguese (1964–75), only to be ended after the change of government in Portugal that came with the overthrow of the Marcello Caetano dictatorship in April 1974. Following this event, Portugal signaled its readiness to grant independence to its African territories and Mozambique became independent on 25 June 1975. The great majority of the 250,000 Portuguese settlers, who had held most of the administrative and skilled jobs, left the country at independence to present the Frente da Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO)/Mozambique Liberation Front government with formidable problems of reconstruction. Mozambique, by almost any standards, was one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world at this time.


As the fighting against the Portuguese in both Mozambique and Angola had escalated during the early 1970s, both white-controlled Rhodesia and South Africa had provided Portugal with support in its efforts to hold on to power; however, when the Portuguese finally withdrew in the mid-1970s, Mozambique’s neighbors embarked upon policies of destabilization in order to undermine the new governments which came to power, since both Salisbury and Pretoria saw these as Marxist opponents of white racialism. By 1975, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was having an increasingly successful impact upon the Smith regime in Rhodesia and it received immediate backing from the new Mozambique government. The head of Rhodesian security, Ken Flower, who ran the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), conceived the idea of fomenting civil war in Mozambique by creating and then supporting a rival movement to FRELIMO. Flower originally advanced his idea during talks with his Portuguese and South African security counterparts during 1971 and 1972. At first his suggestion was not adopted, but in March 1974, Flower visited the director general of Security in Lourenco Marques (Maputo), Major Silva Pais, who agreed with his approach. Flower wanted to launch an African group of Flechas (arrows) who would be responsible for “unconventional, clandestine operations.” In April 1974, prior to the Lisbon coup which toppled Dr. Marcello Caetano, the Rhodesian CIO began to recruit Mozambicans to form an organization to operate inside Mozambique, in theory without external support, although in practice it would depend first upon Rhodesia and then, after 1980, upon South Africa for assistance. The members of this group became known as the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO)/Mozambican National Resistance, which was usually referred to simply as RENAMO. Flower and the CIO had little difficulty in recruiting dissident Mozambicans during 1974/1975 and such a movement made sense to an increasingly beleaguered Rhodesia.

The Civil War: 1975–1984

The huge exodus of the Portuguese was a contributory cause of the developing chaos: of 250,000 Portuguese at independence in 1975, only 15,000 remained by 1978. As colonialists, the Portuguese had reserved all the skilled posts for themselves and when they went, the greater part of the country’s skilled capacity went as well. Moreover, the departing Portuguese carried out wilful acts of destruction of machines and equipment as they left. Once the new FRELIMO government had made plain its political stand—its determination to apply United Nations sanctions against Rhodesia and its declaration of support for the African National Congress (ANC)—it made itself a natural target for Rhodesian and South African hostility. From 1975 onward, both the Rhodesian and South African military were to make periodic cross-border raids into Mozambique, and for them RENAMO was to prove an invaluable ally, or at least an important nuisance factor.

In the period 1975–1980, as RENAMO gradually built up its capacity to harass the new government, Mozambique found itself beset by four basic problems: the loss of Portuguese skills; the deteriorating state of the economy; the presence in Mozambique of both ZANU and ANC guerrillas, which attracted punitive cross-border raids from Rhodesia and South Africa; and growing dissatisfaction among FRELIMO members who had expected quicker “rewards” once the country became independent. It is not possible to pinpoint exactly when RENAMO resistance to the new government became sufficiently important to warrant the description of either dissidence or civil war. The immediate problems concerned Rhodesia rather than South Africa: there were about 10,000 ZANU guerrillas in the country and growing border violence as Rhodesian security forces and ZANU guerrillas raided back and forth in the two territories. Such conditions provided a perfect cover for RENAMO to launch its activities.

There was to be a state of border war between Mozambique and Rhodesia from 1975 until 1980 when Rhodesia became independent as Zimbabwe. In March 1976, obeying UN sanctions, Mozambique closed its border with Rhodesia. In August of that year, after RENAMO spies had provided the information, the Rhodesian Selous Scouts raided across the border to attack the ZANU base camp at Nyadzonia (Pungwe) where they killed about 1,000 members of ZANU, many of them women and children. During 1977, frequent ZANU incursions across the border into Rhodesia led to retaliatory cross-border raids against the ZANU bases in Mozambique. It was, in any case, easier for the Rhodesians to attack these camps than to find the ZANU guerrillas in the Rhodesian bush. President Samora Machel claimed that between March 1976 and April 1977 there occurred 143 Rhodesian acts of aggression across the 1,140 kilometer border between the two countries, in which a total of 1,432 civilians, of whom 875 were Rhodesian refugees, were murdered. At the same time, however, there was little evidence of any internal opposition to FRELIMO or of RENAMO guerrillas operating against the government.

The acknowledged opposition to FRELIMO at this time—the United Democratic Front of Mozambique—had failed to obtain arms from Europe for a struggle against the government. On the other hand, RENAMO claimed that its guerrillas were then fighting under the command of six former FRELIMO commanders. By 1978, it had become apparent that the poverty-stricken Mozambique economy was heavily dependent upon three aspects of its connection with South Africa: the transit trade through Maputo; remittances from laborers in South Africa, especially in the mines; and payments for power from the Cabora Bassa Dam. Two of these links with South Africa made Mozambique especially vulnerable: both the Cabora Bassa power lines and the transit routes (road and rail) to Maputo and Beira were open to attacks by RENAMO.

By 1979, ZANU was clearly winning the war in Rhodesia and huge new pressures (following the Commonwealth heads of government meeting which was held in Lusaka that August) spelled the coming end to the Smith regime in Salisbury. However, in Mozambique the activities of RENAMO had by then become a serious threat to the government; as a result, it was in Mozambique’s interest that the struggle in Rhodesia should be terminated. Thus, in December 1979, when the ZANU leader, Robert Mugabe, was prepared to abandon the Lancaster House Conference in London and return to the bush, President Machel exerted pressure upon him to come to terms with the British foreign secretary, Lord Carrington.

Once Mugabe had become president of Zimbabwe in April 1980, Flower told him of his CIO role with regard to RENAMO, but Mugabe still kept him in office. In Mozambique the stage was set for an escalation of the civil war, for though independence for Zimbabwe meant the reopening of the joint border and the immediate easing of existing tensions, RENAMO guerrillas were then established in Manica, Sofala, and Tete Provinces. The result was that the government had to deploy substantial forces against the insurgents. Even so, whether RENAMO could really become effective seemed doubtful at that stage: Rhodesia had ceased to be its paymaster and South Africa had to formulate a clear policy in relation to Mozambique. However, Pretoria soon decided upon a policy of maximum economic disruption of its neighbor; it urged RENAMO to attack lines of communication (roads and railways), which served the landlocked countries to its north—Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and, in particular, to concentrate upon the Beira Corridor. In April 1981, RENAMO attacked the Cabora Bassa hydro-electric power station and cut the power lines. At that time, Cabora Bassa supplied 10 percent of South Africa’s power; the attack demonstrated that South Africa did not control RENAMO. In June 1981, fierce fighting in the north of Mozambique between government forces and RENAMO guerrillas caused hundreds of refugees to flee into Zimbabwe; they complained of ill-treatment from both sides.

The government now constructed fortified villages (similar to the former aldeamentos of the Portuguese) so as to protect and control the rural populations. In July, Machel met with Mugabe to discuss joint security measures. By the end of 1981, RENAMO activities in Manica and Sofala Provinces were sufficiently damaging to lead the government to recall FRELIMO commanders who had been released from service: they were ordered to establish “people’s militias” and arm them. During the liberation struggle, FRELIMO’s main support had come from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), East Germany, and other Communist states; now, however, it felt the need to mobilize support from the West if it was to contain the South African destabilization activities.

During 1982, RENAMO widened the scope of its operations and obtained military equipment from South Africa, while concentrating its attacks upon road and rail links used by the landlocked countries of the interior. In May 1982, the government began a major operation to make the Beira Corridor safe from RENAMO attacks; this included arming civilians living along the Corridor. RENAMO then employed a fresh tactic, that of abducting foreigners who were working in Mozambique in an effort to frighten them into leaving the country. Its efforts paid off when 40 Swedish workers fled to Zimbabwe after two of their number had been killed. Other persons abducted included six Bulgarian workers, while a Portuguese was killed. Fresh strains were added to an already deeply damaged economy when RENAMO attacked the Beira Corridor. In October 1982, Machel was forced to seek assistance from two of his neighbors, Tanzania and Zimbabwe: he asked President Julius Nyerere to increase the number of Tanzanian troops in the north of Mozambique—there were 2,000 there already—and asked President Mugabe for assistance in fighting RENAMO. By 1983, RENAMO guerrillas had become active in every province except Cabo Delgado in the north where the Tanzanian troops were stationed. By this time several thousand Zimbabwean troops had been deployed along the Beira Corridor, although the railway line was still being sabotaged. The Mozambique government mounted a major anti-RENAMO campaign in Zambezia, Mozambique’s richest province, and a second campaign in Inhambane Province in the south.

A growing problem for the government was the poor condition of its army: by this time it was ill-equipped, badly malnourished, often unpaid, and its soldiers felt neglected. Such troops, suffering from low morale, did not want to take the field against RENAMO. Twice during 1983 (May and October), units of the South African Defence Force (SADF) raided Maputo, ostensibly to attack ANC bases, but in fact to exert further pressures upon an already harassed government. Also during 1983, Machel visited a number of western countries seeking aid, although the immediate consequence was that the USSR cut off its assistance to Mozambique. South African policy was to put pressure upon the “Frontline” States (which included Mozambique) so that they would not provide the ANC with bases, and Pretoria’s support for RENAMO now appeared to be paying dividends.

Under these pressures, Machel was obliged to forge a deal with South Africa. On 16 March 1984, President Machel met South Africa’s President P. W. Botha at Nkomati on their joint border; they negotiated the Nkomati Accord, by whose terms they would each prevent the activities of opposition groups in the other’s territory. Mozambique was obliged to withdraw its support for the ANC and South Africa for RENAMO. The ANC and Nyerere both condemned the Accord, but at the time, Machel had little choice, even though his own leadership was opposed to the agreement. In fact, no decline in RENAMO activity followed. In June 1984, South Africa’s foreign minister, “Pik” Botha, went to Maputo to insist that South Africa was keeping its side of the agreement. It did not do so. The government now made members of the ANC in Mozambique live in controlled camps (or leave the country) and reduced the ANC mission in Maputo to 10. Furthermore, about 800 ANC departed from Mozambique to other Frontline States. When Machel visited China and North Korea in July, both countries endorsed the Nkomati Accord, which gave Machel moral support but not much else. During the second half of 1984, RENAMO increased the severity of its attacks, with continuing backing from South Africa, and by August was active in all 10 of Mozambique’s provinces.

The Second Phase: 1984–1990

Meetings between representatives of the Mozambique government, RENAMO, and South Africa, during August and September 1984, had proved abortive, and in November 1984, RENAMO mounted a new offensive throughout Mozambique. A strong government counter-offensive destroyed 100 RENAMO bases and resulted in the deaths of about 1,000 guerrillas. During 1985, despite protests by the Maputo government, South Africa made no efforts to restrain RENAMO; nor did it withdraw its support, and by this stage Portugal was also providing aid for RENAMO. The guerrilla tactics now changed: they raided villages and forcibly conscripted villagers to act as porters or soldiers. Some towns also came under siege. In April 1985, RENAMO severed rail links between South Africa and Mozambique. When the country celebrated its tenth independence anniversary in June 1985, President Machel was obliged to tell the people that Mozambique had to remain on a war footing because of RENAMO. At a meeting with Presidents Nyerere and Mugabe in July 1985, the latter promised to commit more troops to fight RENAMO. In August 1985, a joint campaign by FRELIMO and Zimbabwean troops captured the RENAMO headquarters at Casa Banana in Sofala Province. Documents seized in the raid showed that South Africa had provided continuous support to RENAMO ever since the Nkomati Accord, and this led a for-once deeply embarrassed South African government to reply that it had only “technically” broken the Nkomati Accord. The spokesman then blamed Portugal and claimed that the government was unable to control the many Portuguese then in South Africa who “worked to Lisbon’s orders.”

Slowly, meanwhile, the West was becoming more sympathetic to Mozambique and both the United States and Britain offered relief aid following the 1985 drought. In addition, Britain offered military training for FRELIMO troops—but in Zimbabwe. A further 5,000 Zimbabwean troops were committed to Mozambique in addition to the 2,000 already there. The year 1986 turned into the worst year of the civil war. In February, RENAMO recaptured Casa Banana and this had to be retaken by Zimbabwean troops in April. The government found that it was spending 42 percent of its revenue fighting RENAMO or preparing to deal with South African incursions. RENAMO concentrated upon cutting railway links, thus reducing government revenues from the transit trade. Then, in a further calculated blow to the government, South Africa announced that it would no longer recruit Mozambicans for its mines or renew the contracts of those already in the Republic. This represented a financial loss in the region of $90 million a year. When President Machel asked President Hastings Banda of Malawi to hand over RENAMO rebels then in his country, Banda instead expelled several hundred into Mozambique where they ravaged the border area. RENAMO then declared war on Zimbabwe.

On 19 October 1986, following a meeting with Presidents Kenneth Kaunda and Mugabe in Lusaka, Machel was killed when his plane crashed on its return journey. The crash was never properly explained: South Africa was blamed and a South African mission in Maputo was sacked. South Africa claimed that documents found in the wreckage (the plane crashed just inside the South African border) showed that Zambia and Mozambique were plotting to overthrow Hastings Banda of Malawi. Joaquim Chissano, Machel’s foreign minister, succeeded him as president and Maputo increased its pressures upon Malawi to end its support for RENAMO, threatening to cut its transit routes through Mozambique. As a result, Malawi reversed its policy and committed 300 troops to help guard the Nacala Railway, which linked Blantyre to the Indian Ocean port of Nacala. The line was then being upgraded and rehabilitated.

The war continued as fiercely into 1987, and President Mugabe agreed to provide further military assistance until the war had been won. By this time an estimated four million Mozambicans were facing starvation or destitution as a result of the civil war and one million people had been forced to leave their homes in Zambezia Province, which was one of the worst affected areas. However, the presence of Tanzanian and Zimbabwean troops, as well as the reversal of Malawi’s policy of helping RENAMO, gave the government a new lease of energy to fight the war. A South African raid upon Maputo in May—supposedly against an ANC base—finally spelled the end of the Nkomati Accord. By this time, the Mozambique–Zimbabwe border region had become a semi-war zone.

There were 40,000 Mozambican refugees in camps in Zimbabwe and a further 40,000 were thought to be roaming the country in search of work. Zimbabwe rounded these people up and sent them back to Mozambique. A RENAMO incursion into Zambia produced Zambian retaliation and a military pursuit into Mozambique to destroy two RENAMO bases. In July 1987, RENAMO attacked the southern town of Homoine to massacre 424 people, although Chissano claimed that the South Africans were responsible. Further RENAMO attacks in the south included the ambush of a convoy north of Maputo in which 270 people were killed. RENAMO tactics aimed to isolate Maputo. These RENAMO forces operating along the coast were being supplied by sea from South Africa. They attacked the only road linking Maputo with Gaza and Inhambane Provinces. The Mozambican military escorts for convoys proved ineffective and the troops’ morale was low. Such attacks close to the capital also had a demoralizing effect upon both the government and the international community living in Maputo. However, internal divisions in RENAMO weakened its onslaught. A leading member, Paulo Oliveira, advocated peace while Afonso Dhlakama, the leader, insisted on continuing the war. In December 1987, following the announcement by Chissano of a law of pardon, some 200 members of RENAMO surrendered in January 1988 and Oliveira defected to the government. The Zimbabwean troops provided essential stiffening for the demoralized Mozambican army; with their help two RENAMO bases were captured in December 1987 and a further three in March 1988.

Meanwhile, under Chissano, Mozambique was moving steadily toward the West: Great Britain agreed to a $25 million aid package as well as an increase in the military training for FRELIMO, which it was carrying out in Zimbabwe; and in June 1987, Mozambique negotiated a financial package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In October 1987, Mozambique was allowed to send an observer mission to the Vancouver Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and a special Commonwealth fund was created to assist Mozambique. In addition, a massive $600 million project to rehabilitate the port of Beira was launched, to be financed (in the main) by funds from the European Community. Mozambique had now come to see the West rather than the Communist bloc as its essential economic resource and savior.

RENAMO activity reached a peak during 1988 with repeated attacks upon communications and villages, with sabotage aimed at the vital Chicualacuala rail line linking Zimbabwe to Maputo. By this time RENAMO had an estimated 20,000 men in the field. Sometimes a force of as many as 600 guerrillas would attack a particular target, though generally RENAMO used small bands of men, often armed only with machetes, who robbed and killed. Half the FRELIMO army appeared to have collapsed or disintegrated and only the better units were able to withstand RENAMO, while government control did not run in large parts of the country. Instead, the government appeared increasingly dependent upon troops from Zimbabwe (10,000) and Tanzania (3,000) to fight RENAMO.

The position was made worse because of the large numbers of refugees created by the war. Sometimes whole villages were massacred. Many RENAMO guerrillas were, in fact, no more than armed bandits, the product of a lawless time. Afonso Dhlakama controlled about half the RENAMO forces. He had worked closely with South African intelligence since 1980 and had undergone training at the South African Special Forces base at Voortrekkerhoogte. South Africa, even after the Nkomati Accord, had made airdrops of supplies to RENAMO. Its other backers were the Portuguese (principally those who had fled in 1975 to settle in South Africa) and right-wing groups in the United States. Part of Pretoria’s motive for assisting RENAMO was economic: South Africa wanted to force the landlocked countries to its north—Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—to continue trading through South Africa and a destabilized Mozambique helped ensure that this happened.

Western aid to Mozambique increased through 1988 while Chissano’s government attempted to reactivate the Joint Security Commission with South Africa (it had been set up under the terms of the Nkomati Accord). In Lisbon, Eco Fernandes, who wanted RENAMO to maintain its links with South Africa, was shot. At a time when right-wing U.S. senators were arguing for U.S. aid to RENAMO, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Roy Stacey publicly described RENAMO as “waging a systematic and brutal war of terror against innocent Mozambican civilians through forced labor, starvation, physical abuse, and wanton killing.” The war produced many contradictions: in May 1988, for example, South Africa offered the Maputo government 82 million rand in military assistance to protect the Cabora Bassa Dam against RENAMO; Mozambique refused the offer of South African troops, but accepted training for 1,500 FRELIMO troops to guard the power pylons. In mid-year the government launched a new offensive against RENAMO.

Peace Negotiations

A possible breakthrough occurred in August when Chissano endorsed a plan advanced by church leaders to meet representatives of RENAMO in an effort to end the war. In 1989, the U.S. State Department claimed that RENAMO had killed 100,000 people since 1984. Meanwhile, Malawi had become host to nearly one million refugees (one in 12 of its population) and early in 1989 refugees from the war were arriving at the rate of 20,000 a month. And, despite repeated denials by Pretoria, South Africa continued to support RENAMO. In April 1989, RENAMO made a conciliatory gesture when it agreed to a ceasefire to allow food supplies to reach starving people. In June 1989, President Chissano advanced a 12-point peace plan, provided that RENAMO would renounce violence and agree to constitutional rule: by that time, some 3,000 members of RENAMO had accepted the December 1987 government amnesty. Also that June, church leaders met representatives of RENAMO at one of its strongholds, Gorongosa, and Dhlakama endorsed the peace move. RENAMO then demonstrated its readiness to compromise by sacking Artur Janeiro de Fonseca, its pro–South African external relations minister, and replacing him with Raul Domingos, formerly chief of staff. Talks scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, were called off when the government launched an attack upon Gorongosa. However, Dhlakama did go to Nairobi for talks with church leaders at the end of July, and though no agreement was reached these talks were generally seen to herald the beginning of a peace process. There was a setback in October 1989, but at the end of the year, Presidents Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe met in Nairobi to urge both RENAMO and the Mozambique government to drop all talk of preconditions. Early in 1990, with the country facing growing industrial unrest and an army that often went unpaid for months, President Chissano announced major constitutional changes which had the effect of moving Mozambique into line with the western democracies. An immediate result of this move was a U.S. announcement at the end of January that it no longer regarded Mozambique as a Communist country, while the general effect of these reforms was to make Mozambique more acceptable to the West.

The end of the Cold War played a part in the peace process, for once Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power in the USSR, he signaled the withdrawal or ending of Soviet aid and advised the two sides in the war to negotiate a peace. Fighting was to continue through 1990, but in July, the two sides met in Rome for talks arranged jointly by the churches and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. In November 1990, the government announced the abandonment of Marxism–Leninism and said it would thereafter run the economy according to market forces.

In December 1990, after Zimbabwe’s forces had been confined to the Beira and Limpopo Corridors, a ceasefire was negotiated; however, in February, despite the emergence of new political parties as part of the peace process, RENAMO launched new attacks to cut the roads to Malawi in the north. Peace talks were resumed on 6 May 1991, with RENAMO attempting to alter the agenda while its guerrillas continued to launch attacks against the Cabora Bassa power lines and railway links. The talks again broke down, but the following 4 October, a cease-fire was signed by Chissano and Dhlakama. By this time both sides were exhausted: these talks had been brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, President Mugabe, and the British businessman “Tiny” Rowland.

Costs and Casualties

The statistics of this brutal war were horrifying: by 1988 RENAMO campaigns had forced a minimum of 870,000 people to flee the country, had displaced a further one million inside the country, and reduced another 2.5 million to the point of starvation, while approximately 100,000 civilians had been killed and many more wounded or permanently maimed. By the end of the 1980s, famine threatened up to 4.5 million people throughout the country. There are variations on these figures but they each tell the same story. For example, in 1988 the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that there were 420,000 refugees in Malawi, 350,000 in South Africa, 22,500 in Swaziland, 30,000 in Zambia, 64,500 in Zimbabwe, and 15,000 in Tanzania to make a total of 902,000. Other estimates gave a total of 650,000 refugees in Malawi. The government requested (mid-1988) $380 million in emergency assistance to help feed six million people threatened with famine.

By the beginning of 1992, Mozambique was rated (by the World Bank) as having the lowest standard of living in the world.

The Aftermath

In December 1992, the United Nations agreed to send a peacekeeping force of 7,500 to Mozambique; its task would be principally to safeguard the transport corridors. However, delays in implementation almost led to disaster and RENAMO withdrew from the peace process. This resumed again and on 14 April 1993 the Zimbabwe troops guarding the Beira and Limpopo Corridors were withdrawn. By the following May 4,721 UN soldiers from five countries, the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (UNOMOZ), had arrived and these were accompanied by additional unarmed units. On 14 June 1993, the repatriation of 1.3 million refugees began under United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) auspices while international donors promised $520 million for humanitarian programs. On 14 August, the Joint Commission for the Formation of the Mozambique Defense Armed Forces (CCFADM) agreed upon a program to create a Mozambique Defense Armed Forces (FADM); 50 officers from either side in the civil war and 540 soldiers were selected for a 16-week training course. On 20 October 1993, the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, visited Maputo for talks with Chissano and Dhlakama. A fresh timetable for demobilization was set—this was to be carried out between January and May 1994, with a new army coming into being in September 1994. UN Security Council Resolution 898 of February 1994 authorized the creation of a UN police component to supervise the coming elections.

By March 1994, troops were moving into demobilization centers by which time 6,000 UNOMOZ troops were stationed in the country at a cost to western donors of $1 million a day. By mid-July 1994, 3.2 million voters had registered in areas over which the government had control. RENAMO called for a government of national unity after the elections. During the run-up to the elections, Dhlakama charged FRELIMO with fraud and said RENAMO would not take part in the elections, although on 28 October he reversed this stand and urged his followers to vote. The election results gave Chissano 53.3 percent of the presidential vote and Dhlakama 33.7 percent while, for the legislature, FRELIMO obtained 44.3 percent of the votes and RENAMO 37.7 percent. Dhlakama agreed that RENAMO would accept these results and cooperate with the government. Various offers of aid for reconstruction were now made by western governments.

At first, relations between the ruling FRELIMO government and RENAMO were delicate; Chissano said Dhlakama could not be an official leader of the opposition because he was not a member of the legislature but would, nonetheless, be provided with a salary and other official benefits since he had come second in the presidential election. In March 1995, the Paris Club pledged $780 million in loans and grants to Mozambique; the government also hoped to obtain relief on $350 million of debts. The government launched a program to eradicate poverty. The European Union arranged another package of aid in 1995 worth $65 million to rehabilitate Cabora Bassa and the Beira Corridor. By May 1995, most of the refugees had returned home, and in November 1995, Mozambique was admitted as a full member to the Commonwealth. In 1996 Mozambique embarked upon the long haul of economic and social recovery. It enjoyed much international goodwill at this time and in particular, growing links with the new South Africa, which was ready to provide assistance for its recovery.


Narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier with a musical score by Carl Davis, Thames Television’s acclaimed film history of the Second World War stands as one of the most massive undertakings in television-documentary history.

The World at War contains remarkable interviews with the statesmen and military leaders of the time and it uses film from national and private sources, much of it never screened before. In fact, film research in eighteen countries yielded over three million feet of archive film and nearly a million feet of interviews and location material. Above all, it brings to the screen the memories and experiences of ordinary men and women – American and Japanese, British and German, Russian and European, in uniform and out – who lived and fought throughout the most momentous conflict in world history.

The idea of producing a definitive televisual history of the Second World War came from Jeremy Isaacs, then a producer with Thames Television. He presented an initial plan for the programme to the board of Thames in the autumn of 1970. It was a daunting project for an independent-television company to take on – 26 episodes of one hour in length, shown once a week over a period of six months. Isaacs delivered a two-line description of each episode and, amazingly, 25 of these went on to be made. Having received board approval, Isaacs set about assembling his team, and they went to work in early 1971. It is a monument to their skills and the subsequent success of the programme that many members of this team went on to even bigger and better things.

Director David Elstein would become Director of Programmes at Thames before being appointed Chief Executive of Channel 5. Writer Charles Douglas-Home became editor of The Times, while another producer, Ted Childs, is one of the most influential makers of television drama in the UK, responsible for hits such as The Sweeney, Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC. Jeremy Isaacs himself became the founding Chief Executive of Channel 4 Television from 1981 to 1988 and later General Director of the Royal Opera House. He was knighted in 1996 for services to broadcasting and the arts.

Back in 1971 writers were selected, together with the rest of the crew, and the gargantuan research project began. One of the most difficult tasks was identifying and tracking down subjects for interview, particularly as many of those involved in the war preferred that the world forget they existed. Months of painstaking research led to some spectacular results. Among those interviewed were Hitler’s Armaments Minister, Albert Speer; Himmler’s Adjutant, Karl Wolff; Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge; Hollywood star and USAAF bomber pilot, James Stewart; then Foreign Secretary, later Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, and Head of RAF Bomber Command, Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris.

Isaacs, however, was determined that the series should balance out the ‘view from the top’ with the ‘view from the bottom’ – that those on the front line and on the receiving end of bombing were equally as important as the strategists and the politicians. Thus The World at War features such fascinating characters as the torpedo-tanker crewman who drifted for weeks in the Atlantic without water but who somehow lived to tell the tale; the Leningrad housewife who endured a 1,000– day siege; the D-Day GI who was there when the ramp on the landing craft went down in front of a hail of bullets, and, of course those who survived the horrors of Auschwitz.

Meanwhile, researchers were going through a huge amount of archive film, much of it held at the Imperial War Museum in London. The Nazis were remarkably thorough in recording even their most abhorrent atrocities – much of it in colour – and The World at War would become one of the first television documentaries to exploit these resources completely.

At the same time, work was also being progressed on the script, the logo, the music and the titles. It was to be 18 months before the title sequence was perfected to Isaac’s satisfaction – those sombre black-and-white images set over burning text that would become one of the most memorable in television history.

The first programme, A New Germany, went out on Wednesday, 31 October 1973, at 9pm, and the series went on to achieve excellent ratings for a documentary. One edition, Morning, the story of the D-Day landings, made it into the top 10 that week, unheard of for a programme of that nature. The World at War was deemed a great success, and as a result further ‘specials’ were produced, narrated this time by Eric Porter. Indeed, when shown on BBC2 over Christmas 2002, The World at War received a higher rating than Friends, which was shown at the same time on Channel 4.

The World at War has since been broadcast in nearly 100 countries around the world, and, given its length, it is certain that it is showing somewhere at any given moment in time. It has won many ‘outstanding documentary’ accolades including an International Emmy.

Since its first release on DVD in 2001, which contained the complete 26– episode series and six specials, the original production team including Sir Jeremy Isaacs, Alan Afriat and Sue McConachy were brought back together in 2003 to film a Making of The World at War Retrospective. This was included in a thirtieth-anniversary special box set, which was packaged along with a facsimile of the original BAFTA The World at War booklet. The retrospective is now included in the standard box set.

The World at War endures as a monumental achievement. Most importantly, it still remains as fresh and awe-inspiring as it did when it was first broadcast. The interview and the archive footage will never change; the analysis remains correct.


The National Television Critics Award – for Best Documentary Series to producer Jeremy Isaacs

George Polk Memorial Award – for the Most Outstanding Documentary on American Television to Jeremy Isaacs

American National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy Award – for Outstanding Documentary Achievements in programmes dealing with artistic, historic or cultural subjects.

The Society of Film and Television Arts Technical Craft Award – for Alan Afriat, supervising film editor

World Jewish Film and Television Festival – a silver award to Genocide, episode 20 of The World at War

The World at War is available for purchase on DVD from http://www.freemantlehome


Part One, disk one

The making of the series

Filmed shortly after the series was broadcast, this is the story behind the production process and the challenges involved in summarising years of history and millions of feet of archive footage.

Presented by Jeremy Isaacs, directed by Peter Tiffin

A New Germany: 1933–1939

Germany, a nation stricken by humiliating defeat and emerging from crippling economic depression, looks to one man for a resurgence of hope and dignity. That man is Adolf Hitler.

Written by Neal Ascherson, directed by Hugh Raggett

Distant War: September 1939–May 1940

In eastern Europe, the full force of the Nazi machine rolls on – but, in Britain, an uneasy calm settles on the nation. It is the ‘phoney’ war, with the sound of distant guns thundering ominously on the horizon.

Written by Laurence Thompson, produced and directed by David Elstein

France Falls: May–June 1940

France discovers it is woefully unprepared for modern warfare as the Nazi war machine easily skirts around the Maginot line. Britain retreats and prepares for invasion.

Written and produced by Peter Batty

Part One, disk two

Alone: May 1940–May 1941

After Dunkirk, Britain faces the German onslaught. Although the RAF wins the Battle of Britain, the cities are blitzed and on the Continent the last Allies are conquered. The outlook is grim.

Written by Laurence Thompson, produced and directed by David Elstein

Barbarossa: June–December 1941

Hitler at last turns his tanks towards Russia. After a succession of devastating victories, the Germans delay and the fierce Russian winter takes a grip.

Written and produced by Peter Batty

Banzai: Japan 1931–1942

At war since 1931 on the Chinese mainland, the Japanese hope for easy victories over the British and Dutch. And then on 7 December 1941, Japan makes their infamous attack on Pearl Harbor.

Written and produced by Peter Batty

On Our Way: USA 1939–1942

Americans are divided between fighting the Japanese and the Nazis. Hitler solves the problem by declaring war on the USA.

Written and produced by Peter Batty

Part Two, disk one

The Desert: North Africa 1940–1943

For two years the Eighth Army and Rommel’s Afrika Corps fight in the wastes of North Africa. Finally the tide turns at El Alamein.

Written and produced by Peter Batty

Stalingrad: June 1942–February 1943

Hitler’s early successes in Russia made him reckless and he resolves to capture Stalingrad. The battle lasts six months with the Russians emerging as victors. The Wehrmacht never recovers.

Written by Jerome Kuehl, directed by Hugh Raggett

Wolf-pack: U-boats in the Atlantic 1939–1944

In a war of high technology and animal courage: the German U-boats fight Allied merchantmen, hounding them in packs.

Written by J P W Mallalieu, produced and directed by Ted Childs

Red Star: the Soviet Union 1941–1943

For two years the Soviet Army fights the Germans almost alone. After one of the greatest land battles in history, the Soviet Union survives and triumphs – but with a loss of no less than twenty million of its people

Written by Neal Ascherson, produced and directed by Martin Smith

Part Two, disk two

Whirlwind: Bombing Germany September 1939–April 1944

Bomber Command begin bombing German cities by night and the Americans reinforce the attacks by day: a whirlwind of terror and destruction that will win the war.

Written by Charles Douglas-Home, produced by Ted Childs

Tough Old Gut: Italy November 1942–June 1944

Churchill called Italy the ‘soft underbelly of the crocodile’ and thought the Allies could cut through it to the heart of Germany. But the soft underbelly turned out to be a ‘tough old gut’.

Written by David Wheeler, produced by Ben Shepherd

It’s A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma 1942–1943

Vera Lynn sang of a lovely day tomorrow, but the war in Burma was mud and monsoon. Britain’s largest Army learned to master the jungle and fought the Japanese to a standstill.

Written by John Williams, produced and directed by John Pett

Home Fires: Britain 1940–1944

Finding strength in unity at home in Britain during the war, it was a time of gas masks, Winston Churchill, Dig for Victory, evacuation, George Formby, the Land Army, ITMA, the Squander Bug and the Beveridge Report.

Written by Angus Calder, produced by Phillip Whitehead

Part Three, disk one

Inside the Reich: Germany 1940–1944

Initial victory in Europe turns sour after the defeat at Stalingrad, yet Germany prepares to fight to the end – even after an assassination attempt on the Führer.

Written by Neal Ascherson, produced by Phillip Whitehead

Morning: June–August 1944

The Western Allies resolve to invade Europe. England becomes a floating supply dump and the British and Americans assemble the largest invasion fleet in history. It is 6 June 1944 – D-Day.

Written by John Williams, produced and directed by John Pett

Occupation: Holland 1940–1944

Though a neutral country, Holland is attacked by Germany without warning in 1940. During the next four years, life carries on seemingly without incident, but underneath Resistance never dies.

Written by Charles Bloomberg, produced and directed by Michael Darlow

Pincers: August 1944–March 1945

The end of the war appears close at hand with the liberation of Paris in 1944, but the British and Americans disagree on how to advance. Meanwhile, Poland suffers devastating losses to achieve victory.

Written and produced by Peter Batty

Part Three, disk two

Genocide: 1941–1945

The Nazis are racist; the Aryans are a master race, others, particularly the Jews, are sub-human. Himmler’s SS sets about ridding Europe of millions of Jews.

Written by Charles Bloomberg, produced by Michael Darlow

Nemesis: Germany February–May 1945

Hitler retreats to the Führer bunker in Berlin as Germany crumbles around him and his lieutenants abandon him to a fate of suicide. Meanwhile, the Russians raise the Red Flag in Berlin.

Written by Stuart Hood, produced by Martin Smith

Japan: 1941–1945

Initially apprehensive about the outcome of declaring war, the Japanese quickly turn to celebration with early victory. In the end, their worst fears are unimaginably exceeded.

Written by Courtney Browne, produced by Hugh Raggett

Pacific: February 1942–July 1945

The Americans fight their way across the Pacific towards Japan and the Philippines. Perhaps the bloodiest campaign of all: each island has to be taken by storm – and the Japanese fight to the last man.

Written by David Wheeler, produced and directed by John Pett

Part Four, disk one

The Bomb: February–September 1945

Western scientists have developed a new, immensely powerful weapon – the atomic bomb. On 6 August 1945, the Enola Gay delivers the world’s first atomic bomb to Hiroshima. The world would be altered for ever.

Written and produced by David Elstein

Reckoning: 1945 . . . And After

The war ends slowly and messily. Britain is victorious but exhausted and the superpowers confront each other as they decide the fate of Europe.

Written and produced by Jerome Kuehl


For many, the Second World War was the most significant experience of their lives. Heartbreaking first-hand remembrances from a vast array of survivors on both sides of the war.

Written and produced by Jeremy Isaacs

Part Four, disk two

Secretary to Hitler

Traudl Junge found herself in Berlin during the war because she wanted to be a ballet dancer. A friend told her about a job vacancy in Hitler’s Chancellery; she applied for it and, looking like Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun, she became one of his private secretaries. Traudl Junge saw Hitler at close quarters, shared his public life and was with him in the bunker at the end.

Produced by Susan McConachy

From War to Peace

Renowned historian Stephen Ambrose examines the aftermath of the Second World War. Was peace truly gained? Or did a new war with weapons of policy take its place? An interview with Professor Stephen Ambrose.

Produced by Jerome Kuehl


Reflections of men at war, compiled from interviews and archive film obtained for The World at War series. A measured and decidedly unromantic look at the heat of battle, Warrior weaves together eyewitness accounts and rarely seen archive footage to reveal the deadly realities of combat.

Edited and produced by Alan Afriat, poems by R N Currey, Sean Jennet, Ruthven Tod. Executive producer, Jerome Kuehl. Production manager, Liz Sutherland

Part Five, disk one

Hitler’s Germany: the People’s Community 1933–1939

The harsh outcome of the First World War left Germany ripe for Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party’s swift rise to power, promising a devastated nation’s return to international prominence. See how the Germans worked, played and organise themselves for war as the Third Reich set the stage for the Second World War.

Written by Jerome Kuehl. Produced by Raye Farr. Production manager, Liz Sutherland. Associate producer, Alan Afriat. Executive producer, Jerome Kuehl

Hitler’s Germany: Total War 1939–1945

Continuing the in-depth look at Hitler’s regime through the lives of ordinary citizens, this special presentation shows how they coped with mass bombing, invasion and ultimately, defeat.

Written by Jerome Kuehl. Produced by Raye Farr. Production manager, Liz Sutherland. Associate producer, Alan Afriat. Executive producer, Jerome Kuehl

Two Deaths of Adolf Hitler

Years after his death, mystery still surrounds the circumstances under which Adolf Hitler ended his life. Did he die from a self-inflicted gunshot? Or did he swallow cyanide with his recent bride Eva Braun?

Executive producer, Jerome Kuehl. Produced and directed by Martin Smith. Production manager, Liz Sutherland. Associate producer, Alan Afriat

Part Five, disk two

The Final Solution: part one

Examining the growth of the Nazi racial doctrines from their origins to 1939, we see the terrifying and unforgettable stories as told by death-camp survivors and also compelling interviews with German participants.

Written and directed by Michael Darlow. Associate producer, Jerome Kuehl. Production manager, Liz Sutherland

The Final Solution: part two

Archive photographs and shocking footage, filmed by the Nazis themselves, capture the full horror of Germany’s systematic extermination of millions of Jews and other non-Aryan civilians. Unflinching and often disturbing, this is a profound and necessary examination into the darkest corners of humanity.

Written and directed by Michael Darlow. Associate producer, Jerome Kuehl. Production manager, Liz Sutherland

30th Anniversary Disk

Making of the series

In this two-hour thirtieth-anniversary retrospective, we commemorate the original 1973 broadcast with new interviews with the makers of the programme.

Experiences of war

Prominent scholars and military figures recount specifics of the war, from firsthand accounts of Okinawa to the D-Day landings and analyse key wartime actions in these previously unseen and extended interviews taken from the archives at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Produced by Fremantle Home Entertainment, music by Carl Davis

DVD Extras: Imperial War Museum Photo Gallery, Biographies, Brief History of The World at War, Episode Summaries, Speeches/Songs & Newsreels and Maps

Series producer, Jeremy Isaacs. Narrated by Eric Porter. Chief historical adviser, Dr Noble Frankland DFC. Music, Carl Davis

Austerlitz Campaign I

Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Gérard

The French concentrated around the Rhine from early to mid-September. 210,000 troops of the Grande Armée prepared to cross into Germany and encircle the Austrians.

The small Bavarian town of Wertingen had rarely figured very prominently in German history. A sleepy place south of the Danube about twenty-five miles north-west of Augsburg, it had for most of its life remained a quiet backwater. In the War of the Spanish Succession two mighty armies had clashed with one another a few miles away on the other side of the Danube at Blenheim, but few ripples of that conflict had reached the local peasants and townsfolk. Equally, in August 1796 French troops from Moreau’s Army of the Rhine and Moselle had passed through the town en route for Augsburg, but there had been no fighting, and the town had also escaped seeing any action in the campaign of 1800. On 8 October 1805, however, Wertingen was suddenly pitchforked into the very heart of Europe’s affairs. Late the previous night it had without warning been occupied by about 5,000 men of the Austrian Army of the Danube under Baron Franz Auffenberg. Sent to the area to investigate rumours that enemy troops had crossed the Danube east of the Austrian base of Ulm, the troops were cooking their midday meal when suddenly news arrived that a large French force was approaching from the north-west. A pot-pourri of units that was a perfect representative of the polyglot Austrian army – Germans from the infantry regiments of Chasteler, Spork, and Kaunitz rubbed shoulders with Czechs from those of Stuart and Württemberg, Poles from that of Reuss-Greitz and Hungarians from that of Jellacic – the white-coated Habsburg troops rushed to form up, but it was too late. With over 8,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, led by Marshals Murat and Lannes, the French fell upon the unfortunate Auffenberg without more ado. Fighting bravely, his men put up a fierce stand around Wertingen itself, but it was to no avail: by the end of the afternoon over 3,000 men had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner for the loss of perhaps 200 Frenchmen.

Unimportant though it was, this brief action set the scene for the next two years. In a series of outstanding campaigns, Napoleon was to overrun central Europe at the head of his grande armée, and inflict defeat after defeat on armies of the ancien régime that seemingly had no answer to his men, his methods and his genius. But the triumphs which for the rest of the Napoleonic age were to adorn the standards of so many French regiments were not just the result of superior tactics, organization or generalship. The French war-machine was anything but perfect in 1805, while Napoleon was quite capable of making serious errors. At the moment when Lannes and Murat collided with Auffenberg at Wertingen, for example, the emperor thought that the army of General Mack lay ahead of the grande armée to the south-east, rather than far to its right at Ulm. Equally, in 1805 much of the French cavalry was poorly mounted and cut a poor figure in the face of that of the Austrians and Russians. It is therefore important to remember that many other factors were crucial in the dramatic events of 1805-7. Thanks to Napoleon, the French state was far better able to sustain an offensive war than had ever been the case in the 1790s. But also important was the diplomatic context to Napoleon’s wars. From the very beginning the Third Coalition was a mismanaged and ill-coordinated venture, while resistance to the emperor was constantly undermined by the continuing belief of many European statesmen that the ‘great game’ of conventional eighteenth-century power politics was still in operation. As they were about to learn, nothing could be further from the truth.

A number of British statesmen had been unenthusiastic about seeking continental allies for fear that to do so would simply be to hand Napoleon fresh victories. Although a coalition was in the end vital to Great Britain, in the short term they were proven entirely right. For Napoleon, the end of the impasse on the Channel coast in all probability came as a great relief. Until the very last minute invasion appears to have been his intention: not only did he fly into a violent rage when news arrived that Villeneuve had made for Cádiz rather than the Channel (see below), but the troops were plucked from the midst of incessant amphibious exercises. ‘Twenty times’, wrote an artillery officer, Baron Hulot, ‘in the fifteen days that followed [the emperor’s] return [to Boulogne on 3 August 1805] I went down to . . . Calais or Dunkirk to . . . supervise the embarkation of the artillery.’ Yet there remained enormous obstacles that Napoleon cannot have been blind to even if he would not admit to them in public. Despite prodigious expenditure, the ports around which the grande armée was encamped were still insufficient to get all the troops to sea in a single tide, while the disaster of 20 July 1804 was anything but reassuring. In short, the French were simply not ready to make the attempt even if they could obtain the necessary naval superiority. And Napoleon knew it: as he observed to one of his aides-de-camp on 4 August, ‘This invasion is by no means a certainty.’ Yet nor could the ‘camp of Boulogne’ be maintained for very much longer. As the months dragged on, so the problem of boredom became ever more acute. As Raymond de Fezensac, a young ci-devant who had enlisted in the 59me Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne as a gentleman volunteer in 1804 and went on to become an aide-de-camp to Marshal Ney, remembered of the soldiers, ‘Sleeping . . . singing songs, telling stories, getting into arguments over nothing, reading the few bad books that they managed to procure; this was their life.’ Nor, meanwhile, did the waiting suit Napoleon himself. Organizing the invasion was a project that had taken years and, dreams of winning control of the Channel notwithstanding, could well take many years more. How much longer could a fresh injection of martial glory be delayed?

The emergence of the Third Coalition came as manna from heaven, particularly as France was in the grip of a serious financial crisis brought on by heavy government borrowing and the slow manner in which the regime had been paying the numerous contractors engaged in the construction of the invasion flotillas. And, if any further pretext was required, on 23 August news arrived at Boulogne that there would be a further lengthy delay before the invasion flotilla could sail. Its only hope of success had been that the French and Spanish squadrons scattered around the coast of Europe from Toulon to Brest might somehow slip through the British blockade and either unite in the West Indies, thereby forcing the Royal Navy to leave the Channel unguarded, or else join together for a desperate struggle off the British coast itself. By 1805 it was the former plan that was in the ascendant and at the end of March the Toulon squadron had succeeded in dodging the British blockade, escaping through the Straits of Gibraltar and reaching the island of Martinique. No other ships succeeded in joining them there, however, and, with Nelson bearing down upon him, the French commander, Admiral Villeneuve, eventually decided to sail back to Europe in the hope of uniting with France’s other main battle squadrons, which were trapped in Brest and Rochefort. Encountering a British squadron off Finisterre, he was driven into port at El Ferrol. Here he might yet have accomplished much – there was a substantial Spanish squadron at Ferrol while the French ships at Rochefort had managed to get out of port in the confusion – but a mixture of disillusionment, misapprehension and muddle caused Villeneuve to flee for the safety of Cádiz, whither he was followed by the largest force the British could muster. Even more ominously, command of this force was given to the hero of Aboukir and Copenhagen, Horatio Nelson, a leader who radiated aggression and self-confidence, inspired absolute devotion amongst his subordinates, and united tactical genius with a savage hatred of the enemy.

All this left Napoleon both furious and disgusted. As Ségur recounts, even the relatively innocuous news that Villeneuve had taken shelter at El Ferrol provoked an explosion:

It was about four o’clock in the morning of August 13th that the news was brought to the emperor . . . Daru was summoned and on entering he gazed on his chief in utter astonishment. He told me afterwards that he looked perfectly wild, that his hat was thrust down to his eyes, and that his whole aspect was terrible. As soon as he saw Daru he rushed up and thus apostrophized him; ‘Do you know where that fool of a Villeneuve is now? He is at Ferrol. Do you know what that means? At Ferrol? You do not know? He has been beaten; he has gone to hide himself . . . That is the end of it: he will be blocked up there. What a navy! What an admiral! What useless sacrifices!’ And, becoming more and more excited, he walked up and down the room for about an hour giving vent to his justifiable anger in a torrent of bitter reproaches and sorrowful reflections.

That Napoleon was aggrieved that two years had been lost there was no doubt. But he was soon happily making the best of a bad job: ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if we must give that up, we will at any rate hear the Midnight Mass at Vienna.’ No sooner had he spent his rage at Villeneuve’s retreat to Ferrol, indeed, than he is supposed to have sat Daru down and dictated the plan of campaign that, exactly as he had predicted, saw him reach Vienna by Christmas. Before telling that story, we must first wrap up matters naval, however.

With the invasion attempt definitively abandoned, Napoleon might have done best to leave Villeneuve’s fleet in port. However, perturbed by Sir James Craig’s expedition to the Mediterranean, the emperor ordered him to make for Naples so as to put ashore the 4,000 troops who had been attached to his squadron and assist St Cyr in the task of overawing Ferdinand IV. Despite the fact that neither his own ships nor the Spanish squadron stationed in Cádiz were remotely fit for battle, the French admiral realized that compliance was the only hope of saving his career – Napoleon had in fact dispatched Admiral Rosily to replace him – and on 20 October he put to sea. Alongside him sailed fifteen Spanish men-of-war, commanded by Admiral Federico Gravina. The presence of these forces provides a useful opportunity to discuss the relationship that had developed between France and Spain since the latter’s forced re-entry into the conflict in November 1804. In brief, Franco-Spanish relations were extremely poor. Initially, the royal favourite and dominant figure in the regime, Manuel de Godoy, had affected enthusiasm for the war. In this, he may even have been genuine: once hostilities had become inevitable there was, after all, no barrier to dreams of retaking Gibraltar or seizing a slice of Portugal. But the fact is that Spain had little choice: Britain was clearly bent on making war on her, while Napoleon made it quite clear to the Spanish ambassador to Paris – none other than the same Admiral Gravina – that any other response than military action would incur great displeasure on his part.

On 9 January 1805, then, a convention had been signed whereby the Spaniards promised to arm naval squadrons at El Ferrol, Cádiz and Cartagena by the end of March. At first all went well enough: by a variety of means Napoleon encouraged Godoy to believe that Spain would indeed be permitted to move against Portugal and in response the favourite threw himself into the task of readying the Spanish navy for war. Much was achieved: six ships-of-the-line were able to join Villeneuve from Cádiz when he sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic in April after escaping from Toulon, while strenuous efforts, not least on the financial front, had by the same date got another twelve ready in the other two naval bases mentioned in the convention. Naturally enough, these efforts, which had been made in the face of considerable opposition in the ministry and the naval establishment, persuaded Godoy that he was entitled to some reward and, in particular, to make use of Spain’s forces to pursue military objectives of interest to Madrid. One obvious possibility was an attack on Gibraltar and another a descent on one or other of Britain’s possessions in the Caribbean. To Napoleon, however, such designs were of no account, and the unfortunate Godoy found that he was expected to commit all Spain’s forces to the invasion of Britain. Still worse, it appeared that what Spain had achieved thus far was not enough: Napoleon not only wanted more ships mobilized than the Spaniards had promised, but was in effect demanding the transfer of a number of additional vessels to the French navy.

In the event this particular spectre did not become a reality, but neither did Godoy’s dreams of territorial acquisitions. On the contrary, these were pointedly ignored: no fewer than three attempts to interest Napoleon in a march on Lisbon received no response whatsoever. Only when it became clear that the Portuguese, for all their neutrality, remained loyal to their traditional friendship with Britain did Napoleon take an interest in the subject and even then Godoy’s hopes were soon dashed. Given the emergence of the Third Coalition, Napoleon no longer had any troops to spare for Portugal and began to speak in terms of the Spaniards sending troops to Italy or even Germany. An angry Godoy therefore began to drag his feet in Madrid. He was deeply conscious of the faulty state of many of the ships, the tactical superiority of the British and Spain’s chronic shortage of trained manpower. In recent years this had been exacerbated by successive epidemics of yellow fever that had killed many thousands of people in the coastal communities of Andalucía – in Málaga alone, there were 6,343 deaths between 22 August and 1 October 1804. Told that new orders had arrived, laying down that the combined squadron should sail for Naples and add the many soldiers embarked on Villeneuve’s ships to St Cyr’s army, in Cádiz Gravina and his officers fiercely opposed leaving port. Only through accusations of cowardice coupled with news that Nelson had detached a part of his squadron to replenish its supplies were they got to sea at all, and when they did so the results were much as both they (and, in fairness, Villeneuve) feared. Though somewhat outnumbered by his opponents, Nelson closed in immediately and attacked the French and Spaniards off Cape Trafalgar. Sailing in two parallel lines, the British fleet cut the straggling Franco-Spanish array into several different fragments, and then battered it to pieces. Nelson, of course, was killed, but the combined fleet was broken beyond repair – of its thirty-three men-of-war, eighteen were lost and most of the rest crippled.

Trafalgar’s significance is a matter of some dispute. In the short term it mattered little: Britain had already escaped the threat of invasion, and it did nothing to affect events in central Europe. Nor did it permanently establish the fact of British naval predominance, for the French shipyards were over the years able to make up Villeneuve’s losses and force the British to continue to commit immense resources to the naval struggle. All that can be said for certain is that, despite much bluster, Napoleon never again attempted to launch a frontal assault against Britain: henceforth victory would have to be attained by some form of economic warfare. In that sense, then, Trafalgar may be said to have changed the whole course of the war, for Napoleon was now set to embark on a course of action that carried with it at the very least the risk of pitching France against the whole of the rest of the Continent. And, for those with eyes to see, Trafalgar showed very clearly that there could be no partnership with Napoleon. Having been forced to enter the war against their will, the Spaniards found their strategic interests and their resources ruthlessly commandeered to serve France’s interests. A substantial portion of their remaining naval strength – the central pillar of their colonial empire – had in effect been thrown away on a futile plan to send a few thousand extra soldiers to overawe a state that was not just friendly to Spain but situated in a secondary theatre of operations. Already under great pressure, Godoy’s credit on the home front was squandered and with it a financial effort that had quite literally emptied Spain’s coffers: among other measures, a loan of million florins had had to be taken out in Holland to finance the fleet’s mobilization.

Austerlitz Campaign II

The Capitulation of Ulm by Charles Thévenin,
where General Mack and 23,000 Austrian troops surrendered to Napoleon

The strategic situation from 11 to 14 October. The French hurl themselves westwards to capture the Austrian army.

To talk of Trafalgar in this fashion is possibly to speak with the benefit of hindsight. But for Napoleon, the news was still irritating enough: hearing of the battle he supposedly ‘started up full of rage, exclaiming, “I cannot be everywhere!” ’. This is understandable enough, for Trafalgar constituted a considerable blow to his prestige. Yet marching through southern Germany, he was infinitely better off than he might have been. Let us here quote Pasquier:

What would have become of [Napoleon] if, having disembarked on the English coast with the élite of his forces, he had only kept control of the sea for a short time. What would have become of France had the great Austrian army commanded by the Archduke Charles marched across Bavaria and appeared on the banks of the Rhine? Given that there would not have been sufficient forces to put up an effective resistance, they would probably have got across and France would then have been invaded . . . In the face of that situation, the only answer would have been the one that he himself made to several people who dared to raise the possibility with him. ‘If the invasion had succeeded, such would have been the enthusiasm in France that the women and children of Strasbourg could have thrown back the Austrians by themselves.’ Is that answer not rather more clever than it is to the point?

As it was, the French experienced not tragedy but triumph. The allied plans had initially seemed threatening indeed. In the first place, the array of enemies facing France had grown yet again. The Franco-Neapolitan treaty of alliance, or strictly speaking, of neutrality, had originated in strategic considerations relating to the military situation in Italy: Masséna was badly outnumbered in the north, whilst St Cyr’s troops were scattered across the centre and south of the Italian peninsula in a number of small detachments and, in consequence, wide open to attack. Pulling them out in order to reinforce the French forces in Lombardy therefore made a great deal of sense, the only means of keeping Naples in line therefore being an agreement of some sort. No sooner had the resultant treaty of 9 October been signed than St Cyr got his men on the road. On this occasion, however, French policy failed. Freed from the threat of reprisals, the Neapolitans denounced their agreement with Paris, appealed for Anglo-Russian protection and mobilized their army. In the wake of this development a veritable war of encirclement threatened France. Linked by 53,000 troops in the Tyrol, 90,000 Austrians would invade northern Italy and 140,000 Bavaria, while 100,000 Russians marched to their aid. Joined by an Anglo-Russian army of 40,000 men which was being concentrated in the Mediterranean, the Neapolitans would threaten France’s southern flank, whilst 50,000 seaborne British, Russians and Swedes liberated Hanover and went on to assault Holland. Last but not least, 50,000 further Russians were to be dispatched to galvanize the Prussians into action and join with them in a victorious march across Germany. In short, over 500,000 men would join together in a concentric advance against a French force that, even counting the forces of Napoleon’s satellites, seemed unlikely to amount to much more than 350,000. Nor were operations neglected in the wider world, the end of August seeing a small British expedition taking ship to evict the Dutch from their strategically placed colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

Imposing as this array seemed, matters were by no means as one-sided as at first appeared. Sometimes described as the most proficient army the world has ever seen, the grande armée was not without its problems. For one thing, it was so short of horses that some of its cavalry had actually to fight as infantrymen. For another, it is certainly possible to question the received wisdom that its men had spent all their time at the ‘camp of Boulogne’ being drilled and trained without let-up. Some accounts do speak as if this was the case: ‘The troops assembled there’, wrote Emile de Saint-Hilaire, ‘were occupied and disciplined in the style of the Romans; every hour had its own job and the soldiers were forever swapping their muskets for their pickaxes.’ Much the same sort of thing, meanwhile, is recorded by Hulot: ‘Everywhere one saw nothing but parades, simulations of attack and defence, forced marches and changes of bivouac. This spectacle filled us all with the same impression: woe be to the foreigner who is set about by such an army!’ But other memories were less sanguine. To quote Fezensac, for example, ‘The regiment was rarely assembled to manoeuvre in line. There were one or two excursions – simple route marches that approximated to the sort of distance one might cover in the course of an easy day in the field – a few rounds of target practice conducted without any method, and that was about it: no training for our skirmishers, no bayonet practice . . . no attempt to construct the simplest work of fortification.’ Whether the army was ever quite the disciplined machine that it has been made out to be is therefore a moot point. Nor were its logistical capacities up to the task of supplying the troops, who not only suffered all the rigours of campaigning, but all too often went hungry. To quote Fezensac’s memories of the march into Germany:

This short campaign was a summary of all that was to follow. The excessive fatigue, the want of supplies, the rigours of the season, the disorders committed by marauders, nothing was wanting . . . The brigades and even the regiments were often dispersed and orders to get them to a certain place often arrived late as they had to pass through many different hands. The result was that my regiment often had to march day and night, and for the first time I saw men sleeping as they marched, which is something that I would never have believed possible. In this fashion, we would arrive at the position we were supposed to occupy but without having had anything to eat or drink. Marshal Berthier, the chief of staff, had written that in the war of invasion planned by the emperor, there would be no magazines with the result that generals would have to provide for their men from the countries through which they passed. However, the generals had neither the time nor the means . . . to feed so numerous an army. As the countryside found out in the most cruel fashion, what this amounted to was to authorize pillage, and yet for the whole length of that campaign we did not suffer any the less from hunger . . . The bad weather made our sufferings even worse. A cold rain fell, and sometimes wet snow in which we waded up to our knees, while such was the wind that we could never light a fire. The sixteenth of October in particular – the day when M. Phillippe de Ségur waited upon Mack with the first demand that he surrender – the weather was so awful that nobody stayed at their post. There were neither pickets nor sentries . . . [and] everyone sought such shelter as he could. At no other moment, except in the campaign in Russia, did I suffer so much or see the army in such disarray.

For all their problems, the French did possess many advantages. From Napoleon downwards, the men at the head of the army represented the very cream of revolutionary generalship. Officers and men alike were on the whole veterans of some years’ service; the army’s tactical system was more adaptable than that of its continental opponents; and Napoleon had greatly improved upon the organizational model that he had inherited from the Republic through the establishment of army corps and the concentration of part of the artillery and cavalry into special reserves of great fighting power. Able as a result to move very fast, operate on a broad front that facilitated attempts at envelopment, display an extraordinary level of flexibility and hit very hard on the actual battlefield, the army also enjoyed high morale. Spirits were lifted by the simple fact that the men were on the move at last: Hulot described feeling ‘sincere joy’; newly commissioned as an officer, Fezensac remembered, ‘I was delighted to make war’; while Jean-Baptiste Barrès wrote, ‘We left Paris quite content to go campaigning . . . War was the one thing I wanted.’

This spirit of confidence and enthusiasm was the fruit of much cos-setting. Ever since 1799 Napoleon had done all that he could to cultivate the army. Parades and reviews were a constant feature of public life; the new flags now carried by each regiment were inscribed with gold letters spelling out the personal relationship between the emperor and his soldiers; the extensive employment of generals as ambassadors was a clear statement of the intimate connection between Napoleon, French foreign policy and the military; and the vast majority of recipients of the Legion of Honour – the new decoration instituted by Napoleon for services to the state – proved to be members of the armed forces. Nor was the Legion of Honour the only reward open to the emperor’s followers. Few soldiers could aspire to rise so far – only twenty-six men ever received the title – but the glittering figures of Masséna, Murat, Ney, Lannes, Augereau and the other marshals of the empire served as living object lessons in what could be achieved by courage and devotion. Showered with estates, they became fabulously wealthy. As yet the greatest glory still lay in the future. But even so the result was a mood of real excitement. To quote Elzéar Blaze:

None but a soldier of that period can conceive what spell there was in the uniform. What lofty expectations inflamed all the young heads on which a plume of feathers waved for the first time! Every French soldier carries in his cartouche-box his truncheon of marshal of France; the only question is how to get it out.

Nor was it just a case of promotion. In his field garb of plain grey overcoat and unadorned black tricorn, the emperor looked the very epitome of the common soldier of the Revolution – his nickname, after all, was ‘the little corporal’ – and he was always displaying the affability, simplicity and familiarity of manner that invoked such love amongst the troops. To cite just one of the stories told of him at this time, a private soldier suddenly stepped out in front of Napoleon’s horse to present him with a petition. Badly startled, the mount shied, and Napoleon flew into a rage, striking the man with his whip. Almost immediately, though, he collected himself and made the soldier a sergeant on the spot.

Thus far we see only a force of the sort that the American scholar John Lynn referred to as ‘an army of honour’ – an army whose members sought to advance their own interests and were concerned only with their own status and prestige. Yet despite the eclipse of overtly Republican generals such as Moreau and Pichegru – who were either dead or in exile – and the cult of imperial glory in which the army was the centrepiece, many of the soldiers continued to persuade themselves that they were fighting, if not for the Republic, then at least for its ideals. In this they were encouraged by Napoleon. The very first bulletin of the campaign calls the army ‘only the advance guard of the people’. Inspired by such language, many soldiers could believe, along with Charles Parquin, that the army’s goals remained ‘the great ideals of the French Revolution – the ideals of liberty, of unity and of the future – which, as everyone knows, the emperor Napoleon personified’. As proof of the depth of feeling that underlay such comments one has only to point to the particular hatred with which many soldiers regarded the Catholic Church. Wherever popular resistance was encountered – in other words in Spain, Portugal, the Tyrol and southern Italy – it was the Church that got the blame, and the Church that paid the price. ‘It was the monks who did most to make war against us,’ wrote one soldier of the war in Spain. ‘We cornered fifty of them in a church and massacred them all with the points of our bayonets.’ Underlying all this was a sense of cultural superiority that deepened with every mile that the army moved east and south. As one hussar officer in Spain put it: ‘With regard to the knowledge and the progress of social habits, Spain was at least a century behind the other nations of the continent.’

To return to Parquin, we see here not just the conviction that the army was fighting for the Revolution, but also faith in the person of Napoleon himself. Confidence in its leader was one of the French army’s most potent weapons, and one that was, of course, sedulously cultivated by the French ruler, not least by the constant pretence that he made of sharing its privations. But if this was indeed pretence, Napoleon at least made a genuine point of moving amongst his troops: the scene that took place on the eve of Austerlitz is particularly famous:

His army was but half as strong as that of the enemy. His soldiers had hitherto always been victorious, but, with so small a force . . . it was of the utmost importance to him to know whether the confidence of the troops in their own superiority would . . . be sufficient to make up for their inferiority in numbers. It therefore occurred to him to go on foot, accompanied by Marshal Berthier only, throughout the camp and listen unnoticed to the chat of the soldiers round their fires. By eleven o’clock he had already traversed a great distance when he was recognized. The soldiers, surprised at finding him in the midst of them, and afraid that he might lose his way going back to his headquarters . . . hastened to break up the shelters they had made of branches and straw to use them as torches to light their emperor home. One bivouac after another took up the task, and in less than a quarter of an hour, torches lit up the camp, whilst passionate cries of ‘Vive l’empereur!’ resounded on every side.

Mixed in with the aura of greatness were little touches of humanity. At Ulm it was observed that the French ruler’s famous greatcoat got singed when he sat too close to the fire. Nor had Napoleon lost his common touch. Writing of the same battle, one soldier remembered, ‘We were eating jam made from quinces . . . The emperor laughed. “Ah!”, said he. “I see you are eating preserves; don’t get up. You must put new flints in your guns: tomorrow morning you will need them. Be ready!”’ Not many soldiers actually received the favour of a personal word of enquiry or encouragement from their commander, of course, but that is not the point: the stories of such encounters doubtless grew in the telling, while the troops believed that they were cared about. As one François Avril wrote, ‘We have observed with the greatest interest the tender care taken by His Majesty to improve the lot of [the] . . . warriors charged with the task of defending the integrity of French territory.’ Close proximity to the emperor, meanwhile, brought a genuine sense of well-being. Reviewed by Napoleon in the midst of some particularly inclement weather, a common soldier named André Dupont-Ferrier wrote, ‘I don’t think I have ever been as cold as I was that day, and I don’t know how the emperor could bear it . . . but it seemed that his very presence warmed us, and repeated shouts of “Vive l’empereur!” must have convinced him how much he is cherished.’ Just as important was the sense that Napoleon was looking to each and every soldier for his survival. ‘We saw the Emperor Napoleon pass . . . He was on horseback; the simplicity of his green uniform distinguished him amidst the richly clothed generals who surrounded him; he waved his hands to every individual officer as he passed, seeming to say, “I rely on you.” ’ The consequences were enormous. ‘The presence of the emperor,’ wrote one veteran of the Austerlitz campaign, ‘produced a powerful effect on the army. Everyone had the most implicit confidence in him; everyone knew, from experience, that his plans led to victory, and therefore . . . our moral force was redoubled.’ Well might Wellington remark, ‘His presence on the field made a difference of 40,000 men.’

Austerlitz Campaign III

Yet war is not just a matter of battles, and the 40,000 extra soldiers that Wellington equated with Napoleon’s presence were in 1805 very nearly countered by six times that many fresh enemies in the form of the Prussian army. As the grande armée swept across Germany en route for the Danube, its progress was marked by wholesale pillage. ‘I am absolutely tired out, and cannot imagine how the body can support such constant fatigue,’ wrote Thomas Bugeaud. ‘Hunger is another tyrant. You can easily imagine whether ten thousand men coming into a village can easily find anything to eat. What distresses me more is the annoyance of stealing from the peasantry: their poultry, their bacon, their firewood [are] taken from them by grace or force. I do not do these things, but when I am very hungry I secretly tolerate them and eat my share of the stolen goods.’ In Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria, all of which had rallied to Napoleon, this was bad enough, but on 3 October 1805 Marshal Bernadotte’s I Corps – a force that occupied the outermost flank of the great wheel in which the grande armée engaged as it headed from the Rhine to the Danube – violated the neutrality of the small Prussia territory of Ansbach. Undertaken for no better reason than the fact that avoiding Ansbach would have cost Bernadotte’s men a few more days on the road, this action almost led to disaster. By the beginning of October war between Prussia and Russia had seemed all but certain, for on 19 September Potsdam had been informed that Russia had announced that she was going to march 100,000 troops across Prussian Poland and Silesia. As we have seen, the intention was to pressurize the Prussians into joining the Third Coalition, but instead they responded to this ‘rough wooing’ by mobilizing their army and announcing that they would resist any encroachment on their territory. In the event, however, the French reached Ansbach before the Russians reached Silesia. In the face of this provocation, even Frederick William could not remain inert. The French emissaries who had come to Berlin to win over the Prussians to the French cause were summarily dismissed, orders given for the army to take Hanover by force and the Russians told that they might cross Silesia. Moreover, on 3 November Prussia formally acceded to the Third Coalition by the treaty of Potsdam.

According to Paul Schroeder, none of this should be sufficient to persuade us that Prussia was genuinely bellicose in intent. The king remained indecisive and reluctant to go to war. As for his confidants and advisers, a clear majority still favoured peace: hence, perhaps, the fact that discussions regarding Prussia’s accession to the Third Coalition did not begin until Alexander, who had come west to join his armies, met Frederick William III in person. All of this, he continues, was reflected in the treaty of Potsdam, which in the first instance offered only armed mediation and, in the second, by means of a secret clause, made Hanover the price of active intervention in the struggle. On top of this there was the manner in which Prussian pressure was brought to bear. The peace terms, which, it was agreed, should be presented to Napoleon in person by the former Prussian chancellor, Haugwitz, were certainly such as to give rise to the suspicion that he would reject them – they included independence for Holland, Switzerland, the German states and the ci-devant Italian Republic. But at the same time it is impossible not to notice that four weeks were allowed for the discussion of the subject, and that Haugwitz deliberately put off his departure for Napoleon’s headquarters for eight precious days. With Napoleon and the grande armée now well and truly off the leash and winning dramatic successes in Germany, Schroeder’s conclusion is that Potsdam represented less an advance towards joining the Coalition, than a retreat from it.

Even supposing the Prussians had finally gone to war, there is no guarantee that they would have intervened with any great enthusiasm in the campaign. For one thing, they were not ready for war in 1805. When the crisis broke, their army had just embarked upon a series of reforms designed to increase the number of native Prussians under arms – it should be remembered that a considerable proportion of the troops were foreign mercenaries at this time – and create a trained reserve, and this led to a preference for caution. Potsdam’s lack of enthusiasm is confirmed by Clemens von Metternich, who was then Austria’s ambassador to the Prussian court: ‘From the first moment the emperor [i.e. Alexander] and I fell under the ill will of the Prussian negotiators. With ill-concealed anger, they resorted to every imaginable pretext to protract the arrangements which, in face of the calamitous circumstances of the war on the Danube, grew more and more urgent.’ And, last but not least, there remained the question of Hanover. Shortly after the signature of the treaty of Potsdam, a special envoy had arrived from London at the Prussian court in the person of Lord Harrowby. Authorized to offer the Prussians a subsidy of £2 5. million if they would accede to the Anglo-Russian alliance, go to war with an army of 200,000 men and promise not to make a separate peace and to guarantee the independence of Holland and the states of northern Germany, Harrowby was appalled by the clause in the treaty that gave Hanover to Prussia. Nor was Pitt better pleased when he was given the news by the special envoy dispatched to London by Alexander, Count d’Oubril. It was judged that losing Hanover would cause a recurrence of the infirm George III’s ‘madness’, and thereby give rise to a regency under the Prince of Wales, who was very much a friend of the Whigs and therefore entirely capable of ejecting Pitt and bringing to power a government that might seek a compromise peace with Napoleon. It being a choice of standing firm or losing the war anyway, Pitt therefore threatened to cancel all the British subsidies that had been promised unless the independence of Hanover was respected.

To return to Prussia, Napoleon was still taking a major chance, for a sudden display of vigour on the part of Frederick William might have caused him serious problems, while there were certainly elements in Prussia that were itching for war, or, at least, convinced that Prussia had to act. As the emperor seems to have suspected, however, vigour was not something to be looked for from the Third Coalition. Setting aside the Prussians, the latter’s actions were marked by a complete lack of coordination. No better prepared than the Prussians – under the aegis of General Mack they, too, had been engaged in a number of last-minute military reforms which had not yet settled in – the Austrians pushed their armies into Bavaria without waiting for the Russians, who in turn marched ten days later than they had agreed, while the Swedes would not move unless the Prussians did so too. Nor were matters any better in Italy. Deeply pessimistic at the renewal of war with France, the Archduke Charles allowed himself to be persuaded that he was outnumbered two to one by the French, and therefore secured orders from Vienna that he should remain on the defensive. Naples, meanwhile, did nothing, while the British and Russian forces sent to help her did not even disembark on her soil until 20 November, by which time catastrophe had struck elsewhere and made all hopes of an offensive impossible. Yet much of the leadership of the Coalition remained extraordinarily optimistic. So sure was Czartoryski of victory, for example, that he positively welcomed Prussia’s intransigence as he believed that the war with Potsdam that must follow would clear the way for Alexander to declare himself king of a reconstituted Poland as soon as the Russians had entered Warsaw. If so, it was dramatic testimony to the survival of interests that had nothing at all to do with the overthrow of Napoleon and for many years were greatly to impede the coalition-building that was the only means by which he could be resisted.

Needless to say, the result of all this was that the initiative passed to the French. Untrammelled by any significant threat to its northern flank, the grande armée swung smoothly across the Rhine and then headed south-eastwards with the aim of defeating the invaders of Bavaria. Convinced that no French forces could appear until late October, by which time he believed that Kutuzov’s Russians would have come up in his support, Mack had advanced to the Danube, and moved as far west as Ulm. To his considerable surprise, Napoleon, who had believed that his adversary was much further east, therefore suddenly found himself in the rear of the Austrians, and hastily swung his army westwards to envelop them. In the confusion, some of the emperor’s prey managed to get away, but on 20 October Mack laid down his arms with over 20,000 men. Other detachments of his forces (like those caught at Wertingen) had already been overwhelmed, while still others were routed or forced to surrender in the course of the next few days. In scarcely a fortnight, no fewer than 60,000 of the 75,000 men whom Mack had led into Bavaria had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner. It was, beyond doubt, a shattering blow. In England Pitt refused to credit the first reports, but Malmesbury ‘clearly perceived he disbelieved it more from the dread of its being true than from any well-grounded cause’ and ‘observed but too clearly the effect [confirmation] had on [him]’, remarking, ‘his look and manner were not his own, and gave me . . . a foreboding of the loss with which we were threatened’.

Elsewhere things had gone rather better for the Austrians – in Italy the Archduke Charles had repulsed a French attack at Caldiero – but the general situation was catastrophic. Although the first Russians had at last arrived on the frontiers of Bavaria, they were few in numbers and exhausted. Still worse, the French were heading straight for Vienna. By hard marching, the Russians and most of the Austrian troops still in the vicinity got away to Bohemia, but on 12 November the capital was occupied. The war, however, was not over. Thanks to the arrival of more Russians, there were now over 80,000 allied troops in Bohemia. Convinced that he could win a great victory, Alexander I, who had now arrived at headquarters, overruled the fugitive Francis II’s preference for an armistice, and ordered an offensive. Napoleon was not quite ready for this – among other things his men were exhausted – and, both to win time and to encourage Alexander to walk into the trap that was being laid for him, he requested an interview with the tsar. In response, the Russian ruler dispatched one of his personal favourites, Prince Peter Dolgoruky, to enquire as to the nature of his terms. The offer, clearly, was not a serious one, but it served a useful purpose, for the prince, a leading member of the war party in the Russian court, chose to indulge in an ostentatious show of contempt, and, by seemingly spurning a chance for peace, allowed the emperor and his apologists to blame the Allies for the continuation of the war. At the very least, Napoleon was given the chance to play the injured innocent. As he is supposed to have said to Dolgoruky, ‘How long have we to fight? What do you want from me? What does the Emperor Alexander desire? If he wants to enlarge his states, let him do it at the expense of his neighbours, Turkey especially, and then he will have no disputes with France.’

Even supposing that the words were sincere, at this stage they could achieve nothing. On 1 December, then, the two armies deployed near the town of Austerlitz. Given that the grande armée was considerably outnumbered, what followed was possibly the most masterly battle of the emperor’s career. Enticed to attack the French right in an effort to sever Napoleon’s communications with Vienna, the Allies left their centre unguarded, and this allowed the emperor effectively to split them in two. Thrown into complete disorder, his enemies fought with great courage, but by the end of the day – the first anniversary of Napoleon’s coronation – their left was all but surrounded and the rest of the army streaming off the field in varying states of disorder. All in all their casualties amounted to some 25,000 men, while the French had suffered losses of only 8,000. In the Allied camp, all was despair. Witness to the scene was Czartoryski:

The emperor was extremely cast down: the intense emotion that he had experienced made him ill . . . In every village one heard nothing but the confused shouts of people who had sought to drown their misfortunes in drink . . . If a few squadrons of French cavalry had been sent after us to complete our defeat, I have no idea what might have happened. Amongst the Coalition forces there were neither regiments nor corps d’armée: the only thing to be seen were armed gangs wandering aimlessly from place to place in a state of complete disorder and adding to the general desolation through their marauding.

Austerlitz dealt a death-blow to the Third Coalition. Russia still had plenty of troops, and the Archduke Charles had evacuated Italy and concentrated a substantial force on the frontiers of Hungary. But news of the defeat finally removed all hope of Prussian assistance: arriving at Napoleon’s headquarters in the immediate wake of Austerlitz, Haugwitz proffered Prussia’s friendship and committed her to an offensive-defensive alliance known as the treaty of Schönbrunn that promised her Hanover in exchange for a guarantee of France and her satellites and the cession of a number of territories in Germany (one of them, ironically enough, was Ansbach). At the same time, news of the defeat paralysed allied operations in northern Germany and persuaded Austria, whose equally shaken emperor had also been at Austerlitz, to seek an immediate peace settlement on the grounds that further resistance would be fatal (the Archduke Charles, indeed, was warning Francis that to continue the war would be to risk political revolution and the dissolution of the empire). As it was, peace was bad enough. By the treaty of Pressburg of 26 December 1805, Austria was forced to cede Venetia, Dalmatia and Istria to the Kingdom of Italy, Vorarlberg, Tyrol and Trentino to Bavaria, and the isolated pockets of territory still held by Austria in south-western Germany to Baden and Württemberg. Also ceded to the courts of Munich, Baden-Baden and Stuttgart were the territories of those imperial knights unfortunate enough to reside within their frontiers. In addition, Napoleon had to be accepted as King of Italy, and Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hesse-Darmstädt recognized as independent states, while Austria also had to pay an indemnity of 40,000,000 francs. For all this, the only compensation was that Austria was allowed to regain Salzburg, whose Habsburg ruler, the erstwhile Duke of Tuscany, was shifted to the Grand Duchy of Würzburg. As for the Russians, they hastily evacuated their forces from Germany and Bohemia alike, and began to examine the possibility of a separate peace. In Britain news of the defeat literally finished William Pitt. Worn out by a variety of ailments and years of heavy drinking, the Prime Minister was already a sick man, and there is no doubt that Austerlitz came as a heavy blow. ‘Roll up the map of Europe,’ he is supposed to have said, ‘it will not be wanted these ten years.’ With British policy in ruins, early in the morning of 23 January 1806 the Prime Minister – Napoleon’s greatest and most consistent opponent in the whole of Europe – passed away. It was a fearful blow. To quote Lord Auckland, ‘Our situation is desperate. There is nothing to look to.’ Nor was the mood any better in Austria. In the words of the propagandist Gentz, ‘Everything is surely over now, for the little that remains can be so easily supplied in imagination that even the pleasure of surprise no longer remains to us.’

This was a key moment in the history of the Napoleonic Empire. For the emperor, of course, it was a time of triumph. Present at imperial headquarters, Talleyrand later wrote:

Never has a military feat been more glorious. I still see Napoleon re-entering Austerlitz on the evening of the battle. He lodged at a house belonging to Prince von Kaunitz, and, there, in his chamber, yes, in the very chamber of Prince von Kaunitz, were brought at every moment Austrian flags, Russian flags, messages from the archdukes and from the emperor of Austria, and prisoners bearing all the names of all the great houses of the Austrian monarchy.

The Franco–Thai War (1940–1941)

The Battle of Ko Chang took place on 17 January 1941 during the Franco-Thai War and resulted in a victory by the French Navy over the Royal Thai Navy. During the battle, a flotilla of French warships attacked a smaller force of Thai vessels, including a coastal defence ship.
In the end, two Thai ships were sunk and one was heavily damaged. Within a month of the engagement, the Vichy French and the Thais negotiated a peace which ended the war.

Vichy versus Asia: The Franco-Siamese War of 1941

Dr. Andrew McGregor

Aberfoyle International Security

Toronto, Ontario

In 1940 the Vichy government of French Indo-China was isolated and threatened by the imperialist Japanese, the neighbouring Thais and by native rebel movements. The French had about 50,000 colonial and metropolitan troops stationed in the colony. They outnumbered the small French civilian population of 40,000 colonists in a territory of 25 million Indo-Chinese. The French collapse in the spring of 1940 resulted in the German occupation of 60% of France, but Marshall Pétain’s Vichy government retained control of the remainder, as well as France’s colonial empire. Indo-China was, however, cut off from re-supply from Vichy France. A British blockade proved effective, meaning that troops could not be rotated for the duration of the war, nor could parts be obtained for military equipment. Fuel supplies could also not be replenished so long as the petroleum-short Japanese Empire controlled the Asian theatre.

Vichy diplomats attempted to persuade Germany to allow them to ship arms and equipment to Indo-China, appealing to the Germans on racial grounds, pointing out the possibility of the ‘white race’ losing ground in Asia. The Germans would promise only to speak to the Japanese. At the same time Vichy was fending off offers from the Chinese to occupy Indo-China to ‘protect’ it from the Japanese. Aware of China’s own irredentist claims in the area, the French doubted they would ever get their colony back if the Chinese were allowed in.

The Japanese deliver a shock

As France fell, the Japanese began to make demands of the Governor-General of Indo-China, General Catroux. When the General acceded to demands that rail traffic to China be stopped he was promptly replaced. Vichy named the loyal commander of the FNEO (Forces Navales d’Extreme-Orient), Vice-Admiral Jean Decoux, as Governor General. By September Decoux was facing far greater demands from the Japanese, including the right to station and transport troops through Indo-China, the use of selected airfields, and the evacuation of a hard-pressed Japanese division fighting in China through the port of Haiphong. An appeal to the Americans for help was poorly received.

Aware of his predecessor’s fate, Decoux hesitated, signing the agreement just before the Japanese ultimatum ran out. The Japanese division was tired of waiting, however, and proceeded to cross the border on September 22, 1940, attacking the Tonkinese cities of Dong Dang and Lang Son with tanks and infantry. The Japanese navy made landings along the coast, Haiphong was bombed, and the Japanese Air Force flew repeatedly over Hanoi. The Japanese offensive came as a shock to some senior French officers, who still believed in natural European superiority and often talked about taking tough action against the Japanese. Dong Dang fell immediately, and Lang Son fell two days later, with many of the locally raised colonial units breaking and running before their first experience of artillery and disciplined infantry attacks carried out by veteran soldiers. French intelligence had reported that the Japanese were demoralized, but it was the French who collapsed under pressure. Local villagers revealed French positions to the Japanese, French artillery fired on French positions, ammunition ran out quickly, and over a thousand Indo-Chinese troops deserted.

A statement issued by the Japanese emperor on October 5 called the Lang Son attack unfortunate but not important. The French prisoners were released, but 200 German legionnaires who had been separated from the other French prisoners were not released until the 13th of October. The pursuing Chinese army made numerous forays across the frontier, and the French administration remained fearful of a full-scale Chinese invasion until the end of the war. The French had lost 800 men in two days of battle with the Japanese.

Nationalist rebellions

The fall of Lang Son had almost immediate consequences for French rule. Discontented locals had witnessed how easily an Asian army defeated the whites. Vietnamese nationalist Tran Trung Lap was able to raise some 3,000 men in the Lang Son region, many of them deserters from the Indo-Chinese units defeated by the Japanese. Their arms were provided from French stocks captured by the Japanese. The returning French demonstrated they could still deal with a poorly trained rabble, and quickly drove the revolutionaries into the mountains, where planes and artillery hammered them. Tran Trung Lap was ambushed, and though he escaped the massacre of his men by machine-gun, he was shortly after captured and executed at Lang Son in December.

In the south of Vietnam, then known as Cochin China, an even more dangerous rebellion broke out in late November. Thai troops had begun to deploy along the Cambodian border and most of the garrisons in Cochin China had been sent to the frontier. Fighting broke out in the My Tho region and French police found themselves overwhelmed. The rebellion spread to Saigon and a number of southern provinces. A battalion of the Foreign Legion and a battalion of Tonkinese colonial troops on their way to Cambodia were diverted to the south and, with the help of artillery, air and naval detachments, quickly repressed the rebellion with utmost ruthlessness. The French had made their point, and could now send their forces west to deal with the Thais.

War with Thailand

The French now had to deal with a growth of militarism and Thai nationalism in neighbouring Thailand (the name was changed from Siam in 1938). Just as Germany sought to regain the territories lost in the Treaty of Versailles, Thailand was eager to retake the ethnic Thai lands along the Mekong River it was forced to cede to the French colony of Laos in 1904. In 1907 the French had also forced Siam to cede the largely Khmer provinces of Siemreap, Sisophon and Battambang to French Cambodia. The pro-Japanese government of Marshal Pibul Songgram sensed an exploitable weakness in the now isolated French colony, and began a military campaign to retake these territories after the French rejected demands for their return in October 1940.

The Thais had signed a non-aggression pact with the French in June 1940, but failed to ratify it after the collapse of metropolitan France. By October Marshal Songgram had mobilized 50,000 troops (in five divisions) and obtained 100 modern fighters, bombers and seaplanes from Japan. The Thai air-force was now three times the size of that available to the French, with the new aircraft added to the 100 American planes obtained between 1936 and 1938 (mostly Vough Corsairs and Curtiss Hawks). The Thai navy had also been equipped with modern ships and outclassed the French colonial fleet on paper at least. Border skirmishes began in November and the Thais crossed the Mekong in December. Hard-pressed elsewhere, the French could only commit fourteen battalions to the defence of Battambang Province.

On January 5, 1941, the Thais launched a full attack with artillery and aerial bombardment of French positions. The Thai offensive covered four fronts:

1) North Laos, where the Thais took the disputed territories with little opposition

2) South Laos, where the Thais crossed the Mekong by the 19th of January

3) The Dangreks Sector, where confused fighting went back and forth

4) Colonial Route 1 (RC 1) in Battambang province, where the heaviest fighting occurred.

The initial advance on the RC 1 was repulsed by the Cambodian Tirailleurs (riflemen). The main Thai column ran into a French counter-attack on January 16, colliding with the French at Yang Dam Koum in Battambang. The Thai force was equipped with Vickers 6-ton tanks while the French lacked any armour. The French counter-offensive had three parts:

1) A counter-attack on the RC 1 in the region of Yang Dam Koum

2) An assault by the Brigade d’Annam-Laos on the islands of the Mekong River

3) Operations by the naval ‘Groupement occasionnel’ against the Thai fleet in the Gulf of Siam

The main thrust of the offensive was by Col. Jacomy’s forces along the RC 1. The attack at Yang Dam Koum was a debacle from the start. The assault forces consisted of one battalion of Colonial Infantry (European) and two battalions of ‘Mixed Infantry’ (European and Indo-Chinese). The forest made artillery operations difficult, French aircraft never showed, leaving the skies to the Thai air-force, and radio communications were poor. The French transmitted orders using Morse code, perhaps explaining why the Thais often anticipated their movements. A complete rout was prevented when the Thais ran into a battalion of the Fifth regiment of Legion infantry at Phum Préau. The legionnaires were hit hard by a Thai armoured assault, but brought up two 25mm and one 75mm gun for use against the tanks. The motorized detachment of the 11th Regiment of Colonial Infantry reinforced the line, and three Thai tanks were destroyed, the rest deciding to retire. The diversionary assault on the Mekong was successful, but the largest battle of the war was to be fought in the Gulf of Siam.

Naval war in the Gulf of Siam

The French navy was all important in Indo-China, as with any overseas colony. The modest force had a virtually non-existent role in the great Asian war of 1941-45, being unable to resist either Japanese advances or Allied blockades, but they were nevertheless to have one great, unexpected battle before meeting an ignominious end. The fleet in Indo-China was divided into two parts with separate levels of responsibility. The FNEO was assigned responsibility for the overall defence of French colonies in Indo-China and the Pacific, while the Marine Indochine with its river gunboats was responsible for interior security in Indo-China.

With the land war going badly for the French, it was decided to send the small French fleet to the Gulf of Siam to engage a Thai naval force supporting the flank of the Thai advance. The Thai ships had been spotted lying at anchorage in the Koh Chang islands by a French navy flying boat. The French task-force (or Groupement occasionel) consisted of the light cruiser Lamotte-Piquet, the two colonial sloops Dumont d’Urville and Amiral Charner, and the WW1 vintage gunboats Tahure and Marne.

During the night of January 16 the French ships closed in on the islands, dividing themselves into three groups to cover the exits from the island group. On the morning of the 17th the French roared in under cover of the mist to engage the Thais. The Thai ships included three Italian-built torpedo boats and the dual-pride of the Thai fleet, the two new Japanese-made armoured coastal defence ships with 6” guns, Donburi and Ahidéa. The French were surprised to find both coastal defence ships there, as they expected only the Ahidéa, but the Donburi had arrived the day before in a standard rotation. The French lost the advantage of surprise when an overeager Loire 130 seaplane tried to bomb the Thai ships. The Thais received the French with the opening salvoes of the battle at 6:14 AM. The Lamotte-Piquet quickly inflicted fatal damage on the Ahidéa with gunfire and torpedoes, forcing it to run aground. By 7 AM French guns had sunk all three torpedo boats.

The Donburi was spotted attempting to escape through the 200m high islands and the French cruiser set off in pursuit. The Donburi was set afire but continued to engage the cruiser and the sloops, which now began to pour fire into the Donburi. Badly damaged and listing to starboard, the Donburi eventually disappeared behind an island and the French broke off. Later in the day the Donburi was taken in tow by a Thai transport but capsized soon after. Throughout the engagement the French sailors were impressed by the courage of the Thai sailors under fire.

The French ships were unable to exploit their victory, however, due to the arrival of Thai Corsairs targeting the Lamotte-Piquet . Fierce anti-aircraft fire drove off the attacks, and by 9:40 AM the French turned for home. In a brief but decisive engagement the Thai fleet had been destroyed at negligible cost to the French. It appeared at the time to be a sudden and dramatic reversal of French fortunes.


The Japanese had seen enough and accompanied an offer to mediate the conflict with the arrival of a powerful naval force off the mouth of the Mekong River to encourage negotiations. A tentative armistice was imposed on January 28, but Thai provocations on the frontier continued until a formal armistice was signed aboard the Japanese battleship Natori off Saigon. The extent of Thai-Japanese collaboration was revealed when a Japanese-imposed treaty between Vichy and Thailand was signed on May 9, 1941. The disputed territories of Laos, part of the Cambodian province of Siem Réap and the whole of Battambang were awarded to Thailand. The conflict had cost the French over 300 men and a further loss of prestige amongst its colonial subjects. European troops and material losses could not be replaced due to the blockade. The French garrison remained highly demoralized until the Japanese coup in 1945 destroyed the Vichy colonial army in Indo-China.

In the end the Thais fared little better. The Khmers largely evacuated the lost Cambodian territories, preferring French rule, and Thailand itself was soon occupied by its more powerful ally, the Japanese. American Flying Fortresses bombed Bangkok in 1942. The Thais declared war against the allies in 1944, but there was some confusion over whether the declaration was actually delivered to the US government, and after the war the Thai government certified the declaration of war as null and void. The uncomfortable affair was mutually forgotten. The disputed territories in Laos and Cambodia were returned to the new Gaullist government at the end of the war.

The French light cruiser Lamotte-Piquet was laid up shortly after the battle of Koh Chang due to the shortage of fuel. In 1945 the ship was bombed by American planes before being scuttled during the brutal Japanese coup of March 1945. The remaining naval force continued to escort convoys up and down the Vietnamese coast as best they could from 1941 to 1945. In their sudden seizure of Indo-China, the Japanese sank a number of French ships with shore fire, while the remainder were scuttled by their crews, who were then imprisoned. The French colonial armed forces in Indo-China had ceased to exist by the time the British and Chinese armies arrived after the Japanese surrender. It was the British and Chinese, rather than the men of Vichy, who would turn over the colony to Gaullist France at the end of World War II.

Military History Online – The Franco-Siamese War of 1941