Marcomannic Wars

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius [Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121 – 17 March 180] believed that the barbarian groups beyond the Rhine and the Danube had been allowed too much freedom of action while three of the regional legions had been fighting in the east. Indeed, both archaeological evidence and the scant literary sources suggest that the balance of tribal power beyond the middle Danube and in Bohemia had changed dramatically around this time, though for reasons that remain obscure. Relative imperial neglect probably played a part, allowing unexpected and undesirable violence to break out. Authorised warfare between tribal clients was a healthy part of Roman policy as it created a managed instability that prevented any one group from becoming too powerful and channelled the excess energy of martial societies away from Rome and towards one another. But unauthorised warfare beyond the northern frontier was something different: without sufficient Roman oversight or surveillance, it might rapidly flare up into something more threatening. Defeated war bands, occasionally whole tribes, might try to seek refuge in the empire, and while that was often a desirable way of bringing new farmers and soldiers into the empire, it only worked when such population movements could be controlled.

Nowadays Rome’s European frontiers, with their ‘Germanic’ barbarians, loom disproportionately large in the historical imagination, both popular and scholarly: the frontier is often imagined as a breakwater against which barbarian tides lapped endlessly across centuries until the dam burst and the empire fell. In fact, the political dynamics on the Rhine and Danube frontiers were similar to those in Africa, Arabia, Britain and wherever the socially more complex and technologically more sophisticated empire confronted tribal groups whose power structures rarely stayed stable for long. For those neighbours, the empire was a juggernaut towering on the horizon. Roman actions, and fear of Roman actions, shaped the decisions of barbarian elites everywhere, even those at three or four removes from the frontier itself. The churning landscape just beyond the European and African frontiers was as much a product of Rome as the barbarians: even the smallest Roman expedition could wipe out whole sections of a population, lay waste to years’ worth of seed grain and stockpiled wealth and render a group’s homeland uninhabitable. When the empire was distracted, it presented an opportunity. Not to correct the immeasurable disparity in power, that could never happen; rather to seize momentarily a small piece of Roman prosperity, accessible along well-built roads leading deep into the imperial provinces. To do so was worth the inevitable and often devastating response. We have no idea what was happening beyond the Danube frontier when some of its garrison legions were detached to the Parthian War. But the return of the legions either directly provoked a violent response or triggered an outbreak of intertribal violence that drove a medium-sized barbarian army into Pannonia.

Marcus’s response was determinedly punitive. Iallius Bassus, who had been with Lucius on the eastern campaigns, was made governor of Pannonia Superior, traditionally the most senior command on the Rhine–Danube frontier. At the same time, a man named Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus first enters the historical record as the governor of Pannonia Inferior. Pompeianus is a remarkable example of the way in which the oligarchic elite that dominated imperial government could open itself to conspicuous talent. Pompeianus was the son of a minor equestrian official from Antioch in Syria, a part of the Hellenistic east that had as yet launched very few of its native sons into the international elite of equestrian, let alone senatorial, government. On his personal merits alone, however, Pompeianus would go on to enter the senate, becoming a special friend of Marcus, marrying into the imperial family and remaining a central figure in Roman politics for the rest of the century.

Pannonia Inferior was Pompeianus’s first significant command, and both he and Bassus would experience very heavy fighting. Late in 166 or early in 167, several thousand Langobardi and Obii invaded Pannonia Superior. They had come from a region well beyond the immediate frontier zone, which was settled with Marcomanni opposite Pannonia in the modern Czech Republic, Quadi opposite the Danube bend, and the Sarmatian Iazyges in the land between the Danube and the Carpathians. These distant invaders were rapidly annihilated by Bassus, but the prospect of reprisals frightened the client kings closer by. Eleven of the middle Danubian tribes chose as their spokesman the Marcomannic king Ballomarius and he sued for peace before Bassus. Ballomarius protested his own and his fellow clients’ loyalty to the emperor and dismissed the actions of the Langobardi and Obii as a freak aberration. The plague had detained Marcus at Rome, so Bassus concluded a provisional peace and waited until his emperor was ready.

In spring 168, Marcus began a personal inspection of the Danube frontier. No one doubted that this was a preamble to war. Lucius would accompany the expedition as well, in part because the troops knew him from the Parthian War, and the project’s scale can be judged by the number of important men involved. Furius Victorinus, the experienced guard prefect who had accompanied Lucius to the east, now went north with both emperors, but he and many of his guardsmen would die, probably of plague, en route to the frontier. He was replaced by M. Bassaeus Rufus, previously prefect of the vigiles (the urban security force of Rome) and briefly prefect of Egypt. The other guard prefect, M. Macrinius Vindex, came, too, which suggests that Rome was left ungarrisoned in the emperors’ absence. Marcus’s other trusted generals – Aufidius Victorinus, Dasumius Tullius Tuscus, Pontius Laelianus, the last two of whom had both served stints on the Danube frontier – were with him, not with specific portfolios but as comites Augusti, companions of the emperor.

Our sources are confused and two centuries of modern scholarship have yet to produce a fully satisfactory chronology of what we call the Marcomannic Wars and what Marcus referred to as his expeditio Germanica. The frontier of Pannonia Superior had not been settled by the treaty of Ballomarius and Bassus, and by 168 a Marcomannic king (perhaps, but not necessarily, Ballomarius) had been killed in battle there. The tribal leaders asked Roman permission to choose his successor and Lucius argued that this was success enough: why not call off the whole campaign and spare themselves the expense and the danger? Marcus demurred, planning to spend winter outside Rome for the first time since becoming emperor, choosing instead the Adriatic hub of Aquileia which was equidistant from the capital and the frontier. In the end, sickness in the ranks proved so bad that Marcus acceded to Lucius’s wishes and agreed to return to Rome. But having got his way, Lucius proved unlucky: just days after leaving Aquileia, he had a stroke and died at Altinum. Marcus returned to Rome with his adoptive brother’s body. He was now sole emperor, as Antoninus Pius had always intended.

There was little time for grief, but Marcus had his brother deified as duty required. Lucius’s death left Marcus’s 19-year-old daughter Lucilla the widow of a divus. She may already have begun to show the ambition and ruthlessness that would define her later career, or Marcus may have felt that a marriageable princess was too tempting a target for court intrigue. Regardless, he scandalised senatorial opinion by marrying Lucilla off again before the mourning period for Lucius was over. Worse still, she was given not to a senatorial grandee, but to the equestrian marshal Ti. Claudius Pompeianus. Marcus had good reasons for this decision. Only one of his daughters was ever given an aristocratic husband, lest it lead to a dynastic challenge to the heir apparent, Lucius Commodus (he became the emperor’s only surviving son after the youngest, Annius Verus, died in summer 169). Pompeianus proved a loyal supporter of the dynasty, as well as an important patron for other equestrians. Most significant of these was Helvius Pertinax, the equestrian son of a freedman, who was adlected into the senate without ever having set foot in the senate house, or serving in the qualifying posts of quaestor, aedile or praetor. That he would eventually become emperor, even if only briefly, illustrates some of the social change that was overtaking Roman society, not least under the combined pressure of plague and war and the indiscriminate death toll they took on the traditional elites.

The marriage of Lucilla to Pompeianus – which both she and her mother Faustina had vigorously opposed – was not the only scandal of 169. New legions had to be raised for the Marcommanic campaigns and, in order to finance them, Marcus auctioned off property from the imperial household. The event was proverbial in antiquity, and has become a handy shorthand for imperial crisis in the modern scholarship, but it was a gesture of neither ostentatious self-sacrifice nor personal frugality. It was, rather, the only way to generate fresh revenue without raising taxes at a time when a badly depleted population might not be able to pay them. Fresh soldiers were in such short supply that Marcus authorised the recruitment of gladiators into the legions, an unprecedented action which drove up the price of public games across the empire and fell so heavily on local magistrates that Marcus soon enacted price-capping measures.

These varied financial expedients were ultimately successful and by late 169 Marcus was ready to return to Pannonia. Faustina stayed in Rome with the young and sickly heir to the throne, Lucius Commodus. Pompeianus came with Marcus as his chief counsellor, which meant that Lucilla did, too, as did many veteran commanders of the eastern wars: Pontius Laelianus, Dasumius Tullius Tuscus, Claudius Fronto. Where they over-wintered is unclear, perhaps at either Singidunum or Sirmium (respectively Belgrade and Sremska Mitrovica in modern Serbia), both now coming to prominence as major imperial cities. Indeed, Marcus’s Danubian wars mark a transition in the history of the Balkan provinces, previously cultural backwaters but thereafter increasingly urbanised and studded with wealthy farms and villas that would make the region central to imperial history in the coming centuries: as our story continues, a much longer list of Balkan towns – Mursa, Naissus, Poetovio, Serdica, Viminacium, Nicopolis ad Istrum – will join Sirmium and Singidunum in these pages.

Marcus himself led the major offensive of 170, pushing deep into Marcomannic territory. It was a fiasco: imperial propaganda was capable of turning a trivial skirmish into a towering victory, but now there is not so much as a whiff of success in the sources. Instead, the campaign triggered a massive barbarian invasion of Italy. Aquileia was besieged and the North Italian plain penetrated. This was an early harbinger of later history – Italy had to be defended at the Alps or, better still, just beyond them. If Alpine defences failed, the peninsula was effectively ungarrisoned and helpless. In 170, the Balkans also experienced heavy damage. The Costoboci, a tribe whose name is otherwise barely known, made it all the way to the province of Achaea, indeed as far as Attica, where they violated the shrine of the Eleusinian mysteries. The invaders’ numbers, their divisions, their routes, all are unrecoverable, but they did more than ravage crops and kidnap farmers, which the government usually tolerated as an acceptable loss. Instead, there was a lot of hard fighting against Roman forces, with conspicuous and high-level deaths: in 170, the governor of Moesia Superior, whose name is not preserved, was either killed or cashiered for incompetence. His command was given to the governor of Dacia, the experienced Claudius Fronto, who himself fell in battle before the year was out. The emperor’s own army got cut off beyond the Danube, and a special fleet command, under Valerius Maximianus, was needed to carry supplies to Marcus and his troops.

Meanwhile, Claudius Pompeianus, with Helvius Pertinax as his chief lieutenant, began to clear northern Italy of its unwanted guests. Fighting at the frontier continued in 171, when Marcus was headquartered at Carnuntum near modern Vienna. A barbarian army that Pompeianus had chased out of Italy was now trapped at the Danube crossing and destroyed. Marcus divided the plunder he retrieved among the provincials, and these victories, though small, contained the damage well enough to allow a return to the traditional policy of setting one group of barbarians against another. That seemed to work. As the end of the campaigning season approached in autumn 171, Marcus received various embassies at Carnuntum. The Quadi made peace, offering to supply the Roman army and agreeing to prevent the passage of either the Marcomanni or the Iazyges (their western and eastern neighbours, respectively) through their territory. Other defeated barbarians were allowed into imperial territory and settled deep in the interior provinces. It was all starting to look like a return to frontier business as usual, welcome because there was now trouble elsewhere: the Mauri who had caused trouble under Antoninus Pius were again raiding across the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, which required an emergency arrangement combining the imperial province of Hispania Tarraconensis with the ungarrisoned senatorial province of Baetica under a single military commander.

In the next year, 172, the value of Marcus’s Quadic treaty became clear. With the middle Danube bend and the Dacian fronts calm, Marcus was able to launch a second invasion beyond the river, focused solely on the Marcomanni in what is now Bohemia. It was another arduous campaign, during which one of the praetorian prefects, Macrinius Vindex, was killed in battle. But Marcus had gained the confidence of his troops and they began to attribute to him a supernatural ability to call down aid from the gods. In one case, he was said to have summoned a thunderbolt to destroy a barbarian war engine, an event duly commemorated on coins; in another, he (or rather his favourite, the Egyptian magician Arnouphis) had apparently summoned a rainstorm to revive his parched and exhausted troops: they proceeded to win a victory against all odds. Both miracles are depicted on Marcus’s column in the Piazza Colonna at Rome, and coins seem to credit Mercury for the miraculous victory. The scale of actual military achievement may not have been equal to the propaganda triumphs, though both Marcus and the caesar Commodus had taken the victory title Germanicus before the start of 173. Commodus may have been at the front with his father, which would mean that most of the imperial family, including Faustina, Lucilla and her husband Pompeianus, were at Carnuntum late in 172. In the following year, Faustina was hailed as mater castrorum, mother of the camps, a sign that the soldiers regarded her as a protecting patron. Not long afterwards, the rest of the family also joined Marcus and Faustina on the Danube: Fadilla, now married to Lucius Verus’s nephew Plautius Quintillus; and Cornificia, married to Petronius Sura Mamertinus, grandson of Pius’s praetorian prefect Mamertinus. And then bad news came from the east.

In 172, while Marcus was proclaiming success on the Danube front, there was either a fully fledged uprising or an outbreak of intensive banditry in the Egyptian delta. At the same time, the Parthians attempted to bring Armenia back under the tutelage of Ctesiphon, no doubt emboldened by the detachment of some imperial troops from Cappadocia to the Danube. But the scale of the Danubian war meant Marcus could not give the east the attention it needed, and there was no longer a Lucius Verus available to serve as the face of the imperial dynasty. Avidius Cassius, the long-serving governor of Syria and a native Syrian himself, was granted extraordinary imperium in the east, of the kind that no one outside the imperial family had possessed since the days of Augustus’s trusted lieutenant Agrippa a century and a half before. In practical terms, Cassius had become Marcus’s plenipotentiary east of the Bosporus and the suppression of Lower Egypt was his first task.

Meanwhile, Marcus passed most of the campaigning season of 173 beyond the Danube, possibly reaching as far as the headwaters of the Vistula. The Quadi were certainly one target, perhaps because they had broken their oath not to help the Marcomanni. In the following year, he turned against the Iazyges beyond the Danube bend, in the Great Hungarian plain between the river and the Carpathians, or, in Roman terms, between Pannonia and Dacia. He did well enough to refuse the Iazyges the peace terms they sought, preferring to continue the fighting in 175. That year brought something far worse than another round of frontier warfare: Avidius Cassius, perhaps the most reliable man Marcus had, revolted and claimed the imperial title.


Marcus still expected to die soon, and he was unsettled by what he saw on the frontiers. The Mauri in Tingitania remained uncontrollable: a group had again crossed into Baetica to raid and had even laid siege to the town of Singilia Barba (modern Antequera in Málaga province). Meanwhile, the Danube was again calling and, though Marcus would take personal charge of the campaign, he wanted Commodus to gain the experience of real war. To shore up the dynasty before they set out, he married Commodus to Bruttia Crispina, the descendant of a leading Hadrianic aristocrat; her father, Bruttius Praesens, already a prominent man when he was made consul in 153, was designated as consul for the second time for 180. In August 178, the emperors left for the Danube front. Old Pompeianus went with them as always, and now Commodus’s father-in-law Bruttius did, too. Both guard prefects, Tarruttienus Paternus and Tigidius Perennis, accompanied the expedition and both would keep their posts into the next reign. Helvius Pertinax was made governor of Dacia, to support the flank of the main army, and Paternus was put in charge of the field army; the campaign proper was launched in 179 into Quadic territory at the Danube bend. Modern scholars are divided over whether Marcus intended to conquer and hold a new province of Marcomannia beyond the Danube, but the sources, written and archaeological, reveal dozens of Roman forts throughout what is now Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and it is certainly possible to discern in them a prelude to occupation and provincialisation.

At the start of the next year’s campaigning season, however, Marcus fell gravely ill yet again. It may be that he had finally succumbed to the plague, but he had never been particularly robust, so we cannot be sure. Nor are we sure quite where he was when this final sickness overtook him – perhaps near Sirmium. He summoned Commodus, commended him to the counsel of his own senior advisers and begged him to continue the war effort whether or not he was personally inclined to do so. The old emperor then proceeded to starve himself, perhaps hoping that this would cure his illness, perhaps trying to hasten death. After seven days, on 17 March 180, he knew he was dying. When the duty tribune asked him for the day’s watchword, which it was the emperor’s task to set, Marcus sent the man to Commodus: ‘Go to the rising sun,’ he said, ‘for I am now setting.’

Commodus’s first decision as sole emperor, so far as we can tell, was to conclude a treaty with the Marcomanni and the Quadi. This left intact the old line of the Danube frontier, scotching any plans Marcus might have had for imperial expansion, and it brought to the region a peace that endured for half a century. The terms were very much in Rome’s favour. The defeated tribes were required to supply the empire with an annual tribute of grain and to collectively contribute more than 20,000 soldiers to the Roman army. They would be posted to distant auxiliary units and kept away from their homeland to break down any lingering sense of tribal identity they might have. Back home, both the Marcomanni and the Quadi were partially disarmed and forbidden to attack their neighbours – the Iazyges, the Buri and the Vandals – without Roman permission. They were also forbidden to make use of the Danube islands and even of a strip of land on their own, left bank of the river. Large-scale political meetings could take place only when a Roman centurion was present to supervise.

In many ways, Commodus’s decision to end his father’s war was wise. It restored the old imperial preference for client kingships in regions not worth the effort of conquest and it made sure those clients would be dependent upon Rome for their hold on internal power. An unintended, but ultimately more lasting, consequence was the efflorescence of civilian life and Roman civil society in the Danubian provinces, which had developed very quickly thanks to two decades of wartime investment in the region’s infrastructure. Thus it is not true, as many have argued, that Marcus’s worthless son threw away the chance to create a great trans-Danubian province as his father had planned. There is no definitive evidence that Marcus was planning to extend the frontiers into central Europe, and the return to the pre-war status quo was both strategically sound and tactically sensible. What is more, however much Marcus’s trusted old adviser Claudius Pompeianus, brother-in-law to the new emperor, might argue against the return to Rome, Commodus would have to present himself to the people to be acclaimed by them and the senate. Delay would breed their resentment, while the military’s dynasticism would keep the frontiers quiet for a time. As soon as the treaty was concluded, Commodus presented himself at Rome as the son of the deified Marcus and the bringer of peace through conquest. He celebrated a formal triumph on 22 October 180.

Marcomannic Wars


The Threat to Vienna 1683 I

In February 1683 Quartermaster-General Haslingen drew up a complete list of Leopold’s troops and of the areas in which they were stationed. He counted seventy companies in Bohemia, forty-five in Moravia, and forty-eight in Silesia—with a complement, in theory, of 7,600 foot and 10,000 cuirassiers and dragoons. There were seventy-five companies in western Hungary and thirty-eight in Upper Hungary, although a comparison with another of his memoranda seems to show that he was here counting some regiments and companies twice over; nor could he, or anyone else, rely on the estimates of men serving in the various types of Hungarian militia. In the Inner Austrian lands (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola) Haslingen enumerated forty-three companies—5,600 foot and 1,200 horse; in Upper and Lower Austria forty companies—4,000 foot and 1,600 horse; and in the empire eighty companies of foot and one of horse—16,400 men. His figures for the number of companies were correct (except, no doubt, for Hungary); but on the premise that the full complement in foot and mounted companies was 200 and 80 men respectively, the grand totals of 44,800 infantry and 17,600 cavalry were no more than the roughest of guides to the size of the whole Habsburg force. They much exceeded the actual number of effective soldiers. However, the quartermaster could soon hope to add to it the bands of irregulars to be raised by Magyar magnates, three mounted regiments which Prince Lubomirski was commissioned to bring from Poland, and also the new regiments of the patentees nominated by Leopold during the winter.

The immediate problem, for the War Council, was to decide how many men could be safely moved east from the empire, in spite of Louis XIV’s aggressive policy, in order to reinforce the contingents sent south from the Bohemian lands, building up by this concentration the strongest possible force in Hungary to oppose the Turks. The decision involved some of the best regiments at Leopold’s disposal; it had also to take into account the treaty recently agreed with Max Emmanuel of Bavaria, which obliged the Emperor to leave 15,000 men always available for the defence of the Empire. In fact, about 7,500 infantry from the old regiments were finally ordered to march from the western front to a rendezvous at Kittsee, near Pressburg, to join there the great majority of the regiments recently quartered in Bohemia and the various Austrian duchies. In due course, 5,000 men from the new regiments were also available for the campaign in Hungary.

It was soon realised that one miscalculation had already been made. The troops, especially those in the Empire, took much longer than expected to make the long journey to the eastern front, and the date for the rendezvous at Kittsee had to be altered from 21 April to 6 May. Sixteen days were thus lost, and the chance of taking the initiative before the Turks could arrive dwindled fast.

Another difficult point was the appointment of a commander in the field. Leopold, unlike his father, unlike such militant contemporary rulers as Max Emmanuel and William of Orange or John Sobieski, never imagined himself a victorious commanding general. He had always to choose a deputy, after taking into account the ticklish animosities of the military and political grandees of his court. In the last war against France, Montecuccoli, by combining the presidency of the War Council with the supreme command in the field, had caused them the greatest offence. Enemies and critics of Baden, the new President, were determined to deny him the same monopoly of power and they relied on the pledge, previously given by Leopold, to appoint Charles of Lorraine commander-in-chief if war broke out again. This could not bind the Emperor. Circumstances alter cases, Charles had often been ill in recent years, while Herman of Baden certainly disliked and perhaps under-estimated him. In 1683, in spite of counter-intrigues, Lorraine’s party at the court persevered and finally triumphed, so that he was instructed to be in Vienna by 10 April in order to discuss the strategy of the coming campaign.

He duly arrived from Innsbruck and a council of war was held on 21 April. It took a great many decisions in detail, but the guiding proposal was to place the field army in the centre of the frontier through Hungary, around Komárom. The council wanted to leave General Schultz with a strong independent force farther north, on the River Váh; and to ensure that the lower part of the Mur valley far to the south (which guards the approaches to Graz) was firmly held by troops from Styria and Croatia. The gaps between were assigned mainly to the Magyars, under Esterházy along the lower Váh, and under Batthyány along the line of the Rába. Lorraine’s command of the field-army was publicly announced on 21 April.

By the beginning of May troops were arriving at the rendezvous, a flat plain round the village of Kittsee, near the southern shore of the Danube where the last spurs of the Leitha hills die away opposite Pressburg. While Lorraine himself rode east to inspect the position at Györ, his officers remained behind to supervise the assembling of regiments which were coming in from the north and west. It was rainy, windy weather which damaged a pontoon-bridge leading across to the town. The officers felt perturbed by the shortness of forage, they grumbled hard at the lateness of the spring, but enjoyed plenty of leisure to discuss uncertain news filtering through about the entry of the Ottoman army into Hungary, or alleged difficulties in the Habsburg negotiation with Poland. In Vienna the Emperor prepared to come to Pressburg. So did courtiers, foreign ambassadors, fine ladies and sightseers. Splendid ceremonial tents were made ready for the review. Then Lorraine returned from his tour of inspection, apparently satisfied by what he saw at Györ and elsewhere along the border. The Magyars appeared, led by the Palatine Paul Esterházy. They were only 500 or 600 at first, not the 6,000 promised, but a few days later their number increased to 2,000. About 32,000 men—21,000 foot and 10,800 horse and dragoons—were finally and elaborately assembled for a grand parade on 6 May when the Emperor crossed over from Pressburg to spend nine slow and crowded hours on the triple ceremony of a solemn Mass, an inspection of the troops, and a state banquet.

It was a brave show that day; but the summer campaign of the Habsburg army proved a dismal failure, due largely to the paralysis of the command. Lorraine, as the general in the field, was required to consult with his council of officers, and the Emperor in Vienna, and the War Council which was dominated by Herman of Baden. The personal rivalry of Baden and Lorraine remained intense, and they differed over the whole strategy to be followed in the period (of uncertain duration) before the Turkish army reached the Austrian frontier. Exasperated by the general unwillingness of many high-ranking officers to accept his proposals with any cordiality, Lorraine fell ill with worry and exhaustion. The theatre of war was a complete novelty to him—apart from one campaign in Hungary twenty years earlier—and his touch was very uncertain, as if he did not realise the distances involved or even the ordinary difficulties of transport in this waterlogged area. His main idea was clear-cut: an aggressive march eastwards, followed by the capture of an important point held by the Turks, stood a chance of compelling the Turkish grand army to spend the rest of the summer and autumn in trying to recover what they had just lost. A powerful attack of this kind, at an early date, appeared to him the one possible method of defending the Austrian lands; there is no hint that he ever gave the defence of Hungary a thought, except as an aid to the protection of more westerly areas. The target which he suggested, at the conference held in Kittsee on 7 May—with Baden and nine senior officers present—was Esztergom on the south bank of the Danube, or alternatively Neuhäusel which lies well to the north of the river. Both were important Ottoman citadels. The argument in favour of an aggressive start was duly marshalled. It would raise the Emperor’s reputation if a force were put into the field before the Turks were ready, and thereby strengthen his bargaining power in the Empire and in Poland; it would increase Turkish dissatisfaction with the Grand Vezir; and ‘fix’ the enemy, compelling him to concentrate on the recapture of a lost position in the coming campaign. Baden apparently demurred. Most of the officers agreed to the course proposed by Lorraine, although they preferred the idea of an attack on Neuhäusel—which was separated from the approaching Ottoman army by the Danube—to an attack on Esztergom. It was finally decided to move the troops eastwards to Györ and to Komárom, the outermost Habsburg fortress, and then to reconnoitre in the direction of Esztergom, subject always to the Emperor’s approval.

During the next fortnight the army, split into sections in order to ease a shortage of forage everywhere, marched and rode slowly across the enormous plain. By 19 May the infantry reached the outskirts of Györ, and on the next day continued on the route to Komárom. Camps were set along the right bank of the river. Lorraine himself reconnoitred Esztergom while waiting for munitions and artillery. He held firmly to his project of an attack, even though he felt disconcerted by his officers’ grumbling, by the indecisive instructions received from Vienna, and contradictory reports about the speed and direction of the Turkish advance. In spite of the council of officers, who met on 26 May and loudly opposed the move on Esztergom, Lorraine held firm and shortly afterwards ordered the troops to march. They had already left the camp on 31 May when Lorraine returned from a further reconnaissance and countermanded the order. His reason for this was apparently a disturbing message from Styria, that the Grand Vezir had already crossed the bridge at Osijek, so that a further advance by the Habsburg forces looked exposed to an early attack in open country against overwhelming odds. Lorraine was in despair when he got back to his base. Then, temporarily, the position seemed to alter. Less alarming intelligence reached him about the pace of the Turkish advance, and he received a letter from Leopold encouraging him to persevere with an attack on some Turkish stronghold before the main body of the enemy arrived on the scene. But Lorraine dithered, and his faithful secretary Le Bègue began to think that a return to the duchy of Lorraine on terms imposed by Louis XIV would be a better fate than the infuriating perplexities of supreme command in Hungary. On 2 (or possibly 3) June the general proposed, for the last time, an assault on Esztergom. The officers protested and he began to reconsider the alternative of an assault on Neuhäusel; this the officers, somewhat grudgingly, approved.

Throughout the last three weeks, at almost every camp, Lorraine had received reports from Vienna which emphasised his isolation in the distant world of court politics. He attempted to brief his supporters in the capital by letter, but far too many interests there were eager for his discredit by his failure as a general. Lorraine took it as an intolerable insult that Herman of Baden, returning from a tour of inspection to Györ in the middle of May, had not even stopped to confer with him. He resented and probably exaggerated the hostility of some of Leopold’s advisers, like the Bishop of Vienna and Zinzendorf. In any case their criticism had its justification. Laymen might be pardoned for thinking that the organisation of a defensive position along the Rivers Váh and Rába was the paramount concern. Certain of the professional soldiers, Baden or Rimpler, supported them. As things turned out, these experts completely underestimated the mass and weight of the Turkish attack but Lorraine made the greater mistake of wasting time and resources for six precious weeks. He had accomplished nothing at Esztergom; then he made the troublesome crossing of the Danube at Komárom and advanced towards Neuhäusel. All went well at first, although it was realised that more heavy artillery would be needed here. The outworks were quickly taken, and troops lodged in the island immediately opposite the inner defences of the Turks; and yet once again, by 8 June Lorraine was in despair. He was embarrassed by a letter from the Emperor which advised him to remain on the defensive, without positively forbidding an assault on a Turkish strongpoint like Neuhäusel. This he countered by a reply which asked for more explicit instructions. Then, during the night of the 7th, everything went wrong. The guns which the troops had with them were not sited in accordance with Lorraine’s orders, and he inclined to think that the error was a piece of deliberate obstruction by the officers concerned. Other, heavier weapons, on their way up from Komárom got stuck in the mud, and it soon became clear that they could not be brought into action against the enemy for several days. Finally, reports suggested that Tartars and some Turkish forces were assembling in great numbers near Buda to advance towards Neuhäusel. Confused and angry discussions went on all the next day at headquarters. In the morning Lorraine was still determined to go on with the attack. General Leslie arrived and joined the council of war. He supported the other officers, until Lorraine gave way and decided to return to Komárom without waiting for further orders from Leopold. His second attempt to take the initiative, before the grand army of the enemy arrived near the scene of action, had failed utterly.

On the next day the retreat began. A camp was set on the left bank of the Neutra opposite Komárom, from which it was easy enough to raid into country beyond the frontier for essential supplies. For ten days the army rested, motionless in this central position, while Lorraine expected Kara Mustafa to show his hand by committing himself to a definite line of advance. News from stray deserters and other miscellaneous arrivals at the camp disclosed that the odds were in favour of a Turkish move towards Györ, with a slight chance that very large Turkish forces might still be sent to fight north of the Danube. On 18 May he received in audience envoys from Thököly, who were travelling towards Vienna to give Leopold formal notice that their master was ending the truce between them. Their word was not of the slightest value, but when they announced that Györ was the first Turkish objective Lorraine at last felt disposed to agree. Certainly, on the following day there are real signs that he was preparing to break camp and move his troops. On the 19th some detachments crossed the Neutra. On the 21st he sent the dragoon regiments of Castell and d’Herbeville to reinforce Schultz up in the north, and the Dieppenthal dragoons to Gúta (another small fortified post which he himself inspected). Starhemberg and Leslie set out on their way to Györ. Turkish raiders had already appeared near the now deserted camp across the Neutra, and the guns of Komárom fired warningly over the water at them.

During the next few hours a strong gale blew up suddenly and broke the pontoon bridge over the Danube. Fortunately a quick repair was possible and soon the troops of the field-army (preceded by Lorraine himself) got back to Györ.

It had become urgently necessary to settle on a plan for the proper defence of this neighbourhood. Once again, Lorraine and his friends championed a forward position. A letter written some days earlier by Le Bègue, while he was still in the Schütt, shows that they wished to place their army in the angle between the right bank of the Rába and the Danube, in front of the fortifications of Györ. They held that the defences of the town were far too weak to hold out against heavy Turkish artillery. They believed that the alternative, sponsored by both Herman of Baden and by Leslie, of keeping a great majority of the forces in a sheltered position in the Schütt, would expose Györ to the risk of immediate capture. It would dangerously uncover the left bank of the Rába and possibly Austria itself. Once on the spot Lorraine personally surveyed the ground. He did his best to hasten the palisading of the counterscarp in front of the town, still far from complete, and soon 7,000 men were at work on it. He also started to fortify the heights at some distance from the town, across the Rába, in order to prevent the enemy from beginning their siege operations uncomfortably close to the main defences, which would have shortened the time needed by the Turks to prepare a final assault. The Lorrainers lamented that so little had been done at an earlier stage; but the engineer Rimpler disagreed and felt more confident, perhaps partly because he himself was responsible for much of the spadework carried out in and around Györ since 1681; and indeed, the Turks never took the place in 1683. Moreover Rimpler and other officers could not approve the plan to place the field-army in front of the works, and after detailed discussion the command decided on a new scheme of defence. It visualised a slight enlargement of the garrison in Györ and its outposts, while the greater part of the army was stationed along the left bank of the Rába. This decision was carried out amid scenes of hectic activity between 25 and 29 June. A redoubt and other works were built, to guard the fords immediately in front of the troops. Some cavalry and dragoons moved southwards, and others northwards over the Danube (into the Schütt), to ward off any movement by skirmishers in either direction. All the time different messengers were bringing in news of the Turks’ approach, while on the 28th Lorraine himself led a cavalry raid into the countryside in front of them, in order to strip it of any supplies which the enemy could use. Soon, smoke rising over the horizon revealed the first incursions of the enemy. On the 30th, pickets of guards protecting labourers in the outworks had their first brush with advance bodies of Turks; and on the next day, 1 July, with perhaps 12,500 foot and 9,500 horse prepared for action behind the Rába, Lorraine and his officers watched vast numbers approaching them from the east.

The Italian Marsigli, who earlier drew attention to the importance of the defences above Györ, had been sent on a special mission to this area. His letters made gloomy reading ten days before the Turks appeared. The Magyars, he wrote, were utterly scornful of the Habsburg army which behaved so feebly at Esztergom and Neuhäusel. On 21 June some Tartars, already reported to be in the neighbourhood, caused panic at one small bridgehead where the Magyars on the spot refused to destroy the bridge. Marsigli himself and his troop of 200 dragoons did succeed in breaking down two other bridges over the Rába, but he warned Lorraine that there were ‘three fords’ to be watched between the marshes—his own sector—and Györ. Unfortunately, while the Magyar leaders assembled their men on the ‘island’ and Lorraine prepared to fight in and around the citadel, neither party attended to these easy crossings of the river. The discord between Batthyány and Draskovich on one side, and the Habsburg authorities (who had never examined this stretch of the frontier with thoroughness) on the other, produced a fatal fracture in the whole system of the defence; and as Marsigli was later to insist, in the great book which he wrote on Ottoman military institutions, the Tartars were absolute masters of the art of fording rivers with their horses, baggage and even with prisoners.

That night of 1 July, the Turkish camps were set on the right bank of the Rába and in front of the town, over a large area of ground which extended several miles upstream. Many other forces took up a position along the Danube and on the higher ground a little farther off. At two o’clock on the next morning Lorraine was woken, and tried to take stock of the position. As it grew light he could see the dense, irregular formation of the Turkish encampments, with large hosts of fighting men apparently getting ready for action. He roused up his own troops and put them in order of battle close to the river; batteries opened fire, attempting to drive the foremost Turks back from the edge of the water. Christian observers were guessing confusedly at the numbers of Moslems and Christian auxiliaries opposed to them: there were 80,000 there were 100,000 there were 150,000! At all events here was the enemy, looking as formidable as the most pessimistic reports had ever anticipated, with individual troops or groups testing the fordability of the Rába and riding upstream out of sight, well beyond the right wing of the Habsburg army. This crowded and confused spectacle slowly began to disclose a more regular pattern. Many Turkish or Tartar tents were struck and more men moved away to the south. The area round Györ itself was strangely still. During the afternoon these Turkish and Tartar horsemen got safely across the river, some making use of the fords, others swimming. The thin screen of Austrians from Styrum’s regiment and the Magyar or Croat forces guarding this section of the front were completely outnumbered, and the accusation of treachery levelled against Batthyány the Hungarian commander makes little sense. Neither he nor Styrum could have stopped the foe. His own men quickly preferred to surrender while Styrum’s fell back in disorder. And not much later smoke was visible a long way to the west.

Strangely enough Lorraine gave ground at once. He never seems to have considered that, for the time being at least, he could disregard a host of irregulars riding rapidly west to fire the countryside provided that the great mass of the opposing army was still in front of Györ. Indeed, he also broke up his own force into smaller pieces. Another thirteen companies were sent to stiffen the garrison, accompanied by a few aristocratic volunteers, Leslie led the main body of infantry over the Danube into the Schütt, and Lorraine himself prepared to withdraw the cavalry. Baggage and artillery moved over the Rabnitz westwards almost immediately, and the cavalry followed as evening fell. The retreat continued overnight and during the next day. There were Tartars ahead of the Habsburg regiments, and Tartars at their heels. At one moment the rearguard was mauled, so that Lorraine himself had to turn back and go to the rescue. The enemy moved quickly, with small groups of horsemen dotted over a wide area. The Habsburg troops were divided into a van, a main body, and a rear, riding west in a tighter, more compact formation. Both protagonists were taking the same route, up the Danube as far as Ungarisch-Altenburg (although the Tartars obviously circled round the town itself), where Lorraine spent the night of the 2nd. Both then ascended the winding course of the Leitha. While the Tartars or Turks roamed over the whole stretch of country between the right bank of the river and the Neusiedler See, the Habsburg commanders kept between the Leitha and Danube, and headed for Kittsee and Pressburg again. They camped for two more nights in the plain at Deutsch-Jahrndorf, waiting and hoping for the situation to clear. At first the reports from Györ suggested that Kara Mustafa was settling down to besiege the place, while Lorraine hoped to recover the district round the Neusiedler See by sending off 800 horse under Colonel Heisler in that direction. Unfortunately, news then came through that large numbers of Turkish infantry were crossing the Rába, and at the same time Lorraine heard from Leslie, who announced that he intended to withdraw westwards with all the infantry under his command unless he was given distinct orders to the contrary by 4 July. Such a step appeared to mean leaving Györ to its fate, and the message was only received at headquarters on 4 July. Too late, Lorraine replied that Leslie must stay on the Schütt. Happily Leslie took no notice and began to retreat.

Lorraine rode ahead to Kittsee for a conference with the vice-president of the War Council, Caplirs, and on the 6th most of the cavalry camped round Berg. Here the plain ends, the ground rises abruptly some thousand feet. Pressburg and the Danube lie a little way off on one side, and on the other the Leitha winds out of the Leitha hills into the plain. Lorraine was back in the landscape made familiar to many of his soldiers and officers by the rendezvous five weeks earlier; with this difference, remarked by everyone, that dust and smoke now thickened the air over the plain, dust kicked up by the moving horsemen, smoke from the fired barns and houses. Between the Leitha hills and the sharp outcrop at Berg smoother country continues in the direction of Vienna. It was a relatively narrow passage through which any sizeable invading force would have to pass, and Lorraine hoped to control it.

At the same time there was talk of building new bridges just below Pressburg. When it became clear that Leslie had definitely begun to draw back across the Schütt, the command planned to bring his infantry over these bridges across the Danube again, in this way re-assembling the entire field-army for the defence of the area between the Leitha and Danube. It seemed possible, and it was certainly essential, to hold up the advanced units of the enemy at Berg. If his main armament moved forward, it too would have to be resisted at this point but Lorraine hoped that Kara Mustafa himself—engaged on the siege of Györ—would not push beyond the Leitha: at Ungarisch-Altenburg Habsburg detachments still guarded the bridge and the fords across it, together with large magazines of food and munitions. Much farther off, Györ was momentarily isolated. Across the Leitha and towards the Neusiedler See, an area of lesser strategic importance, the situation meanwhile looked completely out of control. Neither Leopold’s government nor his armies had any power to check the frightful course of devastation there, in the countryside once quietly ruled over by Esterházy and his peers.

The Threat to Vienna 1683 II

Kara Mustafa Pasha -Grand Vizier and Commander of Ottoman Empire

At nine o’clock, on the morning of 7 July the whole position changed with appalling suddenness. Lorraine was riding a mile or two from his headquarters when he heard that the Turks had entered Ungarisch-Altenburg in great force. The surprise was so complete that the defenders were unable to destroy the bridge and it looked as if the Grand Vezir had thrown into the campaign another 25,000 or 30,000 disciplined men, of whom the van was coming up fast, in order to attack the much smaller Habsburg concentration of cavalry and dragoons round Berg. These would be overwhelmed, allowing the enemy to strike deeply into Austria in the direction of Vienna itself. But while Lorraine and his staff discussed the new crisis, they saw large clouds of dust rising behind them far off to the west from farther up the Leitha, which suggested ominously that other Turks had already got upstream, having by-passed Leopold’s troops. It was a double disaster; and Count Auersperg set out at once to inform the court that all hopes of pinning down the main mass of the Turks in the neighbourhood of either Györ or Berg had abruptly and finally disappeared on that morning of 7 July.

The Habsburg cause fared even worse in the afternoon. Fischamend, a crossing over the small Danube tributary of the Fischa, and half-way between Berg and Vienna, was the point to which Lorraine next directed his forces; they were divided into the regiments under his own command, a rearguard under Rabatta and Taafe, and a van led by Mercy and Gondola. Ahead of the van went escorts with carts and carriages of equipment, while still farther in front were other transports containing the baggage of certain senior officers who apparently preferred to run the risk of sending their own goods forward, unprotected, as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for them, the Tartars suddenly fell on this part of the long and straggling train. Mercy and Gondola at once hurried up, drove them off and went on to Fischamend, fearing that other enemy bands would reach the fords there first. Lorraine, several miles behind and by now on relatively high ground farther east, was scanning the view and debating how to recover control of the country between his own troops and his van, when he learnt that another Turkish force (from the direction of Ungarisch-Altenburg) was assailing his rearguard. He turned back with all the men and horses he could muster, realising that he had not a minute to spare.

It is impossible to say exactly where the encounter took place, sometimes known as ‘the affair of Petronell’. It was probably close to the famous Roman site of Carnuntum in the estate of Count Traun, on undulating and thickly wooded ground not far from the Danube. The Habsburg cavalry of the rearguard, particularly Montecuccoli’s regiment and Savoy’s dragoons, was thrown into complete disarray. Lorraine, bringing up more squadrons of horse, at first utterly failed to rekindle the urge to stop and fight back. His pleas and his gestures—he even went for the men by thumping them with the butt of his pistol—effected nothing. ‘What, gentlemen,’ he is said to have exclaimed, ‘you betray the honour of the imperial arms, you’re afraid?’ The left wing resisted the enemy onrush more steadily, at last a strong counter-attack was mounted and the Turks disappeared again. They were far fewer than their opponents realised, in this sudden and confused melee of horse and rider. Perhaps thirty-five lay dead on the field and the total loss of the Habsburg troops was 100 men; but before the engagement had ended one or more officers had left for Vienna, convinced that a very large enemy force was moving irresistibly forward.

The rest of the day passed off quietly and Lorraine spent the night at Schwechat, six miles from Vienna. At least Leopold’s cavalry, if not his infantry, had been brought back safely for the defence of the capital city of the whole dominion. But a major attack was now inevitable, and cavalry could not man a fortress.

On the next day Lorraine heard that the Turks had left not more than 12,000 troops at their camp in front of Györ. The rest were marching forward. He learnt that nearly all the Magyars in western Hungary had recognised Thököly’s sovereignty. Thököly himself was at Trnava with his followers, which implied a distinct threat to Pressburg and to Vienna from the area north of the Danube. Fortunately Leslie and his infantry were already well on their way back through the Schütt to Pressburg, and Schultz had independently decided to withdraw his men westwards as quickly as possible even before he received orders to do so. In spite of these two items of good news, for Lorraine it had been twenty-four hours of repeated crises, and he was still unaware of their impact in Vienna itself.

One feature of this confusing week was the nervous response of the military command to the appearance of small hostile bands of horsemen, and to the fire and smoke perplexing its view of events in that wide plain. The civilian population reacted more sluggishly. True, many peasants were by now on the move, carrying their goods towards the walled towns or into the shelter of any buildings surrounded by walls, like the manor-houses of lords and monasteries, while the harvest stood ready in the fields but they were afraid to go out and reap it. Yet contrary rumours, that all was well, often stopped bolder folk from fearing the worst and they carried on with business as usual. We know something of wavering public opinion in the area from a journal kept by the choirmaster of Heiligenkreuz, the great and ancient Cistercian house in the Wiener Wald. On 3 July a priest came into the monastery from the monks’ parish of Podersdorf, by the shore of the Neusiedler See. He reported that the enemy was at hand, and was laughed at for his pains. His listeners believed that the Turks were in fact at Neuhäusel, a long way over on the other side of the Danube, and that the thick clouds of smoke on the eastern horizon resulted from the ordinary indiscipline of Leopold’s own troops in Hungary. The opinion of these scoffers was partly based on the confident messages of a bailiff in charge of the monastic lands (particularly the quarries) near Bruck-on-the-Leitha; but a little later the Turks captured this man, they surrounded Bruck, and the stone-cutters with their families fled to Vienna. Meanwhile tension mounted in Heiligenkreuz. On 4, 5 and 6 July more and more refugees, with their belongings, crowded into the three great courtyards of the abbey. Onlookers were amazed by the mountain of chests, which held silverware and other valuables, in the inner court. Prosperous burghers hastened up the narrow valley from Baden and Mödling. On 7 July a soothing, ill-informed message reached the chapter from the Spanish embassy in Vienna. Then on the 8th the blow fell, with authentic news of what had happened near Petronell and of panic in Vienna. The choirmaster hurriedly prepared to take his young choristers over the hills westwards.

As June had worn on, bringing no message of a Habsburg triumph against Esztergom or Neuhäusel, and gloomy reports of the Turkish advance through Hungary, popular fears increased in Vienna itself. An unceasing round of public religious ceremonies intensified them. By decree, the members of every trade and profession were required to attend for one hour a week at the service in St Stephen’s: the Emperor himself took his turn at nine o’clock on Sundays, the Danube fishermen on Thursdays at eight, and the violin-makers on Saturdays at three. By decree also, the old usage was revived of the ‘Türkenglocken’. Bells started to ring every morning through the city and the whole land of Austria, summoning all to kneel and pray for deliverance from the invader. Some of the popular preachers thundered that God chose the Moslem terror to punish, when punishment was needed; but Abraham a Sancta Clara himself preferred the great refrain which was the title of his booklet just then going through the press: ‘Up! Up! You Christians!’ calling simply for courage and action against a brutal but cowardly enemy. The entire week from 27 June to 3 July was organised by the ecclesiastical authorities as one immense petition for divine intervention. Yet if most men were devout, a few abused the clerical interest. If there were politicians who disliked the Pope, the nuncio and their allies for insisting on the Turkish peril and consequently on the need to give ground in western Europe, there were citizens who blamed the crisis on the church for persecuting uselessly in Hungary. One night they smashed the windows of the Bishop of Vienna’s palace in the Rotenturmstrasse; though, ironically, the bishop was no friend of the nuncio.

Throughout 5 and 6 July officials at court worked long and hard. The conference of ministers, War Council, Treasury, and Government of Lower Austria, were all in session. First Philip Thurn was sent post-haste to Warsaw to ask for Sobieski’s full support, now that the Turks appeared to be threatening Austria directly. Next, they tried to control the growing movement of refugees from the countryside into the city. They had strong guards set at the gates, to bar the entry of rabble elements which conceivably included traitors; the presence of Thököly’s agents in disguise was suspected, and also Frenchmen. Supplies were discussed, and the official responsible for the purchase of corn happily stated that stocks were high. At a meeting in the Bishop’s palace the clergy offered a loan to the government, but the tightness of funds still bedevilled administration as much as ever. The War Council and Treasury blandly decided to reduce their earlier estimate of military expenditure for the coming year from three million to two and a half million florins, a sleight of hand which could hardly have helped them to find the money they needed at once.

Stratmann, the new chancellor—Hocher had just died—went off to report to the Emperor on all these pressing items of business.

One point which worried the Habsburg advisers was the security of the Crown of St Stephen of Hungary. This highly important symbol of the royal authority in that country was always in safe-keeping in the castle of Pressburg; two of the most senior office-holders in Hungary were ‘Guardians of the Crown’. The political consequences, if Thököly laid hands on it, would be serious indeed. At length Leopold decided to remove the insignia of Hungarian royalty from Pressburg to Vienna. A strong escort of cavalry rode off and brought the crown to the Hofburg on 5 July. On the same day Leopold also determined to authorise preparations for the departure of his children and their staff from Vienna, while by the 7th the valuables of his Treasury—jewels, crowns (including the Crown of Hungary), sceptres, crosses and the like—were packed away on transports, ready to leave the city. There was no specific decision about the Emperor’s own departure. On the other hand, while refugees were pouring in from the east, many of the burghers and officials with their families had already left the city.

On 6 July Leopold went hunting near Mödling. He gave no sign that he contemplated flight to the safer and more distant part of his dominion, and one argument which kept the court in Vienna was certainly the Empress’s advanced pregnancy. Physicians did not consider it wise for her to travel. But women of her household had letters from their husbands, officers serving under Lorraine on his retreat from Györ, who begged them to flee as quickly as possible. Buonvisi’s account of a conversation with the Empress suggests that she herself was eager to go. The Emperor still demurred. He can hardly have failed to realise the consequences of the court’s departure on the morale of his subjects.

From two o’clock onwards in the afternoon of 7 July, one messenger after another reached the Hofburg and transformed the situation. The first, Auersperg, reported the attack on Ungarisch-Altenburg, which was enough to make most courtiers press the Emperor to leave at once. In Leopold’s antechamber Auersperg and the counsellors were soon joined by General Caprara and Colonel Montecuccoli, telling of the Turks’ sudden appearance in great strength much closer to the city, probably because they themselves had left the scene of the fighting between Petronell and Fischamend before Lorraine restored order, and anticipated his total defeat. Then Caprara’s servant, in charge of his baggage, arrived to give an account of that sudden assault on the baggage-train, at a point even closer to Vienna. The counsellors conferred and their long debate went on, while at the city-gates townsmen and incoming strangers—some of them wounded—repeated rumours based on such things as smoke seen, or shots heard, on that day and on the day before. All these persons, Auersperg, Montecuccoli, Caprara, Caprara’s servant, and the men who simply talked to other men, helped to spread the panic which seized the Emperor, his ministers, his courtiers, everyone in the palace, everyone in the Burgplatz outside and in the now crowded streets which led from here to the rest of the city. ‘The Turk is at the gates!’ was the cry; and though we know that each report of the day’s fighting had been inaccurate, the worst fears of most people then were confirmed by the cumulative effect of so many messages and rumours. All who could prepared to quit the city immediately. The Emperor, his nerves overbearing his sense of dignity, listening to the pleas of his ministers and family, decided to sanction his own retreat from what looked like the point of maximum danger, Vienna itself.

He held a final conference at six o’clock in his private apartment. The decision to go at once was formally announced and it remained to choose the route to follow. The direct road to Linz over the Wiener Wald was proposed and rejected; the Turks would threaten it too quickly. Flight northwards to Prague, or south-west into the hilly country by Heiligenkreuz and so round to Linz, was considered. The counsellors at length advised the Emperor to cross the Danube, and then to move upstream along the farther bank towards Upper Austria.

The bustle and confusion in the Burg and the Burgplatz were by this time tremendous. The doors of the palace were left wide open, and every kind of wagon and cart or coach was being crammed with every kind of necessity and valuable which could be moved. The less fortunate, who owned or who could find no horses, made ready to walk. In the town the government tried to get each householder to send a man to work on the fortifications. It tried to requisition all the boats on the river, with their boatmen, and to send them down the Danube in order to meet the infantry regiments marching westwards from the Schutt. The conscripted labourers who had been working in Vienna downed their tools, and fled. Coming the other way population from the outskirts packed into the city as never before, if only to pass the night in the security of the streets. Then, at about eight o’clock in the evening the Emperor left the Hofburg. A not very orderly procession made its way out of the Burg-gate, round the city wall to the Canal, through Leopoldstadt, and over the Danube. Later still the dowager Empress Eleanor, whose staff had hardly recovered from the toil and annoyance of bringing her possessions into the city from the ‘Favorita’, her palace in Leopoldstadt, set out with a great transport to the west by way of Klosterneuburg on the south side of the river.

Sleep and Vienna were strangers that night. Men and women sorted out their goods, put one part in cellars (the cellars of the city figure conspicuously in the legends of the siege) and one part in packages for their flight to the west. They hammered and corded. Yet several hours after Leopold’s departure, a despatch arrived from Lorraine which gave a more consoling picture of the whole position: the Habsburg cavalry was now in good order again, approaching Vienna fast, with the main Turkish force at least some days’ march behind it. (This news caught up with Leopold in the course of the night.) Encouraged, at three o’clock in the morning Herman of Baden called a meeting to announce the Emperor’s instruction for the government of Vienna in the immediate future. Present were the burgomaster Liebenberg, the syndic, and other municipal councillors; also Daun the acting military commander, and Colonel Serenyi, an old and very senior officer who was in the city more by chance than because of any proper posting. Baden gave notice that Starhemberg had been given the supreme command. Administration was placed in the hands of a Collegium—a select committee of two soldiers (Caplirs, the experienced vice-president of the Habsburg War Council, and Starhemberg) and three civilians (the Marshal of the Estates of Lower Austria, an official of the Government of Lower Austria, and Belchamps of the Treasury). Caplirs was to preside over it. Baden also declared that a section of the War Council would be left behind in the city to handle ordinary military business; and Caplirs would direct it. The municipality was to cooperate with Starhemberg, the Collegium and War Council in all matters. Supplies were sufficient to stand a siege. In response, the burgomaster solemnly promised to do his best. But neither Starhemberg nor Caplirs had as yet reached Vienna, and in these dark minutes of the early morning no one could visualise clearly how these arrangements would work in practice.

In fact, confirmed and elaborated by a message from Leopold some days later, they effectively met the emergency of the next three months. They gave the military the necessary powers, but permitted some civilians to share in the discussion of urgent problems. Even so the municipality of Vienna was not directly represented in the two highest committees responsible for the public safety. Caplirs had to harmonise the different and sometimes conflicting interests civil and military. On the one hand he directed the personnel of the War Council and collaborated with Starhemberg. On the other, he dealt with the burghers, who inevitably tended to find themselves overwhelmed by the emergency, and their rights disregarded. The whole administrative structure, apparently, depended on the coordinating ability of Caplirs in spite of his age and inveterate pessimism. Partly owing to the shortage of good evidence, historians have differed over his merits during the crisis. He certainly returned to Vienna very unwillingly on 10 July, no doubt sighing for his new palace and picture gallery hundreds of miles away in the peaceful woods of northern Bohemia, the most recent rewards of a long and successful career. But he soon set to work; if Starhemberg was much the more militant and forceful character, he grumblingly did his best to help him.

Later in the morning of 8 July the burgomaster held a council of his own. The city fathers had a desperately heavy day in front of them, trying to organise the burghers, many of whom were making every effort to lock up and get out. They wanted to bring into the city a large amount of timber still stacked outside the New-gate; to redistribute the reserves of grain into stores of more equal size; and to arrange for guards at various points. But above all, for the most obvious reasons, an immediate increase in the numbers of men at work on the fortifications was required. While the burgher companies of militia were ordered to assemble at one o’clock outside the town hall, a summons went out to the rest of the male population to attend in the square ‘Am Hof’ at three o’clock, outside the civic armoury. Here Nicholas Hocke, the syndic, mounted the steps of the building. In a powerful speech he tried to stir up enthusiasm for the good cause, pointing out that ordinary employment would necessarily be interrupted or suspended during the coming crisis. He offered decent wages to all who went to work on the fortifications of the city. Not far off, in the Bishop’s palace the Vicar-General was telling the clergy that they also must take their turn at the works. Soon afterwards the sound of drum and trumpet was heard; and Lorraine’s cavalry appeared, riding past the city-walls, and over the Canal through Leopoldstadt, to an encampment on the Danube islands. In the evening, both Lorraine and Starhemberg entered Vienna, and almost their first recorded action tightened the pressure on the townsfolk. They threatened the use of force unless sufficient numbers were ready and present for duty, on the defence-works, at four o’clock the next morning.

At dawn the burgomaster himself was there, shouldering a spade. Hocke enrolled the workers. Starhemberg demanded another 500 within twenty-four hours; and more workers were brought in during the day. For almost a week the burghers, the casual labourers, the substitutes paid by burghers who preferred to avoid this strenuous drudgery, the soldiers detailed for the same duty by Starhemberg as they reached the city, and members of the City Guard all made great efforts. In spite of gloomy comments from some experienced observers, they managed to get the bastions, the moat and counterscarp into reasonable condition. At this stage, what was essential were improved earthworks and adequate timbering. By digging hard under competent direction it proved possible to buttress weak patches in the stone revetments of the curtain-wall and the bastions, and to deepen the moat. New palisades now shored up the counterscarp, and a fairly usable ‘covered way’ along it protected the outermost position which the garrison would have to try and hold. In the moat—separating the counterscarp from the walls and bastions—excavation was still needed. Additional barricades were set up in various parts of it, while at other points new wooden bridges were built to link bastions to ravelins, and ravelins to the counterscarp.

Important conferences were held on 9 and 10 July; Starhemberg and Lorraine elaborated their plans. It was then for Starhemberg to settle details with Breuner of the commissariat and Belchamps of the Treasury. He told the first that soon they could count on a garrison of 10,000 troops, together with the City Guard and the civilian companies; and that they must be ready to face a siege lasting four months. Happily, food was not a difficult problem. The officials of the commissariat confirmed that there were stores of grain in the city large enough to feed a force of this size until November.

On the next day, the 10th, finance was discussed, a much more difficult matter. Starhemberg insisted that the punctual payment of the soldiers throughout the period of siege, and generous treatment of labour squads in the works, were absolutely essential if the Turks were to be resisted with any chance of success; but he was told that only 30,000 florins remained in the military treasury, none of which could be spared for pay. It was calculated that the wages of the troops alone would amount to 40,000 florins a month. But Belchamps had been looking into the question, and was earlier in touch with the Hungarian Bishop of Kalocza, George Széchényi, who had lent a large sum to the government in 1682. In 1683 he brought his funds to Vienna for safe-keeping, and then sought refuge farther west when the Turks advanced, but before leaving the city he agreed to place 61,000 florins at Belchamps’s disposal. On 9 July Prince Ferdinand Schwarzenberg, having reached Vienna after Leopold’s departure, offered a loan of 50,000 florins and 1,000 measures of wine, which he had in his vaults. He then left the city. His negotiation was not with Belchamps in the first instance, but with his friend Kollonics, the Bishop of Wiener-Neustadt, who was determined to remain behind and fight for Church and Emperor.

A Knight of St John who did not forget the bravery of his youth when he served in Crete, Kollonics felt little sympathy for anyone hesitating to make sacrifices at this critical hour. So, a few days later, he turned his attention to the property of the Primate of Hungary; for the Archbishop of Esztergom, George Szelepcsényi, had brought to his Vienna residence, No. 14 in the Himmelpfortgasse, between 70,000 and 80,000 florins in money, together with ecclesiastical plate, crosses and similar precious objects which were later valued at over 400,000 florins. The Archbishop himself took refuge in Moravia. On 19 and 20 July, after the siege began, the administration impounded his assets. By melting down a part of the treasure, the mint in Vienna solved the purely financial problem for the duration of the siege. It seems probable, although there is no direct evidence to prove the point, that Belchamps knew well enough that a few outstandingly wealthy individuals had deposited money and plate in the city for safekeeping earlier in the year. For various reasons, lack of transport or lack of instructions, these could not be removed fast enough, when it abruptly and unexpectedly became clear that Vienna was not (as it had been, up to date) the surest refuge within hundreds of miles. But the size of these sums belonging to a nobleman like Schwarzenberg, or to clerics like the Hungarian episcopate, when compared with the poverty of the government, is very remarkable.

Money without manpower was useless. Lorraine and Starhemberg had immediately agreed that the infantry regiments marching up the Danube from Pressburg should move at once into Vienna. On 10 July, troops of the vanguard first appeared. More arrived on the following day, and on the 13th the mass of Leslie’s command completed their long journey from Györ; the great majority of his infantry regiments were sent over the river with the utmost despatch. Early that day, therefore, Starhemberg commanded 5,000 men. By evening he had some 11,000. The prospects were at least less dismal than the week before, when the Turks were expected to invest or storm a city held by no more than the ghost of a garrison.

Yet the foremost Ottoman raiders now appeared, and in the distance the smoke of burning villages in the neighbourhood rose skywards. Starhemberg did not dare delay in performing one of his most disagreeable duties: the speedy and forcible clearing of the glacis. Since earlier demolition orders had not been obeyed, he began—on 13 July—to burn down everything in the area outside the counterscarp which would obviously hamper the garrison. Most of all he wanted to clear the ground west of the city, where suburbs came closest to the moat. More smoke rose skywards. The sparks flew. They flew over the walls as far as the roof of the Schotten monastery by the Schottengate, where a fire broke out in the afternoon of Wednesday, the 14th; and it almost altered the course of history. The wind blew sparks against the neighbouring buildings, an inn, and from the inn to a wall of the Arsenal, where supplies of every kind were stored, including 1,800 barrels of powder. Nearby, other powder magazines adjoined the New-gate. If the defence-works here were seriously damaged by explosion, or the stores lost, resistance to the Turks was hardly thinkable. The flames moved along a wooden gallery into the Arsenal. Townsmen and soldiers gathered, there was a muddle about keys which could not be found, but soldiers broke through a door and cleared the points of greatest danger. A hysterical mob, looking on, smelt treason at once and lynched two suspects, a poor lunatic and a boy wearing woman’s clothes. It also destroyed the baggage which an inoffensive mining official from Hungary, then in Vienna, was trying to get out of a second inn near the Arsenal; and it panicked at the sight of a flag flying unaccountably from a roof close to the fire, fearing some kind of a signal to the enemy. More effectively, the wind then veered. Flames swept towards and into aristocratic properties on the other side, away from the Arsenal, and proceeded to burn out the Auersperg palace where the ruins went on smouldering for days. The crisis had passed before the arrival of the Turks; but the danger of yet more fires, set off by Turkish bombs or by traitors and spies inside the walls, was to be a constant nightmare in Vienna later on.

Starhemberg very properly ordered the municipality to requisition cellars for the storage of powder. It took over a number of crypts or cellars under churches and convents for this purpose.

On the same day, the 14th, Lorraine began pulling his cavalry out of Leopoldstadt and the islands. Breaking down the bridges as they went, they crossed right over the Danube and took up a new position on the north bank. Only the final bridge was left intact, guarded by a small force. Leslie’s infantry continued to move into the city. Stores, coming downstream by boat and raft, were still being unloaded by townsmen and units of the garrison.


German Order of Battle, Western Front, 6.7.18, showing front line and German formations in red, Divisions in green; Divisions of poor quality in red outlined in green. The situation at the turning point of the war, as the Allied counter-offensives were beginning. Scale of original: 1:1 million.

German Order of Battle, Western Front, 11.11.18. 11.00, at the moment of the Armistice. Scale: 1:1 million.

Battle of Château-Thierry

French counter-attacks developed rapidly. On 18 July, the Battle of Château-Thierry opened when the French Tenth and Sixth Armies and American infantry were launched out of the Villers-Cotterêts Forest on a twenty-five-mile front between Fontenoy and Château-Thierry. Their objective was to hack into the flank of the Marne salient, and they were supported by predicted artillery fire and 750 Renault light tanks and protected by smoke. The Germans were forced to withdraw, and by 7 August had pulled out of the salient, back to the river Aisne. The Allies were now strengthened in numbers and morale by the infusion of American blood. German morale was correspondingly lowered.

Ludendorff cancelled his intended Flanders operation, and German soldiers, and those of their allies, were only too aware that the war was now lost. The French were now exhausted, and most of their tanks were destroyed, damaged or unserviceable. So Foch insisted that the task of carrying out the next blow should fall to the British, who had recovered from their setbacks earlier in the year and were benefiting from a massive increase in their war production.

Battle of Hamel

On the British sector of the front, counter-offensives were in any case being organized. On 4 July the Australians, supported by an American infantry company, captured Hamel and Vaire Wood, east of Amiens, in an imaginative and spirited set-piece attack involving the cooperation of predicted artillery fire, infantry, tanks and air support.

To minimize casualties, Monash, the Australian Corps Commander, insisted that his men should be well covered by the artillery. There was a massive concentration of British and French batteries for this small operation, amounting to about 600 guns and howitzers, with an emphasis on counter-battery fire as well as bombardments in the days before the attack. For the attack itself, surprise was achieved by the barrage opening with a crash. This successful little attack became the model for a much larger offensive, the Battle of Amiens. This in turn opened a series of Allied offensives, in which the British, French and Americans all played a major part, known as the Battles of the Hundred Days. This succession of offensives only ended with the Armistice on 11 November.

Battles of Amiens and Montdidier

Benefitting from the experience of the Hamel attack, the Amiens offensive, launched on 8 August on a fourteen-mile front, was made by Rawlinson’s Fourth Army, and spearheaded by the Canadian Corps. The aim was to disengage Amiens, which until now was within the range of German guns, and to free the Paris-Amiens railway. A deception plan was put into operation, involving a Canadian wireless station, two casualty clearing stations and two infantry battallions, to make it appear that the Canadian Corps was now in the Kemmel area in Flanders. The operations on the French sector of the attack frontage were known as the Battle of Montdidier.

Rawlinson’s Fourth Army pushed forward rapidly on a nine-mile front, supported by the French on the right, and then the Canadians and Australians, with the British 3rd Corps on the left. They were under accurate predicted bombardment and creeping barrage fired by over 2,000 guns and howitzers, and supported by 456 tanks, including many of the new Mark V models. Following the precedent set by the Germans in March, all supports and reserves began to move forward simultaneously at zero. The artillery had done very well at counter-battery work, aided in particular by the sound-rangers who could locate moving German batteries in haze and mist, unlike the flash-spotters and the air force.

British offensive tactics, after the slogging of 1915–18, were now more mobile and efficient. An advance of eight miles was made on the first day, but many tanks, still slow and vulnerable to mechanical breakdown, were lost to direct artillery fire. On the second day of the battle, the British only had 145 tanks still ready for action. Armoured cars and relatively fast Whippet tanks exploited in the rear areas, and cavalry helped to gain and hold some positions until the infantry arrived.

German resistance stiffened, the attack soon lost impetus, and there were no new reserves to feed the battle. But a new attack doctrine had by now evolved. As soon as one attack lost momentum, artillery and reserves were switched to another front and the blow repeated. Predicted fire, based on accurate survey and mapping, maintained the element of surprise, keeping the Germans off-balance. Wherever possible, tanks were also used to strengthen the attack. Rawlinson’s Army captured 400 guns and inflicted 27,000 casualties on the Germans, including 12,000 prisoners, for the loss of 9,000 men.

Battles of Albert, Bapaume and the Drocourt–Quéant Line

Following the Amiens operations, which lasted until 12 August, the weight of the British offensive was switched, at Haig’s insistence, to the northern sector of the Somme battlefield. Foch’s preference had been for a continuation of the Amiens battle. The Battles of Albert and Bapaume, from 21–31 August, turned the flank of the German position on the Somme and forced the Germans to pull back to the east bank. This series of blows continued when the new German position was then turned from the north from 26 August to 3 September in the Battles of Arras and the Drocourt–Quéant Line. That position being ruptured in an attack in which the Canadians and Americans took a major role, the Germans were forced to fall back to the outer defences of the Hindenburg Line. As the direct result of these battles, the Lys Salient further north was evacuated by the Germans, and the British captured Lens, and recaptured Merville, Bailleul and Mount Kemmel, and freed Hazebrouck and its vital railway junctions, which had been under German artillery bombardment.

Battle of St Mihiel

It had always been the aim of General Pershing, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force, to concentrate American forces in a field army under his command, rather than see them scattered piecemeal to reinforce other Allied armies. At St Mihiel, and then more particularly in the Meuse–Argonne battle, he achieved this. Between 12–16 September the Americans, led by Pershing, with a French corps and 267 light tanks also under his command, fought the Battle of St Mihiel to eliminate the German-held St Mihiel Salient, south of Verdun. Pershing planned to break through the German lines and capture the fortress of Metz, and as his attack caught the enemy withdrawing from the Salient, with their artillery also pulling back and most batteries therefore out of action, it proved more successful than expected. In a day and a half Pershing’s army, at the cost of 7,000 casualties, captured 15,000 prisoners and 450 guns.

While the success of the American attack impressed the French and British, the operations demonstrated the difficulty of supplying large armies in a war of movement. The attack ground to a halt as artillery and ration trucks bogged down on the muddy roads. The US air service played a significant part in this battle, although American fliers had been serving with the Escadrille Lafayette since 1916. The intended attack on Metz did not in the end take place, as the Germans took up a strong rear position and the Americans turned their efforts further north, to the Verdun and Argonne Forest regions.

Battle of Epéhy and the Meuse–Argonne Offensive

In the Battle of Epéhy on 18 and 19 September, British forces broke through the outer Hindenburg defences and established jumping-off positions for the attack on the main Hindenburg position. Foch’s grand offensive now gathered pace along the whole Allied front. On 26 September, Pershing’s American First and Gouraud’s French Fourth Armies began the Meuse–Argonne offensive, on the front from Verdun to the Argonne Forest, with Pershing’s right flank on the river Meuse and the French attacking on his left. Twenty-two French and fifteen American divisions were involved. This, the largest American operation of the war, lasted from 26 September to the Armistice on 11 November. In the difficult Argonne Forest terrain of tangled woods, gullies and ridges, it was almost impossible for tanks to operate, and the Americans found themselves engaging in a bloody slog through a succession of strongly held German positions.

Breaking the Hindenburg Line

In their operations from 8 August to 26 September (the eve of the great attack on the main Hindenburg Position), the BEF suffered 190,000 casualties. Between 26–29 September, one Belgian, five British, and two French armies attacked the Hindenburg Line and German positions extending north to beyond Ypres. Attacks were made by fifty British and twelve Belgian divisions, as well as the French and Americans further south. On the whole of the Western Front, 217 Allied divisions faced 197 German.

The attack on the Hindenburg Position, whose defences were up to three miles in depth and included the St Quentin Canal which made a superb anti-tank ditch, was made in the Battles of Cambrai and St Quentin, from 27 September until 10 October. The French First Army attacked on the right of the British Fourth Army (Rawlinson). In view of the strength of this well-sited and long-prepared position, Rawlinson and his artillery commander Budworth decided on an intense fifty-six hour preliminary bombardment in addition to the now-usual predicted crash and creeping barrage starting at zero hour on 29 September. Over 1,630 guns were used on a 10,000-yard front, firing an extremely effective counter-battery and destructive programme beforehand, with a high proportion of high-explosive shell, and neutralizing fire during the attack. Operational and artillery planning was helped by a set of captured enemy defence maps, showing all the trenches, pill-boxes, dugouts, machine gun emplacements, battery positions, etc. The German defenders were stunned by the artillery, and overwhelmed by the attack.

In ten days of heavy fighting in the crucial sector from St Quentin to Epéhy, and especially north of this on a four-mile frontage between Bellicourt and Vendhuille, where the St Quentin Canal ran in a tunnel, the British and Americans eventually broke through the last and strongest of the Germans’ fully prepared positions. A critical situation initially developed in the tunnel sector when the American 2nd Corps’ two divisions (27th and 30th), supported by three Australian divisions, were delayed by the strength of the German defences and lost the barrage. Tanks became ditched in the deep trenches, and as the inexperienced Americans neglected the vital task of ‘mopping up’ German pockets as they went forward, the Australians had to fight through this ground again as they in turn moved up. Further south, at Bellenglise, the British 46th Division managed to cross the canal, using rafts and lifebelts, protected by a pulverizing barrage, punching a three-mile gap in the German defence and turning the enemy flank to the north in the sector facing the Australians and Americans. Advances were also made further north, on 27 September, between Péronne and Lens, on the fronts of the British Third and First Armies, and by 5 October the attacking Allied armies had broken through the whole Hindenburg Position. This opened the way for a war of movement and an advance towards the vital main German communications routes.

This group of assaults was undertaken in three phases. First came the storming of the Canal-du-Nord position on the left in the Battle of the St Quentin Canal, and the advance on Cambrai. Following this came the shattering blow which, after a stupendous artillery bombardment and with the help of hundred of tanks, broke through the Hindenburg Line and turned the defences of St Quentin. Lastly came the exploitation of these successes by a general attack on the whole front which broke through the last of the enemy defences and captured the Beaurevoir Line, to the rear of the Hindenburg Line, and the high ground above it, by 10 October. The Germans were forced to evacuate Cambrai and St Quentin and pull back to the river Selle. These three battles created a huge salient in the German position.

Fifth Battle of Ypres and Battles of Courtrai, Selle and Maubeuge

Meanwhile, further north, in the Fifth Battle of Ypres on 28 and 29 September, King Albert of Belgium’s Army Group of twelve Belgian divisions, Plumer’s Second Army (ten British divisions), and Degoutte’s Sixth Army (six French divisions) forced the Germans back from Ypres and drove yet another salient into their lines, endangering the German position on the Belgian coast. In one day these armies swept over the ground that had taken two British armies, assisted by a French army, three months to capture the previous year.

Meanwhile Ludendorff, receiving news on 28 September of the Bulgarian request for an armistice, and after the Allied attack in Flanders had begun, suffered a temporary mental and physical collapse, a crisis of nerve in which he crashed to the floor and even foamed at the mouth. The succession of gloomy reports from the Western Front can hardly have helped. At 6 p.m. he told Hindenburg that an armistice was imperative. On the twenty-ninth, an armistice on the Macedonian front was signed with the defeated Bulgarians and the way was now open for an Allied attack from the south into Austria. Hindenburg, at a war council meeting, told the German leaders that, to prevent a catastrophe (this was the day the Hindenburg Line was broken), peace must be sought using Wilson’s ‘fourteen points’ as a basis. Ludendorff now realized the game was up and, while he found six divisions to putty up the Serbian front, started to prepare the ground for peace proposals. On 3 October the Germans asked President Wilson for an immediate armistice.

Meanwhile the success at Ypres was extended by the Battle of Courtrai, from 14–31 October, which widened and deepened this wedge and resulted in the capture of Halluin, Menin and Courtrai. This series of great battles had, as their immediate result, in the south the evacuation of Laon and the German retirement to the river Aisne; in the centre the withdrawal to the river Scheldt, which liberated Lille and the great industrial district of northern France around Roubaix and Tourcoing; and in the north the clearing of the Belgian coast, including the submarine bases of Ostend, Zeebrugge and Bruges. The Germans were now back on the line of the Scheldt and Selle rivers. The Battle of the Selle, from 17–25 October, forced the Germans from the latter and drove yet another wedge into their defences. Germany’s remaining allies were now falling away; Turkey signed an armistice on 30 October, and Austria–Hungary did the same on 4 November, after which Germany was isolated.

The Battle of the Selle was followed by the final blow, the Battle of Maubeuge, from 1–11 November, which struck at and broke the Germans’ last important lateral communications, turned their positions on the Scheldt and forced them to retreat rapidly from Courtrai. At the same time, the Americans attacked again, the French armies were cautiously moving forward (Foch was naturally unwilling for too much French blood to be spilled at this stage), and the British had not halted in their series of successful operations. This victory completed the achievement of the great strategic aim of the whole series of battles, by effectively dividing the German forces into two, one part on each side of the natural barrier of the Ardennes forest. The German fleet had mutinied on 29 October, while the German army, while it had been experiencing increasing indiscipline and desertion in the latter part of 1918, had been comprehensively defeated in the field. Revolution broke out in Berlin. The pursuit of the beaten enemy all along the line was only halted by the Armistice at 11 a.m. on 11 November. The Kaiser abdicated on 9 November, and the following day the desperate German authorities told their armistice delegation to accept any terms put in front of them. Fittingly, the Canadians entered Mons, where the BEF had fought its first battle in 1914, on the morning of the eleventh.

Rebellions in Four Nations

Warlord Games English Civil Wars 1642-1652 Montrose Irish.

Catastrophe came about in 1637. King Charles I’s determination to enforce uniformity on his churches led him to strengthen the episcopal element in the kirk. At his much-delayed coronation in Scotland in 1633 he insisted that the Scottish bishops ape the English bishops he had brought with him. Moreover, the Englishmen were given precedence. To follow through this instruction in superiority, the king had his Scottish bishops draft a liturgy, a prayer book modelled on the alien English Book of Common Prayer. On 23 July 1637, this book was ready and was to be read from pulpits across Scotland. At St Giles, Edinburgh, the congregation was furious—to them this was a foreign doctrine at best, it was English at worst, and appeared to be popish. Folding stools were hurled at the dean. Crowds outside hammered on the doors. Across Scotland, ministers were attacked and churches stormed by angry men and women.

Charles’s response was to treat this as an unwarranted rebellion. Even his loyal minister, the earl of Traquair, tried to convince him that the prayer book was a mistake, but to little avail. The Scottish council was packed with Charles’s appointees, men with little personal authority or experience of government, there because Charles expected their elevation to power would ensure loyalty. As a result they had little sway with the wider political world and less with the Scottish people. Even if inexperienced in executive government, many had been wise enough to stay away from St Giles that Sunday, to avoid trouble and being associated with the prayer book.

As riots occurred across Scotland, members of the Council discussed the matter with leading opponents of the prayer book. Charles’s refusal to discuss the matter in any meaningful way drove opponents to present him with a Supplication and Complaint in October 1637, which put the blame on the Scottish bishops. Charles reacted by threatening to arrest the supplicants, and hoped to end criticism by claiming direct responsibility for the prayer book; he believed that they would shy away from attacking the monarch. Instead, by February 1638, a National Covenant had been drafted. This Covenant was a reference to the 1581 Confession of Faith, which bound Scotsmen and women and James VI together in defence of the kirk. The Covenant went further, asserting that the religious changes imposed by James VI and Charles I were illegal because they contravened the basis of the kirk. The National Covenant was first signed at Edinburgh and then circulated throughout Scotland for men and women to sign at their own church doors.

The Covenanters demanded a General Assembly and Charles acceded, expecting his agents to be able to influence the choice of representatives. He even ordered that the General Assembly should meet at Glasgow, that he thought would circumvent opposition. Charles was hopelessly out of touch and his agents were not in control. The General Assembly, which met in November 1638, rejected the prayer book and abolished the office of bishop. The king’s commissioner, the marquis of Hamilton, Traquair’s replacement, failed to influence the assembly, and when he attempted to end the session by storming out he ran into a locked door. Even after Hamilton had managed to leave, the debates continued. Charles’s reaction to his loss of control and influence was to prepare for war against his rebellious subjects.

By May 1639 an English and Welsh army gathered at the border. Elaborate plans for amphibious landings on the Scottish coast were drawn up and Hamilton prepared a fleet. In Ireland, where there was support for the Covenanters amongst the Presbyterian ministers in Ulster, Lord Deputy Wentworth imposed a series of oaths aimed at forcing Scots settlers to abjure the Covenant. At the same time, the marquis of Antrim, chief of the Clan MacDonald (known as MacDonnell in Ireland), proposed to take advantage of the situation. He offered to raise a clan army to invade western Scotland where his lost ancestral estates were situated and controlled by the Campbells. The Campbells, although led by the marquis of Argyll, a supporter of the king, were also associated with the Covenant through Argyll’s heir, Lord Lorne. Wentworth suspected Antrim’s motive and rejected the plan, preparing an Irish army instead, with Protestant officers and Catholic soldiers.

The first Bishop’s War in 1639 was short. The amphibious landings were abandoned. Attempts to land at Aberdeen were called off when the earl of Montrose and a Covenanter Army captured the town. At the eastern border on 4 June, a section of the king’s army was defeated in a skirmish near Kelso. This became something of a rout, and in its wake the Covenanters put forwards proposals for discussions. That summer a truce, the Pacification of Berwick, was negotiated, but all the while Charles I planned for war.

A new General Assembly of the kirk met in August and confirmed its predecessor’s work. Later that same month the Estates also assembled, and they too confirmed the actions of the General Assembly. The Estates had been effectively controlled by Covenanters who had minimised the role of the king in influencing the selections of members, and steps were taken towards further controlling the business of the sessions. By the beginning of 1640, both the king and the Covenanters were preparing for renewed war.

Charles sought to improve the financial support for his government and war effort. He planned a two-pronged approach. Wentworth summoned a Parliament in Dublin, that he expected to manipulate into voting four subsidies for the king. In April a Parliament would meet at Westminster and was expected to follow suit. In March 1640 the Dublin Parliament met and all went according to plan, but the Westminster Parliament refused to discuss finance unless a series of grievances was addressed. The grievances were bound up with the collection of taxation in the 1630s, religious issues, and the way in that the 1629 Parliament had been closed. When he failed to influence the Parliament at all, Charles dissolved it on 5 May.

Plans for war went forward, but opposition to the king had developed in the wake of the Parliament. Soldiers mustered for the army went on the rampage, destroying altar rails and religious images, and people across the country began to refuse to pay taxation. Support for the Scots was to be found across England, where people who objected to the religious reforms of Archbishop Laud refused to pay for them to be imposed in Scotland. In Ireland, many Scots in Ulster refused Wentworth’s oaths and left the country, leaving tracts of countryside untilled.

The war in the summer of 1640 saw the defeat of the king’s army at the Battle of Newburn and the occupation of northern England by the Covenanter Army. This time peace negotiations were conducted on the Scots’ terms. They demanded freedom for the kirk, but also wanted a Parliament at Westminster to confirm the terms. This gelled with calls within England and Wales for a new Parliament. With an army in occupation for that he was to provide pay, the king had no option but to accede. Parliament met on 3 November and the king’s few supporters were overwhelmed.

Three Parliaments now worked in opposition to the king. The Dublin Parliament had met in the summer and began to unravel the financial arrangements it had put in place in March. It then went on to question the relationship between itself and the lord deputy and even questioned its subordination to the Privy Council in London. Moreover, Irish and Scots politicians presented evidence about Wentworth’s government of Ireland and his planned invasion of Scotland. This was taken up by Westminster and in November Wentworth, now known as the earl of Strafford, was impeached and imprisoned along with Archbishop Laud.

As the Dublin Parliament began to deconstruct the government in Ireland, the Estates began to reduce the power of the king in Scottish government. The Westminster Parliament began to take apart the machinery of government that had sustained the Personal Rule. As well as impeaching Strafford and Laud, Parliament aimed its ire at ministers Lord Finch and Francis Windebank, who both fled to France to escape. Ship Money was abolished and forest fines were banned. Two acts prevented another period of Personal Rule: One established that there should be Parliaments at least every three years; the other made it impossible for Parliament to be dissolved without its own consent. In May 1641, against the background of a plot hatched amongst some of the king’s army officers, Strafford was executed. This effectively settled the issues raised by the Personal Rule, but Parliament presented the king with Ten Propositions demanding a further role in government by having the right to nominate ministers and to have a say in foreign policy.

The king went to Scotland in the summer months of 1641 to ratify the Treaty of London, which had ended the war, and also to ratify the acts passed in the Estates, which diminished his role in Scottish government. The Estates had passed a series of measures that had been the inspiration for the Westminster Parliament’s work during the spring. Charles also harboured hopes of nurturing a royalist party in Scotland that could overthrow the Covenanter government. The earl of Montrose, the Covenanter general, had become disillusioned with the Covenanter cause and had questioned the ambitions of the earl of Argyll (formerly Lord Lorne). By the time Charles went to Edinburgh, however, Montrose was imprisoned. An attempted coup d’état, known as the Incident, was exposed and Charles became implicated in it. With his attempts to overturn the Covenanter government in tatters, the king returned to London. Within days of his arrival news broke of a rebellion in Ireland.

The Irish Rebellion

In the wake of the successes at Edinburgh and Westminster, Catholic Irish and long-established English settler families began to press for similar changes at home. Autonomy for the Dublin Parliament was one aim, but others related to religious issues and the tenure rights of the Catholic population. Rights to practice their religion openly was a major demand and the king had tentatively suggested that it might be possible. The Catholic population too had insecure tenure on their estates having never been granted firm property rights because of their religion. These two issues were bound together and known as the Graces.

Given the king’s powerlessness, the Irish felt able to press their cause. Although the Scots had secured the safety of the kirk, however, and the Welsh and English had freed themselves from Laud’s reforms, religious rights for Catholics were not acceptable to the Protestant Parliaments in Edinburgh and Westminster. Frustrated groups began to discuss the possibility of a rising in Ireland, and exiled Irishmen became involved in these discussions. By October the discussions had crystallised into a plan to seize strongholds throughout Ulster and Dublin Castle.

On 22 October rebellion broke out, but although the forts in Ulster were captured by Sir Phelim O’Neill and others, Dublin remained in government hands. By November, rebellion had spread throughout Ireland and the Old English settlers had joined with the Catholic Irish rebels. The government forces managed to hold onto pockets around the Irish coast, but supplies and reinforcements were necessary if there was any possibility of remaining there. In Edinburgh and Westminster the governments began to discuss military and financial plans for reconquering Ireland. Whilst King Charles outwardly discussed these issues with the Westminster Parliament, he also plotted to seize prominent leaders. Charles was assured that there was now a significant group of M.P.s who supported him rather than his opponents.

In late November, after heated debate, Parliament had passed the Grand Remonstrance. This was a sort of petition that had set out the evils of the 1630s and the remedies that had been applied; finally, the remonstrance proposed further reforms. No sooner was this passed by the Commons than it was published. This broadcasting of Parliament’s position was disliked by many M.P.s. Christmastide 1641 was a period of riots in London and Westminster by mobs supporting the aims of the Grand Remonstrance, and in particular the removal of the bishops from the House of Lords in a move similar to the exclusion of bishops from Scottish government. On 5 January Charles marched into Westminster to arrest five leading M.P.s and Lord Mandeville. This coup d’état, like that in Scotland the previous October, failed (the proposed victims had fled), and it provoked continued rioting that in turn drove the king and his family out of the capital.

Over the next months Charles and Parliament grew further estranged, agreeing only on the need to fund the war against the Irish rebels. The raising of an army to fight in Ireland drove the final wedge between the king and Parliament, however. It was felt that the king, implicated in an army plot and two coup d’états, could not be trusted if given the military command. He suggested he would have to go to Ireland, especially as the rebels there claimed to have the king’s warrant for their rebellion. With the Militia Ordinance, Parliament took away the king’s military powers in March. In April the king responded by trying to seize the arsenal deposited at Hull during the Bishop’s War. He was denied entry into the city. In May Charles began the recreation of obsolete county-based commissions of array to regain control of the Trained Bands. Throughout the summer of 1642 both he and Parliament battled to raise armies, each hoping to overawe the other.

In Ireland the war had taken two turns of fortune. Money and troops had begun arriving in the spring. The marquis of Ormond took command of the English forces and began to make inroads into rebel territory in Leinster province. In eastern Ulster a Scottish army landed and took control of the region in May. As summer drew on, however, attention in England had turned inwards and the supply of resources to Ireland dried up as king and Parliament commandeered the money for their own use. War broke out in England and Wales in August.

Wars and Civil Wars, 1641–1653

War raged in the four nations for the next 11 years: In Ireland there was a constant state of war; in the other three nations war was more sporadic. Each war impinged on the others and all were closely related to the needs of Charles I, who sought to offset failure in one nation with success and resources from at least one of the others.

In England and Wales, the war that broke out in August 1642 began as both sides, royalists and parliamentarians, assembled field armies, first, to try and overawe their enemy, and then, second, to inflict military defeat in one cataclysmic battle. Neither scenario was to be enacted. By October the king had moved from his initial musters in the North Midlands towards London, whilst Parliament’s commander in chief, the earl of Essex, moved westwards from the East Midlands to stop him. Scouting techniques were so underdeveloped that the king got between the earl and London, and then the two armies bumped into each other whilst searching for quarters. On 23 October 1643, the first major battle of the war in England took place at Edgehill. Partly due to the inexperience within the two armies, the battle was drawn and the war had to take on a new complexion.

After the king failed to press his attack on London in mid-November, both sides now began a fight for territory and the resources to maintain a nationwide war. The winter was spent in regional battles as local commanders began to seize castles and towns in that to establish garrisons. By the spring, the king controlled much of the south-west and north-east of England and had a significant presence in both the North and South Midlands. The royalists also held onto the vast majority of Wales. Parliament controlled all major ports, the south-east and the Lancashire and Cheshire area, as well as significant Midland areas of England, and a good proportion of Pembrokeshire in Wales. The king believed himself to be in a strong position within the country and as such did not take the opportunity to negotiate the end of the war, which arose in spring 1643.

Attempts to dislodge the royalists from their strongholds in the north, the south-west, and the South Midlands failed in the summer of 1643. In the south-west, parliamentarian general Sir William Waller, who had met with great success at the end of 1642, was defeated at Rowton Down in July. The earl of Essex’s attempt to capture Oxford was curtailed in June, and that same month the earl of Newcastle defeated the Yorkshire parliamentarians Lord Fairfax and his son, Sir Thomas, and bottled them up in Hull. Both Parliament and the king sought outside help at this point. At first, Scotland remained aloof from the conflict in England and Wales. The Covenanters had offered to act as mediator but the king had rejected their approach. The leading parliamentarian, John Pym, had exploited the Scots’ fear of the Catholic forces in Ireland. He suggested that the king was negotiating with the Irish, and that there might be Irish landings on the Scottish coast as a result of such discussions. He also hinted that if the king, who appeared to have the upper hand in England and Wales, were to win, then he might turn on Scotland.

The Development of the Wars

In Ireland, stalemate had developed after the funding from across the Irish sea had dried up. The English and Scots forces held significant areas of territory in Ulster (in Down and Antrim), around Dublin in Leinster, and around Cork and Youghal in Munster. There were also a few garrisons in Connacht held by the English. The Irish meanwhile had unified their forces and their administration. Provincial armies had been created from the disparate forces and generals appointed. A government was formed with an executive, the Supreme Council, and a legislative, the General Assembly, which consisted of elected representatives of the shires and boroughs. Each county had a council of its own that sent representatives to provincial assemblies. Despite this organisation, resources were few and the Catholic Confederation of Kilkenny was unable to defeat the English or Scottish garrisons and armies.

Negotiations with the English began in 1643, with the aim of getting royal recognition for the Catholic religion and for the property rights of the Catholic peoples. The king’s representative, the earl of Ormond, was unwilling to make major concessions, but by September at least a cease-fire had been arranged. This Cessation allowed for the return home of the English forces sent to Ireland in 1642, and these men were co-opted as royalist forces. This in turn enabled Pym to show the Scots that he had been right about the suspected negotiations, and the Scots became convinced of the need to join the Westminster Parliament against the king. In 16 January 1644 the Army of the Solemn League and Covenant, named after the treaty between Edinburgh and Westminster, invaded north-east England. The English and Welsh people under the control of Parliament would fund the invading army and there would be consideration given to the creation of a Presbyterian church in England and Wales.

Even before the Scots crossed the border, the war had taken a different complexion. In September three royalist armies were weakened by fruitless attempts to capture the prominent parliamentarian strongholds of Hull, Gloucester, and Plymouth. Failure to capture any of them had wasted resources and reduced the numbers of effective soldiers through disease and injury. It took time to assemble the forces necessary to hold back the Scots, and in the end it was fruitless—defeat at the Battle of Selby on 11 April led to the collapse of the royalist hold on the north. The marquis of Newcastle and his once powerful army became bottled up in York. Royalist attempts to encroach on south-east England came to an end in the spring. Yet Parliament’s attempt to capture Oxford again failed and a series of campaigns followed in that both Sir William Waller and the earl of Essex were defeated by the king. Waller’s army had been caught in Oxfordshire and destroyed. Essex had marched off into royalist territory in the far west only to be trapped and defeated at Lostwithiel in Cornwall at the beginning of September. On 2 July, the Northern Army and a rescue force led to its aid by Prince Rupert were defeated at Marston moor near York. With this defeat the royalists lost control of the north.

The king’s victories in the south, and the failure of three combined parliamentarian armies to defeat him in the fall, temporarily offset the loss of the north. It also led to a false confidence that led some royalists to ridicule Parliament’s reorganisation of its war effort and the creation of one field army from the three assembled in the autumn. This New Model Army was created in early 1645, and in June it defeated the king at Naseby and then set about conquering the south-west. Together, it and the Northern Association Army won the war during the summer of 1645. During the ensuing autumn and winter the New Model and local forces ended royalist resistance in the south of England, whilst the Northern Association forces and the Scots cleared the north and North Midlands of major royalist strongholds. In Wales, Welsh parliamentarians cleared the south of the country whilst Lancashire and Cheshire parliamentarians captured central and northern royalist strongholds.

Fighting had broken out in Scotland during 1644. Alasdair MacColla had led a force of Irish and Highland troops from Ireland to the Western Isles in July 1644. The Catholic Confederation hoped that this force would oblige the Scots to withdraw forces from Ulster; the marquis of Ormond, who lent support to the expedition, hoped that the Scots would withdraw forces from England. MacColla, who was of the MacDonald clan, probably hoped for both, but also had an eye for regaining clan land lost to the Campbells. In August 1644 MacColla was joined by the earl of Montrose, by now a fully fledged royalist. Montrose had a commission to raise the loyal Scots against the Covenanter government. Together, the two commanders embarked on a campaign that over the next year saw them defeat all the home armies the Edinburgh government sent against them. At Kilsyth, on 15 August 1645, Montrose defeated the last of these armies and Scotland appeared to be his to command. He summoned the Estates to Glasgow and began to receive tributes from politicians. Ironically, it was to be one of the early aims of the war that was to defeat Montrose. A section of the Army of the Solemn League and Covenant did leave England. On 13 September David Leslie and a section of the Scots Horse caught Montrose’s men at Philliphaugh and destroyed them. The month-old royalist domination of Scotland was over: But guerrilla warfare was to continue in the country until 1647.

In Ireland, the king had sought a treaty not because he was able to accept any of the Confederation’s demands, but because he needed their military help. Ormond, part of the Protestant group that hitherto controlled Ireland’s political world, was unwilling personally to accept the freedom Catholics wanted for their faith. Charles sought to circumvent him by sending the earl of Glamorgan, a Welsh Catholic, to negotiate secretly with the Confederation. Glamorgan’s terms were more acceptable at Kilkenny, but a papal representative, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, arrived just before the terms were agreed. He was wary about the secret nature of the discussions and urged holding out for public acknowledgement. Before he could renegotiate the treaty personally with Glamorgan, a copy of the secret treaty fell into enemy hands. Upon the Westminster Parliament’s horrified publication of the terms, Charles I repudiated them and Ormond arrested Glamorgan.

Ballistic Missiles at War: The Case of Iraq I

Al-Hussein missiles displayed in their erector-launchers. Baghdad arms exhibition, April–May 1989.

The Soviet “Scud” missile family.

The United States and Soviet Union backed away from a nuclear showdown with the Cuba Missile Crisis. Although the two nations continued to build weapons, the countries agreed to reduce certain types and quantities of nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missiles ranging from the MRBM to a number of ICBMs. Unfortunately, other nations had witnessed how these weapons provided an avenue to strike strategically and to coerce or affect a rival’s behavior. These weapons also became a symbol of national pride so that their mere existence allowed states to demonstrate their resolve in the face of regional disputes or to gain domestic cohesion in the guise of protecting the nation. The Soviet Union and other countries sold technologies and complete systems to bolster client states and earn hard currency from foreign military sales. Two nations that acquired these systems were Iran and Iraq, traditional enemies, but both supported through arms sales by the Soviet Union. Iraq would use its missiles against Iran and would later use them against the United States.

The Middle East erupts: Iran and Iraq

In the late twentieth century, Middle Eastern conflicts had normally revolved around the Arab world and Israel. However, the picture of a unified Islamic world against Israel was not clear. Tensions between secular governments and others, dominated by Islamic fundamentalists, spilled over borders. Different Islamic sects vied for control over nations. Ancient claims over territory did not distinguish between countries that were Arabic, Persian, or Israeli. Other concerns involved economic ones, influence over oil fields and their potential wealth. These problems erupted between Iran and Iraq in 1980. At the end of the conflict, some experts claimed that the two Islamic countries exchanged over several hundred ballistic missile attacks.

Iranian revolutionaries had overthrown a government friendly toward the United States and the West in January 1979. Islamic fundamentalists had created a revolutionary government intent on creating a state that would replace many non-Muslim influences with their fundamentalist Muslim thought and philosophy. Tehran illustrated clearly its focus on removing Western influence by seizing the U. S. embassy. Although the United States gained release of these hostages, the effect was chilling for many nations around the Persian Gulf. One of the goals of the Iranian government was to transform other nations’ governments and societies around the region to mirror its image. Iran tried to export its revolutionary movement west into Saudi Arabia to wrest control over many holy Muslim religious sites. The fundamentalist Islamic Iranians viewed the Saudi monarchy as a decadent group that had betrayed Islam by its continued dealings with the “Great Satan,” the United States and the rest of the West. This same country had supported the former corrupt Iranian government until the revolution. Iraq was also a target, since it had subjugated its Islamic Shiite sect majority; Shiite members dominated Iran. Saddam Hussein and his Sunni sect seemed at odds with the Ayatollah Khomeini by dealing with the godless Soviet Union. Iraq was also a secular state that came into confrontation with the ideals of an Islamic state like the Iranian government. Iran had already deposed of its Shah, who had tried to develop an Iranian secular state.

Iraq was another country subjugated by a single voice. A secular government formed by Saddam Hussein had turned a former monarchy into a socialist government, at least in name. The nation became a threat to surrounding nations such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab emirates, with the potential to spread political instability. These countries feared that Iran and Iraq would spread political unrest in their societies. A powerful Iraq could also threaten Israel directly or through its oil-funded support of its northern Marxist neighbor, Syria. Syrian and radical terrorist groups pressured Tel Aviv’s northern borders and Lebanon. The United States and other nations feared disruptions of oil supplies that could wreck their economies and throw their political futures into disarray.

By 1980, the collision between the Iranian Islamic government of the Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein seemed inevitable. Iran had depended on weapon purchases and training with the United States. This relationship all changed significantly when Islamic fundamentalists took control of the country and held the U. S. embassy personnel hostage for over a year. The United States refused to sell weapon systems and spare parts to Iran. Similarly, economic problems continued as the United States maintained sanctions, including the refusal to buy oil from Iran. Iranian air power, once a top regional force, had fallen into disrepair. Political will was strong, but Iranian military capability was lacking and had limited sustainability.

Iraq had access to the Persian Gulf through the Shatt al Arab area. Iran and Iraq had forged an uneasy agreement in 1975 over the vital property that allowed Hussein to ship oil from his country to sea lanes for export. Hussein’s government, like those of other countries around the Gulf, depended on oil for its economy. Hussein wanted the Iranian government to allow him expanded access to the Persian Gulf by allowing Iraq to control some islands in the Shatt al Arab. Hussein threatened the Iranians to comply with his demand. The Iranians refused.

Hussein decided to launch an attack on his neighbor. Although Iraqi artillery units had conducted some shelling along the border, Hussein ordered no major attacks conducted on Iranian military units. Through early September 1980, Iraq started to prepare for war. Hussein could achieve many of his objectives if he could defeat Iran. He could preempt a possible Iranian supported revolution that might topple the Iraqi government. Since Khomeini had threatened to topple secular states like Hussein’s, removing this menace was paramount. If Iraq pushed Iran back from the Shatt al Arab, then Iraq would have a secure border. A military victory had the potential to make Iraq the regional military and political power in the Gulf. Hussein could also encourage counterrevolutionary forces in Iran to break Khomeini’s power in Tehran. Hussein had strong motivations to feed his growing economy by taking Iranian oil fields. These motivations helped convince Iraq to take Iranian territory on September 10. Iraq demanded that Iran cede the captured area; Iran again refused and started to mobilize. The Iranians and Iraqis soon found themselves in a long war of attrition that would last until 1989.

Iraq’s military had been supplied by the Soviet Union. Iraq did not have to conduct a major military rebuilding program due to any open conflicts with Israel, previous border conflicts, or revolutions before its fight with Iran. On paper, the Iraqi military had a great advantage over the Iranians. The Iranian military was half the size of its prerevolutionary self. The government in Tehran suffered internal problems as the revolution made radical changes. Iraqi government officials believed that taking the islands in the Shatt al Arab would result in some international debate and minor skirmishing but that eventually the territory would remain in Baghdad’s hands.

Iraq tried to knock the Iranians out of the war early, but it could not. On September 22, the Iraqi air force bombed major western Iranian airfields to destroy aircraft on the ground. If the Iraqis could eliminate the Iranian air force, then any danger of Khomeini bombing major industrial or military sites or Baghdad would be remote. Iraqi aircraft also attempted to annihilate the Iranian navy to ensure it would not interfere with its access through the Persian Gulf. Iraqi failure to remove the air and naval threats would encourage the Iranians and allow them to expand the conflict by striking the source of Iraqi wealth and power, oil. Iranian patrol boats, aircraft, and other forces would later attack shipping and oil terminals. Iranian and Iraqi air forces were roughly equivalent in size and strength. Iranian aircraft could bomb Baghdad, Kirkuk, and a key transportation site, Basra.

The Iraqis also misjudged Iranian will to continue the ground war. Despite the material and training advantages, Iran continued to attack Iraqi positions, and it would not cede any lost territory. Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces would conduct human wave attacks against the Iraqis. Soon, the conflict resembled World War I, with fighting between trenches and movements measured in yards, and it lasted for years. Control over areas around the Shatt al Arab and the borders was traded between the two sides. The Iraqis needed a new strategy to break the stalemate.


Saddam Hussein’s arsenal contained some rocket and missile systems before 1980. Hussein authorized his nation’s weapons inventory into operation against the Iranians. These systems focused on supporting battlefield operations. Iraqi systems were a supplement to artillery, not designed for strategic effects. The Iraqis did gain some experience by building and modifying these missile and rocket systems. Iraqi military commanders used multiple rocket launchers and missiles that had ranges of less than 100 kilometers (about sixty miles). The Soviet Union had sold the Iraqis some Free Rocket Over Ground (FROG)-7s (their Soviet designation is R65A or Luna), also deployed in the Cuban Missile Crisis, that had a limited range of sixty kilometers (thirty-seven miles). The FROG-7 was a development from the 1950s that was widely sold abroad. These rockets could not lift a sizeable conventional warhead in lieu of its designed twenty-five-kiloton yield nuclear payload. The FROG-7 had a 450-kilogram (about 1,000 pounds) conventional warhead capacity.

Iraqi military commanders started to use the FROG-7 in its early campaigns against Iran in 1980. The weapon had a single-stage construction powered by a solid propellant engine. This relatively primitive ballistic missile did not have a guidance system but was spin stabilized. The missile had limited usefulness and was very inaccurate, especially against entrenched Iranian forces. The FROG-7 had less capability than a German V-2, but it did possess a key advantage: it was launch capable off a single wheeled transporter/erector/launcher (TEL). An experienced crew could launch a missile every twenty minutes. Normally, another vehicle carrying three additional missiles followed the TEL. The Soviets had improved the FROG-7 by 1980, but it was still a primitive weapon.

Limitations of the FROG-7 forced the Iraqis to reconsider the FROG-7’s use against other targets, cities, or larger urban areas. Early Iraqi missile operations focused on two locations, Ahwaz and Dezful, that had limited military value. The strikes concentrated on supporting Iraqi ground movements into Iranian territory. These FROG-7 attacks were sporadic and of limited value, however. Crews used ten missiles in 1980 and then fired fifty-four missiles the next year. Iraqi military commanders later phased out the missile from a direct combat role with only a single missile in 1982 and two missiles in 1984. Even against relatively large targets like cities, the FROG-7 was ineffective. Some missiles, just like the earlier V-2s, missed the target entirely. Baghdad needed a new missile to strike Iranian cities with more punch and accuracy.

The Iraqi government sought to increase the yield and range of its ballistic missile inventory. It turned to its R-17 (NATO code named SS-1C SCUDB) missiles that the Soviets supplied to Iraq in the early 1970s. The SCUD-B was a single-staged, liquid fueled ballistic missile that used storable hypergolic propellants. A fully fueled and maintained ballistic missile could hit a target at an extended range of 330 kilometers (180 miles) with a CEP of about 450 meters (1,500 feet). SCUD-Bs could carry a 985-kilogram (2,175-pound) warhead. The missile had an inertial guidance system that used three gyroscopes to improve the accuracy of the missile over the FROG-7 despite the fourfold increase in range. Signals to the control vanes on the tail assembly would help correct the flight path of the missile in flight as long as the engine was operating.

The SCUD-B provided added capability to the Iraqis. Soviet engineers designed the SCUD-B to deliver nuclear, conventional, or chemical warheads. The warhead detaches from the missile’s body. This capability provided the Iraqis with an ability to select an appropriate yield with either a conventional or a chemical weapon. The SCUD-B was also a very mobile weapon, like the FROG-7. Crews launched it from a TEL that would raise the missile from a horizontal to vertical position, ignite it, and move to another position to fire another missile. Still, the SCUD-B had problems. Its range was not sufficient to hit Tehran or other key targets. Unless Iraqi forces could take more Iranian territory, the SCUD-B could do little against Tehran. The Iraqis needed improved capabilities since the ground war was a stalemate.

Hussein now faced the prospect of acquiring new longer-range SCUD-Cs which had a range of 600 kilometers (or 373 miles), which still could not reach Tehran. Another option for Baghdad was purchasing advanced ballistic missiles from the Soviet Union (like the OTR-22 IRBM or SS-12 Scaleboard) or building its own ballistic missiles. Soviet sales or deployments of IRBMs were not possible due to ongoing arms reduction negotiations with the United States. Sales of an SS-12 and a SCUD-C might also widen an ongoing arms race within the Middle East that could have long-term consequences for the Soviets. Expectedly, the Soviets declined to sell more advanced and more accurate weapons to Iraq. Saddam Hussein would have to gain ballistic missile superiority by modifying Iraq’s existing stock of SCUD-B missiles or by building variants of the delivery system. Iraqi missile engineers and designers would work on two variants of the SCUD-B, the Al-Husayn and Al-Abbas.

Modifying the SCUD-B into a delivery platform with an extended range required resources. Although the Iraqis had experimented with modifying some missiles, this was very different from extending the range of a relatively large ballistic missile. This effort required additional time, expertise, and funds. The ground war had slowed with no major effective offensive actions that had directly threatened either nation’s capitals. Expertise to improve Baghdad’s missile designs from other countries, such as the Soviet Union, would take time to find and then employ. The continued war on the ground, disputes in areas around oil terminals in the Shatt al Arab, and Iranian attacks on oil shipping lanes affected Iraqi finances. Trading off ballistic missile development against purchasing weapons to fight the war on the ground, air, and sea was a gamble. Still, Hussein started a program to modify the SCUD-Bs.

Iraqi launch crews would use SCUD-Bs and modified variants to attack some cities. Hussein directed these attacks against the cities to break the will of the Iranian population. These operations amounted to terror raids to force the Iranian government to either fail or negotiate an end to the war. On October 27, 1982, Hussein’s missile crews began to replace FROG-7s with SCUDBs. The crews would still launch a limited three SCUD missiles in 1982. SCUD-B crews began ramping up: to thirty-three launches in 1983; twenty-five firings in 1984; a huge barrage of eighty-two missiles in 1985; no launches in 1986; attacks in 1987 to match their record in 1984; and 193 attacks in 1988. There is some dispute about the actual number of missile launches, but most estimates place the number of launches at no more than 251. Iraq focused many of its early SCUD attacks on border cities such as Ahwaz, Borujerd, Dezful, and Khorramabad. Even with their greater range and improvement in payload, these missiles did not provide sufficient damage. Unless the missiles hit a large factory, school, or area where people gathered, they became merely terror devices.

Ballistic Missiles at War: The Case of Iraq II

A map indicating the attacks on civilian areas of Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait targeted during the “War of the cities”

Iraqi efforts to expand the SCUD-B’s capabilities resulted in development of the Al-Husayn missile. This missile had an increased range of 650 kilometers (400 miles) and was thus capable of striking central Iran. Iraqi engineers reduced the payload to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) and increased the amount of propellant carried by the missile by about 25 percent. Engineers extended the missile’s fuselage to carry five tons of additional liquid propellant to power it for a seven-minute flight. Launch crews could reload and fire an Al-Husayn within an hour.

Defense experts believed that the Al-Husayn had the capability to carry a high explosive or chemical warhead. As for its earlier SCUD-B cousin, launch crews for the Al-Husayn used a locally produced wheeled TEL for operations. There is some debate whether the Al-Husayn was solely of Iraqi design. Several nations, such as the Soviet Union, China, Egypt, France, East Germany, Libya, and North Korea, had the technology or experience with these ballistic missiles to provide Saddam Hussein’s engineers with sufficient information, components, or designs to modify the missile. Hussein also sought technical and component support from two unlikely allies, Argentina and Brazil. Hussein had offered financial help to these nations to develop their own ballistic missile programs. The Iraqis purchased 350 SCUD-Bs in 1984 and 300 more in 1986. These acquisitions provided additional systems for components and flight testing. Additionally, the Soviet Union may have supplied advanced SCUD-C components to allow the Iraqis to expand their weapons’ capabilities.

Iraq now had the capability to strike targets around Tehran. The missile’s seven-and-a-half-minute flight gave Iran little hope for warning its populace to take cover. Additionally, the Iranians had no active defensive capability to shoot down these vehicles, nor did they have a means to identify launch sites for attack by aircraft or artillery. These weapons provided a simple way to threaten cities and attack them without warning, a perfect terror device.

Iraq began to test the Al-Husayn in August 1987. Although flight tests proved the missile could work, there were some concerns. Iraqi engineers had to strengthen the airframe to compensate for larger fuel and oxidizer tanks. Fabrication teams had to extend internal tanks and provide additional air tanks to give adequate pressurization for the increased volume for the propellants. Iraq could use spare SCUD-B components for some assemblies, tanks, electronics, wiring, and other parts. However, they would have to weld them together, always a questionable proposition. In Iraq’s case, the welding quality would eventually affect the missile’s capabilities. Iranian forces witnessed many of these missiles that crashed, without warhead impact, due to welding problems. Pressurization or fuel leaks could have hampered the missile’s operation. Iraq also tried to improve guidance systems to increase the missile’s accuracy. Hussein’s government claimed that the missiles now had a CEP of 500 meters (1,640 feet). Some CEP estimates place the true accuracy at 2.6 kilometers (about 1.9 miles). The Al-Husayn missile effort was still a great strategic leap forward for Iraq. Even so, Iraq wanted even greater ranges.

The other major SCUD modification by the Iraqis was a more radical change to the missile to ensure it struck deeper into Iraq and potentially into other Middle East countries. Iraqi military officials tried to build on the success of the Al-Husayn by further reducing the SCUD-B’s payload and increasing the propellant capacity. Iraqi engineers christened this modified Al-Husayn vehicle the Al-Abbas. Engineers reduced the missile’s payload to only 300 kilograms (660 pounds), but it could strike a target at 900 kilometers (560 miles). Iraqi launch crews could now reach Tehran with ease and many parts of the Middle East as well, including all of Israel. Despite the greater range, the accuracy of the missile proved suspect. The CEP was about the same as that of the Al-Husayn, but official claims credited the Al-Abbas with a CEP of 300 meters (980 feet), less than a short-range unmodified SCUD-B. Iraqi missiles never met these capabilities in flight testing or apparently in the field. However, if crews launched the missile at large urban areas like Tehran and the purpose was to conduct a terror attack, then accuracy might not be necessary.

Iran was not helpless; it could respond to Iraqi missile attacks. Under Iranian air force control, launch crews fired SCUD-Bs against the Iraqis in March 1985. Libya first sold SCUDs to Iran, and then North Korea shipped about 100 missiles to Iran in 1988. News reports named Syria as a source of SCUDs for Iran. Curiously, these same countries may have provided components, technology, and assistance to Baghdad during the war. Iranian missile crews bombarded Iraqi positions and cities in retaliation for ballistic missile strikes. Iran first used fourteen missiles in 1985 launches; decreased to eight the next year; increased to eighteen in 1987; and spiked at eighty-eight missiles in 1988.

The Iranians did not have to modify their missiles. Iranian SCUD missiles did not have to traverse as great a distance to strike major cities as their Iraqi counterparts did. The distance between Baghdad and the border, less than 250 kilometers, or about 150 miles, was closer than Iraqi missile ranges to Tehran. As long as the ground war did not alter the battlefield, Iranian SCUDs could hit their targets. However, the Iranians did have an advantage over the Iraqis. Iranian revolutionary military forces held control of Iranian territory with vigor and wanted to avenge the unprovoked attack on their nation. Religious zeal allowed Iranian commanders to trade blood for territory through human wave attacks against prepared defensive positions. Time was on Iran’s side, as they could use attrition against the Iraqis. Tehran had to just push back the Iraqis and use its unmodified SCUDs. Iran was not motivated to extend its ballistic missiles’ range.

Superficially, Tehran had a tremendous advantage over the Iraqis in terms of missile range. However, several mitigating circumstances limited Iran’s ability to take advantage of this situation. Iran, under economic sanctions from many nations, had problems selling its main export commodity, oil. The constant fighting in the Persian Gulf between Iranian and Iraqi air and naval forces reduced the flow of oil to both countries and affected their ability to gain hard currency to purchase weapons or support. The Iraqis, however, had outside financial support to wage their war against Iran. Islamic fundamentalism threatened Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other countries that were supported by the Iranian religious and political leadership. These countries started to provide loans and direct financial support to Saddam Hussein in his effort to fight Iran. The Iranian air force was also running out of resources, and its capabilities diminished slowly with time. Iraq could supplement missile attacks with aircraft raids to strike the larger cities. Iran could not do the same with its aircraft and had to rely on ballistic missile strikes that came from a decreasing pool of available weapons. One option for Tehran was to try to build SCUD-B systems. Instead of focusing on ballistic missile modifications, Iranian engineers concentrated only on production capability, but they failed to make operational improvements. The production centers allowed Iranian military forces to launch forty-kilometer-range (25-mile) Oghab vehicles. Oghabs supported ground operations and limited attacks on Iraqi cities. Iranian military commanders used these unguided missiles like artillery.


The conflict between Iran and Iraq dragged on. There was no sense of any negotiations or efforts to end the conflict. Ground operations continued with horrendous casualties. Both sides were bled white with losses. The conflict focused on urban and economic targets to inflict sufficient pain to force one side to capitulate. Iraq would have to rely on aircraft strikes until its engineers and production capability could make the Al-Husayn or Al-Abbas system operational or push Iranian ground forces back. Iran could reply by its limited aircraft, but its SCUD-Bs had sufficient range to respond immediately. By 1987, attacks on cities started in earnest. When Hussein finally gained the capability to launch his Al-Husayn missiles, a new strategy emerged. Iraqi military forces could now hit Tehran without effect. On February 29, 1988, the Al-Husayn demonstrated its operational capabilities when Iraqi military missile crews launched five vehicles into Iran. This capability breathed new life into the Iraqi scheme to change the nature of the war. A new fifty-two-day “War of the Cities” erupted in the theater that would force both sides to the negotiating table.

From February 29 to April 20, both sides traded ballistic missile and air strikes on their capitals and other targets. While the missiles were inaccurate, Iraqi and Iranian SCUDs and their derivatives still produced massive physical damage and some casualties. Like their forebear, the V-2, and its attack on London, the missiles’ purpose was to strike terror on the population. Some analysts believed that the Iraqis’ missile inaccuracies approached several magnitudes above their stated CEPs. However, there were reports of Iraqi missile attacks conducted in salvos that landed around defined targets. Iraqi missile attacks appeared to gain in accuracy as the campaign continued. Even with the missiles’ improved accuracy, cities became the attack’s focus. Conducting a psychological attack on cities was easier than trying to destroy a specific military site like an airfield.

The greater Tehran and Baghdad urban areas sprawled for hundreds of square miles and had populations counted in the millions. Given each side did not have a warning system or a missile defense system, the population could do little except to prepare bomb shelters or leave the area. The only indication of an incoming missile strike was at warhead impact, as the vehicle attained speeds of Mach 1.5. The psychological impact of a missile that could kill many people quickly and allowed no defense terrorized the population. Ultimately, few died from these attacks, but their psychological effect created more impact than physical ones. Iran lost approximately 2,000 casualties and Iraq suffered only 1,000 losses in these attacks. These casualties were minor relative to the size of both capitals and major cities. Crowds could witness the destruction of a block or homes or large craters that forced people to speculate where the next Al-Husayn would land.

Iraq redoubled its efforts to panic the Iranian population. During the period, Iraqi air force pilots conducted over 400 sorties against urban and economic targets. Al-Husayn launch crews fired from 160 to 190 missiles against Tehran and Qom. Additionally, the Iraqis could use their SCUD-B stock to strike other border targets. The Al-Abbas was not ready for operation, but its flight testing and Iraqi propaganda statements continued to spew information about its future capabilities. The rate of Al-Husayn missile attacks was relatively low, about three per day during the “War of the Cities.” News reports concerning the possible Iraqi use of chemical weapons, however, chilled the Iranian population. The Iranian people became convinced that Baghdad had the will and capability to use chemical weapons against them, as reports surfaced about how Hussein authorized battlefield employment of his chemical munitions against Iranian military forces and later the Iraqi Kurdish population. Iranian military forces understood that the Al-Husayn and Al- Abbas also had the ability to carry chemical warheads. These fears forced Iranian populations to consider leaving Tehran and other cities. As the ballistic missile campaign intensified, people started to depart. Khomeini himself evacuated the capital. After news reports made his departure public, millions followed him. Approximately a third of Tehran’s population left for safety. While Iranian morale wavered, Iraqi confidence started to rise. The Iraqi strategy was starting to work.

Iran responded to the Iraqi attacks with its own SCUD-Bs. Iran launched about sixty-one ballistic missiles. These missiles represented most of Iran’s remaining SCUD stocks. Given the quantitative disadvantage in missiles and Iraq’s seemingly large production capability, Tehran needed to evaluate its position. Unlike the failed German V-2 campaign to pressure the British to negotiate, the War of the Cities had succeeded in forcing Iran to consider ending the war. Khomeini could not face a continued bloody war with his neighbor, economic atrophy, and a panicked population. Tehran considered the potential for continued Iraqi attacks with ballistic missiles and aircraft, and the Iranian government decided to accept a ceasefire with Baghdad in July 1988. The Iran-Iraq borders did not change appreciably; Hussein had gambled and received little for his nation’s sacrifice.

Al-Husayn missile attacks helped end the conflict. Given the prospects for peace, the growing discontent for additional casualties, fears of additional attacks, and no capability to win the war, the missile strikes took their toll. The United States had also entered the conflict by protecting commerce and ensuring security for oil deliveries in the Persian Gulf, one of the main weapons Iran used against Iraq. Given the crumbling military, political, and economic conditions in Iran, the ballistic missile launches created conditions that caused a faster unraveling of Tehran’s strategic position. Conventionally armed missiles and strategic bombardment proved a capable weapon against populations that were already in a fragile state to capitulate. Fortunately, Hussein did not arm the Al-Husayn with either a chemical or a biological weapon. With this success, Iraq would continue to develop advanced weapons programs. This lesson was not lost to Tehran, as that government also worked to develop long-range missile systems. Each side would later seek to arm these vehicles with an ultimate weapon, a nuclear device.