Maori Wars

There had been intermittent fighting with the Maoris for more than a decade; in fact, since colonists first began arriving in numbers on these beautiful but remote islands. The three numbered Maori wars were merely periods of exceptional activity and crisis in a running struggle as Europeans, mostly British, wrested the land from the natives: the intelligent, brave and warlike Maoris. These almost-forgotten wars are among the most disgraceful episodes in British imperial history for they sprang from stark, naked, unabashed greed.

The cause of the fighting was always the same: land. The Europeans wanted it and were even willing to pay for it, but most of the Maoris simply did not want to part with it. The Maori, of whatever tribe, always had a special affection for his tribal land; it was his most treasured possession. ‘The blood of man is the land,’ said a Maori proverb. By the Treaty of Waitangi the colonists had guaranteed the Maori the undisputed possession of his lands for as long as he wanted them. But the ever-increasing number of colonists – rising from 59,413 in 1858 to 218,637 in 1867 – also wanted land.

Disputes about land always ended in fighting. There were atrocities. Soon it was war. The New Zealanders called on the mother country for help, but, far from offering support, the British government announced that in accordance with a self-reliance policy it had established in respect to colonies it intended to withdraw the one Imperial regiment in New Zealand: the 18th Foot (later the Royal Irish, disbanded in 1922). There were screams of terror from the New Zealanders.

The British Government had not favoured the idea of colonizing New Zealand in the first place, and the Colonial Office had strongly disapproved of the policy adopted by the New Zealand colonial government of confiscating the Maoris’ land. The colonists now outnumbered the Maoris and they were considered big enough to take care of themselves. Lord Granville put the matter succinctly and bluntly: ‘the present distress of the colony arises mainly from two circumstances: the discontent of the natives consequent on the confiscation of their land, and the neglect by successive governments to place on foot a force sufficiently formidable to overawe that discontent’.

In spite of the uproar concerning the announced withdrawal of the 18th Regiment, it was, after some delay, withdrawn. In spite of the colonists’ fears, when the last detachment of the regiment left New Zealand on 24 February 1870 the Maori wars ended. The colonial forces did, after all, defeat the Maoris. The fighting continued until the Maoris had been decimated and the Europeans had taken all the land they wanted. But even when the fighting ended the New Zealanders still lived in fear, while the Maoris still lived with the fading hope that they would one day regain their land. As late as 1928 a Maori was quoted as saying: ‘We have been beaten because the Pakeha [European] outnumbers us in men. But we are not conquered or rubbed out, and not one of these Pakeha can name the day we … sued for peace. The most that can be said is that on such and such a date we left off fighting.’ Today the Maoris are on the increase, and they are now, finally, as numerous as they were 100 years ago, but they have less than a sixteenth of their original land holdings. Their hopes and the New Zealanders’ fears are ended. All live in peace under a socialist government.

Bay of Islands War (First Maori War, Hono Heke’s War) (1844-1847)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Maori peoples of New Zealand vs. British settlers

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): North Island, New Zealand

DECLARATION: No formal declaration

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Maori, resentful of Europeans’ encroachments on their lands, the subjugation of their chiefs to British authority, and the ill effects of British settlement upon their culture, attacked a British garrison on North Island.

OUTCOME: Fighting ended with the defeat of the Maori warriors, and peace continued for most of the following 15 years.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Maori, 700 warriors; Britain, 1,500

CASUALTIES: Maori, 260; British, 57


Since Captain James Cook’s (1728-79) explorations of New Zealand in 1769-70, European whalers, sealers, and traders insinuated a capitalist system that tied New Zealand’s inhabitants to Europe’s economy. Soon settlers followed sailors and traders, and they brought with them a hunger for native Maori lands. Britain annexed New Zealand in 1838 and established means, initially acceptable to the Maori, for European land purchases in exchange for Maori protection. But by means legal and not, the Europeans, too quickly to suit the Maori, appropriated lands and thus threatened Maori culture. The tension between New Zealanders and Europeans exploded into the WAIRAU AFFRAY in 1843 over contested land purchases illegally made by the New Zealand Land Company. A settlement favorable to the Maori satisfied them but did not solve the ongoing contest for land.

A local Maori chief, Hone Heke (dates unknown), marched on the British garrison of Russell, or Kororareka, on July 8, 1844, and cut down the British flagpole, a symbolic act of his resentment toward the European presence. The following January he did it twice more. The British had had enough and, after re-erecting the pole, built a blockhouse around it. Undaunted, Hone Heke, with another chief, Kawiti, and 700 warriors, marched on Kororareka on March 11, seizing the blockhouse and cutting the pole down for the fourth time. The chief was not finished. The Maori warriors then advanced on the town and sacked it, forcing both the townspeople and the undermanned garrison to flee.

The governor general, Captain Robert FitzRoy (1805-65), ordered a punitive expedition into the field against the rebels, but Heke and Kawiti quickly annihilated the force in two short engagements. FitzRoy was recalled and replaced by Captain George Grey (1812-98). Grey quickly sent a large force into the field and attacked the heart of traditional Maori warfare, the pa. A pa is the base of operations for Maori warfare both spiritually and tactically. It is also a fortification. The force first attacked Kawiti’s pa in January and defeated it without much struggle. Grey’s troops then attacked Hone Heke’s pa at Ruapekapeka on January 11, 1846, and quickly overran it. Heke did not acknowledge defeat but vowed not to take the field against the British again. Although indiscriminate skirmishes continued for the next year, the fighting was essentially over, but the land disputes would resume with a vengeance in the FIRST TARANAKI WAR (Second Maori War) of 1860.

First Taranaki War, (1860-1861)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Great Britain vs. the Maori tribes

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Taranaki region, North Island, New Zealand


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The British sought possession of land ceded by a certain Maori sub-chief.

OUTCOME: Most of the land was seized and an uneasy truce maintained after retrocession of a small parcel of land to the Maori.


CASUALTIES: The entire period of the First, Second, and Third Taranaki Wars resulted in the loss of 54 percent of the Maori population, at least 27,000 persons.

TREATIES: Truce of 1861

In colonial New Zealand, as in the Indian Wars in the United States throughout the 19th century, tribal members frequently disputed land concessions and other agreements chiefs and other tribal members made with white government authorities. In 1859, a minor chief of the Maori tribe in the Taranaki region of North Island sold to British colonial interests land along the Waitara River. His tribe repudiated the cession and resisted confiscation of the land. Although the British had concluded the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, whereby tribal veto of various agreements was allowed, authorities violated the treaty by attacking Maori strongholds, called pas. Resistance was stiff, and the British made little headway until they finally succeeded in overrunning the critical Te Arei Pa in 1861. This prompted the Maori to conclude a truce in return for the British retrocession of a modest parcel of tribal land.

The truce was an uneasy one, frequently punctuated by outbursts of violence over a 12-year period. It is estimated that during this time significantly more than half of the Maori population of 50,000 was killed. Historians sometimes refer to this period as the Second Maori War; others recognize a Second TARANAKI WAR (1863-64) also called the Waikato War, and a Third TARANAKI WAR (1864-72).

Second Taranaki War, (Waikato War) (1863-1864)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Great Britain vs. the Maori tribes

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Waikato River area, North Island, New Zealand


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The British sought to occupy the area.

OUTCOME: Guerrilla resistance was suppressed in the Waikato River region but persisted elsewhere on North Island through 1872.




Also known as the Waikato War and treated by some historians as part of a larger Second Maori War, this was a resumption of the conflict taken up in the First TARANAKI WAR, which had ended in an uneasy truce. In April 1863, Sir George Grey (1812-98), the British governor-general of New Zealand, laid a military road directly into the disputed area of Waikato River. To do this, and to clear the way for European settlers, Grey attacked the Maori, driving them from Tataramaika “block.” The Maori responded with guerrilla attacks, which the British sought to suppress by neutralizing the pas, the Maori stronghold-fortresses, and counterattacking with riverborne gunboats and special ranger-style military units. The British were quite successful, suppressing guerrilla forces at Meremere and Rangiriri in 1863 and, the next year, destroying Orakau Pa. These triumphs put an end to Maori resistance in the Waikato River region, but elsewhere on New Zealand’s North Island guerrilla warfare continued as the Third TARANAKI WAR.

Third Taranaki War, (1864-1872)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Great Britain vs. the Maori tribes

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): North Island, New Zealand


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The British-especially the British East India Company-sought to settle Maori lands.

OUTCOME: The war produced no clear-cut victor; however, by 1872, with all sides exhausted and the Maori resistance all but crushed, the war petered out.


CASUALTIES: Unknown; but see this heading in First Taranaki War.


This was a resumption of the conflict between the British and Maori on New Zealand taken up in the First TARANAKI WAR (1860-61) and the Second TARANAKI WAR (1863-64). The Second Taranaki War had neutralized Maori resistance in the hotly contested Waikato River area but did not suppress resistance elsewhere on New Zealand’s North Island. Throughout this territory, the Maori Hau Hau, a religiously inspired warrior cult, its members motivated by a sincere belief that they were invulnerable and impervious to British bullets, fought with suicidal ferocity against British forces. At this point, the British government was eager to establish peace, but the British East India Company pushed for additional lands in New Zealand and continually provoked new outbreaks. A major attack was launched against the guerrillas at Weroroa Pa in 1865, resulting in a significant British victory. Despite this, the guerrillas continued to block colonial expansion. In 1868, the resistance of the Maori Hau Hau was supplemented by that of a new group, also religious and military in nature, the Ringatu.

From 1865 on, none of the three combatant elements, the British, the Hau Hau, or the Ringatu, could claim any clear-cut victories. The war wound down in 1872-the fighting stopped-not through any resolution of conflict, any claim of victory, or any concession of defeat but as a result of exhaustion on all sides. Nevertheless, by this time, resistance had been so worn down that only a single portion of New Zealand, King County, remained closed to colonial settlement.

Further reading: James Belich, Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict: The Maori, the British and the New Zealand Wars (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1989); Paul Moon, Hone Heke: Nga Puh Warrior (Auckland, N. Z.: David Bing Publishing, 2001). Keith Sinclair, The Origins of the Maori Wars (Wellington: New Zealand University Press, 1957).


Algerian War (1954–1962)

SS 11 missiles on a Dassault Flamant – Algerie

In 1956, using helicopters in a ground-attack role in the Algerian War.

First Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment, Algeria 1960


The Algerian War (also known as the Algerian War of Independence and the Algerian Revolution) was fought between Algerian nationalists known as the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front, FLN) and the French military between November 1, 1954, and March 19, 1962. The war led to a considerable expenditure of blood and treasure, saw some 1 million Frenchmen serve in the French Army in Algeria, claimed more than a score of French ministries, and brought the end of the French Fourth Republic, replaced by the Fifth Republic. The war also did not bring peace in Algeria.

France had established its control over Algeria more than a century earlier. On June 14, 1830, a French expeditionary force of some 34,000 men commanded by Marshal Louis Auguste Victor, Count de Ghaisnes de Bourmont, landed near Algiers. The pretext for the invasion was the insult to French consul to Algiers Pierre Duval, who had been struck with a flyswatter by Dey Husain in 1827. The French also sought to remove a threat to their Mediterranean trade, but the real reason behind French king Charles X’s plan to take Algiers was to shore up his unpopular French government, headed by Prince Jules de Polignac, and enable it to win the 1830 national elections.

Algiers was duly taken on July 5, although Charles X’s political gambit failed, as France experienced a revolution on July 28–30. In this July Revolution of 1830, Charles X was forced to abdicate in favor of his cousin Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, who nonetheless decided to continue French military operations in Algeria.

French control was initially largely limited to the coastal areas and cities. A succession of French commanders proceeded to fight a variety of opponents and campaigns in widely differing terrain, from the Atlas Mountains to salt marshes and the bled (interior). Beginning in 1835, Abd al-Qadir, emir of Mascara in western Algeria, declared jihad (holy war) and fought the French. Following a number of battles, he was ultimately forced to surrender in December 1847 to French general Thomas Robert Bugeaud de la Piconnerie, who also proved to be an adroit colonial administrator.

By 1847, some 50,000 Europeans had settled in Algeria. French control over the Algerian interior was not accomplished until the Second Empire of Napoleon III (1852–1870), however. European settlement increased following the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 and the German acquisition of Alsace and Lorraine. Many of the French who had lived in the two provinces chose to settle in Algeria rather than be under German rule.

While more Frenchmen immigrated to Algeria, the imbalance between them and the Muslim population ballooned. The Pax Franca brought finis to the tribal wars and disease that had kept the population relatively static. Another factor in the burgeoning Muslim population was the greatly improved medical care that dramatically decreased the infant mortality rate.

Unique among French colonies, Algeria became a political component of France, as the three French departments of Algiers, Constantine, and Oran all had limited representation in the French Chamber of Deputies. Nonetheless, the three Algerian departments were not like those of the Metropole, as only the European settlers, known as colons or pieds noirs, enjoyed full rights there. The colon and Muslim populations lived separate and unequal lives. The Europeans controlled the vast majority of the economic enterprises and wealth, while the Muslims tended to be agricultural laborers. Meanwhile, the French expanded Algeria’s frontiers deep into the Sahara.

While the colons sought to preserve their status, French officials vacillated between promoting colon interests and advancing reforms for the Muslims. Pro-Muslim reform efforts failed because of political pressure from the colons and their representatives in Paris. While French political theorists debated between assimilation and autonomy for Algeria’s Muslims, the Muslim majority were increasingly resentful of the privileged colon status.

World War I helped fuel Algerian Muslim nationalist sentiment, but the first Muslim political organizations appeared in the 1930s, the most important of these being Ahmed Messali Hadj’s Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques (Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties, MTLD). World War II brought opportunities for change. Following the Anglo-American landings in North Africa in November 1942, Muslim activists met with American envoy Robert Murphy and Free French general Henri Giraud concerning postwar freedoms but received no firm commitments. However, 60,000 Algerian Muslims who had fought for France were granted French citizenship.

It came as a great shock to the French when pent-up Muslim frustrations exploded on May 8, 1945, during the course of a victory parade approved by French authorities celebrating the end of World War II in Europe. A French plainclothes policeman shot to death a young marcher carrying an Algerian flag, and this touched off a bloody rampage, often referred to as the Sétif Massacre. Muslims attacked Europeans and their property, and violence quickly spread to outlying areas.

The French authorities then unleashed a violent crackdown that included Foreign Legionnaires and Senegalese troops, tanks, aircraft, and even naval gunfire from a cruiser in the Mediterranean. Settler militias and local vigilantes took a number of Muslim prisoners from jails and executed them. Major French military operations lasted two weeks, while smaller actions continued for a month. Some 4,500 Algerians were arrested; 99 people were sentenced to death, and another 64 given life imprisonment. Casualty figures remain in dispute. At least 100 Europeans died. The official French figure of Muslim dead was 1,165, but this is certainly too low, and figures as high as 10,000 have been cited.

In March 1946 the French government announced a general amnesty and released many of the Sétif detainees, including moderate Algerian nationalist leader Ferhat Abbas, although his Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty political party, formed in 1938, was dissolved. The fierce nature of the French repression of the uprising was based on a perception that any leniency would be interpreted as weakness and would only encourage further unrest.

The Sétif Uprising, which was not followed by any meaningful French reform, drove a wedge between the two communities in Algeria. Europeans now distrusted Muslims, and the Muslims never forgave the violence of the repression. French authorities did not understand the implications of this. A number of returning Muslim veterans of the war, including Ahmed Ben Bella, now joined the more militant MTLD. Ben Bella went on to form the Organization Speciale and soon departed for Egypt to enlist the support of its leaders.

Genuine political reform proved impossible, as granting full representation to Algeria would have entailed giving it a quarter of the seats in the National Assembly. The result was the compromise Algerian Statute, approved by the French National Assembly in September 1947. For the first time, Algeria was recognized as having administrative autonomy. The heart of the statute, however, was the creation of an Algerian Assembly consisting of two coequal 60-member assemblies. Although all Algerians were classified as French citizens, the first college included all non-Muslim French citizens and those Muslims French citizens who had been so defined by virtue of military service or education. The second college provided for all other Muslims. A total of 469,023 Europeans and 63,194 Muslims were eligible to vote in the first college, and 1,301,072 Muslims were eligible to vote in the second college. Thus, for all practical purposes, the first college represented the 1.5 million Euro-peans, and the second represented the 9.5 million Muslims.

The deputies, while elected separately, voted together. To prevent the Muslims from having a majority by securing only one vote in the first college, a two-thirds vote could be demanded by the governor-general or 30 members of the Assembly. Designed to give the Muslims some voice in their governance while ensuring European control, the Algerian Statute proved to be a poor compromise. Still, it might have worked were it not for the fact that the mandatory elections, commencing in April 1948, were rigged. As a result, the period from 1948 to the start of the rebellion in 1954 was marked by increasing bitterness and conflict between the two Algerian communities.

Proindependence Algerian Muslims were emboldened by the May 1954 Viet Minh victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu during the Indochina War (1946–1954), and when Algerian Muslim nationalist leaders met Democratic Republic of Vietnam president Ho Chi Minh at the Bandung Conference in April 1955, he assured them that the French could be defeated. Ben Bella and his compatriots, having established the FLN on October 10, 1954, began the Algerian War on the night of October 31–November 1.


Early on November 1, 1954, armed members of the FLN carried out a number of small attacks across Algeria. The French government, which was then dealing with independence movements in neighboring Tunisia and Morocco, had not anticipated a similar development in Algeria. After all, Algeria had been French territory since 1830 (Tunisia had been acquired only in 1881 and Morocco in the period 1904–1911). Unlike Morocco and Tunisia, which were classed as protectorates, Algeria was held to be an integral part of France. Indeed, for some months the French people and press failed to recognize the significance of what was happening and chose to characterize the rebels as fellagha (outlaws).

There were valid reasons for the French to fight in order to retain Algeria. Unlike Indochina, it was in close proximity to France, just across the Mediterranean. The French had largely created modern Algeria, as the deys had only controlled a narrow coastal strip around Algiers itself. There were more than 1 million Europeans living there, and they would be unwilling to concede place to Arab nationalism. Finally, there was the French Army. Its professional soldiers had almost immediately been transferred from Indochina to Algeria. Believing strongly that they had been denied the resources necessary to win the Indochina War (1946–1954) and in the end had been sold out by their government, they were determined that this would not be the case in Algeria.

Ultimately France committed a force of 450,000 men to the war, and upwards of 1 million Frenchmen would serve there. Unlike the Indochina War, this included draftees. As the conflict intensified, French officials sought support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), arguing that keeping Algeria French would ensure that NATO’s southern flank would be safe from communism. As a part of France, Algeria was included in the original NATO Charter, but the French government position did not receive a sympathetic response in Washington or in other NATO capitals. Only too late did a succession of French governments attempt to carry out reform.

The FLN goal was to end French control of Algeria and drive out or eliminate the colon population. The FLN was organized in six military districts, or wilayas, along rigidly hierarchical lines. Wilaya 4, located near Algiers, was especially important, and the FLN was particularly active in Kabylia and the Aurés Mountains. The party tolerated no dissent. In form and style, it resembled Soviet bloc communist parties, although it claimed to offer a noncommunist and non-Western alternative ideology, articulated by Frantz Fanon. The FLN military arm was the Armée de Libération Nationale (Army of National Liberation, ALN).

Any hope of reconciliation between the two sides was destroyed by a major FLN military operation on August 20, 1954. On that date, its personnel, having infiltrated the port city of Philippeville, killed 71 colons and 52 pro-French Muslims (mostly local politicians), while the French police and military killed 134 ALN troops. On the same day, the ALN attacked and slaughtered European women and children living in the countryside surrounding Constantine while the men were at work. At El-Halia, a sulfur-mining community with some 120 Europeans living peacefully among 2,000 Algerian Muslims, 37 Europeans, including 10 children, were tortured and killed. Another 13 were badly wounded. Several hours later French paratroopers arrived, supported by military aircraft. The next morning they gathered about 150 Muslims together and executed them.

The French administration now allowed the settlers to arm themselves and form self-defense units, measures that the reformist governor-general Jacques Soustelle had earlier vetoed. European vigilante groups are reported to have subsequently carried out summary killings of Muslims. Soustelle reported a total of 1,273 Muslims killed in what he characterized as “severe” reprisals.

The Arab League strongly supported the FLN, while Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a source of weapons and other assistance. The French government’s grant of independence to both Tunisia and Morocco in March 1956 further bolstered Algerian nationalism. When Israeli, British, and French forces invaded Egypt in the Suez Crisis of 1956, the United States condemned the move and forced their withdrawal. The Algerian insurgents were emboldened by the French defeat. The French now also found themselves contending with FLN supply bases in Tunisia that they could neither attack nor eliminate. Also in 1956, the government of socialist premier Guy Mollet transferred the bulk of the French Army to Algeria.

The major engagement of the war was the battle for control of the Casbah district of Algiers, a district of some 100,000 people in the Algerian capital city. With the guillotining in Algiers in June 1956 of several FLN members who had killed Europeans, FLN commander of the Algiers Autonomous Zone Saadi Yacef received instructions to kill any European between the ages of 18 and 54 but no women, children, or old people. During a three-day span in June, Yacef’s roaming squads shot down 49 Europeans. It was the first time in the war that such random acts of terrorism had occurred in Algiers and began a spiral of violence there.

Hard-line European supporters of Algérie Française (French Algeria) then decided to take matters into their own hands, and on the night of August 10, André Achiary, a former member of the French government’s counterintelligence service, planted a bomb in a building in the Casbah that had supposedly housed the FLN, but the ensuing blast destroyed much of the neighborhood and claimed 79 lives. No one was arrested for the blast, and the FLN was determined to avenge the deaths.

Yacef, who had created a carefully organized network of some 1,400 operatives as well as bomb factories and hiding places, received orders to undertake random bombings against Europeans, a first for the capital. On September 30, 1956, three female FLN members planted bombs in the Milk-Bar, a cafeteria, and a travel agency. The later bomb failed to go off owing to a faulty timer, but the other two blasts killed three people and wounded more than 50, including a number of children. This event is generally regarded as the beginning of the Battle of Algiers (September 30, 1956–September 24, 1957).

Violence now took hold in Algiers. Both Muslim and European populations in the city were in a state of terror. Schools closed in October, and on December 28 Mayor Amédée Froger was assassinated.

On January 7, 1957, French governor-general Robert Lacoste called in General Raoul Salan, new French commander in Algeria, and Brigadier General Jacques Massu, commander of the elite 4,600-man 10th Colonial Parachute Division, recently arrived from Suez. Lacoste ordered them to restore order in the capital city, no matter the method.

In addition to his own men, Massu could call on other French military units, totaling perhaps 8,000 men. He also had the city’s 1,500-man police force. Massu divided the city into four grids, with one of his regiments assigned to each. Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Bigeard’s 3rd Colonial Parachute Regiment had responsibility for the Casbah itself.

The French set up a series of checkpoints. They also made use of identity cards and instituted aggressive patrolling and house-to-house searches. Massu was ably assisted by his chief of staff, Colonel Yves Godard, who soon made himself the expert on the Casbah. Lieutenant Colonel Roger Trinquier organized an intelligence-collection system that included paid Muslim informants and employed young French paratroopers disguised as workers to operate in the Casbah and identify FLN members. Trinquier organized a database on the Muslim civilian population. The French also employed harsh interrogation techniques of suspects, including the use of torture that included electric shock.

The army broke a called Muslim general strike at the end of January in only a few days. Yacef was able to carry out more bombings, but the French Army ultimately won the battle and took the FLN leadership prisoner, although Yacef was not captured until September 1957. Some 3,000 of 24,000 Muslims arrested during the Battle of Algiers were never seen again. The French side lost an estimated 300 dead and 900 wounded.

The Battle of Algiers had widespread negative impact for the French military effort in Algeria, however. Although the army embarked on an elaborate cover-up, its use of torture soon became public knowledge and created a firestorm that greatly increased opposition in metropolitan France to the war. It should be noted, however, that the French employed torture to force FLN operatives to talk, and some were murdered in the process. The FLN, on the other hand, routinely murdered captured French soldiers and civilian Europeans.

In an effort to cut off the FLN from outside support, the French also erected the Morice Line. Named for French minister of defense André Morice, it ran for some 200 miles from the Mediterranean Sea in the north into the Sahara in the south. The line was centered on an 8-foot tall, 5,000-volt electric fence that ran its entire length. Supporting this was a 50-yard-wide “killing zone” on each side of the fence rigged with antipersonnel mines. The line was also covered by previously ranged 105mm howitzers. A patrolled track paralleled the fence on its Algerian side. The Morice Line was bolstered by electronic sensors that provided warning of any attempt to pierce the barrier. Searchlights operated at night.

Although manning the line required a large number of French soldiers, it did significantly reduce infiltration by the FLN from Tunisia. By April 1958, the French estimated that they had defeated 80 percent of FLN infiltration attempts. This contributed greatly to the isolation of those FLN units within Algeria reliant on support from Tunisia. The French subsequently constructed a less extensive barrier, known as the Pedron Line, along the Algerian border with Morocco.

Despite victory in Algiers, French forces were not able to end the Algerian rebellion or gain the confidence of the colons. Some colons grew fearful that the French government was about to negotiate with the FLN, and in the spring of 1958 there were a number of plots to change the colonial government. Colon and army veteran Pierre Lagaillarde organized hundreds of commandos and began a revolt on May 13, 1958. A number of senior army officers, determined that the French government not repeat what had happened in Indochina, lent support. Massu quickly formed the Committee of Public Safety, and Salan assumed its leadership.

The plotters would have preferred someone more frankly authoritarian, but Salan called for the return to power of General Charles de Gaulle. Although de Gaulle had been out of power for more than a decade, on May 19 he announced his willingness to assume authority.

Massu was prepared to bring back de Gaulle by force if necessary and plans were developed to dispatch paratroopers to metropolitan France from Algeria, but this option was not needed. On June 1, 1958, the French National Assembly invested de Gaulle with the premiership; technically he was the last premier of the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle ultimately established a new French political framework, the Fifth Republic, with greatly enhanced presidential powers.

De Gaulle visited Algeria five times between June and December 1958. At Oran on June 4, he said about France in Algeria that “she is here forever.” A month later, he proposed 15 billion francs for Algerian housing, education, and public works, and that October he suggested an even more sweeping proposal, known as the Constantine Plan. The funding for the massive projects, however, was never forthcoming. True reform was never realized and in any case was probably too late to impact the Muslim community.

Algeria’s new military commander, General Maurice Challe, arrived in Algeria on December 12, 1958, and launched a series of attacks on FLN positions in rural Kabylia in early 1959. The Harkis, Muslim troops loyal to France, guided special mobile French troops called Commandos de Chasse. An aggressive set of sorties deep in Kabylia made considerable headway, and Challe calculated that by the end of October his men had killed half of the FLN operatives there. A second phase of the offensive was to occur in 1960, but by then de Gaulle, who had gradually eliminated options, had decided that Algerian independence was inevitable.

In late August 1959, de Gaulle braced his generals for the decision and then addressed the nation on September 19, 1959, declaring his support for Algerian self-determination. Fearing for their future, some die-hard colons created the Front Nationale Français and fomented another revolt on January 24, 1960, in the so-called Barricades Week. Mayhem ensued when policemen tried to restore order, and a number of people were killed or wounded. General Challe and the colony’s governor, Paul Delouvrier, fled Algiers on January 28, but the next day de Gaulle, wearing his old army uniform, turned the tide via a televised address to the nation. On February 1 army units swore loyalty to the government, and the revolt quickly collapsed.

Early in 1961, increasingly desperate Ultras formed a terrorist group called the Secret Army Organization (OAS). It targeted colons whom they regarded as traitors and also carried out bombings in France and attempted to assassinate de Gaulle himself.

The Generals’ Putsch of April 20–26, 1961, was a serious threat to de Gaulle’s regime. General Challe wanted a revolt limited to Algeria, but Salan and his colleagues (Ground Forces chief of staff General André Zeller and recently retired inspector general of the air force Edmond Jouhaud) had prepared for a revolt in France as well. The generals had the support of many frontline officers in addition to almost two divisions of troops. The Foreign Legion arrested commander of French forces in Algeria General Fernand Gambiez, and paratroopers near Rambouillet prepared to march on Paris after obtaining armored support. The coup collapsed, however, as police units managed to convince the paratroopers to depart, and army units again swore loyalty to de Gaulle.

On June 10, 1961, de Gaulle held secret meetings with FLN representatives in Paris, and then on June 14 he made a televised appeal for the FLN’s so-called provisional government to negotiate an end to the war. Peace talks during June 25–29 failed to lead to resolution, but de Gaulle was set in his course. During his visit to Algeria in December, he was greeted by large pro-FLN Muslim rallies and anticolon riots. The United Nations recognized Algeria’s independence on December 20, and in a national referendum on January 8, 1962, the French public voted in favor of Algerian independence.

A massive exodus of colons was already under way. Nearly 1 million returned to their ancestral homelands (half of them went to France, while most of the rest went to Spain and Italy). Peace talks resumed in March at Évian, and both sides reached a settlement on May 18, 1962.


The formal handover of power occurred on July 4, 1962, when the FLN’s Provisional Committee took control of Algeria, and in September Ben Bella was elected Algeria’s first president. The Algerian War claimed some 18,000 French military deaths, 3,000 colon deaths, and about 300,000 Muslim deaths.

The Europeans were encouraged to leave (la valise ou le cercueil, meaning “the suitcase or the coffin”), and some 1.5 million did so. Perhaps half relocated in Metropolitan France, and most of the remainder went to Spain or Italy. Some 30,000 Europeans remained in Algeria. Ostensibly granted equal rights in the peace treaty, they instead faced official discrimination by the FLN government and the loss of much of their property. The FLN-led Algerian government, headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Ben Bella, promptly confiscated the colons’ abandoned property and established a decentralized socialist economy and a one-party state.

The Harkis, those Algerian Muslims who fought on the French side in the war, suffered terribly. Some 91,000 and their family members settled in France. At least 30,000 and perhaps as many as 150,000 Harkis and their family members, including young children, who remained in Algeria were subsequently butchered by either the FLN or lynch mobs.

Ben Bella’s attempt to consolidate his power, combined with popular discontent with the economy’s inefficiency, sparked a bloodless military coup by Defense Minister Houari Boumédienne in June 1965. In 1971, the government endeavored to stimulate economic growth by nationalizing the oil industry and investing the revenues in centrally orchestrated industrial development. Boumédienne’s military-dominated government took on an increasingly authoritarian cast over the years.

Algeria’s leaders sought to retain their autonomy, joining their country to the Non-Aligned Movement, and Boumédienne phased out French military bases. Although Algeria denounced perceived American imperialism and supported Cuba, the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, Palestinian nationalists, and African anticolonial fighters, it maintained a strong trading relationship with the United States. At the same time, Algeria cultivated economic ties with the Soviet Union, which provided the nation with military equipment and training. When the Spanish relinquished control of Western Sahara in 1976, Morocco attempted to annex the region, leading to a 12-year low-level war with Algeria, which supported the guerrilla movement fighting for the region’s independence.

Diplomatic relations with the United States warmed after Algeria negotiated the release of American hostages in Iran in 1980 and Morocco fell out of U.S. favor by allying with Libya in 1984.

In 1976, a long-promised constitution that provided for elections was enacted, although Algeria remained a one-party state. When Boumédienne died in December 1978, power passed to Chadli Bendjedid, the army-backed candidate. Bendjedid retreated from Boumédienne’s increasingly ineffective economic policies, privatizing much of the economy and encouraging entrepreneurship. However, accumulated debt continued to retard economic expansion. Growing public protests from labor unions, students, and Islamic fundamentalists forced the government to end restrictions on political expression in 1988.

The Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS) proved to be the most successful of the new political parties. After victories by the FIS in local elections in June 1990 and national elections in December 1991, Bendjedid resigned, and a new regime under Mohamed Boudiaf imposed martial law, banning the FIS in March 1992. In response, Islamist radicals began a guerrilla war that has persisted to the present, taking a toll of 150,000 or more lives. Although Algeria’s military government managed to gain the upper hand in the struggle after 1998, Islamic groups continue to wage war on the state, which maintains control through brutal repression and tainted elections.

Atrax in 198 BC

At Atrax in 198 BC, Quinctius Flamininus threw up a siege embankment to carry rams up to the wall, and although his troops entered the town through the resulting breach they were repulsed by the Macedonian garrison. The siege tower that Flamininus then deployed almost fell over when one of its wheels sank in the rutted embankment, and the Romans finally gave up (Livy 32.18.3). Their failure can probably be attributed to inexperience in mechanized siege warfare: first, their siege embankment was obviously insufficiently compacted to bear the weight of heavy machinery; and second, they seem rarely to have used a siege tower before.

PHILIP V. Philip V of Macedon reigned more than a century after Alexander the Great. His family were the Antigonids, who had risen to power some 80 years before. Mercurial by nature, capable of military brilliance as well as acts of colossal stupidity, Philip was a brave and charismatic general who spent his entire reign fighting enemies to the north, south, east and west. The war with Rome was to prove his nemesis.

TITUS QUINCTIUS FLAMININUS. Flamininus was a fine example of the politician who let nothing get in his way. Serving as various types of magistrate during the war with Hannibal, he succeeded in becoming consul – one of the two most senior magistrates in the Republic – at the tender age of 30. Unusually for the time, he could write and speak Greek, but his love of all things Hellenic did not stop him spearheading a successful invasion of Macedon.

Northern Greece


Under Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, Macedon rose to a position of pre-eminence never equalled by any Greek city state before or after. By the late third century BC, the kingdom had seen better days. That said, although it was much reduced in size, it remained the dominant military power in Greece and continued to exert huge influence over the region. Naturally, this made it unpopular. Macedon ruled the central region of Thessaly, and through three well-situated fortresses (Chalcis, Demetrias and the Acrocorinth, the so-called `Fetters of Greece’) exerted military control over the area around Athens, as well as on the Peloponnese peninsula. Macedon also ruled part of the coastline of Asia Minor, as well as some of the islands in the Aegean Sea.

The rest of Greece remained divided into city states, small powers ruled by their own citizens. It’s important to stress here that there was almost no sense of `Greekness’ at this time. People identified themselves by the place they lived in, and were often at odds with those from other towns or city states. Powers such as Athens and Sparta, which had ruled supreme centuries before, were but shadows of their former selves. Thebes no longer existed, having been crushed by Alexander, and Corinth lay under Macedonian control. Aetolia, in west-central Greece, was one of the stronger city states, and a bitter enemy of Macedon. Other powers included Argos, Elis and Messenia on the Peloponnese, tiny Acarnania in southwest Greece, and Boeotia, the latter two both being allied to Macedon.

Carthage, Macedon and the Seleucid Empire – had all been beaten by Rome in war. In a mere 50 years, the Republic had morphed from a regional power with few territories into one that utterly dominated the Mediterranean world. This seismic change set Rome on the road to becoming an empire, a self-fulfilling path from which there was no turning back.

The Republic’s war with Carthage lasted for 17 bitter years, from 218 BC to 201 BC. It was a conflict initiated by the Carthaginian military genius Hannibal Barca. Invading Italy by crossing the Alps in winter, he inflicted crushing defeats on the Romans at the Trebbia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae. Yet Hannibal never succeeded in forcing his enemies to surrender. Obdurate and resilient, Rome recruited new legions to replace those that had been annihilated, and fought on. It was a long, drawn-out war that spanned four fronts: mainland Italy, Sicily, Spain and, lastly, Carthage, in what is now Tunisia.

Old grudges die hard

One might think that the Romans would have had enough of war once victory over Hannibal and Carthage had been secured. Far from it. Less than two years after the decisive Battle of Zama, the Republic opened hostilities with King Philip V of Macedon. his wasn’t a conflict that had come from nowhere, however: the Romans and Philip had history with one another.

In 215 BC, the year after the Battle of Cannae, the chance interception of a ship off the southern coast of Italy had brought to light a most unwelcome revelation. Documents seized by the Roman navy proved that Philip and Hannibal had come together in secret alliance against the Republic. The Senate immediately sent a fleet to the east, its task to contain the Macedonian King. Events in Illyria soon took on a life of their own, and in 214 BC, war broke out between Rome and Macedon.

The conflict lingered on until 205 BC, a stop-start affair that played out all around the Greek coastline. Macedon fought alone, while the Romans had allies throughout the region. here were sieges, lightning-fast raids and withdrawals, victories and defeats on both sides. When peace was finally negotiated, the Republic’s war with Hannibal was nearing its final act – it suited the Romans to end the conflict with Macedon. Aetolia, Rome’s chief Greek ally, had had enough too. Philip, on the other hand, had reason to be content, having lost none of his territories and gained part of Illyria.

In the five years that followed, Hannibal was defeated by Scipio at Zama, while Philip busied himself campaigning on the coast of Asia Minor, where he had some successes against Rhodes, the Kingdom of Pergamum and others. For every achievement, however, it seemed Philip suffered a setback. He besieged but failed to take the city of Pergamum, and in a naval battle at Chios he lost a large part of his fleet, as well as thousands of sailors and soldiers. he most humiliating incident was the six months in the winter of 201-200 BC that Philip spent barricaded in a bay in western Turkey by a Pergamene and Rhodian fleet. Finally escaping by night, slipping past the ships of his enemies, he made his way back to Macedon.

Whatever other misjudgements Philip had made, he had been astute enough to avoid conflict with the powerful Seleucid Empire, which controlled most of modern-day Turkey and sprawled eastwards into the Middle East, Afghanistan and India. He also entered into a secret agreement with the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III, that allowed both powers to attack settlements belonging to Ptolemaic Egypt.

Rome’s revenge

Philip’s actions in Asia Minor were to have major repercussions. In the autumn of 201 BC, Rhodes and Pergamum both sent embassies to Rome pleading for aid against him. Despite having rebuffed Aetolian emissaries asking for the same help only a few years before, this time the Senate listened – but its first motion for war was rejected by the Centuriate, the people’s assembly.

It is no surprise that the very people who had bled and died in vast numbers during the struggle against Hannibal were reluctant to pick up their swords and shields again so soon, but their resistance was short-lived. Politicians have always been prone to ignoring decisions made by plebiscite, and after six months – and in all likelihood, after some significant back-room politicking – the Centuriate reversed its decision.

It was late in the summer of 200 BC before an army was dispatched to Illyria. he chosen commander was Publius Sulpicius Galba, an experienced politician and leader who had served in various positions during the war with Hannibal, including that of consul. Setting up base near the city of Apollonia by September, Galba sent a legion up one of the several mountain valleys that led to Macedon. After a short siege, the town of Antipatreia was taken and sacked. Prudently deciding to end his year’s campaign before winter arrived, Galba consolidated his position in Apollonia and waited for the spring.

Philip did the same in Macedon, but as soon as the weather began to improve in early 199 BC, he marched his army west from his capital of Pella. It was difficult to know which route Galba would use to invade; history doesn’t record whether Philip had scouts watching every valley, but it would have made sense to do so.

In the event, Galba chose the Apsus Valley. Philip rushed to defend it, but Rome’s legions smashed past his phalanx and into western Macedon. Although the defeat was incomplete – Philip’s army escaped almost entirely – this was a pivotal moment in the war, when the extraordinarily maneuverable Roman maniple proved itself superior to the rigidly structured phalanx.

Galba’s army marched eastward in search of Philip’s host, and a game of cat and mouse ensued through the summer, with each side seeking battle on its own terms. A victory for the Romans at Ottolobus, when Philip almost lost his life recklessly leading his Companion Cavalry against the enemy, was countered by a Macedonian win at Pluinna. Sadly, the locations of both Ottolobus and Pluinna have been lost to history.

The harvest of 199 BC arrived without a conclusive outcome. Galba, far from his base of Apollonia, with his supply lines at risk of being cut by snow or the Macedonians, took the sensible option and retreated to the Illyrian coast.

Titus Quinctius Flamininus

In many ways, the politics of 2,000 years ago were no different to today: the new man always likes to take control. Although it was common in the mid-Republic for a general to be left in command of the war he was prosecuting, Galba found himself supplanted by the current consul, Villius, soon after his return to Apollonia. Villius in turn was replaced only a few months later, in early 198 BC, by the brand-new consul, Titus Quinctius Flamininus thirty years old – a young age to be in command of a large army – he was a formidable figure who took the invasion in his stride. A lover of all things Hellenic, he could speak and write Greek, something unusual for Romans of the time.

Flamininus decided to try a different valley to Galba, that of the River Aous. He found his path blocked by Philip’s phalanx and an impressive series of defences, leading to a 40-day stand-off during which the Romans must have mounted many unsuccessful attacks. A dramatic meeting between Flamininus and Philip took place during this time, across the Aous. The Roman historian Livy records that Flamininus demanded Philip remove his garrisons from all Greek towns and pay reparations to those whose lands he had ravaged: Athens, Pergamum and Rhodes. Unpalatable though these demands were – being issued to a Hellenic king on his own territory by a non-Greek invader – Philip conceded. Unsurprisingly, he balked at Flamininus’ next demand, that he should surrender the towns of Thessaly to their own populations, reversing a legacy of Macedonian control of more than 150 years.

The impasse resumed, but soon after a local guide was found to lead a Roman force up and around the Macedonian positions. Attacked from in front and behind, Philip’s army broke and fled; it was thanks only to the phalanx that a complete slaughter was prevented. Pursued eastward, Philip had to abandon the same Thessaly he had refused to deliver to Flamininus only days before. It was a humiliating moment for the Macedonian King, all the more so as he had to torch his own farmland and towns to deny supplies to the enemy.

Defeat seemed imminent, but redemption was to come from an unexpected quarter. Despite the loss of the strategically important fortress of Gomphi, Philip’s forces proved victorious at another stronghold, Atrax. When the Roman catapults battered a hole in the wall and the legionaries charged in, they were faced by the phalanx in a tightly confined space. he sources are silent on details, but what happened there persuaded Flamininus to retreat from Thessaly.

Fine September weather meant that the year’s campaign did not come to an end at the usual time. Flamininus’s considerable successes saw the Greek city states, many of which had been playing neutral, move towards the Roman camp – or in the case of Aetolia and Achaea, join it outright. Several towns in Boeotia fell to the legions, and the mighty fortress of the Acrocorinth was besieged by a combined force of Romans, Pergamenes and Achaeans. his attack failed, but it signalled the end of Philip’s ability to retain territories outside Macedon. he future looked bleak.

Macedonian phalanx

The Romans had been fighting the Macedonian phalanx for more than a century. Pyrrhus defeated the Romans with it in the early third century, the Carthaginians in Africa in the middle of the century did as well, and Hannibal did the same later. In 197 bc the Romans had won a terrifying victory against Perseus’s father at Cynoscephalae, a battle that vividly illustrated the terrible power of the phalanx’s charge, even on unsuitable ground. In the year 198 bc before Cynoscephalae, the Roman siege of Atrax had failed when a Macedonian phalanx drawn up in a breach in the wall had proved quite impervious to Roman attack. Polybius’s judgment that “when the phalanx has its characteristic virtue and strength nothing can sustain its frontal attack or withstand the charge” will have been no news to Roman commanders. The phalanx’s fatal flaw, Polybius says, is that it requires flat terrain so that it can preserve its close order. Perseus’s father’s unwise decision to fight on broken ground allowed the Romans to defeat him at Cynoscephalae. But Aemilius Paullus consented to fight the Macedonian phalanx on a plain, ideally suited to it, on ground that Perseus had chosen for exactly that reason.

Crisis of conference

In likely recognition of this, Philip agreed to a conference with Flamininus and his allies in November 198 BC. It also suited the wily Flamininus to negotiate, because in Rome, consular elections were around the corner. If he was to be replaced (as he had done to Villius) then a peace treaty with Philip was the best option; if his command was renewed, on the other hand, Flamininus could fight Macedon to a finish.

Three days of heated negotiations without agreement saw Philip request to send an embassy to Rome; he would abide, he said, by the decision of the Senate. Flamininus agreed, knowing full well that once there, Philip would be asked to surrender the three fortresses that protected Macedon to the south – the so-called `Fetters of Greece’, Acrocorinth, Chalcis and Demetrias. And so it proved. Flamininus’ command was renewed, and Philip’s outwitted ambassadors could not agree to the Senate’s demand to evacuate the Fetters. Both parties retired for the winter.

In spring 197 BC, the war resumed. Rather than in mountain valleys, this year the fighting would take place in Thessaly. By May, both armies were marching towards each other on the coast. Taking account of his allies, Flamininus had about 26,000 men; Philip’s troops were of similar strength, including 16,000 phalangists.

Skirmishes and maneuvering saw both parties march westward, separated by a range of hills. As is often the case with battles of vital importance, the fighting began by accident when Flamininus’s scouts clashed with Philip’s advance force in bad weather, atop the hills of Cynoscephalae. Reinforcements were sent by both sides as the skirmish spiralled out of control and, before long, both commanders had deployed their armies.

The phalanx falters

Unhappy with the ground and lacking half of his phalanx (which was out scouting), Philip went to battle reluctantly. At first, things went well, with his phalangists driving the Roman left flank down the hillside towards their own camp. Victory might have seemed possible, but things changed fast when Flamininus led his right flank up towards the second half of Philip’s phalanx, which had arrived late to the battle. Panicked by the Romans’ elephants, these disorganised phalangists broke and ran.

Misfortune then turned into disaster for Philip when a quick-thinking Roman officer broke away from Flamininus’ position with several thousand legionaries and attacked the exposed flank and rear of the remaining half of the phalanx. Unable to defend themselves, the phalangists were slain in large numbers; the rest fled the field.

The defeat did not see Philip removed from his throne by Flamininus. Rome was well aware of the threat posed by the wild peoples to the north of Macedon and the Seleucid Empire to its east. Philip could serve nicely as a buffer, while also paying reparations and sending one of his sons to Rome as a hostage.

Effectively, Cynoscephalae signalled the end of Macedonian and Greek independence. he city states that had allied themselves to the Republic would realise this too late, and just a year later, in 196 BC, the Aetolians lamented how the Romans had unshackled the feet of the Greeks only to put a collar around their necks.

The Streets of Mexico City

“General Scott Entering Mexico City, 1851.” Carl Nebel captures the tension of General Scott’s entrance into Mexico City’s grand plaza on September 14, 1847. Dragoons cluster around Scott, protecting him from harm, while cannons face the square, ready to fend off attackers. A stone-throwing Mexican in the lower left and armed men on the roof make clear that the United States may have captured the capital but has hardly won the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.

Santa Anna, had recovered from his humiliation at Cerro Gordo. In the face of taunts and harassment on the streets of Mexico City, he reasserted his powers as dictator over the Mexican Congress and began organizing a defense of the city. Announcing to the people that he would fight a “war without pity unto death,” he constructed fortifications around Mexico City and concentrated twenty-five thousand troops at three vulnerable points around the city.

On August 7, the fourteen thousand men under Scott’s command began their final seventy-five-mile march to Mexico City. As they crested a mountain pass, they looked down on the Valley of Mexico. Many were overcome with emotion. Illinois colonel George Moore, a good friend of John Hardin’s, was one of the few twelve-month volunteers who reenlisted, despite his growing doubts about the war. He later wrote that the war “left a reproach upon” the United States “which ages upon ages will fail to remove.” But in 1847 the view from ten thousand feet amply repaid his decision to stay on as an aide-de-camp. “A full and unobstructed view of the peerless valley or basin of Mexico, with its lakes and plains, hills and mountains, burst upon our astonished sight, presenting a scene of matchless prospective that would bid defiance to the pencil of the most gifted landscape painter.” The troops then descended, intent on capturing a fortified city of two hundred thousand, surrounded by marshland, lakes, and a lava bed. And there was no retreat. The route back to Veracruz was riddled with murderous Mexican rancheros who wished them dead. The Duke of Wellington, watching events unfold from his lofty perch in England, declared that “Scott is lost—he cannot capture the city and he cannot fall back upon his base.”

It was the final stage of the American military plan, and it proved to be the bloodiest fighting of the war. As at Cerro Gordo, Captain Robert E. Lee discovered a route around the concentrated Mexican forces. This one led directly through a lava badland more than three miles wide. The Battle of Contreras on August 19 was a hard-fought struggle between evenly matched forces over jagged lava rock. Santa Anna was on the verge of crushing the Americans but pulled back abruptly, as he had at Buena Vista, taking a portion of the best soldiers off to defend the gates of the city. He missed another opportunity for victory.

That evening a cold, heavy rain began to fall, and troops on both sides spent a miserable night on the field. On the morning of August 20, desperate U.S. troops, braving lightning and pouring rain, divided their forces. They attacked the remaining Mexican troops from two directions and routed the enemy in minutes of fighting.

Scott had opened up a road to Mexico City. They marched into Churubusco, a small village of whitewashed adobe houses with red tile roofs and colorful bougainvillea vines. There they met Santa Anna. The Mexican troops, with the San Patricio battalion manning the artillery, fought valiantly on the muddy ground at the monastery convent of San Mateo. The San Patricios repeatedly tore flags of surrender out of the hands of their Mexican comrades, knowing that surrender meant death for their treason, but by the end of the afternoon Scott’s forces had prevailed. The U.S. Army was now only three miles from Mexico City. Santa Anna had lost a third of his troops over the previous few days. The U.S. Army sustained a thousand casualties.

Seventy-two of the San Patricios captured by the U.S. Army were tried in two courts-martial. Seventy were initially sentenced to death by hanging, but Scott pardoned five and reduced the sentences of fifteen to jail, fifty lashes, and branding of the letter D for deserter. John Reilly, who had deserted before the war began, was one of the sixteen who were whipped and branded. Sixteen of the captured men were hanged soon after trial, a spectacle that both Mexicans and Americans found “revolting.” The remaining thirty awaited execution.

The last stand of Santa Anna’s forces was at a line of interior defenses. Both armies were battered, and Scott’s troops were in no position to continue fighting. On August 24, Scott and Santa Anna agreed to an armistice for the purposes of opening negotiations. When an American wagon train entered Mexico City under the flag of truce in order to pick up supplies, it was attacked by the populace. Santa Anna did nothing to quell the riot. On September 6, the Mexican government formally terminated the armistice, and Santa Anna issued a proclamation to the residents of the capital that he would “preserve your altars from infamous violation, and your daughters and your wives from the extremity of insult.”

Scott still had to capture two fortified positions, a mass of stone buildings called Molino del Rey, and the imposing Chapultepec Castle half a mile to the east. General Worth attacked the Molino at dawn on September 8 in a frontal assault with his whole division. Worth’s hope that the mill was deserted proved to be mistaken, and Mexican artillery rained down on the Americans. It was the bloodiest battle of the war, as the infantry struggled and failed to storm the buildings and a sharp clash between rival cavalry decimated both sides. One column of Scott’s forces lost eleven of its fourteen officers, and reports circulated among the men that Mexican soldiers had slit the throats of wounded Americans. U.S. troops continued the assault, however, and eventually battered down a gate leading into the buildings. They continued fighting, room to room, until their opponent eventually withdrew. The Mexicans suffered two thousand casualties, and seven hundred Americans fell.

Four days later, Scott’s artillery began to bombard Chapultepec Castle. He had seven thousand remaining troops. The castle once had been the residence of Spanish royalty but was currently occupied by a Mexican military school. The following morning, September 13, the guns began firing at dawn, for two hours. Then the Americans began to scale the castle walls. They found that six of the military cadets, all teenagers, refused to fall back even after the Mexican army retreated. According to legend, one of them wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and jumped to his death in order to prevent the flag’s capture. In the aftermath of the defeat, los niños héroes were venerated by the people of Mexico.

The Battle of Chapultepec produced lasting heroes for Mexico but a crucial victory for the United States. As the victorious U.S. forces raised the American flag over the castle, the thirty remaining San Patricios were publicly executed in a mass hanging, despite pleas for clemency by priests, politicians, and “respectable ladies” of Mexico City. It left a “terrible impression” on the people of Mexico.

Scott pushed forward to the walls of Mexico City, and after a loss of another nine hundred men, he took control of one of the city gates. Santa Anna found it impossible to hold the city, and fled with his army toward the northern suburb of Guadalupe Hidalgo. A delegation from Mexico City approached Scott’s headquarters under a flag of truce and surrendered the city. At 7:00 a.m. on September 14, the American flag was raised in the capital, and General Scott, in his most elaborate uniform, rode proudly into the city to the cheers of his men and the terror of the civilian residents. According to twenty-nine-year-old Mexico City poet and journalist Guillermo Prieto, “demons, with flaming hair” and “swollen faces, noses like embers” roamed through the city, desecrating churches and turning houses “upside down.”

Military operations should have been over that day. Scott had conquered the Mexican capital after a dramatic series of military victories. But neither the people nor the government of Mexico were willing to negotiate. The army had no one to blame but itself for the Mexicans’ intransigence. Despite the best intentions of most of the officers, when it came to “conquering a peace,” U.S. troops were their own worst enemies. Northeastern Mexico was marked by “devastation, ruin, conflagration, death, and other depredations” committed by Taylor’s men against the region’s “inoffensive inhabitants.” One Mexican general wrote Taylor directly in May 1847 to learn if the U.S. Army intended to follow the laws of nations and fight in a civilized manner or continue to engage in warfare “as it is waged by savage tribes between each other.” Decades of Indian Wars had left their mark on U.S. combat.

With a stubborn enemy refusing to surrender, Scott’s troops settled into a lengthy occupation. Volunteers, drunk on stolen liquor, committed rape and murdered unarmed civilians, and soldiers were in turn murdered on a daily basis. The two countries seemed no closer to a peace treaty than when Taylor had first crossed the Rio Grande. Bands of guerrilla rancheros formed and launched merciless attacks on Scott’s men. At least twenty-five express riders, attempting to get news from central Mexico to Veracruz, were captured and killed, wounded, or tortured by Mexican guerrillas. The war that was going to be over as soon as it began now seemed endless.

Yet suddenly, after two months of squabbling, Trist and Scott were on good terms with each other. After some initial attempts at negotiating without Scott’s help, Trist realized that he needed the general on his side. Scott, also anxious for peace, reached a similar conclusion. Nicholas Trist was the only man in Mexico who could officially negotiate a treaty. When Trist again fell ill, Scott sent him a get-well note, a jar of guava jelly, and an invitation to move to his own much more comfortable lodgings for the period of his recovery. All three were gratefully accepted.

The two men discovered that they had more in common than they ever would have imagined, not the least of which was a belief that the war should be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible. Each man wrote to Washington in order to take back the nasty things he had said about the other. Scott called Trist “able, discreet, courteous, and amiable,” and asked that “all I have heretofore written … about Mr. Trist, should be suppressed.” He regretted the “pronounced misunderstanding” and assured the administration that since the end of June his communication with the diplomat had been “frequent and cordial.” Scott attributed the “offensive character” of Trist’s earlier letters to the effects of morphine. Trist also asked that his insulting letters about Scott be stricken from memory; “justice” demanded that his previous letters be withdrawn from public view.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given this chain of events, Secretary of War William Marcy had a nervous breakdown. In late August, he retreated from Washington for a monthlong recovery. In the meantime, the rapprochement between the general and diplomat became a friendship as the two men happily spent hours discussing literature, politics, and, above all else, the prospects for peace in Mexico. Trist had discovered Scott to be “affectionate, generous, forgiving and a lover of justice,” he happily wrote his wife. This development was more disturbing to Polk than their previous argument. Scott, it was clear, could not be trusted. A friendship between him and Trist could only lead to trouble.

So while there was ample reason for celebration, and plenty of ecstatic commemoration after the fall of Mexico City, for the most part matters were not going much better for James K. Polk than for the soldiers stationed in Mexico. The threat of guerrilla attack was one that Polk could fully identify with. His Democratic coalition had shattered over the Wilmot Proviso, and Democrats had lost control of the House of Representatives. Whigs would control the House when the Thirtieth Congress was seated in early December. The “growing unpopularity of the war” was news in London. Voices of protest against the war increased as the occupation dragged on through the fall, while at the same time a growing minority of Democratic expansionists began pushing for the annexation of the whole of Mexico as spoils of war. At a mass meeting in New York in support of annexing the entirety of Mexico, Sam Houston, the former president of the Republic of Texas, proclaimed the full “continent” a “birth-right” of the United States. “Assuredly as to-morrow’s sun will rise and pursue its bright course along the firmament of heaven, so certain it appears to my mind, must the Anglo Saxon race pervade … throughout the whole rich empire of this great hemisphere.” He was met with “great cheers” and cries of “annex it all” from the audience. The New York Herald assured readers that once annexed, Mexico, “like the Sabine virgins,” “will soon learn to love her ravisher.”

Polk was sympathetic to Houston’s vision, but the All-Mexico Movement, as it was known, did nothing to improve the prospects of peace. And peace, above all else, was what Polk dreamed about—on the rare occasions when he slept, that is. The vitriol and controversy combined with his ceaseless labor took an increasing toll on his fragile health. Night after night Sarah pleaded with him to stop work and come to bed, while members of his inner circle noted his “shortened and enfeebled step, and the air of languor and exhaustion which sat upon him.” Yet Polk kept going. What he needed was peace with honor, and as much of Mexico as he could take with it.

Burgundy and Armagnac: England’s Opportunity 1399-1413

Graham Turner’s Art – prints, cards and original paintings

Events across the Channel were also conspiring to prevent a lasting peace between France and England in the Hundred Years War. The growing rivalry among the Valois Princes of the Blood was to end by plunging their country into a French Wars of the Roses, and in consequence France would be unable to defend herself against invasion. It was to provide England with her greatest opportunity.

In 1392 Charles VI had gone mad while riding through a forest, slaying four of his entourage and even trying to kill his nephew. Later he would run howling like a wolf down the corridors of the royal palaces ; one of his phobias was to think himself made of glass and suspect anyone who came near of trying to shatter him. He recovered, but not for long, lucid spells alternating with increasingly lengthy bouts of madness-‘far out of the way, no medicine could help him,’ explains Froissart. (The cause may have been the recently diagnosed disease of porphyria, which was later to be responsible for George III’s insanity.)

When the King was crazy France was ruled by Burgundy, who annually diverted one-eighth to one-sixth of the royal revenues to his own treasury. When Charles was sane his brother Louis, Duke of Orleans, held power, no less of a bloodsucker than his uncle Philip. Louis hoped to use French resources to forward his ambitions in Italy, where he had a claim to Milan through his wife Valentina, the daughter and heiress of Gian Galeazzo Visconti (and a lady ‘of high mind, envious and covetous of the delights and state of this world’). He imposed savage new taxes and was also suspected of practising magic, becoming even more disliked than Burgundy. Frenchmen began to divide into two factions. Few can have realized that this was the birth of a dreadful civil war which would last for thirty years and put France at the mercy of the English. However, fighting did not break out for almost another two decades.

The French were stunned by the news of King Richard’s deposition. Henry IV hastily sent commissioners to confirm the truce and Charles VI’s government agreed, although the new English King owed a good deal of his home support to his repudiation of Richard’s policy of peace. Having bought time, Henry refused to send little Queen Isabel home. She was only restored to her family at the end of July 1400, without her jewels or her dowry; he explained that he was keeping them because King John’s ransom had not been paid in full.

In fact Henry was desperately short of money. During Richard II’s reign the average annual revenue from customs duties on exported wool had been £46,000, but by 1403 it had fallen to £26,000 ; later it rose but only to an average of £36,000. Calais cost the exchequer £17,000 a year and Henry could not pay its garrison ; eventually the troops mutinied and had to be bought off with loans from various rich merchants. Moreover the King was plagued by revolts by great magnates and by a full-scale national rising in Wales. Henry IV was therefore in no position to go campaigning in France, though everyone knew that he hoped to do so one day.

Louis of Orleans believed that the time was now ripe to conquer Guyenne. In 1402 the title of Duke of Guyenne was bestowed on Charles VI’s baby son, a gross provocation as Henry IV had already given it to the Prince of Wales. In 1404, with the approval of the French Council, Louis of Orleans began a systematic campaign against the duchy and took several castles. Henry thought of going to the aid of the Guyennois in person, but was only able to send Lord Berkeley with a small force. In 1405 the situation worsened, the Constable Charles d‘Albret overrunning the north-eastern borders, the Count of Clermont attacking over the Dordogne, and the Count of Armagnac advancing from south of the Garonne to menace Bordeaux. In 1406 the Mayor, Sir Thomas Swynborne, prepared the ducal capital for a siege after the enemy had reached Fronsac, Libourne and Saint-Emilion, almost on the outskirts of Bordeaux (and to the grave detriment of the vineyards). The Archbishop of Bordeaux wrote desperately to Henry ‘we are in peril of being lost’, and in a later letter reproached the King for abandoning them. Somehow the Bordelais beat off the attack, defeating the French in a river battle on the Gironde in December 1406. The other Guyennois cities were also loyal to the Lancastrians ; even when occupied by the French Bergerac appealed to the English for protection. When in 1407 Orleans failed to take Blaye (the last stronghold on the Gironde before Bordeaux), he and his troops, already disheartened by disease and unending rain, withdrew in despair. Guyenne was left in peace to make a full recovery.

The French offensive had not been confined to Guyenne. Privateers roamed the Channel and the Count of Saint-Pol raided the Isle of Wight in 1404, demanding tribute in the name of Richard II’s Queen though with scant success. An attack on Dartmouth was also unsuccessful while an attempt to take Calais failed disastrously. In July 1404 Charles VI concluded an alliance with Owain Glyndwr whom he recognized as Prince of Wales ; but a French expedition of 1,000 men-at-arms and 500crossbowmen was prevented from sailing by bad weather. The force which eventually landed at Milford Haven the following year was too small to be of much use to the Welsh; in any case Owain’s rising was already doomed. In 1407 dramatic developments in France precluded any further interference in the affairs of Wales, let alone of England.

In 1400 the French monarchy had once again appeared to be the strongest power in western Europe. It was France who mounted the Crusade of Nicopolis in 1396 to aid the Hungarians against the Turkish onslaught and, though the crusaders met with a terrible defeat, even to mount such an operation was a remarkable achievement. Furthermore France still possessed her own Pope at Avignon. She had tamed Brittany and absorbed Flanders and dominated the Low Countries. She had also acquired the overlordship of Genoa and was now engaged on an ambitious Italian policy which might well gain her Milan.

This appearance of strength was the hollowest of façades, and owed more to the splendour of the French court and of the French Princes than to reality. For the realm was divided into great apanages as, unlike England, French duchies and counties were territorial entities, sometimes whole provinces, which went with the title and constituted semi-independent palatinates. (The only remotely comparable parallel in England was the Duchy of Lancaster.) The greedy Valois magnates who held them were usually content to live in semi-regal splendour in their beautiful châteaux, even if the countryside around them was still ravaged by routiers. There were two exceptions, the Dukes of Burgundy and Orleans.

Sir John de la Pole, nephew of Richard II’s Lord Chancellor and father-in-law to the Lollard heretic Sir John Oldcastle, with his wife Joan, daughter of Lord Cobham. From a brass of 1380 in the parish church at Chrishall, Essex.

Philip the Bold of Burgundy had died in April 1404, to be succeeded by his son John the Fearless-so called from gallant behaviour during the Crusade of Nicopolis. He was a taciturn little man, hard, energetic and charmless and, to judge from a famous contemporary portrait, singularly ugly, with an excessively long nose, an undershot jaw and a crooked mouth. In character, in Perroy’s view, he was even more ambitious than his father and ‘harsh, cynical, crafty, imperious, gloomy and a killjoy’. No one could have been more different from his refined and graceful, if scandalous cousin of Orleans.

Both Dukes were equally determined to rule France. They were opposed to each other in almost every important matter of policy. While John of Burgundy supported the Pope of Rome to please his Flemish subjects, Louis of Orleans upheld the Pope at Avignon ; John opposed war with England because of the danger to Flemish trade, but Louis was hot against the English. Council meetings were wrecked by the Dukes’ loud arguments and recriminations, while their followers-who constituted two political parties—brawled in the streets. When the Orleanists adopted the badge of a wooden club to signify Louis’s intention of beating down opposition, John made his Burgundians sport a carpenter’s plane to show that he would cut the cudgel down to size. However on 20 November 1407 Duke John and Duke Louis took Communion together, in token of reconciliation. Only three days later, on a pitch-black Wednesday night and after visiting the Queen, Louis of Orleans was ambushed as he went down the rue Vieille-du-Temple ; his hand was chopped off (to stop it raising the Devil) and his brains were scattered in the road. The Duke of Burgundy wept at his cousin’s funeral-‘never was a more treacherous murder,’ he groaned—but two days later, realizing that the assassins were about to be discovered, he blurted out to an uncle, ‘I did it ; the Devil tempted me.’ He fled from Paris and rode hard for Flanders.

France, and especially Paris, divided into two armed camps-Burgundians and Armagnacs. The latter took their name from their leader, Bernard, Count of Armagnac, whose daughter had married Louis’s son, Charles of Orleans. The Burgundians drew their strength from the Parisian bourgeoisie and academics, while the Armagnacs were what might be called the party of the establishment and included the greater royal officials, a few of the richer bourgeoisie, most of the nobles outside John’s territories and the other Princes of the Blood. In 1408, having hired a theologian from the Sorbonne to justify his cousin’s assassination-on the grounds that he had been a tyrant-John returned to Paris and extracted a pardon from the King. He then set up as a champion of reform, promising to reduce the high taxes imposed by Louis, and secured the execution of the Chancellor of the royal finances. By 1411, after purging the administration and by well-placed gifts, especially to the important Guild of Butchers, Burgundy had won control of Paris. The Armagnacs assembled an army and with the Duke of Berry (Charles V’s last surviving brother) blockaded the capital.

John of Burgundy then had recourse to Henry IV, offering the hand of his daughter for the Prince of Wales, four towns in Flanders (including Sluys) and help in conquering Normandy, in return for troops. In October 1411, 800 English men-at-arms and 2,000 archers marched out from Calais under the Earl of Arundel. Henry had meant to lead them himself, but was prevented by chronic ill-health. The English expedition soon joined John and 3,000 Parisian militia at Meulan. The combined force stormed the Armagnac strongpoint at Saint-Cloud and broke the blockade. Arundel and his men then went home.

Led by old Berry, the Armagnacs now made their own bid for English aid. In May 1412, in return for the use of 1,000 men-at-arms and 3,000 archers for three months, they offered the eventual cession of all Aquitaine as it had been in 1369, with the immediate surrender of twenty fortresses on the Guyenne border. In August Henry’s second son, the Duke of Clarence, landed in the Cotentin and marched down towards Blois. Here, however, he received news that Burgundian troops had invaded Berry’s territory and forced the Armagnacs to surrender, and that all the French Princes including Burgundy were declining any sort of military assistance from England. Undeterred, Thomas of Clarence crossed the Loire and went through the wild and marshy Sologne and down the Indre valley. The English were only bought off by the Princes with a promise of 210,000 gold crowns (over £34,000), 75,000 of which were to be paid immediately, together with seven important hostages as surety for the balance. The English leaders also extracted individual payments. Clarence asked for 120,000 crowns and received 40,000 and a gold crucifix worth 15,000 (with a ruby as the wound in the side and three diamonds as the nails in the hands and feet). His cousin the Duke of York wanted 40,000 crowns and was given 5,000 together with a gold cross of Damascus work valued at 40,000. Sir John Cornwall, King Henry’s brother-in-law was paid in full 21,375 gold crowns. (It must have been this money which paid for Sir John’s new house at Ampthill in Bedfordshire ; it was built ‘of such spoils as it is said that he won in France’, recorded Leland.) Nothing could have been better calculated to excite the greed of the English aristocracy and put them in mind of those wonderful sums extorted from the French by their fathers and grandfathers. Clarence and his army then went on to winter in Bordeaux, burning and slaying en route in the good old style.

Meanwhile in northern France the Calais garrison had taken advantage of Clarence’s chevauchée to attack and capture Balinghem. It provided yet another fortress in the March of Calais to add to the ring of strongpoints which defended the precious English bastion.

Even John of Burgundy now became nervous about the possibility of a full-scale English invasion. He summoned the Estates to meet in Paris to grant new taxes to pay for defence. When the Estates began to criticize his government, John retaliated by unleashing his Paris butchers who, led by their leader Caboche, began a reign of terror which lasted for several weeks and was aimed as much against the rich as the Armagnacs. So murderous were their excesses that many bourgeois turned against Duke John and invited the Dauphin and Princes to come and save them. In August 1413, after a vain attempt to kidnap Charles VI, John the Fearless of Burgundy had to abandon Paris to the Armagnacs and Count Bernard’s ferocious Gascons, and went home to spend the next few years in his own semi-kingdom. Already he and the Armagnacs had ruined France. For on 20 March Henry IV had breathed his last in the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey and there was a new King of England—Henry V.

Railways at the Boer War

The Boer War was another eminently preventable clash which started off with patriotic cheers, and ended with much soul searching about the state of the British Empire. At the turn of the century, the current Republic of South Africa was divided into four territories: Natal and the Cape Colony, which were British colonies, and two Boer republics, the Transvaal and Orange Free State. To the north, Rhodes had created the British South Africa Company, which became Rhodesia. South Africa had been initially colonized by the Dutch and Germans, but the British arrived in the early nineteenth century and tensions between the two groups were at the root of the Boer wars. In the first Boer War, which was small and was little more than a few skirmishes ending in one major battle where the Boers triumphed during the winter of 1880-81, the Boers had established their right to autonomy in the Transvaal, but the British refused to accept that the Boer republics could be fully independent states. Prior to the second Boer War the discovery of great mineral wealth – especially gold – in the Transvaal, which was largely exploited by British capital, had exacerbated tensions and the large British mining companies were concerned that Boer intransigence might threaten their interests.

The immediate casus belli was the British demand for voting rights for their citizens living in the Transvaal but the President, Paul Kruger, had prevaricated, postponing their eligibility for the franchise. A solution might have been found but for the bellicose nature of Sir Alfred Milner, the British High Commissioner in South Africa, who effectively sabotaged the peace negotiations. In truth, though, the long-standing hostility between the two colonizing forces in the country had been bubbling away for many years and it would have taken a concerted peace initiative on both sides to have prevented a war. Britain had long sought the establishment of control over the two Dutch colonies and saw Boer intransigence over the franchise as an opportunity to unify the whole of South Africa under the British flag. In fact, preparations for war had started early in 1899 with measures such as the establishment of the Department of Military Railways and the construction of ambulance and armoured trains in the railway yards of both Natal and Cape Town.

Girouard, now a major, was appointed as the head of the Department of Military Railways and, having read the numerous reports on the performance of the railways in the Franco-Prussian War, he was aware that the Germans had gained an advantage by having a clear administrative structure in contrast to the French muddle. The old question arose: who should be in charge of the railways, the military or the railway managers? Girouard knew the answer. He was aware that, left to their own devices, military commanders would, for example, insist on having trains steamed up and ready ‘just in case’, or require wagons to be unloaded while still on the main line, blocking it for other traffic. The military, in other words, had to be trained to understand the scope and limitations of the railways, and could not be allowed to be their master. Girouard immediately appointed a group of officers who would act as liaison between the military and the railway authorities, and, as Pratt puts it, ‘protect the civil railway administration from interference by military commanders and commandants of posts’. At the station level, officers were appointed who would be the sole liaison between the railway administration, the stationmasters, and the military, in order to prevent senior army personnel commandeering trains for their own purposes.

This structure was all the more important because the railways in South Africa were fairly basic affairs, all built to the narrow 3ft 6in Cape gauge and designed to accommodate light goods and passenger trains, rather than heavy military traffic. Moreover, the distances were huge. From Cape Town, the principal British base, to Pretoria, the Boer HQ which would be the ultimate objective, was over 1,000 miles and the roads were poor and unusable at times of heavy rain. A single-track railway line stretched from Cape Town on the southern coast through Kimberley and Bloemfontein through to Johannesburg and Pretoria, while a branch headed off from Mafeking towards Rhodesia. From Durban on the east coast there was another line through to Ladysmith which also eventually reached Johannesburg. These lines became the vital supply route for the Army as supplies to the forces at the front were sent from seaports, sometimes quite long distances, along the railway to a railhead and picked up by horse transport, and consequently the shape of the railway network in southern Africa determined the course of the war. For the British in particular – the Boers all had horses – the railway was the major means of transport for long distances, although there were times when the soldiers would march or ride while their supplies were taken by rail. It was inevitable, therefore, that the key battles took place in railway towns or in countryside easily accessible from the line. The British could only maintain their army using railway resupply and the various towns whose names reside in the memory through the prolonged sieges they suffered were important precisely because they were on the railway line. Many of the same cast of characters as in Sudan turned up in the Boer War: Churchill, Kitchener and Girouard, who was to prove to be a crucial figure, all played significant parts.

The war finally broke out in October 1899 and in its first phase the Boers captured large swathes of land in the two British colonies, including long stretches of the railway, and besieged three British garrisons at Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. Attempts by the British Army to relieve the sieges ended in a series of humiliating defeats and early in 1900 reinforcements had to be brought from Britain, creating a force totalling 180,000 men. The takeover of much of the railway in the British colonies by the Boers resulted in a shortage of stock, prompting the military to send immediate requests to Britain for extra locomotives and wagons. For their part, in the early stages, the Boers themselves rather ignored the railways, preferring to keep to their horses but proving adept at sabotaging lines used by the British.

In the second phase of the war, the British staged a fightback with expanded forces and here the railway was crucial as the army headed northwards to re-establish control over its own territory and then advance into the Boer states. The arrangements made in anticipation of the conflict came into play. Every day, all the Army’s requirements were collated through Girouard’s Department of Military Railways, which decided whether requests should be accepted or rejected. The number of wagons allocated for each department, such as hospital, ordnance or engineering, was calculated in great detail and nothing could move without a permit from Girouard’s department. A small group of soldiers carrying out a specific duty might be exempted but they would have to travel sitting higgeldy-piggeldy on the supplies. As Ernest Carter, a railway historian, concludes, this disciplined allocation of railway resources in the Boer War ‘proved conclusively that even a single line passing through enemy territory could be maintained in a serviceable condition sufficiently reliable to allow of a campaign being conducted at a point many hundreds of miles from a supply base’.

As the Boers retreated, they invariably destroyed railway facilities, making heavy use of dynamite, still a relatively new explosive first patented in 1867 and little used in intervening wars. It was the usual catalogue of mayhem, except that dynamite made the job of destruction far easier: bridges and long sections of track were blown up, railside equipment such as pumps and water tanks was destroyed, stations were flattened and huge obstructions were brought down by triggering explosions on the sides of railway cuttings. In response, the British created an organization of 20,000 men, a tenth of their overall strength, composed of a motley mix of soldiers, former railwaymen and local natives, to ensure the continued operation of the railways.

When the British Army began to invade the Boer republics, the Department of Military Railways spawned a separate organization, the Imperial Military Railways, both to repair and maintain captured lines in the two republics, and to operate them. The Afrikaners employed by these railways were unwilling to stay in their jobs under the British and therefore had to be replaced by soldiers and railwaymen from the Cape Colony and, later, also by local black workers.

As the British troops headed northwards, elaborate patrols were devised using armoured trains to protect the line, which was absolutely vital for the British advance. It was the first time that armoured trains were extensively and successfully operated in any conflict. The British had deployed them in Egypt, Sudan and India in the 1880s, using conventional rolling stock that was reinforced with steel plating and equipped with a few machine guns and sandbags for protection, and often pushing a light wagon at the front to detonate mines or limit the damage from obstacles left on the line. They were little more than armoured patrol vehicles, but during the Boer War far more sophisticated versions were developed.

Several had been built in anticipation of the war and ultimately twenty saw action on the South African railways. Their reputation was initially rather tarnished by the capture on 15 November 1899 of an early model carrying 120 men including, famously, Winston Churchill, who yet again had made sure that he was in the right place at the right time to see action. This time, he was a mere reporter, sending despatches to the Morning Post although at times he behaved as if he were still an officer in the British Army. Churchill recounts an early sortie with the train, which he describes as a strange machine, ridiculing it as ‘a locomotive disguised in the habiliments of chivalry. Mr Morley [John Morley, the leading opponent of the war] attired as Sir Lancelot would seem scarcely more incongruous.’ His first foray with the train passes off without serious incident but his second leads to his capture and a series of brushes with death.

Churchill’s train had consisted of a couple of sets of four vans, three of which were armoured, including one with a 7-pounder gun so old-fashioned that it was still loaded through the muzzle (‘an antiquated toy’, as Churchill described it), an ordinary wagon with a breakdown gang and a locomotive which, for protection, was in the middle of the train between the two sets of wagons. The patrol’s mission was to try to obtain information about the siege at Ladysmith and the state of the railway. At 5.30 a.m., the train crept out of Estcourt, thirty miles south of Ladysmith, and had reached Chieveley, about halfway to their destination, when Boer horsemen were spotted. Captain Haldane, the commander of the train, decided to beat a retreat but the train had fallen into an ambush. Round a curve, they saw a large troop of 600 Boers above them and bullets and shells started raining down on the wagons. The engine driver opened the regulator to accelerate out of trouble, which was precisely what the Boers had sought, as the train then ploughed at speed into a boulder they had laid on the tracks round a bend. Even though the train was notionally in the command of Haldane, it was Churchill who assumed control of the situation, or at least he did according to his account written for the Morning Post. He reports how he told the driver, who was a civilian and therefore anxious just to escape, that ‘if he continued to stay at his post, he would be mentioned for distinguished gallantry in action’, not an honour that was Churchill’s to bestow. Nevertheless, with such encouragement, the fellow ‘pulled himself together, wiped the blood off his face [and] climbed back into the cab of his engine’. Leaving Haldane to sort out the defence, Churchill organized the removal of the debris and the stone from the tracks, and ordered a group of men to push the broken wagon off the track. Despite being still under fire, they succeeded and the engine, minus the front group of trucks, which had become detached, gradually pulled away. All these efforts to escape proved, however, to be in vain because, as Churchill describes it, ‘a private soldier who was wounded, in direct disobedience of the positive orders that no surrender was to be made, took it upon himself to wave a pocket handkerchief.’ As a result, the men around him began to surrender and Churchill tried to run away. While Churchill criticizes the hapless fellow, the humble soldier’s action most likely changed history by ensuring the great man’s survival. Churchill had already run down the track with two Boers shooting at him, fortunately missing him on either side (‘two bullets passed, both within a foot, one on either side… again two soft kisses sucked in the air, but nothing struck me’), and had fortuitously, too, forgotten his Mauser pistol in the cab of the locomotive, and was therefore unable to shoot his pursuers. Without the private’s white handkerchief, it was probably only a matter of minutes before Churchill, who was behaving as a combatant rather than a newspaper reporter, would have been shot. After his capture, however, anxious to be released, he stressed his civilian role but to no avail and he was imprisoned in Pretoria, from where he escaped, regaining British territory by jumping goods trains like an American hobo.

Churchill’s armoured train was an early version, more lightly armed than its successors. Later types would be far more heavily protected and were successfully used on several occasions against the Boers. The armoured train became a far more sophisticated weapon, consisting of a locomotive in the middle, pushing armoured vans and wagons with various pieces of equipment for repairing lines. At the front, there was an open wagon fitted with a cow catcher – like US locomotives – both to sweep obstructions off the rails but also to explode mines, thereby saving the rest of the train, particularly the locomotive, from further damage. Behind the locomotive there was a heavily armoured wagon with usually a 12-pounder quick-firing gun or a couple of smaller ones. Each end of the train would be protected by armoured trucks containing soldiers armed with rifles and a machine gun. It proved a useful weapon. In one skirmish, the legendary Boer leader Christiaan de Wet, who had been instrumental in developing successful guerrilla tactics, often focussed on sabotaging the railway and disrupting communications by wrecking the telegraph wires, was for once caught napping when four armoured trains managed to cut him off from his wagons and he lost all his ammunition and explosives.

While armoured trains were occasionally used in offensives against entrenched Boer positions, for the most part they were deployed to patrol lines in an effort to prevent sabotage. They were also used rather like the cavalry to make reconnaissance trips and escort conventional trains. Nevertheless, as Churchill’s mishap showed, they were vulnerable to ambush and could not be deployed without their own protection force, usually in the form of cavalry reconnaissance teams who would check the line and the surrounding area but at times bicycles were used, too. These were remarkable contraptions developed in a Cape Town workshop by Donald Menzies, who experimented with various types. The basic version, which did see regular active service, involved two men sitting side by side, with the great advantage that they could ride and shoot at the same time, since, obviously, no steering was required as the wheels were flanged like those of all railway rolling stock. It could travel at up to 30 mph but was not stable at such high speeds and generally cruised at about 10 mph. Menzies also produced a huge eight-man version with four pairs of men pedalling side by side, but it was beset with difficulties as it was too heavy – 1,500lb with eight men aboard – and consequently was difficult to brake, made too much noise and caused violent shaking, and there is no evidence that it was actually used in combat situations.

The official report published after the war recommended that in the operation of armoured trains ‘it was important that the officer commanding the train should be a man of judgment and strong nerve… he had to be ever alert that the enemy did not cut the line behind him… and had to keep his head even among the roar which followed the passage of his leading truck over a charge of dynamite, and then to deal with the attack which almost certainly ensued’. Inevitably, having such strong-minded officers in charge of the trains led to clashes with the railway authorities as the armoured trains transcended the boundary between the military and railway. Girouard later complained that the officers commanding the trains frequently rode roughshod over the railway’s needs: ‘Armoured trains were constantly rushing out, against orders of the Traffic department, sometimes without a “line clear” message, and this caused serious delays to traffic.’ One can almost feel Girouard’s frustration as he continues: ‘In fact, instead of assisting traffic by preventing the enemy from interrupting it, they caused more interruptions than the enemy themselves.’ As Pratt put it, ‘civil railway officials were heard to say that attacks by the enemy are not nearly so disturbing to traffic as the arrival of a friendly General with his force’. Regulations were subsequently issued to ensure that the armoured trains, like all other traffic, deferred to the army officers whose job was to liaise with the railway authorities to ensure efficient use of the lines.

The armoured trains proved popular with the British and were a formidable weapon, causing panic among the enemy, as stressed by an officer who had served in them: ‘There is no doubt that the enemy disliked them intensely and that the presence of an armoured train had a great morale effect.’ The post-war report rather optimistically outlined seven uses for armoured trains, including obvious aspects such as reconnoitring, patrolling and protecting the rail lines, along with more adventurous ideas like ‘serving as flank protection to infantry’ and ‘attempting to intercept the enemy’. While for the most part this analysis overemphasized their usefulness, since armoured trains would play little role on the Western Front in the First World War, they would assume much greater importance on the more fluid Eastern Front and, in particular, would be crucial to the Bolsheviks’ victory in the subsequent Russian civil war. In the Boer War, they were used to best effect to counter guerrilla attacks, a role they would play numerous times again.

The armoured train was a natural development of the basic idea of mounting guns on trains, which, as we have seen, was first used in battle in the American Civil War. Such trains were a railway weapon, likely to be deployed in an offensive action, in contrast to armoured trains whose main purpose was to patrol an unstable area. The concept of using the railways to deploy large artillery guns had made considerable progress since the days of General Lee. In particular, the problem of aiming the guns had been solved to some extent by incorporating a turntable on the car, which enabled the gun to be rotated easily, and methods of dispersing the force of the recoil, using a specially constructed chamber, had also been developed, enabling guns to be fired broadside without toppling over or damaging the track. The French had used a couple of rail-mounted guns to defend Paris during the siege in 1871 and a unit of the Sussex Army Volunteers had experimented with putting a 40-pounder on a rail wagon. As a result of these developments, the British Army tried to make use of a pair of mobile guns built in the workshops of the Cape Government Railway during the Boer War. In the event they were little used in anger, principally because of the difficulties of bringing such unwieldy and slow vehicles within range of a battle site on a single railway track already heavily used by conventional traffic.

Once the advance into the Boer republics had started, the British expected to win the war within months as the superiority of their forces told – and back home the Tories won an election on this basis. The fighting was, however, prolonged for two years by the ability of the Boers to wage a destructive and effective guerrilla war with a small force, frequently targeting the railway and other transport links. The Boers’ guerrilla tactics were extremely difficult to counter since they were operating in their home terrain against an enemy unaccustomed to this style of fighting. The Boers, who were mostly farmers, were all experienced riders and excellent shots, with the result that even a small group of men could prove difficult for the less skilled British to defeat. In response the British became more and more ruthless, with a scorched-earth policy of astonishing cruelty that involved destroying the Boer farms and forcing the destitute women – the vrouewen who were at the centre of the Boer rural lifestyle – and children into camps. To force the Boers’ families off the land, livestock was slaughtered and crops destroyed, giving them no alternative but to leave their homes. The treatment meted out by the British to these refugees in what became the world’s first concentration camps was the cruellest aspect of the war, and, inevitably, to transport them they were herded into trains, prefiguring the similar German atrocity by forty years. The mortality rate in the camps was appalling, with 26,000 deaths, a quarter of those interned, and, most horribly, no fewer than half of those under sixteen perished. Women whose husbands were still fighting were singled out for harsh treatment by being given smaller rations. There was a series of separate camps in which 107,000 Africans were interned, but an accurate assessment of the death rate was never made. The terrible conditions endured by the Boer women and children caused a scandal back home which greatly increased opposition to the war.

Clearing the farms in this way was designed to break the will of the Boers and prevent them living off the land. Protecting the supply line, most importantly the railway, became the key strategy for the British. While the Boers continued to attack the railway lines during this third phase, the British engineers became increasingly adept at repairing such breaches. They would boast that a routine break in the tracks discovered by the dawn patrol would be repaired in general by 9 a.m. Of course, they had far more difficulty repairing the damage wreaked by the retreating Boers in their own territory, which caused long delays to the cumbrous British Army moving into the republics. However, the engineers became adept at restoring at least a limited service very quickly. During the course of their retreat northwards, the Boers destroyed more than 200 bridges, several more than a hundred feet in length. Yet for the most part services were restored within days by putting in a temporary line, often with steep gradients and sharp curves, over hastily constructed low-level bridges cobbled together with sleepers and rails. While these jerry-built constructions were at times washed away in wet weather or collapsed under the weight of heavy trains, they were vital in keeping the British line of communication intact.

As territory was won by the British, the railway lines had to be protected and land defended through a process of attrition. The railway was crucial to this strategy. Once the British established control over a section of track or a bridge, a chain of blockhouses was built alongside them to prevent attacks by Boer squads. Connected to each other by telephone and telegraph, they were sited so that one could be seen from the next, a maximum of three-quarters of a mile away. Huge quantities of barbed wire, a recent invention, were strung up between them and trenches and trip wires provided an additional obstacle to any Boers attempting to reach the railway. While proving very successful, the blockhouses required huge numbers of soldiers to man and protect them. By the end of the war some 8,000 of these blockhouses had been built next to the railways, along other key supply routes and across the veldt, demanding the services of 50,000 British soldiers and 16,000 Africans, probably twice the total number of Boers who were fighting in the final guerrilla phase of the war. The blockhouses were expensive, too – costing up to £1,000 each – and difficult to construct, taking about three months, but proved remarkably effective as in conjunction with the armoured trains they all but guaranteed the security of the railway line.

This tactic of containment and harassment worked, albeit slowly. The Boers eventually surrendered in May 1902, ground down by the gradual progress of the British through their territory, and with little room to manoeuvre as the soldiers in the ever-lengthening strings of blockhouses provided increasingly detailed intelligence on the whereabouts of the enemy. The Boers were harried and, unable to fight, forced into finally accepting peace terms which the British had offered several times previously. After lengthy negotiations, the Boer republics were incorporated into the British Empire a few years later, but the cost of dragooning the Boers into Britain’s fold had been high. Far from being the short conflict which the politicians expected, it turned out to be the bloodiest and most costly of Britain’s wars between 1815 and 1914.

Warships – Chincha Islands War

The Chincha islands of Peru, being occupied by Spanish sailors on April 14, 1864.

The Chincha Islands War (Spanish: Guerra hispano-sudamericana) was a series of coastal and naval battles between Spain and its former colonies of Peru and Chile from 1864 to 1866. The conflict began with Spain’s seizure of the guano-rich Chincha Islands in one of a series of attempts by Spain, under Isabella II, to reassert its influence over its former South American colonies. The war saw the use of ironclads, including the Spanish ship Numancia, the first ironclad to circumnavigate the world.

Under the rule of Isabel the II (1843-1868) Spain faced one of the most interesting and turbulent years of its history. When the young Queen was crowned, she found a weak country that was far beyond from being the great power of the past. She also found that the formerly powerful Spanish Armada had only three main warships, all of them built during the XVIII century and a couple of frigates and steamers, which was a clear contrast with the 177 warships that the country had in 1790.

Isabel tried to recover the military prestige that the Kingdom had until the battle of Trafalgar, in which the British wiped out its impressive armada. She encouraged the construction of a modern and powerful fleet, which in few years turned Spain into the world’s fourth naval power. Between 1859 and 1860, 170 million of pesetas, an enormous amount for those days, were allocated for the construction of new warships. The result was a mighty squadron composed of six iron-protected frigates, eleven first class frigates and twelve steam corvettes, plus dozens of transports and smaller warships. Few times in her history Spain had assembled such an important and respectable fleet.

Despite her internal problems, Spain became again a colonial power, and backed by her naval might, by the end of the 1850´s the kingdom was participating in several overseas interventions and internal conflicts. During the second Government of former Governor of Cuba, Leopoldo O´Donnell (1858-1863), Spain engaged in a war against Morocco (Tetuan), in a conflict in Indochina (Vietnam), in the French-lead invasion of Mexico and in the brief annexation of the Dominican Republic.

Soon it was the turn of South America.

At the end of 1862, the Spanish Queen approved the sending of a so-called “scientific expedition” to Latin American waters. The expedition was placed under command of Rear Admiral Luis Hernandez Pinzon –a direct descendant of the Pinzon brothers who accompanied Christopher Columbus in the discovery of the New World- and was escorted by three warships: The twin steam frigates Triunfo and Resolucion and the schooner Virgen de Covadonga. However, beside scientific research, one of the purposes of the trip was to support the claims of Spanish citizens living in the Americas.

On April 18, 1863, the Spanish fleet arrived at the Chilean port of Valparaiso. While in Chilean waters the officers and men were cordially received and the Spaniards responded in kind. But in July of that year, once in Peru, the problems started. At that time Spain did not have diplomatic relations with Peru neither had recognized its independence obtained in 1821. Despite this situation, the expedition was received with friendly demonstrations by the authorities. Unfortunately, on August 2, and for reasons still not clear, an incident occurred in the northern Hacienda of Talambo between Spanish Basques immigrants and Peruvian nationals. As a result, one Spaniard was killed and four others injured.

Informed about this, Pinzon, who was on his way to San Francisco, California, returned to Peru with his fleet. The Spanish commanding officer attempted to interfere in what many Peruvians thought was an internal affair and requested reparations for the incident. Later, the Government in Madrid also demanded the immediate solution of some pending issues, such as the payment of debts originated in the wars of independence. To negotiate these issues, a special emissary, Eusebio Salazar y Mazaredo, invested as a Royal Commissioner, was sent to deal with the Peruvian Government. Peru resented the title of Mazaredo, since a Commissioner was supposed to be a colonial officer and not an Ambassador, which was the proper title for a diplomatic envoy to a free and Sovereign State. Mazaredo, who arrived in Peru on March 1864, tried unsuccessfully to reach an agreement with the Peruvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Juan A. Ribeyro.

In response, on April 14th, 1864, the Spanish squadron moved from Callao towards the islands of Chincha, the major source of Peruvian guano fertilizer. The small Peruvian garrison was forced to surrender and at 16:00 hours, a detachment of 400 Spanish marines seized the islands, raised their flag and placed Governor Ramon Valle Riestra under arrest aboard the Resolucion. To have an idea about the importance of those islands to Peru, it must be said that nearly 60% of the Government expenditures came from the custom duties from guano. Spain wanted to use the rich islands as a bargaining tool for their demands, and even an ambitious Spanish Minister back in Madrid proposed to swap them with the British for Gibraltar.

The Spaniards also blockaded Peru’s major port and placed the country into turmoil and anger. Even if during a first stage the Spanish Government of the new Prime Minister Jose Maria Narvaez did not approve the unilateral action taken by Pinzon and Salazar, over the next months he changed his mind and sent four more warships to reinforce the squadron. Narvaez also replaced Pinzon with the more capable Rear Admiral Juan Manuel Pareja, a former Minister of the Navy who, coincidentally, was born in Peru. His father, an army officer, was killed during the wars of independence, and Pareja disliked the “rebels” for that.

Admiral Pareja arrived on Peru on December 1864 and engaged in intense diplomatic negotiations with retired General Manuel Ignacio de Vivanco, the special representative of the Peruvian President. The negotiations concluded on January 27, 1865, with a preliminary agreement signed aboard the Spanish frigate Villa de Madrid. However, most of the population rejected the Vivanco-Pareja Treaty because it was very humiliating for Peru. Congress did not ratify it and a revolution against the Pezet Government exploded in the city of Arequipa months later.

Meanwhile, anti-Spanish sentiments in several South American countries such as Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador were increasing. It was obvious that the Spaniards had no intention to conquer again their former colonies. Neither they had the strength, nor the resources to do it, but it was possible that the Government of Madrid, while presenting a crusade of honor in the Pacific was trying to distract attention from domestic problems. It was understandable that after what had happen in Mexico and Santo Domingo, Peru and its neighbors were suspicious about the possibility of the re-establishment of the Spanish Empire. For this reason it was not surprising that when the Spanish gunboat Vencedora stopped at a Chilean port for coal, the President of that country declared that coal was a war supply that could not be sold to a belligerent nation. However, from the Spanish point of view such embargo could not be taken as proof of Chilean neutrality since two Peruvian steamers –one of them the Lerzundi- had left the port of Valparaiso with weapons and Chilean volunteers to fight for Peru. In consequence, Admiral Pareja took a hard line and demanded sanctions against Chile, even heavier than those imposed upon Peru. He then headed with part of his squadron composed of four wooden ships to Chile, while the Covadonga and the Numancia remained to guard Callao.

On September 17th, 1865, Admiral Pareja anchored his flagship, the Villa de Madrid, at Valparaiso and demanded that his flag be saluted with 21 guns. Under the circumstances the proud Chileans refused to salute Pareja’s Insignia and war was declared one week later. Leopoldo O´Donnell, who was again Spain’s Prime Minister, backed Pareja. Since the Spanish Admiral had no troops with which to attempt a landing he decided to impose a blockade of the main Chilean ports. Even so, his plan was ridiculous, for in order to blockade Chile’s 1,800 miles of coastline, Pareja would have needed a fleet several times larger than what he had at his disposal. The blockade of the port of Valparaiso, however, caused great damage to Chileans and neutrals.

On November 8th, 1865, Peruvian President Juan Antonio Pezet was forced to resign from office and was replaced by his Vice President, General Pedro Diez Canseco. However, Diez Canseco also tried to avoid a collision with Spain, and on November 26th General Mariano I. Prado, leader of the nationalist movement, deposed him. Prado immediately declared his solidarity with Chile and a state of war with Her Catholic Majesty’s Government in order to restitute the nation’s honor and confront Pareja´s insults and humiliations.

Ironically, that same day Admiral Pareja committed suicide. During the last weeks he had been suffering a series of setbacks. He could make no positive advances in his war with Chile, his blockade deteriorated and was ineffective and the crews of the ships were demoralized. The proud Admiral was unaware that the Chileans, in a brilliant naval action, had captured the gunboat Virgen de Covadonga and that during the fight the Spaniards had 4 men dead and 21 wounded (1). When on November 25 the American Consul casually mentioned it to him, the Admiral suffered a nervous collapse. It was too much for him. The Covadonga was the second warship lost by Spain in enemy waters after a fire destroyed the Triunfo a year ago. The next day Pareja dressed in his best uniform, laid down on his bed, and shot himself in the head.

Back in the Peninsula, the Spanish public opinion was enraged and demanded revenge. Because of the loss of the Virgen de Covadonga, one newspaper wrote:

“Let our squadron perish in the Pacific if necessary, only let our honor to be saved”

After Pareja´s death, the command of the Spanish squadron went to the Captain of the Numancia, Commodore Casto Mendez Nuñez.

On December the 5th 1865, Chile and Peru formally signed an alliance to fight against Spain. The treaty was ratified on January 12, 1866. Two days later Peru declared war on Spain. Immediately a squadron of the Peruvian navy under command of Captain Lizardo Montero, composed by the steam frigates Amazonas and the Apurimac, sailed towards Valparaiso to join the Chilean fleet. Once there the allied command was placed under orders of Chilean Admiral Manuel Blanco Encalada, an old but capable officer.

Rumors spread trough Europe and panic reached Spanish waters because two new powerful Peruvian ironclads had sailed from England and were said to be heading towards the port of Cadiz. The Spaniards were also afraid of hostilities against their merchant ships sailing in international waters. To prevent such actions Madrid dispatched to the Atlantic the frigate Gerona, which in time, near Madeira, would capture a 2000-ton disarmed Chilean cruiser of the “Super-Alabama” class built in England, and dispatched in secrecy under the code name “Canton”. The Spaniards will rename her “Tornado” (2). On the other hand, Peruvian warships will seize three Spanish transports off the coasts of Brazil while on their way to Chile. The Chilean Government on its part sent the steamer Maipu to the Straight of Magellan to intercept the Spanish transports “Odessa” and “Vascongada”.


Most people in Spain thought that Peru and Chile were not worthy to fight against their glorious armada. Such a perception was based upon prejudices because both countries, as former colonies, were seen as inferior. Another reason was the lack of knowledge of the South American reality as well as the presumption by most Western powers of a moral and material superiority over other countries or territories of their time. For many Spaniards as most Europeans, there was no difference between Peru and Morocco or between Chile and the Dominican Republic and so they thought they could be easily defeated. That was a big mistake that would carry fatal consequences, as the lost of the Covadonga and the suicide of the gallant admiral Pareja. Their difficulties however, were just starting.

The order of battle of the Spanish and the allied fleets from the arrival of the scientific expedition to Callao in July 1863 to the naval encounters of February and May 1866 will go trough many changes because both navies were reinforced with new units.

The Spaniards had managed to assemble in South American waters a formidable squadron. It was composed of the following warships:

Iron-protected frigates

Numancia, at that time among the most powerful ships of the world (Built in France, 1863; Weight 7,500-tons; Speed 12 knots; weapons thirty-four 200-mm guns; Armor five and a half iron belt; Crew 620 men).

Steam frigates

Villa de Madrid, (Built 1862; Weight 4,478-tons; Speed 15 knots; Weapons thirty 200-mm guns, fourteen 160 mm-guns, two 120-mm guns, plus two 150-mm howitzers and two 80-mm guns for disembarks).

Resolucion, (Built 1861; Weight 3,100-tons; Speed 11 knots; weapons twenty 200-mm guns, fourteen 160-mm guns, one revolving 220-mm gun and two 150 mm-howitzers, two 120-mm guns and two 80-mm guns for disembarks).

Almansa, (Built 1864; Weight 3,980-tons; Speed 12 knots; armament thirty 200-mm guns; fourteen 160-mm guns and two 120-mm guns. She also had two 150 mm-howitzers and two 80-mm guns for disembarks). This ship would arrive to the Pacific on April 1866, days before the Dos de Mayo Combat.

Reina Blanca and Berenguela, (Each weighted about 3,800-tons. The first one had 68 guns while the Berenguela had 36 guns).


Virgen de Covadonga, (Built 1864; Weight 445-tons; Speed 8 knots; Weapons two revolving 200-mm guns at the sides and one revolving 160-mm guns at the prow). Spain however will lose the ship to the Chileans.


Vencedora, (Built 1861; Weight 778-tons; Speed 8 knots; weapons two 200-mm revolving guns and two 160-mm guns).

The squadron was reinforced with other small gunboats and transports, among them the Marques de la Victoria (armed with 3 guns), Maule, Consuelo and Mataure. It had combined artillery of 250 guns (3).

Among the two South American allies, Peru had the biggest fleet. Obviously it could not match the total tonnage and firepower of the Spanish squadron but neither it was, as some had thought, a third class flotilla that could be wiped out with a single of Mendez Nuñez ships. On the contrary, Peru had the most respectable naval squadron on the Western shores of the continent, managed by competent and professional sailors.

As Spain did in the 1850´s, Peru had renewed its navy trough the purchase of last generation warships in the best European shipyards, mainly British. When the crisis with Spain deepened, the Peruvian Government decided to increase its fleet in the event of war, and bought two former Confederate cruisers built in France and ordered the construction of two seagoing ironclads in England. It also decided to build ironclad of its own. By 1866 Peru had the following warships:


Apurimac, (Built UK, 1854; Weight 1,666-tons; Weapons forty four guns).

Amazonas, (Built UK, 1852; Weight 1,320-tons; Weapons twenty-six 32-pounders and six 64-pounders).

Richmond-Class casemated ram monitors:

Loa (Built, UK, 1854; redesigned and finished in Peru in 1865; Weight 648 tons; Weapons one 110-pounder and one 32-pounder. Protection iron armor 3-inch thick).

Victoria (Built Peru 1864; Weight 300 tons; Weapons one smoothbore 64-pounder. Protection iron armor 3-inch thick).


Union (Built France, 1864; Weight 1,600 tons; Speed 12.5 knots; Weapons two 100-pounder guns, two 68 pounders and 12 forty pounders)

America (Built France, 1864; Weight 1,600 tons; Speed 12.5 knots; Weapons two 100-pounder guns, two 68 pounders and 12 forty pounders)


Independence, casemate, central battery, ironclad steam frigate (Built UK 1865; Weight 2004-tons; Speed 12.5 knots; Weapons two 150 pounders, twelve 70 pounders, four 32 pounders and four 9 pounders. Protection 4-inch armor; Crew 260 men).

Huascar (Built UK 1865; Weight 1,130-tons; Engine 1,500 horse power; Speed 11.5 knots; Weapons, Two 300-pound Armstrong’s, two 40-pound pivots Armstrong at the sides and one 12-pounder at the stern. Protection 4.5 armor in the iron helmet amidships, 2.5 inches at the ends and 5.5-inches in the revolving turret. Crew 200 men).

Huascar was by all means an extraordinary warship. In theory, her 10-inch guns were capable of destroying any of the wooden Spanish frigates, whose most powerful guns were 68-pounders, number 2, incapable of piercing the armor or the Huascar or the Independence

Peru also had several other warships, including the Tumbes (carrying two rifled 70-pounders), Ucayali (two 32-pound guns, three 24-pounders and one 18-pounder), the Sachaca (armed with six-smoothbore 12-pounders) and the 850-ton General Lerzundi (six guns).

On September 1864 Peru also bought a brand new steamer in the United States, the Colon, armed with two-smoothbore 12-pounders. However, American General Irvin McDowell seized and held the Colon in San Francisco. The seizure of this ship was later approved by the U.S. Secretary of War and his additional orders provided that all war material was required for the use of the United States government, and nothing of the kind could be purchased or taken from the United States, especially on the Pacific coast. The Peruvian government protested against the seizure of the Colon and demanded that the vessel be released. The American government was slow to act and the order to release the Colon was not issued until March 14, 1865, more than six months after the seizure. In the meantime the case had been the subject of an investigation by a grand jury and an opinion rendered that there was no cause for the detention of the Colon. Nevertheless the ship was commissioned in the Peruvian Navy and arrived in time to fight against the Spaniards.

At the beginning of the conflict, the Chileans only had the Esmeralda, a 854 ton British-built corvette commissioned in 1854 and armed with 18 guns, and the Maipu, a 450 ton steamer built in the United Kingdom in 1855 armed with four 32 and one 68-pounder guns. Chile also was about to receive two Alabama class unarmored cruisers from the British, the Chacabuco and the O´Higgins, originally built for the navy of the “Confederate States of America”. Unfortunately for the allies those ships could not join the struggle because London seized them until the end of the war. The Chilean fleet however was increased with the 412-ton Spanish iron protected schooner Virgen de Covadonga and the 850-ton steamer General Lerzundi. The first one captured from the Spaniards and the second one bought from Peru in early 1866 and renamed as Lautaro.

. . . .

(1) The Tornado was apparently launched at Clydebank in 1863. The vessel had a protective 4″ armor belt surrounding her engines and boilers. She was armed with one 220mm (7.8″) muzzleloading Parrott guns, two 160/15 cal. muzzleloading guns, two 120-mm bronze muzzleloading guns, and two 87- mm/24 cal. Hontoria breechloading guns. She had a crew complement of 202 men. The Tornado has been built a commerce-raider for the North American Confederation. Seized by the British Government in 1863, and acquired in 1865, she was purchased by Chile for 75,000 Pounds through Isaac Campbell & January or February of 1866. According to some sources the vessel was renamed Pampero. Was captured off Madeira by the Spanish frigate Gerona on August 22, 1866 and renamed Tornado. Commissioned in the Spanish Navy, she was rated as screw corvette in 1870. She was converted to a torpedo-training vessel in 1886. Her hulk was sunk in Barcelona by Nationalist air raid during Spanish Civil War. She was finally broken up after 1939.

(2) St. Hubert Ch. “The Early Spanish Steam Warships 1834-1870” Warship International 1983. – # 4. – P.338-367; 1984. – #1. – P. 21-44.

(3) This episode was known as the Battle of Papudo and was fought 55 miles north of Valparaiso. The Chileans, following a threat used by Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane 45 years before, hoisted a British flag on the Esmeralda, and when they were close enough to Covadonga, they raised their own flag and unmercifully bombarded the Spanish ship until her surrender. Beside the casualties, seven Spanish officers and 115 sailors were taken prisoners.