The Basra Pocket

While the Coalition fought to free Kuwait City, up to 800 American tanks from the US VII Corps’ 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions and the 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment launched attacks on a Republican Guard division inside Iraq, which lost 200 tanks. They then moved forwards and engaged a second division. American Apache attack helicopters and A-10 Thunderbolt tank-busters also played a significant role. One Apache alone destroyed eight T-72s, and on 25 February two USAF A-10s destroyed twenty-three Iraqi tanks, including some T-72s, in three close air support missions.

In the envelopment the US M1A1 tanks easily outgunned the Iraqi T-72s, and in a night engagement on 25/26 February the Guards’ Tawakalna Armoured Division was largely destroyed without the loss of a single US tank. The Republican Guard, unable to stem the American armoured tide, tried to retreat, and the next morning a brigade of the Medina Division, supported by a battalion from the 14th Mechanized Division, attempted to protect the withdrawal. The Medina troops found themselves under attack from the US 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions, while the remnants of the Tawakalna were finished off by air attacks.

Caught as they were being loaded onto their tank transporters, the Medina Division’s armoured vehicles were bombed by USAF A-10s and F-16 fighters. Apache attack helicopters caught another eighty T-72 tanks still on their transporters along Route 8. Although not all the roads out of Basra were closed, the Coalition was determined that Iraqi tanks and artillery should not escape. The US VII Corps’ armour also fought the Hammurabi Republican Guard Division 80km to the west of Basra.

The US 24th Mechanized Division, having made a dramatic 150-mile drive northwards to join the US 101st Airborne Division on the Euphrates, now swung to the right to block the Iraqi escape route. The six remaining Republican Guard divisions had been trapped overnight in a swiftly diminishing area of northern Kuwait and southern Iraq, with their northward line of escape largely severed.

On 27 February the US 24th Mechanized Division attacked the Guard’s Hammurabi Armoured Division, the al-Faw and Adnan Infantry Divisions and the remnants of the Nebuchadnezzar Infantry Division. They fled, with the Nebuchadnezzar Division possibly escaping over the Hawr al-Hammar Lake causeway. The 24th Mechanized Division also captured fifty Republican Guard T-72 tanks as they were fleeing north along a main road near the Euphrates. It was all but over for the Guards.

Six disparate brigades with fewer than 30,000 troops and a few tanks were now struggling back to Basra. The Iraqis agreed to a cease-fire the following day, whilst the British 7th Armoured Brigade moved to cut the road to Basra just north of Kuwait City. However, some troops continued to escape across the Hawr al-Hammar and north from Basra along the Shatt al-Arab Waterway. Brigadier Cordingley, Commander of the 7th Armoured Brigade, noted, ‘By 28 February it was clear that General Schwarzkopf’s plan to annihilate the Republican Guard with a left hook through Iraq had failed … The majority of the Iraqi soldiers were already on their way back to Baghdad.’

Firmly in control of Iraq’s state media, Saddam had no need to acknowledge this terrible defeat, and instead victory was given as the reason for abiding by the ceasefire. Baghdad Radio announced, ‘The Mother of battles was a clear victory for Iraq … We are happy with the cessation of combat operations as this would preserve our sons’ blood and people’s safety after God made them triumphant with faith against their evil enemies.’

Only a residual Iraqi threat remained by 30 February. Two Iraqi tank brigades were south-west of Basra, another brigade with forty armoured vehicles was to the south and an infantry brigade was on either side of the Hawr al-Hammar Lake. In total, about eight armoured battalions, the remnants of those Iraqi forces deployed in and around Kuwait, were now trapped in the ‘Basra Pocket’. Basra itself lay in ruins, and marshes and wetlands to the west and east made passage impossible.

Despite the cease-fire, the US 24th Division fought elements of the Hammurabi Division again on 2 March after reports that a battalion of T-72 tanks was moving northwards towards it in an effort to escape. The Iraqi armoured column foolishly opened fire and suffered the consequences. The Americans retaliated with Apache attack helicopters and two task forces, destroying 187 armoured vehicles, 34 artillery pieces and 400 trucks. The survivors were forced back into the ‘Basra Pocket’. By this stage Iraq only had about 700 of its 4,500 tanks and 1,000 of its 2,800 APCs left in the KTO and, with organized resistance over, the Iraqis signed the cease-fire on 3 March 1991.

In the wake of Desert Sabre, only the Iraqi Army Air Corps and the Republican Guard Corps secured favour with Saddam Hussein, by swiftly crushing the revolt in the south against his regime and containing the resurgent Kurds in the north. In contrast the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Air Force had fled Desert Storm and remained under a cloud. Subsequently the IrAF found itself grounded by the Coalition’s ceasefire terms, while the army was left face to face with the barrels of the Republican Guard Corps’ remaining tanks. After a brief stand-off, the Iraqi Army opted for the status quo, but its loyalty and competence remained tarnished by its collapse and by the actions of thousands of deserters.

In 1991 the Coalition accounted for just six Iraqi helicopters (one Mi-8, one BO-105 and four unidentified) in the air and another five on the ground. General Schwarzkopf had cause to regret that they did not destroy more. During the ceasefire talks on 3 March 1991 the Iraqis requested that, in light of the damage done to their infrastructure, they be allowed to move government officials around by helicopter. Without fully realizing the consequences, Schwarzkopf agreed not to shoot down ‘any’ helicopters flying over Iraqi territory. Thus, by using his helicopter gunships Saddam was able to crush the rebellion in Iraq’s cities and the southern marshes and Kurdish advances in the north with impunity, despite his defeat in Kuwait.

In hindsight, Schwarzkopf felt that grounding Iraqi helicopters would have made little difference. In his view the Iraqi armour and artillery of the twenty-four remaining divisions, which had never entered the war zone, had a far more devastating impact on the rebels. This was a little disingenuous, for while tanks and artillery were instrumental in crushing the revolts in the predominantly Shia cities of Basra, Karbala and Najaf (the scene of Shi’ite unrest in 1977, resulting in 2,000 Shia arrests and another 200,000 being expelled to Iran), in the southern marshes the Republican Guard’s T-72 tanks could not operate off the causeways and artillery was only effective against pre-spotted targets. In fact the Iraqi Army Air Corps played a pivotal role over Iraq’s rebellious cities, the southern marches and the Kurdish mountains.

Over the cities helicopter gunships were used indiscriminately to machine gun and rocket the civilian population in order to break their morale. Although there was no evidence of the use of chemical weapons (Saddam did not want to provoke further coalition intervention so stayed his hand), on at least one occasion residential areas were reportedly sprayed with sulphuric acid. This was corroborated by French military units still in southern Iraq, who treated Iraqi refugees with severe acid burns.

Although the rebellion was mainly a spontaneous outburst by defeated and disaffected troops returning home, its religious Shia basis meant that it was ultimately doomed. America stood by, as a Shia victory would only serve radical Shia Iran, and as a result the rebels did not even receive airdrops of manportable anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles with which to fend off Saddam’s helicopters and tanks. The Iraqi military, dominated by the Sunni minority, went about their business unhindered.

After authority had been brutally reasserted in the cities, thousands fled into Iraq’s southern marshes seeking sanctuary. Here the IAAC was even more instrumental in the destruction of those forlorn forces that the West had vaguely hoped would unseat Saddam. IAAC pilots knew what lay in store for them if they failed, as General Ali Hassan al-Majid, who was commanding the operation, warned at least pilot not to return unless he had wiped out some insurgents obstructing a bridge.

The whole operation in the marshes was largely a repeat of March 1984, when Iraqi helicopter gunships mercilessly hunted Iranian troops round the two important Majnoon Island oil facilities. This time they refrained from using mustard gas or any other chemical agents, but once again the unburied dead were left to become carrion for the jackals, and those foolish enough to surrender were shot at point-blank range. The IAAC contributed to the deaths of an estimated 30,000 rebels. Additionally 3,000 Shia clerics were driven from Najaf and fled to the Iranian town of Qom.

In the north the fear of another Halabja was sufficient to scatter the Kurdish population at the first sight of an aircraft. The IrAF and IAAC once more refrained from deploying chemical weapons, but callously contented themselves with dropping flour on the refugees, who instantly panicked. Once more the Iraqi military made use of their helicopters and artillery to eject the lightly armed Kurdish guerrillas from their recent conquests.

Whilst the IAAC had continued to fly after 1991, in defiance of the cease-fire terms the IrAF resumed operational and training flights with its fixed-wing aircraft in April 1992. The IrAF claimed it was responding to the provocation of an Iranian Air Force attack on an Iranian opposition force’s base east of Baghdad. In response to these violations, and the repressive military operations, the UN imposed two separate no-fly zones in the north and south of the country.

Due to UN sanctions and financial restrictions, the Iraqi Air Force could only manage about a hundred sorties per day, down from 800 in the heyday of the Iran–Iraq War. Residual IrAF capabilities remained in the Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk areas, protecting Saddam from dissidents and the Kurds. Throughout most of the 1990s the IrAF spent much of its time dodging the northern and southern no-fly zones, though at least two fighters (a MiG-23 and a MiG-25) were lost for violating these zones.

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Balfour and Oil I

German officers consult with local leaders in Tiflis, Georgia, June 1918

By the autumn of 1915, northern Arabs were disillusioned with Turkish domination and, under Sherif Hussein of Mecca, lobbied to revive the long-fallen Arab Empire as an independent state. The British government welcomed his opposition to the Central Powers, and negotiations began in October 1915. However, Britain could not promise independence to Syria and other regions of Arabia, as the result of incompatible French interests. With the advent of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and the clamour for post-war oil, Arab independence was merely lip service to further British machinations in the region. In desperation, the British were making contradictory and backhanded pledges to allies and interest groups that they never intended to keep. George Antonius, the first serious historian of Arab nationalism, denounced the Sykes-Picot agreement as “not only the product of greed at its worst, that is to say, of greed allied to suspicion and so leading to stupidity: it also stands out as a startling piece of double-dealing.”34 In late 1917, when the Bolsheviks published these secret treaties and agreements, “the British and French were seriously embarrassed because the Sykes-Picot condominium, though phrased in general terms, clearly conflicted with what had been promised” to Sherif Hussein and the Arabs. In addition, Balfour pledged that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” (which would be 90 per cent of the population). It was clear, however, that his declaration meant, as the Times headline read, “Palestine for the Jews.”

Although the Russians requested Allied assistance during Enver’s fruitless foray into eastern Anatolia, it is doubtful that this request alone influenced the decision to launch the Gallipoli campaign. While Russian pleas abetted the final decision, there were, however, other Allied interests in the area, specifically the Dardanelles. The strategic advantage of this region, without going into lengthy detail, was the geographical benefit of transportation and trade (including Baku oil). By early 1915, the prices of imported staple foods to Britain, particularly meat and wheat, had risen by over 20 per cent, leading to strikes and demands for higher wages. For example, coal miners threatened a national strike in March 1915, demanding a 20 per cent wage increase to “meet the extra cost of living.” No less than 80 per cent of Britain’s wheat requirements came from abroad, primarily from Russia, with lesser amounts from Canada and the United States. Britain’s wartime economy could scarcely afford labour unrest and unchecked inflation of staple consumer goods.36 On 22 January, the British prime minister, Herbert Asquith, wrote to a friend, “The only exciting thing in prospect (after seeing you on Friday) is what will happen in the Dardanelles. If successful, it will smash up the Turks, and, incidentally, let through all the Russian wheat wh. is now locked up & so lower the price of bread.” The industrial and labour unrest of 1911 had unnerved Winston Churchill, who was then Home Secretary. He had witnessed the disastrous effects of the strikes and four years later in 1915 was “deeply concerned about the possible impact that war might have upon public order in Britain … how much worse might be the economic and social dislocation of war? Churchill, as the minister responsible for maintaining order in both circumstances, inevitably found himself considering this very question.” The Dardanelles connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, a vital waterway for channelling Russian wheat and oil.

In addition, policymakers also referenced Britain’s tradition of hostility with Russia in Central Asia. The rise of Anglo-German antagonism “had only overlaid, but had not abolished, Britain’s quarrels with France and Russia.” Membership in their mutual alliance undoubtedly added a sense a security for British imperial possessions, specifically India, but it also created a dichotomous war for Britain: fighting to achieve its own war aims, but those of its allies as well. These goals were not always compatible: “All policy-makers were agreed that measures had to be taken to protect the British Empire in the East and that Britain had to assist its Russian ally.” A push through the Dardanelles could satisfy both objectives. The outbreak of war in 1914 did not cause the Entente partners to overlook their pre-war disputes. “British desiderata were chosen not only with an eye towards securing Britain’s postwar position against Germany,” concludes David French, “but also against France and Russia.” For British policymakers the ideal outcome of the war was an Entente victory on the Western Front, and a British victory in the greater Middle East.

This resulted in the March 1915 Constantinople Agreement between the Entente powers. Believing that the Ottoman Empire would soon be defeated, the agreement dictated the geographical divisions of the spoils of war. Russia would receive control of the former Turkish holdings of Constantinople (a free port to be administered by Russia), the western shores of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles, and southern Thrace. France maintained its demands for Syria (including Palestine), the Gulf of Alexandretta, and the coastal region of Cilicia surrounding the Turkish city of Adana. Britain would be granted control over the neutral zone in Persia, Mesopotamia, and southern Mediterranean ports, free passage through the Dardanelles, and the rump of Turkey in Asia, stretching from Anatolia to the Persian border, to provide a buffer between Russia and the British possessions of Mesopotamia, Persia, and India. The British also stressed that “Arabia and the Holy Places had to remain under Muslim control. It would never do for the British to be seen as despoilers of Islam. But above all else the agreement had to be kept secret.” As Foreign Secretary Edward Grey explained to his peers, Britain had to preserve some form of independent Muslim state in the Middle East and “take into account the very strong feelings in the Moslem world that Mohammedanism ought to have a political as well as a religious existence.” This agreement also meant that the territorial war aims of the allies could not be postponed until after the cessation of hostilities. The game of bluff, two-faced covenants, and Machiavellian diplomacy had begun, and future (often conflicting) pacts would follow, such as the 1915 consolidation of exchanges between the high commissioner of Egypt, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, and Sharif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca, promising an independent Arab state in return for military assistance against the Ottomans; the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement; and the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

Another reason for the Dardanelles campaign was that the British believed the war was unpopular in Turkey and was engineered by a small and disliked assembly of pro-German supporters. British strategists concluded that this German-allied regime would be replaced by a pro-British administration at the first instance of military defeat, or, at the least, would be willing to settle for peace to maintain power: “The almost casual way in which the British went about mounting the Dardanelles expedition can only be understood in the light of their belief that the Turks were not a first class Western power but a backward oriental despotism which would collapse immediately the first shots were fired. Too many British decision-makers simply did not believe that the lengthy military preparations necessary to confront a European power like Germany would be necessary in a campaign against the Turks.” It was also reasoned that a swift and decisive victory would increase British prestige and garner support across the Muslim world. The Dardanelles campaign would also force Turkey to relocate troops from Mesopotamia and Palestine, allowing the British to push their offensives in both theatres.

Nevertheless, the benefits of getting through the Dardanelles were so obvious that a naval operation was planned by Winston Churchill, then Lord of the Admiralty. On 18 March, under the direction of General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF), a combined British and French fleet assembled at the Dardanelles Strait and bombarded coastal defences. With no amphibious landings planned, the naval attempt to force the strait was unsuccessful and was aborted. The plan to take the Dardanelles, however, was not. On 25 April 1915, now known as ANZAC Day, British, Australian, New Zealand, and Newfoundland troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula (with the French landing to the south on the Asiatic shore of the straits at Kumkale), supported by a naval bombardment. The campaign proved to be futile and was abandoned by the Allies in January 1916.

Balfour and Oil II

Allied Petroleum stock position for all petroleum products, August 1918

During the second phase of the Middle East in the Great War, from the beginning of 1916 to March 1917, the British and the Russians again launched offensives in Mesopotamia and Persia, and for a second time drove out the Turks, as they had done in April 1915. In February 1916, the War Office replaced the India Office in command of the Mesopotamian enterprise. With the advent of the May 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Middle East was partitioned into British, French, and Russian (and later Italian) spheres of influence. This agreement was based upon the recommendations of the earlier de Bunsen Committee of June 1915, which was established to formally study and forward tangible British war aims in the Middle East following the misaligned Constantinople Agreement of March 1915. “Unquestioned control” of oil resources, including related industry and transportation mechanisms, was one of six key interests promoted in its first detailed report. Emphasis was given to Mesopotamia and a future pipeline to the terminus refinery/port at Haifa, in what became the British mandate in Palestine (now Israel) following the war – a British calculation for the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Britain extended her control over the rest of the southern and eastern regions and eventually occupied Baghdad in March 1917. To Curzon, “The capture of the city would ring through the East and would cause such an impression that it would partially discount any failure at the Dardanelles.” The triumph of Baghdad and the final sanction of the principles of the ongoing McMahon-Hussein negotiations were a way of buttressing flagging British prestige in the Middle East following the evacuation of Gallipoli. During the discussions of 1915, the sharif had no intentions of actually rebelling against the Turks until the British position in the Middle East became favourable; the British had merely bought his neutrality for the time being. By 1917, however, British headway in both Mesopotamia and Palestine swayed him to fulfil his prior assurances to provide military support against the Turks. However, the capture of Baghdad, allied to the unfolding unrest in Russia, had unforeseen strategic consequences for the British.

At this time, the war began to exact a toll on civilian populations. In late 1916, widespread famine began to devastate the local populations of Persia, eastern Anatolia, and the southern Caucasus. Local crops withered, and the import of foodstuffs from India, Mesopotamia, and the United States became non-existent, because the few and bucolic local roads and railways were used for war supplies by both sides. In addition, all belligerents, whether Ottoman, British, or Russian, refused to pay for local oil, which greatly aggravated the conditions brought on by the drought and famine. Between 1917 and 1919, it is estimated that nearly half (nine to eleven million people) of the Persian population died of starvation or disease brought on by malnutrition. Those men fit enough to fight, generally took up resistance against the British, who now controlled most of the region. In addition, plagues of locusts on a biblical scale ravaged 75 to 90 per cent of crops in Syria and Lebanon throughout 1915 and 1916, leading to drought and famine, which claimed 350,000 to 500,000 lives in the region by war’s end.

The third phase of the Middle Eastern theatre of war falls in the period of April 1917 to January 1918. The Russian Revolution unfolded, causing the Russian armies in Persia and the Caucasus to disband and evacuate their positions. The agreements of 1907 and 1916 between the Allies and Russia became moot. The United States officially joined the Allied war effort in April. With the potential for more manpower on the Western Front, thanks largely to the United States, Britain afforded more troops to General Sir Archibald Murray’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Maude’s successes in Mesopotamia, including the capture of Baghdad in March 1917, drastically changed the situation in the Middle East. If given appropriate troop allocations, Britain could now gain ground in Persia and Mesopotamia. However, in Palestine, Murray delayed any further attacks and subverted the British War Office with spurious reports of his progress. He was replaced by General Sir Edmund Allenby in June 1917. Allenby, as mentioned, proceeded to launch successful attacks on Gaza in November 1917 and on Jerusalem in December of the same year. With these regions safely under British control, the main railway lines from the Mediterranean ports across Syria, through Arabia to the Persian Gulf were in British hands. Also ports on the Mediterranean, Red, and Caspian Seas, the Persian Gulf, and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were open for Allied shipping.

Flushed by these recent victories, on 2 November 1917 the British issued the Balfour Declaration demarcating a Jewish homeland in soon-to-be-conquered Palestine. This was a strategic initiative to protect British interests and to help harden American favour. Having a cordial Jewish state in Palestine would ensure British control of the Suez Canal – the pathway to the Middle East, Central Asia, and India – while protecting oil interests and providing ideal locations for the terminus of pipelines at refineries constructed at Mediterranean ports. It would also appeal to the large Jewish diaspora in the United States, who were becoming a swelling electoral bloc in U.S. cities, principally in the highly populated east. Between 1900 and 1914, as Jewish pogroms engulfed Eastern Europe and Russia, 1.5 million Jews immigrated to America. When America entered the war in April 1917, its Jewish population had risen to over 2.2 million. Today, the United States and Israel are home to 80 per cent of the world’s Jews: “The origins of modern Israel – and of the modern Palestinian national movement – date to the years immediately following Balfour’s Declaration.”

In addition, irregular Arab guerrillas, led by T.E. Lawrence, who took command of these forces in 1916, were wreaking havoc on German and Turkish reinforcements and supply depots in Palestine and Western Arabia, distracting sizeable enemy forces from the main fronts. In early 1918, however, the decaying situation in the Middle East, which was spawned by the collapse of the tsarist regime, became even more threatening to local Allied strategy. With the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, Russian forces under General Nikolai Yudenich who had been embattled with both German and Turkish forces in the southern Caucasus since 1915, disintegrated. Until the summer of 1917, the Russian line extended from south Russia, through the Caucasus, across the Caspian Sea, through northwest Persia, until its left flank joined General Maude’s British forces in Mesopotamia, east of Baghdad. By October 1917, this continuous Allied line was melting away. Russian troops were deserting en masse, and the entire Russian Army announced its intention to withdraw from the area completely. With the advent of the Russian Revolution and the final collapse of the southern Russian forces in November 1917, and the unexpected death of General Maude from cholera that same month, the British faced an entirely new strategic situation.

The Turkish Army, inadvertently acting as a vanguard for German follow-on forces, found nothing between itself and the long-coveted possession of the oil-rich region of the southern Caucasus and began to work their way along the Transcaucasian Railway. A gap, some 450 miles wide, was forming on the right flank of the British Mesopotamian Force, through which Turkish and German agents and troops could encircle the Allied forces and pour into Central Asia. Germany was arming tribes in Persia, who were hostile to the British, and by the beginning of 1918, 300,000 rifles had been distributed: “With no Russian Caucasian army left to oppose them, the Turks had reversed three years of Russian gains in less than two months, restoring the 1914 borders (and going slightly past them) while hardly breaking a sweat.” The British were cognizant that these deployments were “to ensure for the Ottoman Government – 1. A powerful military position in the world. 2. Full opportunity to crush and massacre small subject races. 3. Pan-Islamic and pan-Turanian expansion in Central Asia, India and Africa. 4. Facilities for promoting dissention among the Powers.”56 The first comprehensive report detailing pan-Turanian ideology and its religious, geographical, racial, military, and strategic appendages was promulgated on 29 November 1917. The report also contained a section entitled “German Support of Pan-Turanianism,” which detailed the financial, propaganda, and clandestine efforts of German agents in the region to bolster German influence and sway under the guise of pan-Turanian backing.

Clearly the British were concerned with any push by the Turks or Germans, individually or collectively, into the Caucasus or Central Asia, “in so far as they are given opportunities by the course of events in Russia,” thereby fashioning an environment “intensely prejudicial to the position of Great Britain in India.” The newly appointed commander of the MEF, Lieutenant-General William Marshall (who replaced the deceased Maude), did not have sufficient forces to repel the inevitable onslaught. Alterations were desperately needed to safeguard British interests and operational intentions in the Middle East and the Caucasus.

The situation in the southern Caucasus and in neighbouring northwest Persia – east of the Turkish border – was extremely important to the Allies, specifically the British. Throughout the war, India was threatened from the Northwest Frontier, aggravated by the hostility of a considerable portion of the Afghan population, lured by German agents and bribes. As part of the kaiser’s plan to ignite jihad in India against the British Raj, a secret emissary was sent to Afghanistan to convince Emir Habibullah to instigate a holy war in India. This 1915–16 mission operated at the “vortex of four clashing empires – the German, Ottoman, Russian, and British.” Led by diplomat Werner-Otto von Hentig, the mission “wound its way from Berlin to Vienna to Constantinople to Baghdad … to Herat and Kabul.”

In central Persia, Hentig was joined by the resourceful and wily Oskar Niedermayer, often referred to as the “German Lawrence.” This picaresque enterprise, however, was plagued by complications from the outset, and as early as November 1914, British spies had full knowledge of the German-Afghan initiative. More importantly, in March 1915, British agents seized a diplomatic codebook in western Persia abandoned by Wilhelm Wassmuss, an elusive German agent, allowing them to intercept messages from German consuls in the Ottoman Empire and also those sent by Hentig and Niedermayer. The greatest difficulty for these German emissaries, however, was to convince the emir to abandon his bonds with the British, which had been validated through a 1905 Treaty of Friendship.

Knowing German intentions, the British began to flood Kabul with propaganda and sent the emir personal messages regarding the progress of the German party, spotted with disinformation. King George V wrote a personal letter to his Afghan peer on 24 September 1915, “My Dear Friend, I have been much gratified to learn … how scrupulously and honourably Your Majesty has maintained the attitude of strict neutrality which you guaranteed at the beginning of the war, not only because it is in accordance with Your Majesty’s engagements to me, but also because by it you are serving the best interests of Afghanistan and the Islamic religion [and] still further strengthen the friendship which I so greatly value, which has united our people since the days of your father, of illustrious memory, and of my revered forebear, the great Queen Victoria.” In an accompanying letter from Charles Hardinge, the viceroy of India, the emir was informed that his annual subsidy would be increased by £25,000 (from £400,000 to £425,000). In reality, Habibullah still had £800,000 of unspent credit in Delhi, in addition to sizeable investments in London.

In the meantime, Niedermayer and his motley crew of twenty-five “dried up skeletons” evaded British and Russian pursuers, and after seven perilous weeks in the Persian desert (marching some 30–40 miles per day in temperatures upwards of 50°C), crossed the Afghan frontier on 19 August 1915. Kabul, although in sight, still lay some four hundred miles east, with the gates to India only two hundred miles beyond. On 2 October, one year after Niedermayer had left Constantinople, the Germans entered the Afghan capital. Habibullah, however, was intelligent, cautious, and a savvy veteran of Great Game politics. Having just received the entreaty from King George and a raise in pay, he was in no hurry to hold audience with the German envoys, who spent the next twenty-four days in cordial, albeit guarded, house arrest: “Habibullah’s caution was wholly in character. He had not survived as sovereign of his realm for fourteen years in between the British and Russian empires without learning how to play the powers off against one another. Far from the provincial tribal Islamic headman the Germans had imagined him to be, the Emir was European in both his dress and his manners, and evidently well informed about the world war.” The emir was obviously well aware of his opportunity to play the game with a new set of pawns: Britain and Germany.

At last on 26 October, Habibullah’s Rolls-Royce (the only car in Afghanistan) collected Hentig and Niedermayer and shuttled them down the paved road (again the only one in Afghanistan) to his palace. Over the course of the next two months, the emir held daily meetings with his guests, listening to their propositions. He maintained his poker face, however, refusing to play his hand by rarely saying a word in response. Although his manners were beyond reproach, Habibullah treated the Germans as if “we were businessmen with various goods [to sell], from which he wished to determine which would be good or useful to him.” The emir was receiving intelligence from the British, who were generally pleased with his policy of “masterly inactivity.”

Finally, on 24 January 1916, Habibullah signed a treaty with the Germans; the crowning moment of his brilliant self-serving scheme. To replace his British subsidies, which would be forfeit if his forces invaded India, he secured a sum of £10 million (£5 billion today), in addition to the promise of 100,000 modern rifles, 300 artillery pieces, and other contemporary military equipment. Lastly, he assured Hentig and Niedermayer that the invasion would begin when a force of 20,000 well-armed Turkish and German soldiers arrived to cover the rear against an inevitable Russian attack – which both parties knew was logistically impossible. Niedermayer was rightly “convinced that any attempt to induce Afghanistan to go to war against India is futile as long as it is based only on diplomatic activities.” The following day, Habibullah summoned the British agent and declared his continued loyalty and neutrality and belatedly replied to King George reaffirming this position. By playing both nations, Habibullah ensured that he would be on the winning side, regardless of who actually won the war. The treaty with the Germans was merely an insurance policy, for if the untenable terms, calculatingly imposed by the emir, were ever met, the Central Powers would have to be categorically winning the war.

Habibullah continued to delay until the Germans had finally given up hope of cooperation and of an Afghan invasion of India. With the sweeping 1916 Russian gains in Anatolia and Persia, the Arab revolt in Mesopotamia, and the failure of the German offensive at Verdun on the Western Front, both Germany and the Ottomans had more immediate concerns. On 15 February 1916, the Russians seized the impregnable fortress of Erzurum, sending the Turkish Third Army into a hasty retreat towards Ankara: “It was a bitter blow to Turco-German prestige. Any chance Niedermayer still had of inducing Emir Habibullah to launch an Afghani holy war against British India most likely perished in the snows of Erzurum.” As a result, Niedermayer and Hentig left Kabul towards the end of May 1916, and with them the kaiser’s hopes of igniting rebellion in India via Afghanistan.

Hentig escaped east with stops in Shanghai, Honolulu, San Francisco, Halifax (Canada), and Bergen (Norway) before reaching Berlin. Niedermayer also eventually made it back to Tehran, having been beaten, robbed, and left for dead in the Persian desert by his Turkish escorts. He reported to the German Embassy, “Our next and most important objectives are the Caucasus and northern Persia.” He would reappear in Mesopotamia in early 1917, coming face-to-face with his British counterpart, Lawrence of Arabia, as part of the German-reinforced Turkish Yildirim Army (Lightning Army) or Heeresgruppe F, initially commanded by General Erich von Falkenhayn and later by General Liman von Sanders. This unit attempted without success to crush the Arab revolt and deny British advances in Palestine and Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, during 1915–16, the danger posed by their mission to Afghanistan was viewed as a great threat in British circles. According to Brigadier-General Sir Percy Sykes, commander of the South Persian Rifles, “The German Mission to the Emir created a crisis of the first magnitude in Afghanistan and was a source of the gravest anxiety in India.” Any advance on India by Turkey would influence the fortunes of not only India, but the entire British Empire. India was the source of considerable wealth in raw war materials vital to the Allied war effort.

To avoid such a catastrophy, the strategic solution was to limit Turkey’s access to the transportation routes leading south to India, the majority of which were in the Middle East. The main cities on both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, including Mosul, Baghdad, Fallujah, and Basra, and the northern Caspian ports of Enzeli and Baku, were vital ground in halting any southeast Turkish or German advance. The British also needed to protect the road from Baghdad to the port of Enzeli. The road, 630 miles long, climbed through a succession of mountain ranges and desolate regions and was frequently raided by Turkish or hostile Persian forces being encouraged by German/Turkish agents. In addition, hostile Jangali tribesmen under Kuchik Khan controlled all approaches to Enzeli. The protection of this route was under Marshall’s mandate, but he could not devote any resources to its security, given his obligations in Mesopotamia and his already overextended forces.

With the Russian departure and Marshall’s MEF and Allenby’s EEF lacking the capacity to expand operations beyond their current area of operations, it was necessary to insert secondary forces to meet strategic objectives in the Middle East. The Russian force that had long held the Caucasus-Persian front fluctuated between 125,000 and 225,000 soldiers. The Allies could not spare reinforcements from any theatre, including those in Palestine or Mesopotamia, to replace these numbers. Highly mobile and highly trained special forces seemed to be the only alternative. As mentioned, there were a number of other relatively obscure Allied “sideshow” campaigns within volatile, post-revolution Russia.70 The necessity for Allied intervention into both northern and southern Russia was a reaction to the overall strategic situation, which had been significantly transformed during 1917. Within this paradigm Dunsterforce was deployed to northern Persia and the Caucasus in 1918 to safeguard British oil interests.

Siege of Pusan [now Busan]

Faced with some 15,000 attackers and their alien weapons, the city’s 8,000 defending troops stood no chance. The Japanese celebrated the capture of Pusan in 1592 with an orgy of bloodletting.

The Failure of the 16th Century Japanese Invasions of Korea

Sengoku Jidai: Mandate of Heaven

Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun Collector’s Edition

Official Korean documents in the sixteenth century were dated according to the reign year of the Chinese emperor or the Korean king. Fifteen ninety-two, being the twentieth year of the reign of China’s Wanli emperor and the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Korean king Sonjo, was therefore referred to either as Wanli 20 or Sonjo 25. In everyday usage, however, a different and very ancient counting system was used to keep track of the passage of both the days and the years: the traditional cycle of sixty. Each increment in the cycle was given a name consisting of one of ten “heavenly stems” derived from the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, and an “earthly branch” of one of the twelve zodiacal symbols: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

Fifteen ninety-two was the twenty-ninth year in this cycle, the year called imjin, a name combining the ninth heavenly stem, seawater, with the sign of the dragon. The Koreans did not regard the year with any particular sense of foreboding. On the contrary, the advent of imjin may even have been considered fortuitous, for the year of the dragon was traditionally viewed as a time of opportunity and prosperity, tinged with just a hint of unpredictability.

Fifteen ninety-two changed all that. The events that would unfold on the peninsula beginning in May would sear the word imjin on the Korean consciousness as a synonym for death and destruction, the apocalypse, the end of the world. To this day imjin waeran, “the Japanese bandit invasion of the water dragon year,” remains the closest that Korea has ever come to the abyss. There have been other times in her history that have brought destruction and tragedy on a terrible scale, most notably the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. But nothing can ever surpass the utter desolation of imjin waeran—the burned-out cities, the scorched earth, the broken families and snuffed-out lives. Among a people as homogeneous as the Koreans, the memory of this catastrophe not surprisingly is still very much alive today, more than four hundred years after the event. Indeed, it might even be said that they have not entirely forgiven Japan for it. Imjin waeran remains to this day a sub-text to the resentment and at times animosity that Koreans still feel toward the Japanese for their occupation of the peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

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It began on May 23, 1592. A dense mist hung over the sea off Pusan early that morning, obscuring any sign of activity offshore. Chong Pal, the sixty-year-old commander of the Pusan garrison, left the port early for a day of hunting on Cholyong-do, a forested island at the mouth of the harbor so named for its population of deer. Emerging from the trees some time in the afternoon, he was one of the first to spy the armada, “covering all of the sea,” approaching from the direction of Daema-do, as Tsushima was known to the Koreans. Suspecting that this could be the Japanese invasion that everyone was expecting and yet did not expect, Chong rushed back to Pusan to raise the alarm and prepare for the worst. Any doubts as to what he had seen were soon dispelled by corroborative reports from a lighthouse keeper farther along the coast and from a beacon-fire tender on a hill behind Pusan: a long battle line of ships, ninety in number, approaching from the south.

The lead ships of the Japanese armada soon reached the waters off Pusan harbor and dropped anchor. Kyongsang Left Navy Commander Pak Hong observed their arrival from his nearby base at Kijang and began to tally the numbers for himself. There were easily ninety, as reported. Then one hundred. Then one hundred and fifty. The afternoon waned, and the ships kept coming. Two hundred. Two hundred and fifty. Three hundred. The sun eased below the horizon, and still the number continued to climb. And Pak’s nerves began to fray.

Word of the Japanese arrival reached Kyongsang Right Navy Commander Won Kyun at his base on Koje Island to the west of Pusan that same afternoon. He could not at first bring himself to believe what was happening. In a dispatch to his colleague Yi Sun-sin, commander of the Cholla Left Navy based at Yosu farther to the west, Won reported that the approaching mass of ships was perhaps some sort of exceptionally large trade mission from Tsushima. As the afternoon progressed, however, and the number of ships crowding the bay off Pusan climbed to one hundred and fifty and beyond, Won was forced to the conclusion that an invasion was indeed under way and a disaster about to befall them.

Neither he nor Pak Hong, however, made any attempt that day or the next to attack the Japanese armada with the approximately one hundred and fifty heavy panokson battleships under their command, representing the bulk of the entire Korean navy. The two men simply watched and waited and sent off frantic dispatches, while the ships under their command, the most formidable weapons in the Korean arsenal and the first and most effective line in the nation’s defenses, sat idle in their ports.

For the Koreans, this frozen inaction on the part of Won and Pak was the first of many strategic errors that would be made in the early days of the Imjin War. For although the two naval commanders did not know it, the gathering armada, while numerically daunting, was in fact vulnerable to seaborne attack and could have been dealt a heavy blow before it ever had a chance to send a single man ashore.

In the order of battle he had signed two months before, Hideyoshi urged his daimyo to be particularly careful to get their troops safely across the sea to Pusan, warning them that “the loss of one man or one horse through bad judgment will be regarded as a grave offense.” To ensure their safety, the invasion plan had called for a force of battleships to travel in convoy with the transports to protect them from the very ships that now sat idle in the Korean naval bases of Kyongsang Province. But such convoying had not occurred. When the first contingents of the invasion force were leaving Nagoya for their forward staging areas on Tsushima, the navy was still assembling on the Inland Sea. When the transports were at sea between Tsushima and Pusan, the navy was only just arriving at Nagoya. In fact, it would be more than a week before Hideyoshi’s battleships would arrive at Pusan. Konishi had gambled that he could land his forces without their protection and was now in Korean waters with a fleet of light and largely unprotected transports—fishing boats really—that would have been no match for Korea’s panokson if the challenge had been made. Had a different admiral been in command of either Kyongsang fleet, one willing to put his ships to sea and strike at the enemy, the outcome of these first few days might have been very different indeed.

By nightfall on May 23 some four hundred ships bearing Konishi Yukinaga’s first contingent had successfully traversed the seventy kilometers from Tsushima’s northern tip and were crowding the waters off Pusan. At seven thirty in the evening a single vessel separated from this force and advanced into the harbor. Aboard was So Yoshitoshi, the Christian daimyo of Tsushima, also known as Dario, who had served as Hideyoshi’s emissary to the Koreans since 1589. Accompanying him was the scholar monk Genso, a member of the Tsushima mission to Seoul in 1589. The two men sent a letter to the commander of Pusan, Chong Pal, asking one last time that the way be cleared to China for the armies of Japan. They received no answer, and eventually returned in their ship and rejoined the armada.

The die was now cast for a war with Korea. So Yoshitoshi and his father-in-law Konishi Yukinaga may have come to Pusan hoping that a show of force would cow the Koreans into acceding to Hideyoshi’s demands, thereby avoiding the necessity of a fight. Chong Pal’s rebuff ensured that this was not to be. With a huge invasion army waiting behind them on Tsushima, there was tremendous pressure on these two daimyo commanders not to spend time trying to arrange a settlement with the Koreans. It was, thought Konishi, “the will of Christ” that they now go ahead and use armed force.

For the next several hours the Japanese armada sat motionless offshore as the Koreans watched anxiously from behind the walls of Pusan Castle. Then, at four o’clock the next morning, May 24, the landings began. First ashore were the five thousand men under So Yoshitoshi. He was the logical choice to lead the way, for having visited Pusan several times in the past he knew the lay of the land and the nature of the defenses better than any of Hideyoshi’s commanders. The arrival of this familiar and formerly friendly face may also have been intended to cause the Koreans at least momentary confusion. If so, it could not have lasted long. So and his men clearly had not come this time to conduct diplomacy or trade; they had come for war. They came ashore clad in armor of iron plates and leather shingles tied together to form a flexible yet nearly impenetrable shell. It covered their torsos and arms and formed an apron in the front. They wore flaring iron helmets, some with stylized buffalo horns and antlers screwed to the front, all with a jointed cowling affixed to the sides and back to protect the neck. High-ranking samurai rode horses. They wore grotesque war masks with fierce, grimacing faces, and were armed with two swords: a long katana and a shorter wakizashi, finely crafted, very expensive, and highly valued by their owner. Some may have carried bows as well, and a lesser number spears. They did not carry muskets. These effective but fundamentally dishonorable weapons went to the ashigaru foot soldiers, along with one “loan sword.”

Next ashore was So Yoshitoshi’s father-in-law, Konishi Yukinaga, at the head of seven thousand men. They followed an unusual banner featuring a huge, stuffed rendering of the white paper bags used by Japanese druggists to dispense medicine, a reference to the Konishi family’s traditional involvement in that trade. There were very likely crucifixes in evidence as well, for Konishi and his men, like So’s company, were all Christians. Konishi himself rode a fine horse that Hideyoshi had presented to him at Nagoya before his departure, with the exhortation that he use it to “gallop over the heads of the bearded savages.”

After Konishi came Matsuura, lord of Hirado, the sole nonbeliever in the group. Then Arima. Omura. Goto. A total of 18,700 men in all, dressed for combat, ready to kill. The predominant colors were black and red: black armor and helmets, red banners and brocade. The multitude formed up in ranks, then split in two. Konishi led a portion of the men a few kilometers southwest along the harbor front to the fort at Tadaepo at the mouth of the Naktong River. The fort’s defenders, under garrison commander Yun Hung-sin, managed to repel the first assault but were overwhelmed by the second and all put to the sword. So Yoshitoshi meanwhile led the advance on Pusan Castle itself. He formally called upon garrison commander Chong Pal one last time to surrender, asserting yet again that they were on their way to China and would not harm the Koreans if they would only step aside. Chong refused. Until he received orders to the contrary, he replied, he was duty bound to resist the Japanese advance.

The aging officer then turned to his men and made his orders clear. “I expect you all,” he cried out, “to fight and die like brave men! If any man attempts to turn and flee, I will personally cut off his head!”

The day was just dawning when the Japanese sounded their conch-shell trumpets to signal the attack. The ensuing battle was fierce but short, providing the beleaguered Koreans with their first taste of the stunning power of the arquebus. Their arrows and spears were no match for them. The defenders of Pusan Castle were felled by the hundreds by the flying slugs of lead that these strange “dog legs” spit out, a deluge of death that “fell like rain.” The garrison fought until all their arrows were gone. Then Chong Pal himself was killed, and with that, at around nine o’clock in the morning, all resistance ceased.

Once over the walls, “We found people running all over the place and trying to hide in the gaps between the houses,” samurai chronicler Yoshino Jingozaemon would later record. “Those who could not conceal themselves went off toward the East Gate, where they clasped their hands together, and there came to our ears the Chinese expression, ‘Manō! Manō!’ which was probably them asking for mercy. Taking no notice of what they heard our troops rushed forward and cut them down, slaughtering them as a blood sacrifice to the god of war. Both men, women, and even dogs and cats were beheaded.” That it was assumed the Koreans spoke Chinese is an indication of how little the Japanese knew of their foe.

According to Japanese records, 8,500 Koreans were killed in the fall of Pusan and 200 prisoners were taken. Among the dead was Chong Pal’s eighteen-year-old concubine, Ae-hyang. Her body was found lying beside the fallen commander. She had taken her own life.

The British Army Adapts to American Warfare

Violent confrontation at Bunker Hill

In America the evasion of the sugar tax was so successful that Parliament lowered the tax, in hope of undercutting smugglers’ profits, but squandered the goodwill by vigorous efforts to collect the lower tax. Colonial consumers recognised that the ultimate aim was to establish a precedent for more taxes later on. A national boycott made everyone aware that the colonies had to stand together, as they later did against the Stamp Tax; and the symbolic protest against the Tea Tax led to Americans becoming a nation of coffee drinkers.

At what became known as the Boston Tea Party, men disguised as Indians boarded ships with cheap tea belonging to the East India Company and dumped it into the harbour. Parliament was so outraged that it sent regulars to occupy Boston and then closed the harbour, effectively shutting the economy down. American militia units began to drill, and threats were made against anyone speaking on behalf of the crown.

This led eventually to a sortie from Boston to seize American weapons and gunpowder, then to a violent confrontation at Bunker Hill. Sending redcoats straight at the crude colonial fortification overlooking Boston was a mistake, but General William Howe (1729-1814) had assumed that Americans would never stand against regulars; he sent British regulars to chase them away.

Howe learned from the engagement not to attack American earthworks head on again—Americans lacked the training and self-confidence to take on British formations in the field, but they knew how to dig, and once in their trenches, they knew how to hold them.

The common assumption that the British army stubbornly held to traditional line tactics while fighting in America—and therefore lost key battles such as Saratoga—has been challenged by Matthew Spring in With Zeal and Bayonets Only, the British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-83. General Howe’s means of countering American earthworks was to manoeuvre so that when his men came in on the flank, the defenders had to come out and fight, or run away, or be slaughtered. Running was the usual choice. Militiamen’s reluctance to stand firm against redcoats left George Washington in such fury that several times he threw his hat to the ground, yelling at the fleeing men, and courting death in their place.

Washington’s response to the British flanking attacks was to build longer and more elaborate defensive lines, to replace his militia units with Continentals as much as he could, and to withdraw when he saw his men wavering. If he could get the British units to stop and exchange fire, his Continentals could inflict almost as many casualties as they took, and American riflemen could pick off the officers. This was something Howe could not afford—his men were both difficult to recruit and expensive to replace. America, in contrast, had a ‘bottomless’ supply of manpower, and at the war went on more and more men enlisted in the ranks of the Continental Army or state militias. Howe had expected loyalists to join him in large numbers. That did not happen.

Eventually, the British developed an effective response to the American strategy of entrenchment. This was to emphasise light infantry tactics that were rarely used in the European wars. Each regiment (roughly 400 men) was divided into ten companies, two being flank companies which served as light infantry; as the war went, more and more companies were trained to fight a more open order in ranks only two deep, to take shelter behind trees when necessary, and to move swiftly through woods. The critical moment came when the redcoats were forty yards away, when they would fire a quick volley and charge at a run with their bayonets. This almost always flushed the Americans out of even well-designed trench works. The speed and daring were intimidating, and the redcoats’ practice of bayoneting the wounded and those who tried to surrender made them greatly feared. The redcoats were especially brutal toward riflemen, whose marksmanship killed so many of their comrades.

One problem, not mentioned by Spring, was that men in trenches knew they would be slaughtered once redcoats began thrusting bayonets down at them. Forty years before, Maurice de Saxe, the foremost French marshal, had his men build walls of logs or stone to avoid this fate. A fence of logs wasn’t always practical in America, but every man knew how to use a shovel. (For more on this, read my Bayonets and Scimitars.)

The redcoats were not uniformly veterans, but they had an experienced core that brought recruits along quickly, and since recruits in America could not leave the army to tend crops or care for their families, within months they knew their business. As a result, they were much better trained than the Americans, and their belief in their invincibility made them confident.

This is important because although the redcoats won almost every pitched battle with the Americans, the war was lost from the beginning. Politicians and generals misread the depth of American dissatisfaction, and every effort they made to coerce the colonials antagonised them more. General Howe had rejected advice to make war on the American people because that would have turned the whole seaboard into a gigantic Ireland, where one-third of the army was usually stationed to keep the populace from rising. America was too big for that; the government could not afford it.

Since Howe and his successors could not afford to lose men, they preferred manoeuvre to frontal assaults. This frustrated junior officers and his Hessian allies, who yearned for a chance to finish off the Yankees in one great battle; all too often they watched Howe manoeuvre into a position to attack at dawn, only to find the well-constructed fortifications abandoned when morning came.

The redcoats adapted to the challenges of the American woodlands, the lack of roads, and insufficient local foodstuffs, but they were never able to finish off the American armies, which kept coming back at them until finally they were able to meet them on more equal terms.

Spring’s account puts yet another end to the myth of the Minuteman being equal to a trained professional. ‘Another end’ is the way to say it because the myth keeps coming back again and again. Washington had proved that an effective army had to be trained and equipped in much the same way that European armies were organised, because there had to be a final battlefield victory. With French help he achieved this in 1781 at Yorktown. An America without an army would be at the mercy of foreign invasion and Indian attack forever. And foreign troops exposed to guerrilla tactics can become angry and vengeful in a hurry, much as the Indians already were.

Why Independence was Necessary

Too often historians think the American Revolution was about taxes. In reality it was because Americans refused to be reduced to second class subjects. Anthony Scotti, Jr’s powerful short book, Brutal Virtue, the Myth and Reality of Banastre Tarleton, demonstrated this while trying to prove the opposite. The name Tarleton probably means little to readers outside of South Carolina, but few citizens of that southern state would fail to recognise it.

Movie-goers of 2000 might have seen The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, in which the hero tried to remain neutral in the conflict, but was inevitably drawn in by Tarleton’s misdeeds. This reflected Scotti’s argument that patriotic propagandists used him to illustrate why Americans had to join the fight, but that Tarleton was really no worse than anyone else. This perhaps credits patriot propagandists too much. Those who knew Tarleton best either loved him or hated him; he was lucky not to have been hanged.

Another movie, Sweet Liberty (1986), made an additional point. A comedy written and directed by Alan Alda (who also had the lead role except when being upstaged by Michael Caine and Michelle Pfeiffer), the story centred on a small-college historian who had written a scholarly study of Tarleton’s famous meeting with Mrs. Mary Slocomb, and who was frustrated by the director’s efforts to turn that into a love story. When Tarleton came to Mrs. Slocomb’s farm to burn it, he asked where her husband was and whether he was a rebel. She retorted, ‘He is in the army of his country, and fighting against our invaders, and therefore not a rebel.’

The banter apparently lasted for most of the several days that Tarleton rested his men at her farm. She cooperated to the extent of feeding and housing his men, but probably not by sharing her bed. He responded to her courtesy by not burning her house and barns.

Every observer of the colonial scene agreed that South Carolina and Georgia were more loyalist than the other colonies. This was partly because the plantation owners with numerous slaves and the commercial class selling tobacco, rice and indigo saw themselves much like English nobility and merchant capitalists. However, without British armed assistance, the loyalists could not challenge patriot control of politics.

This changed when Cornwallis was sent to Charles Towne (as it was known then) with 14,000 redcoats and Hessians; after a long siege he forced General Benjamin Lincoln to surrender the city and his 5,000 men. It was the greatest defeat the Americans had suffered yet—the loss of an entire army.

Cornwallis set out to occupy the countryside, but he found it difficult to locate guerilla forces such as those of the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion. His answer to this problem was to recruit loyalists for a mixed light cavalry and mounted infantry body that he called the British Legion; he named as commander the brightest cavalry officer in the army, young Banastre Tarleton.

The British Legion became famed (or infamous) for its long, swift marches and deadly attacks. It would fall on patriot forces at dawn, slaughtering the sleepy men, or charge unsteady units so suddenly that the men would fly for their lives. Not that many got away. No man on foot can outrun a horse. Tarleton would demand that patriot regiments surrender, and if they did not, his men would kill everyone they caught. In short, like the French suppressing Algerian rebels between 1954 and 1962, his operations were a model of tactical efficiency, but a strategic blunder.

The green uniforms that the British Legion wore were a symbol of pride, but also of what was wrong with British policy. Britons chose to believe that all Americans were dirty, lazy and cowardly. Therefore, they were not worthy of holding government posts or being allowed to buy commissions in the army. They were not even allowed to wear red coats.

A far-sighted government would have made George Washington into a professional officer and rich Americans into aristocrats. But no, the government saw Americans as the equivalent of the Irish, the Scots, and South Asian Indians, that is, as a lower class of human being. When Americans complained that taxation policies and changing the royal charters were reducing them to slaves (something they knew something about), more than a few Britons thought that would be a good thing.

Benjamin Franklin had gone to London as a lobbyist for the government of the Pennsylvania Colony. World-renowned scientist, philosopher and humourist, honoured by British universities, he was nevertheless repeatedly humiliated by the government ministers. Before he returned to America he wrote a satirical tract, ‘Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One.’

The lesson is a hard one, easily understood but hard to apply when one sees the rudeness of frontier conditions and the seeming incompetence of the people there, but it is a manner of common courtesy—treat people with respect. This is especially difficult for those who consider themselves aristocrats, far above the common people.

Machiavelli warned princes not to make themselves hated. Cruelty is well used if applied decisively for a short period, then stopped. Secure your position and use your power to benefit your subjects. In that way your subject will be doubly thankful—first for having ended the violence, then for the benefits of peace and a few royal favours. The British lacked an army equipped to follow this path, so they began mildly and become more ruthless as the years passed. George III would have been better off if he had followed the advice of his Whig critics, to leave the Americans alone.

Military victories cannot win a peace alone. Without either a large occupation army or a sizeable number of loyalists who can take over the governance of the region, no outside army can hold a people down forever. There is always some other outside army and navy that will come to the aid of the rebels that inevitably arise.

Foreign Policy of Henry IV

Henry IV and the war of Savoy

In exchange for retaining Saluzzo (dotted area, lower center), Savoy was compelled to cede most of its territories on the far side of the Rhône (striped area, upper left)

The peace of Vervins was not very well observed on the part of France. The ruling idea which guided the foreign policy of Henry IV was to curb the power of the House of Austria: a plan incompatible with the letter of the treaty. In pursuance of this policy Henry became the supporter of Protestantism; not, perhaps, from any lingering affection for his ancient faith—his indifference in such matters has been already seen—but because the Protestants were the natural enemies of the Austrian House. Hence he was determined to support the independence of Holland. He annually paid the Dutch large sums of money; he connived at the recruiting for them in France; and in spite of a royal prohibition, granted at the instance of the Spanish ambassador in 1599, whole regiments passed into the service of the United Provinces. In aid of these plans Henry fortified himself with alliances. He courted the Protestant Princes of Germany, and incited them to make a diversion in favour of the Dutch; he cultivated the friendship of Venice, reconciled himself with the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and attached the House of Lorraine to his interests by giving his sister, Catharine, in marriage to the Duke of Bar (January 31st, 1599); who, formerly, when Marquis of Pont-à-Mousson, had been his rival for the French Crown, and who in 1608 succeeded his father as Duke of Lorraine. The Porte was propitiated by Savary de Brèves, an able diplomatist; and the vanity of France was gratified by obtaining the protectorate of the Christians in the East. The Pope was gained through his temporal interests as an Italian Prince. Henry had promised, on his absolution, to publish in France the decrees of Trent; and, as he had refrained from doing so out of consideration for the Huguenots, he had, by way of compensation, offered to support Clement VIII in his design of uniting Ferrara to the immediate dominions of the Church; although the House of Este had often been the faithful ally of France. The direct line of the reigning branch of that family becoming extinct on the death of Duke Alfonso II, Clement VIII seized the duchy; and Caesard’Este, first cousin and heir of Alfonso, obtained only the Imperial fiefs of Modena and Reggio (1597). The connivance of Henry gratified the Pope and caused him to overlook the Edict of Nantes.

The friendship of the Pope was also necessary to Henry for his private affairs, as he was meditating a divorce from his wife, Margaret of Valois, from whom he had long been estranged, and who had borne him no children. Flaws were discovered in Gregory XIII’s dispensation for kinship; and as Margaret herself, in consideration of a large pension from the King, agreed to the suit (July, 1599), a divorce was easily obtained. The choice of her successor was more difficult. Mary de’ Medici, the offspring of Francis, Grand-Duke of Tuscany, by a daughter of the Emperor, Ferdinand I, was proposed, and supported by Sully who opposed all idea of a marriage with Gabrielle, now Duchess of Beaufort. The difficulty was solved by the sudden death of Gabrielle, April 10th, 1599. Henry, who was absent from Paris, though he felt and displayed an unfeigned sorrow for the death of his mistress, harbored no suspicions, and the negotiations for the Florentine marriage went on. Mary de’ Medici, however, was nearly supplanted by another rival. Before the end of the summer, Henry had been captivated by a new mistress, Mademoiselle d’Entragues, whom he created Marquise de Verneuil. The Papal commissaries had, in December, 1599, pronounced his marriage with Margaret null; and on the 25th of April following the King signed his marriage contract with the Tuscan Princess, the second descendant of the Florentine bankers, who was destined to give heirs to the Crown of France.

A domestic rebellion, fomented by Spain and Savoy, diverted awhile the attention of Henry from his plans of foreign policy. Sully’s economy and love of order had excited much discontent among the powerful nobles of France; the materials of sedition were accumulated and ready to burst into a flame; and a point that had been left undecided in the treaty of Vervins afforded the means of applying the torch. By that treaty the question between France and Savoy respecting the Marquisate of Saluzzo had been referred to the decision of the Pope; but Clement VIII, unwilling to offend either party, had declined to interfere. In order, if possible, to settle this question, and also to engage Henry to support his pretensions to Geneva, Charles Emmanuel, who then reigned in Savoy, paid a visit to the French King at Fontainebleau; where, alarmed apparently at the idea of being seized and detained, he agreed to decide whether he would give up Bresse in exchange for Henry’s claims on Saluzzo. He had, however, no intention of surrendering either the one or the other; and he employed his visit to France in ingratiating himself with the French nobles, many of whom he gained by large gifts and still larger promises. It had been predicted by an astrologer that in the year 1600 there should be no King in France; and Charles Emmanuel made use of a prediction which, in that age, earned no slight weight, not only to rouse the ambition of the French nobility, but also, it is said, to stimulate a renewal of the odious enterprises against Henry’s life. A plan was formed to convert France into an elective monarchy, like the Empire, and to establish each great lord as an hereditary Prince in his government. It was thought that many towns as well as nobles might be drawn into the plot, nay, even that some princes of the blood might be induced to engage in it. Among the leading conspirators were the Dukes of Epernon and Bouillon (Turenne), and the Count of Auvergne, a natural son of Charles IX and uterine brother of the King’s mistress, Henriette d’Entragues. But Marshal Biron was the soul of the plot: whose chief motive was wounded pride, the source of so many rash actions in men of his egregious vanity. Biron pretended that the King owed to him the Crown, and complained of his ingratitude, although Henry had made him a Duke and Peer, as well as a Marshal of France and Governor of Burgundy. Henry had mortified him by remarking that the Birons had served him well, but that he had had a great deal of trouble with the drunkenness of the father and the freaks and pranks of the son.Biron’s complaints were so loud that the Court of Spain made him secret advances; while an intriguer named La Fin proposed to him, on the part of the Duke of Savoy, one of the Duke’s daughters in marriage, and held out the hope that Spain would guarantee to him the sovereignty of both Burgundies. After many pretexts and delays, Charles Emmanuel having refused to give up Bresse for Saluzzo, or Saluzzo for Bresse, Henry IV declared war against him in August, 1600, and promptly followed up the declaration by invading Savoy. Biron carefully concealed his designs, nor does the King appear to have been aware of them; for he gave the Marshal a command, who conquered for him the little county of Bresse, though still secretly corresponding with the Duke of Savoy. Henry’s refusal to give Biron the command of Bourg, the capital of Bresse, still further exasperated him.

One of the most interesting incidents of this little war is the care displayed by Henry for the safety of Geneva. The Duke of Savoy had long hankered after the possession of that city, and had erected, at the distance of two leagues from it, the fort of St. Catherine, which proved a great annoyance to the Genevese. The fort was captured by the royal forces; and the now aged Beza, at the head of a deputation of the citizens, went out to meet the King, who, in spite of the displeasure of the Papal Legate, gave him a friendly reception, presented him with a sum of money, and granted his request for the demolition of the fortress. This war presents little else of interest except its results, embodied in the treaty of peace signed January 17th, 1601. The rapidity of Henry’s conquests had quite dispirited Charles Emmanuel; and although Fuentes, the Spanish Governor of the Milanese, ardently desired the prolongation of the war, the Duke of Lerma, the all-powerful minister of Philip III, was against it; for the anxiety of the Spanish cabinet had been excited by the appearance of a Turkish fleet in the western waters of the Mediterranean, effected through the influence of the French ambassador at Constantinople. Under these circumstances negotiations were begun. In order to retain the Marquisate of Saluzzo, which would have given the French too firm a footing in Piedmont, the Duke was compelled to make large territorial concessions on the other side of the Alps. Bresse, Bugei, Valromei, the Pays de Gex, in short, all the country between the Saone, the Rhone, and the southern extremity of the Jura mountains, except the little principality of Dombes and its capital Trevoux, belonging to the Duke of Montpensier, were now ceded to the French in exchange for their claims of the territories of Saluzzo, Perosa, Pinerolo, and the Val di Stura. The Duke also ceded Chateaux-Dauphin, reserving a right of passage into Franche-Comte, for which he had to pay 100,000 crowns. This hasty peace ruined all Biron s hopes, and struck him with such alarm, that he came to Henry and confessed his treasonable plans. Henry not only pardoned him, but even employed him in embassies to England and Switzerland; but Biron was incorrigible. He soon afterwards renewed his intrigues with the French malcontent nobles, and being apprehended and condemned for high treason by the Parliament of Paris, was beheaded in the Court of the Bastille, July 29th, 1602. The execution of so powerful a nobleman created both at home and abroad a strong impression of the power of the French King.

While the war with Savoy was going on, Mary de’ Medici arrived in France, and Henry solemnized his marriage with her at Lyons, December 9th, 1600. The union was not destined to be a happy one. Mary was neither amiable nor attractive; she possessed but little of the grace or intellect of her family; and was withal ill-tempered, bigoted, obstinate, and jealous. On September 27th, 1601, the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XIII, was born.

Although the aims of Henry IV were as a rule noble and worthy of his character, the means which he employed to attain them will not always admit of the same praise. His excuse must be sought in the necessities and difficulties of his political situation. At home, where he was suspected both by Catholics and Huguenots, he was frequently obliged to resort to finesse, nor did he hesitate himself to acknowledge that his word was not always to be depended on. Abroad, where his policy led him to contend with both branches of the House of Austria, he was compelled, in that unequal struggle, to supply with artifice the deficiencies of force; and he did not scruple to assist underhand the malcontent vassals and subjects of the Emperor and the King of Spain. France is the land of political “ideas”, and Henry, or rather his Minister, Sully, had formed a magnificent scheme for the reconstruction of Europe. Against the plan of Charles V and Philip II, of a universal THEOCRATIC MONARCHY, Sully formed the antagonistic one of a CHRISTIAN REPUBLIC, in which, for the bigotry and intolerance supported by physical force, that formed the foundation of the Spanish scheme, were to be substituted a mutual toleration between Papists and Protestants and the suppression of all persecution. Foreign wars and domestic revolutions, as well as all religious disputes, were to be settled by European congresses, and a system of free trade was to prevail throughout Europe. This confederated Christian State was to consist of fifteen powers, or dominations, divided according to their constitutions into three different groups. The first group was to consist of States having an elective Sovereign, which would include the Papacy, the Empire, Venice, and the three elective Kingdoms of Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia. The second group would comprehend the hereditary Kingdoms of France, Spain, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and the new Kingdom of Lombardy which was to be founded; while the Republics or federate States, as the Swiss League, the contemplated Belgian commonwealth, and the confederacy of the Italian States would form the third. The Tsar of Muscovy, or as Henry used to call him, the “Scythian Knès”, was at present to be excluded from the Christian Republic, as being an Asiatic rather than a European potentate, as well as on account of the savage and half barbarous nature of his subjects, and the doubtful character of their religious faith; though he might one day be admitted into this community of nations, when he should think proper himself to make the application.

Western Egypt: Operations against the Senussi

Operations against the Senussi. One of Major the Duke of Westminster’s Armoured Cars at Es Sollum, April 1916.

A bogged armoured car of the 1st Armoured Car Battery (Australia), which was operating on the western frontier of Egypt, against the Senussi, being pulled out of the sand over de-ditching boards.

Area of operations, Senussi Campaign, 1915-1918

Very few regiments of the British Army saw service in as many theatres of war from 1914 to 1919 as did the Middlesex. In 1914 and 1915 in Flanders and France and Gallipoli, battalions of the regiment had already crossed bayonets with the enemy, and the story now turns to Western Egypt, where, at the close of 1915, the 2/7th and 2/8th Battalions first became involved in operations against the Senussi. The beginning of the rupture between Great Britain and the Senussi — a powerful desert tribe — is thus described in the official despatches: “As early as May, 1915, signs were apparent that the steadily increasing pressure brought to bear upon the Senussi by the Turkish party in Tripoli, under the leadership of Nuri Bey, a half-brother of Enver Pasha, was beginning to take effect. For some time, even after the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and Turkey in 1914, the anti-British influence of this party was not strongly felt and the attitude of the Senussi towards Egypt remained friendly. It was not until the advent of Gaafer, a Germanised Turk of considerable ability, who arrived in Tripoli in April, 1915, with a considerable supply of arms and money, that this attitude underwent a change.”

For several months it was evident that the Turkish influence was gaining ground, and on the 16th August, 1915, the first hostile incident of any importance occurred. Two British submarines, sheltering from the weather near Ras Lick on the coast of Cyrenaica, were treacherously fired on by Arabs, commanded by a white officer, and casualties were suffered on both sides. For this incident, however, the Senussi apologised profusely, but in November, other incidents occurred which placed beyond doubt the hostile intentions of this Arab tribe. The crews of two British boats, H.M.S. Tara and H.M.T. Moorina — torpedoed by enemy submarines on the 5th and 6th of the month — landed in Cyrenaica and were captured and held prisoners by the Senussi, who, in reply to strong representations for their immediate release, feigned ignorance. On the night of the 14th-15th, Muhafizia (Senussi regulars) rushed two Egyptian sentries at Sollum and carried off their rifles and bayonets: the following night the company at Sollum was sniped. Again on the 17th, at Sidi Barrani (fifty miles east of Sollum), the Zawia was occupied by some three hundred Muhafizia, and on the 18th, during the night, the Coastguard Barracks at that place were twice attacked, one coastguard being killed. On the 20th a similar attack was made on a coastguard outpost at Sabil, a small post about thirty miles S.E. of Sollum, though, as at Barrani, the attack failed.

There was now no alternative but to recognise a state of war and to take action accordingly. The Western Frontier posts were ordered to withdraw to Mersa Matruh, and it was decided to concentrate in the latter place a force sufficient to deal swiftly with the situation. The Alexandria-Dabaa Railway was to be secured as a secondary line of communication by land with the railhead at Dabaa: the Wadi Natrun and the Fayum were to be occupied as measures of precaution, while the Oasis of Moghara was to be kept under constant observation and reconnaissance.

Orders for the assembly of two composite brigades (one mounted and the other infantry) were issued on the 20th November, after news had been received of the enemy’s attack at Barrani. The Mounted Brigade consisted chiefly of Yeomanry and Australian Light Horse, with a battery of horse artillery. The infantry brigade was made up of 1/6th Royal Scots (T.F.), 1/7th and 2/8th Battalions Middlesex Regiment (T.F.), 15th Sikhs, and some auxiliary troops. The whole force was commanded by Major-General A. Wallace, and the Infantry Brigade by Brigadier-General the Earl of Lucan.

Both the 2/7th and 2/8th Middlesex had disembarked at Alexandria from Gibraltar on the 1st September.

A year had passed since the formation of the 2/7th. Middlesex was authorised by the War Office, and during that period the Battalion had passed through varied experiences. After several busy weeks spent in recruiting the men and preliminary training, the 2/7th had left Hornsey on the 24th September, 1914, for Barnet, where officers and men were billeted. On the last day of the month the first consignment of uniforms was received and, by the end of October, the whole unit was in service dress. Another move, this time to Egham, took place on the 20th November, the Battalion joining the Middlesex Brigade of the Home Counties Division. In Windsor Great Park hard training was continued, though as only fifty rifles were in possession of the Battalion, instruction in musketry presented the greatest difficulties. “All through these weeks of hard work,” said Lieut.-Colonel J. S. Drew, who commanded the 2/7th, “the discipline and soldierly spirit of the Battalion steadily improved.” On the 27th January, 1915, orders were received to embark for Gibraltar at an early date. “This was a great shock, for high hopes had been entertained that the Battalion would be sent to France.” However, the Battalion swallowed its disappointment and, on the 1st February, entrained for Southampton, embarking on arrival at the docks aboard the Grantully Castle, being joined later in the day by the 2/8th Middlesex, who were also bound for “Gib.”

After a rough voyage lasting several days, the two Battalions reached Gibraltar on the 7th February, though they did not disembark until the following day. On the way up the Rock the 2/7th met the 1/7th marching down to embark for France. This was the only occasion on which the two Battalions met throughout the whole course of the War.

For the next six months the Battalion continued its training, especially in musketry, for which special facilities were available. On the 3rd July orders were received to send a draft of 3 officers and 260 other ranks to the 1/7th Battalion in France. Their departure was a heavy blow to the Battalion, which, by this time, had attained a high degree of efficiency. The draft, however, was replaced the same day by the arrival of a similar number of men from England.

On the 12th August the Battalion was ordered to prepare for Egypt, and, with the 2/8th Middlesex, embarked on H.M.T. Minnewaska. Out at sea the destination of the. ship was changed, and a few days later the vessel steamed into Mudros Harbour, the greatest excitement prevailing on board, as everyone expected to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula. At Mudros, however, it was made evident that the move to that Island was due to a Staff misunderstanding, and that the proper destination of the vessel was Alexandria. So, again choking down their disappointment, the Middlesex men saw their hopes of immediate active service dashed, and the boat put out to sea once more, for Egypt. Alexandria was reached on the 31st August, and on the following day the Battalion disembarked and entrained for Cairo, taking over the Citadel from Australian troops, a strong detachment of the Middlesex being sent off to guard prisoners of war at Maadi.

Ten pleasant weeks were spent at Cairo, and then, early in November, there were rumours of trouble brewing with the Senussi tribes of Western Egypt. On the 20th November the Composite Cavalry and Infantry Brigades were formed, and on the 22nd the 2/7th Middlesex was ordered to join the latter Brigade at once at Alexandria. The Brigade went into camp at Qamaria and refitted.

With the exception of its formation the history of the 2/8th Middlesex is largely that of the 2/7th Battalion.

The 2/8th Middlesex was formed at Hampton Court on the 14th September, 1914, its first C.O. being Lieut.-Colonel L. C. Dams. The Battalion was quartered in the Cavalry Barracks, Hampton Court, Hampton Court House, and other houses in the neighbourhood. Training was carried out in Bushey Park, though no uniforms or rifles were then available. On the 15th November, 1914, the Battalion moved to Staines, becoming (like the 2/7th Battalion) part of the Middlesex Brigade of the Home Counties Division. From this period onwards there is little in the early history of the 2/8th which differs from that of the 2/7th, though on the day of the departure of the two Battalions from Southampton, great was the excitement aboard the Grantully Castle when, at the last moment, a draft of three officers and a small number of men joined the 2/8th: the men wore scarlet tunics! Like the 2/7th, the 2/8th also sent a large draft of officers and men to France, but to the 1/8th Battalion. When the Battalion left Gibraltar and arrived at Alexandria on the 31st August, the 2/8th was likewise quartered in Cairo, moving back to Alexandria on the 22nd November to join the Composite Infantry Brigade.

By the 23rd November the concentration of the Force under General Wallace was completed, and the troops began to move to Mersa Matruh. It was not, however, until several days later that the two Middlesex Battalions received their orders. The 2/8th was the first to leave Alexandria, the Battalion embarking on trawlers — two platoons per trawler — for Mersa Matruh on the 4th December. The trawlers reached their destination on the 5th, and the Middlesex men were landed and pitched camp close to the village. On the 6th December Battalion Headquarters and “A” and “B” Companies of the 2/7th Middlesex embarked on trawlers and aboard H.M.S. ‘Clematis’ for Mersa Matruh, “C” and “D” Companies remaining at Alexandria.

Concentration of the Force at Matruh was completed on the 7th December, and the village was prepared as a fortified base from which the Senussi could be attacked.

With the 2/8th, the 2/7th Middlesex was allotted a sector of the defences, and at once began digging operations. An insufficient supply of water was only one of the many difficulties. Wells were dug in the beach, but only brackish water was obtainable, and this had to be drunk in the form of tea: even then it was most unpleasant.

The first encounter with the Senussi took place on the 11th December, but neither of the Middlesex Battalions were engaged in the operations, which were carried out by other troops.

At midnight on the 14th December, Colonel Dams was ordered to take his Battalion out to Old Matruh to assist the 15th Sikhs and 6th Royal Scots (under Colonel Gordon), who had gone out in the morning and had been heavily engaged with the enemy. After marching through the night, the 2/8th Middlesex, at dawn, took up a defensive position, through which Colonel Gordon’s force retired. Colonel Dams then threw forward two companies of his Battalion on the flank of the retiring column and engaged the enemy, H.M.S. ‘Clematis’ firing her 6-inch guns over the heads of the Middlesex men into the enemy, who were massed in the hills on the Battalion’s flank. The 2/8th finally formed a rearguard to the force retiring, until the latter reached camp at Matruh. “The whole thing,” said Colonel Dams, “worked like an Aldershot field-day — the Battalion carried out the various movements with drill-book precision.”

For the first fortnight the 2/7th Middlesex, without seeing anything of the fighting, had a strenuous existence. Three times the line of defence was changed, each change necessitating the digging and wiring of several miles of trenches; many stone sangars were also constructed.

On the night of the 18th-19th December the camps of both Battalions, which occupied somewhat exposed positions, were heavily sniped by the Senussi. An advanced post of the 2/7th was also attacked, but beat off its assailants without difficulty. This was the first occasion on which the 2/7th and 2/8th Middlesex during the War came under rifle fire from the enemy.

The 2/8th Battalion each night mounted picquets round the camp, most of the picquets being situated on a line of hills running parallel with the sea and about half a mile from it. During the night of the 19th December a detached picquet (known as Pinnacle Picquet) was sniped by a small body of Senussi. The Middlesex men returned the fire, but so far as could be seen no casualties were inflicted on the enemy.

From the 15th to the 23rd December no operation of importance was undertaken against the enemy, but in the meantime it was known that he was concentrating in the neighbourhood of Gebel Medwa, about eight miles south-west of Matruh, his forces being estimated at about 5,000, with four guns and some machine guns, commanded by Gaafer.

On the 25th December (Xmas Day) General Wallace attacked these forces. He divided his Command into two columns — the Right and the Left. The former consisted mostly of infantry, which included the 2/8th Middlesex; the latter column was a mobile force of cavalry.

Before dawn on the 25th both columns left camp, and by 7.30a.m. the cavalry had cleared the Wadi Toweiwa, about seven miles south of Matruh. The Right Column moved westwards, and at 6.30 a.m. the advanced guard came under fire from artillery and machine guns from the south-west. But the enemy was soon driven off, and by 7.15 a.m. the main body of General Wallace’s Force had crossed the Wadi Rami, and could see the enemy in occupation of an encampment about a mile south of Gebel Medwa.

At 7.30 a.m. the 15th Sikhs were ordered to attack the enemy’s right flank, the Bucks Hussars and 2/8th Middlesex to co-operate by making a containing attack along his front, to be launched simultaneously with the attack of the Sikhs. Deploying west of the road and despatching one Company to occupy Gebel Medwa in order to secure their right, the Sikhs advanced. At the same time the Bucks Hussars moved forward, while the Middlesex, keeping to the north-east of Gebel Medwa, sent a Company to relieve a company of 15th Sikhs occupying the hill, which thereupon rejoined the Battalion. This Company of Middlesex men was apparently the only one of the Battalion which saw fighting on the 25th December, the action being thus described by an officer then serving with the Battalion: “The whole Battalion took part in a big attack on enemy forces about seven or eight miles inland from the camp. A start was made before dawn on Xmas Day, and the fighting lasted all day. The Battalion bivouacked that night in the desert, and returned to camp the following morning. Only one Company (‘C’ Company, under Captain Alliston) actually found themselves in the front line of the attack, and suffered casualties (three men wounded). The attack was a great success, and a considerable number of the enemy was killed or captured.”

The attack by the Sikhs was successfully carried out, and by 2.15 p.m. the nullahs at the head of the Wadi Majid had been cleared, and by about 4 p.m. the Wadi itself was taken. The enemy’s losses were over 100 dead, 34 prisoners, 80 camels and much livestock, also 30,000 rounds of S.A.A. and a quantity of artillery ammunition.

In this action the 2/7th Middlesex took no part, but from the 28th to 30th December the Battalion formed part of a mobile column intended to attack a Senussi camp some twenty miles distant, at Jerawla. On the approach of the column the enemy forsook his camp and fled, leaving behind large quantities of grain, nearly 100 camels and about 500 sheep. The camp was burned, and on the 30th the column returned to Matruh.

This affair carries the narrative of operations in Western Egypt up to the end of 1915.

Captain Palmer, 2/8th Middlesex R.