The European Context of the Wars of the Roses

Illustration of the Battle of Barnet (14 April 1471) on the Ghent manuscript, a late 15th-century document

The Wars of the Roses were part of a common north-western European phenomenon of internal political conflict and civil war in the second half of the fifteenth century. The kingdoms of the Atlantic seaboard were all part of an interlocking cultural, commercial and political network, which meant that what happened in one had important repercussions for the others. Thus events in England were watched closely on the continent, and vice versa. Spies and embassies reported continually on what was happening in each other’s affairs. Rulers in one country plotted endlessly to foment trouble to their own advantage in another. England’s weakness provided opportunities for her neighbours to profit at her expense. At the same time, English rulers sought to exploit divisions within neighbouring countries for their own advantage and looked abroad for alliances to strengthen their hands in their own internal rivalries. International relations were extremely volatile. The civil wars which engulfed England, France, Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain were all at critical moments intensified by foreign intervention; they were part of an interlinked chain of civil wars in north-western Europe.

At the beginning of the Wars, England’s affairs were most closely bound up with the affairs of her nearest neighbours – France, Scotland and the duchy of Burgundy, which incorporated the Netherlands, so vital for her commercial interests. Relationships with the Hanseatic League, a confederation of north German and Scandinavian trading cities, were also of significance because of commercial competition in the Baltic and English piracy in the Channel against the Hanseatic fleet, which passed annually to and from the Bay of Biscay. After the English lost the commercial war with the League, settled by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1474, relationships with the Hanse were less important. But following the accession of Isabella to Castile in that same year, and her husband Ferdinand to Aragon five years later, a new European power emerged which had an increasingly important impact on English affairs.

There was relatively little foreign intervention in the wars of 1459- 61. The involvement of the papacy, through the intrigues of Francesco Coppini, Pius II’s legate, on behalf of the Yorkists, and probably in the interests of the duchy of Milan, had little long-term significance. Before his death in 1460, James II of Scotland made the biggest impact. Vainly seeking to put together an international alliance against England, he still went ahead with his own attacks on England in 1455 and 1456. Rebuffed by the Duke of York in 1456, James agreed to a truce in 1457. But in July 1460, taking advantage of the civil war, he laid siege to Roxburgh, and, although he was accidentally killed when a cannon exploded, the castle was captured. Queen Margaret’s plight after Towton gave the regent Mary of Guelders the opportunity for an even greater coup. On 25 April the Queen surrendered Berwick in exchange for Scottish aid. For the next three years, Lancastrian resistance in Northumberland was sustained by Scottish assistance. In June 1461 Scots as well as Lancastrians attacked Carlisle, which Margaret had ceded as well. Edward’s response was to ally himself with Scottish dissidents until, in 1462, he concluded a truce with the regent. A year later, however, in June 1463, a large-scale Scottish attack in concert with the Lancastrians was launched and Norham was besieged. Edward IV planned a fullscale counterattack, for which he was voted a subsidy by parliament. In the event, no major military operation was launched. Indeed, a new truce was agreed in December which effectively ended this phase of Anglo-Scottish hostilities. The Scots, however, could be well pleased; they had retaken Roxburgh and Berwick, thus immeasurably strengthening their grip on the border, and had successfully sustained three years of opposition to Edward IV.

Charles VII of France and Philip the Good of Burgundy were less willing than James II of Scotland to take advantage of English divisions at the end of Henry VI’s reign. While the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick had engaged in dubiously loyal discussions with the King and Duke in the late 1450s, the French and Burgundians only became drawn into English affairs after Edward IV became king. In 1462, after the accession of Louis XI, Queen Margaret set off to France to seek his support. This was promised in a treaty of alliance sealed at Tours in June. But little that was tangible came of it, and in the following October Louis XI agreed a truce with Edward IV. From 1463 Margaret and her son Edward maintained a Lancastrian court in exile, but their prospects became increasingly bleaker until Warwick fell out with Edward IV. Of decisive significance for later developments was the marriage alliance made in 1468 between Edward IV and Charles the Bold, the new and belligerent Duke of Burgundy. During the 1460s relationships between Louis XI and his greatest subjects, especially the Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, worsened. The marriage of Margaret of York to Charles the Bold, along with an Anglo-Breton treaty, marked the return of traditional alliance patterns in northern Europe. Nothing came of the triple alliance of 1468 as an anti-French coalition, but it was clear that the lines had been drawn. Thus in 1468 Louis XI supported Lancastrian plots in England, particularly in the form of sponsoring a landing in Wales by Jasper Tudor.

The wars of 1470 and 1471 were in part a manifestation of these diplomatic developments. As early as 1466, there were rumours circulating in France that Louis XI was seeking to suborn Warwick. The Earl, who used his position as Captain of Calais to maintain independent lines of communication with France and Burgundy throughout the 1460s, had to clear his name of involvement in the 1468 plotting. The contacts were already in place when he turned in 1470 to a Louis XI more than eager to effect a reconciliation between him and Queen Margaret. The initial success of the invasion of 1470 and the readeption of Henry VI not only reopened the dynastic civil war in England, but also heralded a European war. Since 1465 Louis had been smarting at the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of the League of the Public Weal, especially the surrender of the Somme towns to the duchy of Burgundy. Part of the price of his support was English agreement to a military alliance against Charles of Burgundy. In February 1471, Warwick honoured his commitment by declaring war on Burgundy. The immediate effect of the declaration of war was to stimulate a hitherto hesitant Charles the Bold into instant backing of an expedition to England under the exiled Edward IV, for which he provided 36 ships and a few hundred men. Edward also secured the support of the Hanseatic League, since 1468 at war with England under Warwick’s inspiration, the price of which were the concessions he subsequently made to them. Thus the Readeption was achieved by means of the King of France and the restoration of Edward IV by licence of the Duke of Burgundy and the Hanseatic League. The fighting in England in 1471 was an extension of the conflict being fought between the rival princes of France. Between the summer of 1470 and the spring of 1471, the Wars of the Roses were part of a wider European war, in which, it could be said, Louis XI, as well as the house of Lancaster, was defeated on the fields of Barnet and Tewkesbury.

After 1471, when Edward IV was at last firmly established on the throne, there was less reason for foreign powers to hope to profit from English divisions. Indeed, by taking the initiative and mounting an invasion of France in 1475, Edward IV forced Louis XI back on the defensive. Moreover, by the end of the reign, having fought a successful war against Scotland, which in 1482 saw the recovery of Berwick so shamefully surrendered in 1461, Edward IV was in a strong position to dictate terms to his northern neighbours. All was changed by Richard III’s usurpation. Although Richard III was able to maintain pressure on the Scots and secure a favourable truce in 1484, he was faced by continental neighbours once more in a volatile state. France was passing through a minority, in which rival factions were jockeying for power. The new Habsburg regime in the Burgundian territories was faced by unrest and rebellion; and the duchy of Brittany, where Henry Tudor was in exile, was divided between pro and anti French factions. It was Henry Tudor’s good fortune that when he escaped from Brittany to France in October 1484, he was welcomed by a group anxious to promote his cause. While official backing was withdrawn at the eleventh hour, Henry was still able to recruit mercenaries and a fleet in Normandy with which he launched his invasion of England in August 1485. He was particularly fortunate that disbanded troops who had recently returned from campaigning in the Netherlands were at his disposal. Had he arrived in France any earlier, or delayed leaving any longer, he might not have found support forthcoming. While, subsequently, the French would claim, and Henry VII strenuously deny, that they had made him King of England, the circumstances in France in the summer of 1485 had made his expedition possible. As a result, France gained a four-year respite from English hostility.  

What was sauce for the goose in 1485 was sauce for the gander thereafter. In 1487 Lambert Simnel was backed by German mercenaries paid for by Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, who gave whatever backing she could to successive Yorkist pretenders to the English throne. Perkin Warbeck was initially taken up by Charles VIII of France, who dropped him as part of the terms of the treaty of Etaples with Henry VII in 1492. He had more success with both Scottish and Burgundian support, until 1497 becoming a significant thorn in Henry VII’s side. Thus the Wars were not only sustained, but also extended by the intervention of foreign powers.

The nature and impact of foreign intervention in the Wars of the Roses changed over the years. At first, in the wars of 1459-64, it was marginal; in 1469-71 it became central as the wars were subsumed in a wider European conflict. After 1483 the wars were almost entirely sustained by foreign intervention and became almost completely absorbed in the complex game of international politics. This was, however, never a one-way process. In the early 1470s, Edward IV sought to capitalize on the animosity between Louis XI and Charles the Bold for England’s gain. Between 1479 and 1484 Edward IV and Richard III, for instance, played on the quarrel between James III of Scotland and his brother, Alexander, Duke of Albany, to advance the English cause north of the borders. And Henry VII, in a long tradition, sought to exploit factional rivalries within the duchy of Brittany to his advantage. English kings were able to take advantage of disputes within Scotland and France because those kingdoms, too, were wracked by civil war.

Philippe de Commynes, who knew the Europe of his own day well, commented in the 1490s that England was, of all the countries he knew, the one where public affairs were best conducted. 9 We cannot now judge whether he was right, but extended periods of internal strife, in some kingdoms involving dynastic as well as factional struggle, were characteristic not only of England, but also of Scotland, France, the Netherlands, Aragon and Castile. All these kingdoms were prone to similar strains, and everywhere the maintenance of domestic peace was precarious because it depended on the capacity of an individual hereditary monarch personally to hold together a fragmented and decentralized polity with severely limited resources, negligible armed force and skeletal bureaucracies at his disposal. The Wars of the Roses were not a uniquely English phenomenon: `inward war’ was the common experience of the kingdoms of Western Europe in the later fifteenth century. The wars need to be seen in this wider contemporary context.

For England’s closest neighbour, Scotland, the fifteenth century has long been a byword for conflict, murder and civil war. Recently, however, as with England, the interpretation of its fifteenth-century history has been substantially revised. Scotland was a tiny kingdom. Its population of some 400 000 was but a sixth of that of England and minute compared with France. In a polity in which the royal revenues rarely surpassed £8000 per annum, and in which the king had to rely utterly on the willing cooperation of his greater subjects for the administration of justice and the defence of the realm, it was intensely critical that the king enjoyed good relationships with them. The earls, lords and lairds of Scotland enjoyed a degree of local autonomy not found south of the border. In many ways the king presided over a federation. When one also bears in mind that in the fifteenth century every king came to the throne as a child and that there were more than 40 years of minority or conciliar rule, it is not surprising that successive kings found it difficult to assert their authority. Two met violent deaths at the hands of their own subjects: James I was assassinated in 1437 and James III killed in battle in 1488.

Yet successive Stewart kings – James I, James II and James III – were in their different ways effective rulers. While all faced plots and rebellions – especially James II in dealing with the Douglases in 1450- 55, James III in coping with his disgruntled brother the Duke of Albany in 1479-84 and, finally, in the baronial revolt which led to his death at Sauchieburn – never did the whole kingdom slide into sustained civil war. James III’s career and reign have been likened to that of Richard III; but, in many ways, that unfortunate king was more like Richard II. Moreover, although two kings were killed (James I and James III), both were succeeded without challenge by their heirs. For all its weaknesses, the Scottish monarchy, indeed, the kingdom as a whole, had a greater resilience than England. If a comparison in Scottish medieval history is to be drawn with the English Wars of the Roses, it lies in the civil war between Bruce and Balliol in the first half of the fourteenth century, which was overtaken by English intervention. Indeed, it has been plausibly suggested that the memory of the Wars of Independence acted as a powerful restraint on Scottish kings and nobles of the fifteenth century, who were only too conscious of the advantage the English might take of their own internal divisions. Thus between 1479-84, English attempts to take advantage of the quarrels of James III and Albany within the royal family consistently failed because on every occasion, intervention led to a healing of the breach in the interest of the greater good of the kingdom.

In many ways, the kingdom of France was like the kingdom of Scotland, only on a grander scale. It, too, was fragmented and decentralized. The king exercised direct control over only a small part of his vast kingdom. Most of it was ruled by appanaged princes who enjoyed considerable legal, financial and military autonomy. These included not only the duchies of Aquitaine (until 1453), Brittany (until 1491) and Burgundy (the duchy itself until 1477), but also others, such as Anjou, Bourbon, Orleans and Navarre. As in Scotland the effective enforcement of royal authority depended to a large extent on the mystique of kingship and personal competence. But perhaps because the kingdom was so much larger and the great subjects so much more powerful, France was more prone to civil war.

France’s misfortunes during the fifteenth century, so much greater than either England or Scotland, stemmed to a considerable degree from the madness of Charles VI who, after 30 years of insanity, died in 1422. Rivalry for control of the kingdom between factions headed by the Dukes of Burgundy, on the one hand, and the Dukes of Armagnac and Orleans, on the other, led in 1410 to intermittent civil war which lasted until 1435. This internal strife was compounded by the intervention of Henry V of England. On one level, Henry V acted as a French subject, for he was Duke of Aquitaine and in 1417-19 successfully recovered possession of the duchy of Normandy. But Henry V also revived the Plantagenet claim to the throne of France and was adopted as heir in 1420, while his son was crowned king in 1431. Henry V transformed a civil war into a dynastic conflict, for he was, from 1420, the candidate of the Burgundian faction, which fought with fluctuating enthusiasm for his cause for 15 years. From a French point of view, the wars of 1420-35 were a struggle between rival parties for the throne itself. Only after the rapprochement between Burgundy and the Valois King, Charles VII, did the struggle unequivocally take on the character of a war to rid the kingdom of the English.

After the final expulsion of the English from Normandy in 1450 and Aquitaine in 1453, the problem of Burgundy still remained. Although the conglomerate of duchies, counties and lordships held by the Valois Duke of Burgundy in the Netherlands and eastern France have been described as a state, they never acquired the coherence, autonomy or status of a separate kingdom. In the last resort, the Duke of Burgundy was a subject of the King of France in Flanders, Artois, Picardy and the duchy of Burgundy, as well as of the Empire in the county of Burgundy and his other dominions. The ambition of the Dukes of Burgundy, especially Charles the Bold, effective ruler from 1464 to 1477, ensured the periodic revival of civil war in France. In 1465 Louis XI faced an alliance of dissident princes, led by Charles, calling themselves the League of the Public Weal. The climax of several months of civil war was the bloody battle of Montlhéry, which left Burgundy with the advantage. On this occasion, Edward IV was too weak to be able to intervene to English advantage. Fighting between Louis XI and Charles the Bold was renewed in 1470, 1472 and 1475. Edward IV’s attempt to exploit the continuing enmity by the construction of a grand alliance and invasion in 1475 foundered when Charles privately came to terms with Louis. It was not until after the Duke’s death in January 1477 that Louis launched an all-out assault on his French territories. The duchy of Burgundy was rapidly overrun and subsequently retained. All-out war between Louis and Maximilian of Austria, the regent of the Burgundian inheritance, relieved by two truces in 1478-79 and 1480- 81, lasted until a treaty of peace was agreed in December 1482 by which Artois, as well as the duchy of Burgundy, was to be ceded to France. Paradoxically, it was in this period that England could have secured a significant advantage, but did not. The opportunity for the King of England’s brother to become Duke of Burgundy by marrying Charles’s daughter and heiress was passed up because Edward IV would not trust George of Clarence with the sources of the duchy at his disposal. Four years later the new Duke, Maximilian, was begging for an alliance against Louis XI, which Edward turned down because he judged his pension from the French King to be more valuable

After the death of Louis XI in 1483, during the minority of Charles VIII, matters were compounded by renewed factional conflict at court between the regent, Anne of Beaujeu (the King’s aunt), and Louis, Duke of Orleans (the heir presumptive), and by the crisis of the Breton succession. The government of Anne of Beaujeu faced conspiracies and rebellions of dissident lords, inspired by Louis of Orleans until he was taken prisoner at the battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier in 1488. The objective of the government in Brittany was to integrate the duchy more fully into the kingdom either by force or by marriage treaty. It faced determined opposition from a powerful group of Breton nobles. The Breton war, which began in 1487 and continued, with a brief interlude in the latter months of 1488, until 1491, coalesced with the Orleanist and Burgundian conflict. Maximilian of Austria revoked the treaty of Arras and joined Breton and other enemies of Anne of Beaujeu in 1487, 1488 and 1490-91. At the same time, Maximilian himself faced revolt from the cities of Flanders, being for a time held captive by the Brugeois in 1488, and the French government intervened in Flanders to sustain and support the rebels. Henry VII, seeing his own opportunity, twice intervened in Brittany, once `off the record’, but on neither occasion to any effect. Civil strife was as severe in France in the 1480s as in any other western European kingdom in the second half of the fifteenth century. It was ended in 1491 when Charles VIII restored Orleans to favour and, later in the year, married Anne of Brittany. In 1493 the Burgundian war was brought to a similar end by the treaty of Senlis, in which Artois and other lordships were restored to Burgundy on the condition that the young Duke Philip do homage. Thus in the early 1490s a period of French civil war was brought to an end only on the eve of, and to prepare the ground for, Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy.

In Spain matters were similarly unsettled. Spain comprised three kingdoms: Aragon, Castile and Portugal, two of which (Aragon and Castile) later united to form the kingdom of Spain. Both Aragon and Castile were torn by civil war in the second half of the fifteenth century. Aragon, based on Catalan commercial wealth, was a leading Mediterranean power. But between 1462 and 1472, it was reduced to impotence by civil war which culminated in the siege of Barcelona. The war combined elements of a popular revolt and a conflict between the old contractual traditions of Catalonia and a new drive towards absolutism introduced by the King, Juan II. In neighbouring Castile, a kingdom recently carved out of the reconquest of central Spain from the Moors, absolute authority was already well established. Nevertheless, this kingdom, too, was plunged into civil war between 1460 and 1480. Castile was a huge territory, in which the power of the monarchy depended on alliances with the quasi-independent descendants of the conquistadores, who had extended powers wider than any other of the western European aristocracies in the later fourteenth century. More markedly than has ever been claimed for England, the civil wars in later fifteenth-century Castile were an escalation of violent feuds between these truly overmighty subjects. Yet the first civil war (1464- 74) also resulted from the incompetence of the King, Enrico IV (d. 1474), called the impotent because of the later slur that he could not possibly have fathered his daughter Juana. Enrico was, in some respects, not unlike Henry VI of England and under his slack rule factional rivalry slid into open war. In 1465 his enemies deposed him in effigy and attempted, unsuccessfully, to replace him with his child brother, Alfonso (d. 1468). When Enrico died in 1474 he left a disputed succession between his only surviving daughter, Juana, and his half-sister, Isabella, who had already married Ferdinand, the new King of Aragon. Between 1475 and 1477, they fought and defeated the supporters of Juana to secure control of Castile and fought off Portuguese intervention. By 1480 Isabella and Ferdinand were triumphant.

The history of the civil wars in Castile is further reminiscent of the Wars of the Roses in the manner in which, subsequently, Isabella, the victor, was presented as the saviour of her kingdom; the one who had rescued it from anarchy. Moreover, in order to justify her disputed succession, the reputation of the unfortunate Enrico IV was blackened to much the same effect as was Richard III blackened by Henry VII. As in England, however, it is debatable whether the civil wars were as destructive or the previous kings as disastrous as the victor claimed. The fact is that the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, went on to achieve the expulsion of the Moors from Granada, the unification of their kingdoms and the conquest of the Americas. It was in their `Golden Age’ that the foundations of Spain’s future greatness were laid. Their later success, like the Tudors, vindicated their dubious rise to power.

The late medieval monarchies of Europe were fundamentally fragile and prone to civil disorder. Political stability and harmony depended ultimately on the personal capacity of individual kings. In the second half of the fifteenth century, the western kingdoms all endured upheaval and civil war as a result of disputed, ineffective or overbearing rule, all exacerbated by foreign intervention. The Wars of the Roses were part of a common north-western European experience before a general revival of monarchical authority, which took place at the end of the century. The disorder and political instability suffered by England were comparable with the instability suffered by neighbouring kingdoms. This fact did not escape Philippe de Commynes who, after giving a brief account of the Wars of the Roses, commented that God sets up enemies for princes who forget whence their fortunes come, as `you have seen and see every day in England, Burgundy and other places’.

Yet the era of internal disorder came rapidly to an end in the 1490s. Nowhere was this the result of fundamental social changes. Internally, he change is related to the emergence of effective and energetic rulers, nowhere more so than in the case of the `Catholic Monarchs’ in Spain. But the change is also closely linked to the transformation of the military and diplomatic map of Europe. In both France and Spain significant steps were taken towards the reunification of the kingdoms after 1480. In 1482 France recovered the duchy of Burgundy from the Habsburg dukes; in 1491 Brittany was absorbed. In Spain the conquest of Granada, the last Moorish sultanate, was completed in 1492. These developments were the prelude to the shift of the focal point of international conflict to the Mediterranean. France had long enjoyed claims to the duchy of Milan and the kingdom of Naples. In 1494, having made peace with England and Burgundy, Charles VIII launched his invasion of Italy to make good his Angevin claim to the throne of Naples. This was a direct challenge to Aragonese interests; in 1496 an Aragonese counterattack recovered Naples for the ruling dynasty. From thenceforth Italy was, for two generations, the focus of European international politics. The rulers of France and Spain brought a new degree of internal order as they focused the energies of their greater subjects on the wars between them and developed the mechanisms and agencies to prosecute them. England, on the periphery, although wooed by both sides, did not command the resources in modern warfare to be more than a bit player, and until the middle of the sixteenth century, the rivalries between the north-western powers of Europe were played out in Italy rather than within their own kingdoms. In these circumstances, the era of late fifteenth-century civil strife in north-western Europe came to an end.

Arab Campaign to Ctesphion

Ctesphion’s star ascended even further under Sasanian rule, and it was lavishly rebuilt and vastly expanded. It was made the capital of the empire and served as a royal palace (once again favoured as a winter residence), an administrative centre and commercial hub in the region. Its rich cultural diversity (including Jews, Christians, Arabs and Syrians to name but a few) drove trade and wealth into the city limits, while its network of waterways and verdant soil enabled the Ctesiphon to support itself indefinitely.

While the Parthians ultimately added very little of their own culture to the design and architecture of the city, the Sasanians had no such problem. Prior to the widespread use of concrete, mud brick was the chosen resource for erecting buildings of worth. So when the Arch of Ctesiphon was built towards the end of the Sasanian Empire during the 6th century, the arch was constructed entirely out of these oven-baked bricks. And while the Sasanians were Iranian by descent, their building techniques were still very much influenced by the designs and practices of Mesopotamian engineers.

Those techniques enabled the builders to create a huge archway without the need to rely on precarious scaffolding. Leading to a huge 30-metrehigh and some 43-metre-long audience hall, the Taq Kasra was constructed by using an ingenious angled brickwork concept. This enabled these ancient engineers to erect each course against its predecessor with only a simple wooden tower used to give the builders access to the incredible heights to which they built. To complete this iconic structure, the Sasanians used façades decorated with blank arcading and pilasters to flank it. It created an awe-inspiring sight, one fit for royal residence – and it’s just as captivating now despite its ruined state.

As the Sasanian period continued, Ctesiphon started to evolve into more than a mere city, but rather a collection of them on both sides of the Tigris. To many, it was now thought of as `The Cities’ (al-Mada’in in Arabic and Mahoze in Aramaic). It was a sprawling metropolis so expansive that its many sides became vastly different in look, feel and purpose. The western side was known as `Veh-Ardashir’ and was home to some of the cities’ wealthiest denizens including both Jews and Christians (a cathedral was even erected in the city). The eastern side was one of the oldest sections of Ctesiphon, and played host to the `White Palace’ – the Sasanian royal residence.

Following years of conflict with the Muslim Arabs (and a number of attempts to occupy and hold the city by the Romans), the Sasanian Empire began to decline. Despite successfully defeating the Emperor Julian and his Roman forces in the Battle of Ctesiphon (363), Ctesiphon and its masters were no longer the great force of trade and power they once were. Its military exhausted and its allies dwindling, the grand cityscape of Ctesiphon soon followed.

Once again they turned east, marching through southern Iraq into the heartland of Sassanian Persia. For three years, Sasanian territories had been under constant attack, and at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah in 636, the Muslim forces would rout their foes outright. Crossing the Tigris, they reached Ctesiphon, the Sassanian capital, and took it easily. At Ctesiphon, the desert warriors paused to gawk at the wonders of the Middle East’s most sumptuous city, its lavish palaces filled with shimmering tapestries and furniture, its storerooms brimming with gold. Some of the Arabs had never seen gold before, did not know its value, and traded their shares of it for equal volumes of silver. Mistaking camphor for salt, they flavored their cooking with the medicinal crystals. In time, they saddled up and moved on. Ahead of them lay the ancient strongholds of the Iranian plateau: Isfahan; Nihavand and Ecbatana in the old land of the Medes; and Istakhr, birthplace of the Sassanian empire. Each fell. In little more than a decade, the Muslims swept east to India.

By the time the Muslim Arabs reached Ctesiphon in 637, they found the city mostly deserted, the royal family having fled their long-standing home. Now under Muslim rule, the city began to rescind in prominence in the region, a process that only increased in severity when the Abbasid Caliphate established its capital in the nearby city of Baghdad during the 8th century. In fact, it would be the stones taken from the now dilapidated ruins of Ctesiphon that would help build Iraq’s longstanding capital

Between the Rivers – The Battle of the Bridge, 634

636 was not just a pivotal year for the future of Roman Syria. It also saw the decisive Muslim breakthrough in Persian Mesopotamia. By the time he left for Syria in late-633/early-634, Khalid had conquered virtually all Sassanid territory south of the Euphrates and safeguarded these conquests by establishing a series of garrisons. Ostensibly, these new Muslim territories were left under the command of Amr b. Haram, an early supporter of Muhammad, but, in reality, al-Muthanna, who had played such a large role in Khalid’s campaign, was the real authority around Hira. However, the constant threat of military reprisal from the Sassanids still remained and the Qadisiyyah garrison that had been Khalid’s next target was still unsubdued. Due to this threat, al-Muthanna sent repeated messages to Medina asking for reinforcements, perhaps going as far as to visit the Muslim capital to ask Abu Bakr in person once more.

Yet it was not until after the accession of Umar in August 634 that this request was fulfilled with the dispatch of a force under Abu Ubayd b. Ma’ud. With a core of about 1,000 volunteers from his Thaqif tribe gathered at Medina, and picking up contingents from local tribesmen as he marched north, Abu Ubayd may have had about 4,000 men by the time he arrived at Hira. Joining forces with al-Muthanna and about 1,000 of his kin, these two began raiding across the Euphrates. A series of encounters between this Muslim column and Perso-Arab forces are recorded but the sequence and exact location, beyond being in the alluvial plains between Hira and Ctesiphon, of many of these raids cannot be established. What is known is that these raids proved enough of an irritant and close enough to Ctesiphon to provoke a sizeable Persian response, with Bahman marching from the Persian capital to the Euphrates.

Despite the claims of some sources and his success along the Euphrates, it is probable that Khalid had not faced a true imperial Sassanid army. Much like the Romans in Syria, Yazdgerd and his generals were slow to react to what they would have perceived as just another instance of Arabic raiding. The Persians will have been further encouraged to downplay the Muslim attack by their continued dealing with the aftermath of not just the invasion of their territory by the Romans and Turks but also the destructive period of civil war that had followed Shahrbaraz’s assassination. Therefore, it would be somewhat unrealistic to expect Yazdgerd to be able to recognise and react immediately to the emergent threat from Islam. Perhaps only the defeat at Walaja and the fall of Hira saw to it that Yazdgerd and his generals `began to take the business of the Arabs more seriously.’ Furthermore, after the defeats of Bahman’s congregating forces at Muzayyah, Saniyy and Zumail in late 633, it may have taken a year before Yazdgerd could field another army.

Whatever the circumstances, with Abu Ubayd’s force campaigning along the Euphrates and Bahman advancing south from Ctesiphon, a confrontation was inevitable. It appears to have occurred sometime in November 634 at a river crossing near the present day site of Kufa, variously recorded as Mirwaha or al-Qarqas. Situated on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, Bahman reputedly had up to 30,000 men to intercept the raiding Muslims, although the likelihood is that this is an exaggeration. As for the Muslim army, it is possible that the success of their raiding into Mesopotamia both in terms of prestige and material wealth may have bolstered the force of Abu Ubayd and al-Muthanna to as many 9,000. However, it is more likely that it remained closer to the 5,000 recorded at the time of Abu Ubayd’s arrival at Hira.

With the Euphrates dominating the battlefield, the focus of the subsequent fighting was the bridge that separated the two armies. Buoyed by previous successes and perhaps in search of personal renown, Abu Ubayd took an overly aggressive stance against Bahman and attempted to force a crossing of the river. However, while this crossing was successful, Abu Ubayd’s aggression was to prove disastrous. Bahman may have allowed the Muslims to cross the river before attacking to maximise casualties; however, accounts of the battle suggest that it was the presence of elephants in the Persian army that decided the outcome. The smell and clamour they exuded disrupted the Muslim cavalry and, when Abu Ubayd led an attack against them, he himself was trampled by a rampant white elephant. With their commander killed, a large part of the Muslim bridgehead collapsed. It was then that this Battle of the Bridge turned from a defeat into a disaster as the retreating Muslims were driven into the river itself, leaving 1,000 Muslims dead from combat and perhaps a further 3,000 carried away by the Euphrates. There is some suggestion that the bridge was in fact destroyed by a Muslim Arab to force his comrades to continue fighting rather than fleeing. The forces of al-Muthanna, who was wounded, do seem to have survived the battle largely intact, which could suggest that perhaps they formed the Muslim rearguard or were able to find another way across the river.

The Muslim army seems to have disintegrated in the aftermath of this defeat with al-Muthanna returning to his homelands at Ullais and Abu Ubayd’s Thaqif kinsmen returning to Medina. However, despite the totality of their tactical victory at the Battle of the Bridge, the lack of a Persian follow-up would appear to be something of a strategic blunder. Again, much like the Romans, the Persian hierarchy was demonstrating a lack of understanding about what the words, deeds and writings of the Prophet had done for the Arabs. In the past, such a devastating defeat would have broken any pretensions that Arab raiders might have had regarding Mesopotamia. They probably expected those settlements conquered by Khalid to simply return to their original Sassanid allegiance without having to intervene any further militarily, perhaps with al-Muthanna serving as a successor to the Lakhmid buffer state. Whatever the reasons, the failure of the Persians to press their victory over Abu Ubayd in November 634 was not the military anomaly that it would appear to be; the anomaly was the failure of the Muslims to capitulate in the face of such a defeat.

The Fall of Ctesiphon and the Battle of Jalula

Syria, Palestine and Roman Mesopotamia were not the only regions in which the Muslims were steamrollering an increasingly desperate defence. Much like their victory at Yarmuk, their victory at Qadisiyyah and Sa’d’s ruthless pursuit of Jalinus had exposed the entirety of Persian Mesopotamia and left the road to Ctesiphon open. With its potential as a focal point and possible springboard for a counter-attack whilst still in Persian hands, Umar and Sa’d quickly decided that neutralising or capturing the Sassanid capital should be their next objective. Less than a fortnight after the victory at Qadisiyyah, Sa’d’s army, now reorganised into five separate corps under Zuhra, Abdullah, Shurahbeel, Hashim and Khalid b. Arfatah, set out across the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia towards Ctesiphon. Seemingly aware of the garrison forces along the route to Ctesiphon, Sa’d sent Zuhra on ahead with a strong advanced guard of cavalry, with orders to subdue the garrisons if he could but, should he come up against a sizeable imperial army, he was to await the main column that was proceeding at a more restrained pace.

However, despite the mixture of caution and alacrity, the Muslim advance met with only limited resistance. Zuhra was able to occupy Najaf without any opposition and, while the garrison at Burs resisted, Zuhra defeated its commander, Busbuhra, in single combat and the garrison was quickly overwhelmed. A battle near the ancient site of Babylon is recorded in December 636 against a large concentration of Persian forces, which given that its commanders were Hormuzan, Mihran, Nakheerzan and Beerzan suggests that it was the remnant of the force that Jalinus had extricated from Qadisiyyah. However, given the presence of Beerzan, supposedly killed by Qaqa, and the lack of clear information regarding any battle at Babylon, aside from there being dissension in the Persian ranks and the information that Hormuzan retreated to his homelands in Khuzestan the whole event should probably be downplayed as a major engagement.

Zuhra then continued his pursuit of congregating Persian forces. He is thought to have defeated a Sassanid force at Sura before catching up to Nakheerzan’s force at Deir Kab. Despite the killing of the Sassanid commander in a duel by one of Zuhra’s subordinates, the Persian force seems to have offered stiff resistance. It was only a successful flanking manoeuvre by Jarir that captured a bridge to the rear of the Persian lines that seems to have finally encouraged the Persians to retreat. 15 The last Persian attempt to stall the Muslim advance to the gates of Ctesiphon came in early-January 637 at Kusa, a mere ten miles short of the capital. However, this time all it took was the defeat of the Persian commander, Shahryar, in a duel by one of the mubarizun to force the Persians to retreat.

With the capture of Kusa, nothing now lay between Sa’d’s forces and the walls of the Persian capital. However, despite the rapidity of Zuhra’s advance, properly defended, Ctesiphon would not be easily captured or even surrounded. This was because it was not a single city but a metropolis that incorporated several settlements including Seleucia, Veh-Ardashir, Vologaesocerta and others on the banks of the Tigris, as well as Ctesiphon itself. Indeed, in Arabic, Ctesiphon was and is known as al-Mada’in, meaning `The Cities’. With the direction they were approaching from – the west bank of the Tigris – the Muslims were to come to the sub-cities of Vologaesocerta, Seleucia and Veh-Ardashir first. Of these three, it appears that Yazdgerd and his generals focused their defensive efforts on Veh-Ardashir, probably due to it being the closest to Ctesiphon itself, digging ditches and placing ballistas and catapults. The presence of such siege engines forced the Muslims back from the walls but they quickly evened the odds by employing Persians to build siege engines for them.

By March 637, after almost two months of blockade, the Persian garrison was becoming desperate and sallied forth in an attempt to break the siege. In the subsequent fighting, Zuhra is said to have killed the Persian commander in a duel before being killed himself by an arrow. But one peculiar story stands out most from the siege of Veh-Ardashir: the Persians are said to have used a specially trained lion to disrupt the Muslim cavalry and infantry, with its rampage only being stopped by Hashim, who killed the beast with a single blow with his sword. One cannot help but suggest that this is a prime example of the corruption of the record of a Persian commander either called `lion,’ such as the Greek name Leo, or being described as fighting as fiercely as a lion.

As their sally proved ineffective, the Persians offered to recognise the Muslim conquest of all territory up to the banks of the Tigris in return for an end to the fighting. Sa’d replied by saying that peace would only come when Yazdgerd accepted Islam and paid the jizya. The next morning, the Muslims found Veh-Ardashir abandoned as the garrison had somehow managed to slip across the Tigris to Ctesiphon, destroying many of the bridges and taking any available boats with them.

Despite these measures and the fact that the river seems to have been in flood, the Persians failed to prevent the Muslims from crossing the Tigris. Taking advantage of local knowledge, Sa’d found a location where the river was fordable and sent a contingent of around 600 volunteers under Asim to force a crossing. These were intercepted by Persian cavalry, but Asim’s men were able to fight off this attack, establish themselves on the eastern shore and hold their position long enough for Sa’d to get reinforcements to them. With the Muslim army safely across the Tigris, the Sassanid force in Ctesiphon under Mihran and Rustam’s brother, Khurrazad, decided that any attempt to defend Ctesiphon itself was futile and prompted Yazdgerd to abandon the city with his army and treasury. With that, aside from small pockets of resistance, Sa’d and his Muslim Arab force took one of the ancient world’s greatest cities, along with the large amounts of booty it possessed, without a fight.

This lack of an organised defence of their capital not only demonstrates the poor state to which the Persian military had fallen through its defeats by Romans, Turks, civil war and now Muslim Arabs, but also how unprepared the Persian defences of Ctesiphon were for an attack from the south. Centuries of warfare against the Romans and the nomadic tribes of the Eurasian steppe had concentrated Persian defensive efforts to the north of Ctesiphon. The contrast between the destruction of the bridges over the Nahrawan canal to block Heraclius’ approach in 627 and the ease with which Sa’d approached Veh-Ardashir and then took Ctesiphon in 637 demonstrates the direction in which Persian defences were facing. It could be argued that, by leaving troops in Mesopotamia to slow the advance of the Muslims on Ctesiphon, Yazdgerd assured the capture of his capital by depriving its defence of much needed manpower. However, without garrisons at the likes of Burs, Babylon and Kusa, Zuhra’s advanced guard would have arrived at Ctesiphon before any defensive measures were implemented. Therefore, after the defeat at Qadisiyyah, the Sassanid king and his generals were left with what was a no-win situation with regard to defending Ctesiphon.

However, this Persian evacuation of their capital without a fight meant that there were still sizeable Sassanid armies in the field that needed to be defeated before Muslim control of Mesopotamia could be consolidated. The main Persian force under Mihran and Khurrazad retreated north to Jalula, which, as well as being near the modern site of Baghdad, lay on a strategically important route between the Persian provinces of Mesopotamia, Khurasan and Atropatene. There were also forces congregating to the north at Birtha, usually identified with modern-day Tikrit, as well as the significant garrison of the fortress further up the Tigris recognised as modern Mosul. Its governor, Intaq, appears to have moved south to Birtha with his garrison and along with some survivors from Ctesiphon and new recruits from the local Arab tribes formed a sizeable force.

The relative proximity of Birtha to the main Sassanid force at Jalula meant that Intaq could move to join his forces to those of Mihran and Khurrazad as well as providing a potential route of retreat for the Persian force should it be defeated at Jalula. Therefore, whilst Sa’d sent the majority of his force against Jalula under Hashim in April, he also sent about 5,000 men under Abdullah to preoccupy if not neutralise Intaq. Upon arriving, Abdullah attempted to storm the walls with a lightning attack. However, Intaq’s men held firm and it appears as though Abdullah became concerned about the size of the garrison. To deal with this perceived strength, the Muslim commander attempted to drive a wedge between the elements of Intaq’s force. Muslim spies made contact with the Christian Arab contingent and persuaded them to side with Abdullah rather than Intaq. The Persians seem to have gotten wind of this betrayal or at least suspected it, as they attempted to abandon Birtha along the river. However, they found themselves trapped between the attacking Muslims and their former Arab allies and the Persian garrison was quickly overrun. A few days later, a small Muslim force received the surrender of Mosul without much of a fight.

Battle of Jalula, 637: Deployments.

Battle of Jalula, 637: Qaqa’s Flank Attack

While Abdullah was cutting off a potential route of retreat and reinforcement for the Sassanids, Hashim had squared up to the Persian forces at Jalula. While the strategic position of Jalula as a crossroads for the Sassanid state meant that it was vital for Mihran and Khurrazad to try to defend it, the position of the town with the Diyala River to the west and foothills of the Zagros Mountains to the east also offered an excellent defensive position. Knowing that the naturally narrow plain in front of Jalula would funnel the Muslim army towards the town and protect their flanks, Mihran prepared diligently for the Muslim attack he knew would come. Jalula itself was turned into a fort, protected by a line of trenches stretching from the broken ground of the Zagros foothills to the Diyala and caltrops to further hinder the Muslim infantry and cavalry. Archers and artillery were also positioned on the fortifications to bleed the Muslims as they approached the walls. Only after inflicting crippling damage on the Muslim ranks would Mihran then leave this defensive position in order to win a decisive victory.

Upon surveying the disposition and defences of the Persian force, Hashim recognised Mihran’s ploy in presenting the Muslims with only one offensive option – a costly frontal assault. This was something that he could ill afford given that the size of the forces arrayed at Jalula were likely very similar, around 12,000 each. Therefore, Hashim decided to draw the Persians away from their defences by employing one of the riskiest manoeuvres in battlefield tactics – the feigned retreat. The danger of this tactic is that a feigned retreat can quickly become an actual one if the morale and discipline of those attempting it is not strong enough and a counter-attack from the opponent is so well pressed and coordinated as to be impossible to resist. Clearly, after the numerous victories they had won up to the battlefield of Jalula, Hashim had every reason to believe in the discipline and prowess of his men to even attempt such a tactic. While there is no evidence to suggest that Mihran’s counter-attack was not well pressed, it could be argued that the presence of their own trenches and caltrops could have prevented the Persians from launching a fully coordinated assault on the `retreating’ Muslims as they had to waste time in placing a bridge over the defences.

The battle therefore began with a Muslim attack on the defences of Jalula, only for them to retreat under the hail of Persian archers and artillery. Mihran took this as a sign that his plan was working and that the Muslim forces were on the verge of breaking and quickly launched his planned counter-attack. Unbeknownst to the Persian commander, his opposite number will have also been pleased that his own plan was going well. His men had fooled the Persians into thinking they were retreating whilst still retaining their own discipline and order. With the Persians now drawn away from their defences, an infantry confrontation took place on the plain before Jalula. Further staged withdrawals by Hashim’s men then opened up a gap between the Persian lines and the bridge route back into the fort and it was then that Hashim launched his counterstroke. Having gathered together a strong cavalry contingent in his rear under Qaqa, Hashim now sent them in an attack around the Persian right flank against the lightly defended bridge. Once word filtered through the battlefront that the Muslims had cut off the only escape route, Hashim ordered his men in a full-scale attack on the Persian lines while Qaqa attacked their rear. Trapped by geography, their own defences and the Muslim forces, the Persian army broke. Despite many men making it back to the fort of Jalula, the defeat of Mihran and the death of Khurrazad had neutralised it as a threat. The exact date for the Battle of Jalula is difficult to pin down from the sources, some of which place the battle at the end of a seven-month siege while others say that the seven-month siege succeeded a battle in April 637.

Whatever the order of events, Jalula had fallen to Hashim by the end of 637. The Muslim general then sent Qaqa after those Persian forces under Mihran who had managed to escape. The cavalry commander caught up to them at the city of Khanaqin, some fifteen miles to the east. Some reinforcements from Hulwan may have reached Mihran but they were not enough to prevent a further defeat and the capture of Khanaqin. It is recorded that Qaqa defeated Mihran in a personal duel, removing one of the more capable Persian commanders as an obstacle. Qaqa was now within 100 miles of Yazdgerd III’s base at Hulwan and was to appear before its walls before the end of January 638. However, upon hearing of the defeat of Mihran at Khanaqin, Yazdgerd had retreated further east into the Iranian heartland of his empire, reaching Qom, around 100 miles south of modern Tehran. This hopping from Ctesiphon to Hulwan to Qom was to become a repeating pattern for the rest of Yazdgerd’s life as he attempted to outrun the Muslim advance whilst at the same time trying to bring together an army strong enough to retake his lost lands.

With the emperor gone and only a modest garrison left to defend it, Hulwan also swiftly fell. Having settled affairs with the citizenry, the ever ambitious Qaqa then sent to his commander, Sa’d, asking if he could drive further into Iran in pursuit of the fleeing Yazdgerd. Sa’d himself appears to have been in favour of such an advance, perhaps thinking that the Persians were sure to return once they had reorganised their forces. However, Umar was unwilling to further stretch his forces given the effects of the `Year of Ashes’ and the Plague of Amwas throughout 638 and 639 and, as he had done in ordering his men to pull back from a potentially decisive confrontation in Roman Anatolia, he denied Qaqa and Sa’d permission to continue east. What is now the border between Iran and Iraq was to be the effective frontier between the lands of the caliph and those of the Persian emperor, albeit temporarily.

The loss of Mesopotamia, let alone their capital at Ctesiphon, was a huge blow, not just to the prestige of the Sassanids but perhaps more importantly to their continued ability to wage war, as those provinces contained a vast proportion of their population and tax revenue. The Persians still held significant territories all the way east to the Oxus and Indus rivers and their Roman neighbours had demonstrated that by identifying the strategic necessity of regrouping such losses were survivable. However, as will be seen, Yazdgerd and his advisers would not exhibit the same restraint and strategic good sense of Heraclius, allowing their loss of dignity to force them into challenging this `Iran-Iraq’ frontier before they had laid any defensive or infrastructural groundwork.


The major land route by which men, weapons, and supplies were moved from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. It ran through the Truong Son (Annamese Cordillera), the mountain range along the border between Vietnam and the “panhandle” of southern Laos. The trail was established by Group 559, named for the date of its creation (May 1959). Initially it ran down the eastern side of the Truong Son, crossing the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) directly and remaining within Vietnam. In 1961, it shifted to the west, detouring through Laos to bypass the DMZ. It was not a single trail, but rather a network.

For the first few years, it was a network of footpaths only, better suited to movement of troops than to the transportation of bulky cargoes. More than 40,000 men are said to have come down it by the end of 1963. There were of course no neatly defined dates for the shifts from foot traffic to bicycles (see photograph 16) and then to trucks, allowing larger quantities of munitions and supplies to be moved along it. Some portions of the trail were upgraded before others. But the key date for the decision to upgrade large sections of the trail to make them usable by trucks appears to have been 1964. Cargo being transported down the trail usually crossed from North Vietnam into Laos through the Nape Pass, the Mu Gia Pass, or the Ban Karai Pass, about 220, 115, and 55 kilometers, respectively, northwest of the DMZ. Troops coming down the trail often used crossing points closer to the DMZ. Construction of a gasoline pipeline running along the trail, allowing much more use of motor vehicles than had previously been possible, began in June 1968. The final link to create a continuous system of pipelines running from the Chinese border south as far as Military Region 7 (in III Corps, by the territorial units the United States used) was completed in December 1972.

The most stunning failure was in the US bombing campaigns over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They had little or no success in cutting off the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops from their supply bases above the seventeenth parallel. In 1963 the Trail had been primitive, requiring a physically demanding, month-long march of eighteen-hour days to reach the south. But by the spring of 1964, the North Vietnamese put nearly 500,000 peasants to work full and part time and in one year built hundreds of miles of all-weather roads complete with underground fuel storage tanks, hospitals, and supply warehouses. They built ten separate roads for every main transportation route. By the time the war ended, the Ho Chi Minh Trail had 12,500 miles of excellent roads, complete with pontoon bridges that could be removed by day and reinstalled at night and miles of bamboo trellises covering the roads and hiding the trucks. As early as mid-1965 the North Vietnamese could move 5,000 men and 400 tons of supplies into South Vietnam every month. By mid-1967 more than 12,000 trucks were winding their way up and down the trail. By 1974 the North Vietnamese would even manage to build 3,125 miles of fuel pipelines down the trail to keep their army functioning in South Vietnam. Three of the pipelines came all the way out of Laos and deep into South Vietnam without being detected.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail had become a work of art maintained by 100,000 Vietnamese and Laotian workers. It included 12,000 miles of well-maintained trails, paved two-lane roads stretching from North Vietnam to Tchepone, just across the South Vietnamese border in Laos, and a four-inch fuel pipeline that reached all the way into the A Shau Valley.

The bombing was, to be sure, devastating. During the war the United States dropped one million tons of explosives on North Vietnam and 1.5 million tons on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In 1967 the bombing raids killed or wounded 2,800 people in North Vietnam each month. The bombers destroyed every industrial, transportation, and communications facility built in North Vietnam since 1954, badly damaged three major cities and twelve provincial capitals, reduced agricultural output, and set the economy back a decade. Malnutrition was widespread in North Vietnam in 1967. But because North Vietnam was overwhelmingly agricultural-and subsistence agriculture at that-the bombing did not have the crushing economic effects it would have had on a centralized, industrial economy. The Soviet Union and China, moreover, gave North Vietnam a blank check, willingly replacing whatever the United States bombers had destroyed.

Weather and problems of distance also limited the air war. In 1967 the United States could keep about 300 aircraft over North Vietnam or Laos for thirty minutes or so each day. But torrential rains, thick cloud cover, and heavy fogs hampered the bombing. Trucks from North Vietnam could move when the aircraft from the carriers in the South China Sea could not.

Throughout the war North Vietnam, assisted by tens of thousands of Chinese troops from the People’s Liberation Army, gradually erected the most elaborate air defense system in the history of the world. They built 200 Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile sites, trained pilots to fly MiG-17s and MiG-21s, deployed 7,000 antiaircraft batteries, and distributed automatic and semiautomatic weapons to millions of people with instructions to shoot at American aircraft. The North Vietnamese air defense system hampered the air war in three ways. American pilots had to fly at higher altitudes, and that reduced their accuracy. They were busy dodging missiles, which consumed the moment they had to spend over their target and reduced the effectiveness of each sortie. And they had to spend much of their time firing at missile installations and antiaircraft guns instead of supply lines.

The CIA estimated that between 1966 and 1971 North Vietnam had shipped 630,000 soldiers, 100,000 tons of food, 400,000 weapons, and 50,000 tons of ammunition into South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Abrams wanted to invade Laos, cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and starve the North Vietnamese troops waiting in South Vietnam. But because the Cooper-Church Amendment prohibited the use of American troops outside South Vietnam, Abrams would have to rely on ARVN soldiers. During Nixon’s first two years in office, nearly 15,000 American troops were killed in action. Figures on cargo have been inconsistent.

A total figure of 1,500,000 tons had been given as the amount of cargo transported on the trail, but it has also been suggested that only a little more than 500,000 tons was actually delivered to destinations in South Vietnam.

GROUP 559. This PAVN unit, also called the Truong Son troops, was responsible for creating and operating the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the route by which men, weapons, and supplies were sent from North Vietnam through southeastern Laos to South Vietnam. It was established on May 19, 1959, and began operations immediately. It was commanded by Vo Bam from its origin to 1965, by Phan Trong Tue from April to December 1965, by Hoang Van Thai (not the Hoang Van Thai who had been PAVN chief of staff during the First Indochina War, but another general of the same name) from December 1965 to 1967, and by Dong Si Nguyen from 1967 to 1975. It is said to have carried more than 1,000,000 tons of cargo, of which more than 500,000 tons were delivered to South Vietnam.

GROUP 759. This was the unit that shipped weapons and ammunition from North Vietnam to South Vietnam by sea, in substantial steel-hulled trawlers. A preliminary organization-a group of staff officers assigned to study the feasibility of such operations-was set up in July 1959; Group 759 was established as an operational unit on October 23, 1961. The first success, in which the ship Phuong Dong 1 delivered 28 tons of cargo to Ca Mau (the southernmost tip of South Vietnam, presumably chosen because it was the place where the Republic of Vietnam would least expect to find North Vietnamese vessels approaching the coast), was in September or October of 1962. By February 1963, there had been three more deliveries, of about 30 tons each, to the same area. Vessels with capacities of 50 to 60 tons made numerous deliveries during 1963; vessels with capacities up to 100 tons came into use before the end of 1964. Group 759 was redesignated Group 125 on January 24, 1964. By February 1965, a total of almost 5,000 tons had been delivered in 88 voyages, mostly to Nam Bo.

Security was excellent for more than two years. Many senior U. S. naval officers refused to believe the rumors that the Viet Cong were receiving significant munitions shipments by sea until Vessel 143 was spotted by aircraft and sunk at Vung Ro, on the coast of Phu Yen province, on February 16, 1965. After this incident, the United States and the Republic of Vietnam greatly expanded their efforts to patrol the coast of South Vietnam. Group 125 continued its efforts to deliver munitions to South Vietnam, but these efforts became far more difficult and dangerous.

British in Burma 19th Century

Though mentioned by the Greek geographer Ptolemy in the second century AD, Burma remained largely closed to the outside world for much of the next millennium. Most foreign contact was with India, from where the Burmese assimilated the Buddhist religion but little else; they remained stoically immune, for example, to the Indian caste system. In the late thirteenth century the Burmese kingdom of Pagan was overrun by the Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan and the country fragmented into a patchwork of states ruled by the Shan princes from the eastern plateau. The Shan were still in power when the first European, a Venetian traveller and writer named Niccolò de’ Conti, visited Burma in 1435. It was not until the early seventeenth century, however, that the English and Dutch East India companies established trade links with the Toungu Dynasty of King Thalun. But foreign trade ceased entirely in 1755 with the overthrow of the Toungus by a Burmese resistance leader who called himself Alaungpaya (‘Embryo Buddha’). For the next fifty years King Alaungpaya and his successors terrorized the region, launching one war after another from their capital of Ava on the Irrawaddy River. Siam – modern Thailand – was overrun in 1767, though never brought properly under control, and a number of Chinese invasions from Yunnan Province were successfully repulsed. But it was the conquest in 1785 of the coastal kingdom of Arakan, which lay between Ava and British India, that set the Burmese on a collision course with the HEIC. Thousands of Arakan rebels fled across the border to British-controlled Chittagong, which they used as a base for raids. Protests from Ava were ignored, and frequent border incidents – such as the pursuit of ‘bandits’ into Chittagong by Burmese troops in 1795 – continued to sour Anglo-Burmese relations.

Tensions rose further in 1819, when the Burmese conquered the border states of Assam and Manipur, causing a fresh flood of refugees into east Bengal. In September 1823 a small British garrison was ejected from the island of Shahpuri near the Chittagong border; four months later the Burmese invaded Cachar, which was under British protection – and these further encroachments were the final straw for the HEIC. War was declared on 5 March 1824 by William Amherst, the governor-general, citing the Burmese government’s ‘mischievous aggression’. But even the Calcutta pessimists cannot have expected the fighting to last for two years, costing the British £13m and the lives of almost 15,000 men. Stout Burmese resistance, the swampy terrain, bad weather and poor logistics all played their part; but the biggest killer by far was sickness and disease. Of the 3,115 European fatalities, for example, only 150 died in battle. Despite the huge butcher’s bill, the British eventually managed to fight their way to within four miles of the Burmese capital, prompting King Bagyidaw to sue for peace. By the terms of the subsequent treaty, he ceded Arakan, Assam and Tenasserim to the HEIC; he also promised to respect the independence of Manipur and Cachar, and to open up Burmese ports to British trade.

While Bagyidaw ruled, relations between Ava and Calcutta remained cordial. But in 1837 the king was overthrown by his brother Tharawaddy, who then denounced the earlier peace treaty and expelled the British resident. Tharawaddy’s son and successor, Pagan Min, was just as Anglophobic as his father, and his subordinates followed his lead. In 1851, tired of reports that the Burmese governor of Rangoon was harassing British merchants and trading captains, Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General of India, demanded redress. Pagan Min made a show of contrition by recalling the governor to Ava; but his replacement was hardly an improvement. He deliberately insulted the British flag, and, in response, the commodore of the nearest British squadron seized a Burmese ship and blockaded the Irrawaddy Delta. On 15 March 1852 Dalhousie issued the Burmese government with an ultimatum: stop interfering with British shipping and trade or face the consequences. When no reply was received, Dalhousie dispatched an expeditionary force. This war, unlike the previous one, was more about ‘face’ than regional security. ‘We can’t afford’, explained Dalhousie, ‘to be shown to the door anywhere in the East.’

Compared to the earlier conflict, this one was a model of British organization and efficiency. The initial British force of two brigades – furnished by the Bengal and Madras armies – was commanded by Major-General Sir Henry Godwin, ‘an old man in a wig’, who had fought in the first war as a regimental commander. Before leaving India, Godwin put this experience to good use by training his Bengal troops in the art of bombarding and storming stockades, the preferred mode of Burmese defence. British weapons had also improved, with the percussion musket far superior to the assortment of outdated firearms possessed by the Burmese; and, unlike the 1824 campaign, which had deliberately been launched during the monsoon when the rivers were in flood, Godwin timed his expedition to arrive at the Irrawaddy Delta in April, a good six weeks before the rains began.

Godwin’s greatest advantage over the previous campaign, however, was the use of steam-powered transports and gunboats to navigate the Irrawaddy. The first successful trial of a steamboat, the tug Charlotte Dundas, had taken place on the Forth and Clyde Canal in 1802. But steam-towing was abandoned for fear of injuring the banks of the canal, and it was not until 1812 that Henry Bell’s Comet began to operate on the Clyde as a commercial paddle-steamer. Yet it took some time to convert the Royal Navy to the idea of steam. This was partly because a steamer’s paddles were thought to be vulnerable to enemy fire and did not leave enough room for a full broadside of guns. In 1840, by which time the British merchant fleet had no fewer than 720 large seagoing steamships, the Royal Navy had none. But all this changed with the launch of the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ship, the SS Great Britain by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, in 1843. Within two years the Royal Navy had introduced the world’s first steam battleship, HMS Ajax, and four years after that, in 1849, a screw-propeller battleship, HMS Agamemnon. France finished its own screw-propeller battleship, Napoleon, just three months before Agamemnon was launched, and it was the potential threat to Britain’s naval supremacy from another country’s steam-powered fleet that had prompted the Royal Navy to act. From 1851 to 1871, when HMS Devastation became the world’s first mastless warship, all new British warships had sails and screw propellers. The best of the hybrids was HMS Warrior, the first iron-hulled battleship, launched in 1860. Displacing nearly 9,200 tons, with iron masts and retractable funnels for a full spread of canvas, she was the fastest, most powerful warship afloat.

In 1852, however, a much smaller steam-powered vessel gave Britain’s armed forces a crucial tactical edge: the gunboat. Under 200 feet long, with pivot-mounted guns and a crew of around thirty, its greatest asset was its manoeuvrability. A two-mast sailing rig gave it speed and agility in open sea, while its steam engine allowed it to chug up navigable rivers, deep into hostile territory. ‘The gunboat’, writes one naval historian, ‘made the Royal Navy for the first time a power on land as well as at sea. Without the gunboat, the navy could never have fulfilled its role as global policeman, intervening at the request of British officials and merchants virtually anywhere in the world.’ At no time was the gunboat more effective than during the Second Burma War of 1852–3.

The fighting began in earnest on 5 April 1852 when a British amphibious assault, with gunboats to the fore, captured Martaban on the Rangoon River; a week later, in a battle that raged for three days, Godwin’s combined force of 6,000 men stormed and took the fortified settlement of Rangoon itself. British casualties were light: just seventeen killed and 132 wounded. Many more died of sickness and disease during the following month of relative inactivity, as Godwin waited for reinforcements and supplies. By mid May he was ready to continue his advance, this time up the Negrais River to Bassein. This strongpoint, styled the ‘Key of Burma’, was captured in less than an hour, underlining once again Godwin’s facility for combined sea and land operations. After a half-hearted, and only partially successful, expedition to assist anti-government rebels in the southern Burmese province of Pegu, Godwin turned his attention to the lower Irrawaddy Valley. Gunboats reached Prome in early July and found it undefended. But Godwin, short on men, decided not to garrison it until the arrival of extra troops from India.

Lord Dalhousie ..A Govenor General of India 1848 to 1856

In 1852 Dalhousie’s priority was to get enough troops to Burma to finish the war. Most of the reinforcements – including the 67th Native Infantry, the 38th’s substitute – arrived in Rangoon in early September. Later that month Godwin headed up the Irrawaddy with part of the Bengal Contingent, capturing Prome without a fight on 9 October. But, having discovered that the main Burmese Army, 18,000 strong, was dug in ten miles to the east, Godwin chose discretion and returned to Rangoon, leaving the commander at Prome with orders to act on the defensive.

In November, Godwin led a second – and this time successful – expedition to capture the town of Pegu. Once back in Rangoon, however, he received word that the tiny British garrison at Pegu was under siege. Two relieving forces were hastily dispatched, one by water (which Godwin accompanied) and one by land. Not surprisingly, the flotilla arrived first, and, on 17 December, Godwin’s force of 1,200 men was able to outflank the besieging army and force it to retreat. Two days later, the pursuit was broken off because of a lack of supplies, and Godwin withdrew to Pegu, where he was met by the land column, which had just arrived after an uneventful march through seventy miles of hilly jungle.

It was gradually dawning on Godwin that his lack of land transport was hamstringing his attempts to bring the enemy to a decisive battle. As things stood, his troops could never venture far from their waterborne supply line, which made it easy for the Burmese to fight a hit-and-run style of guerrilla warfare. Constant attacks, lack of sleep and inadequate provisions were beginning to take their toll on British morale. Further pressure was heaped on the British commander by Dalhousie’s premature announcement on 20 December 1852 that the HEIC had annexed Pegu Province. It had yet to be pacified, let alone annexed, and to this end Godwin sent another land column into the province, 2,000 strong, under the experienced Brigadier-General S. W. Steel. With transport provided by 120 elephants and 300 bullock carts, Steel’s march was a leisurely one, his troops finally reaching Toungu in the extreme south of the province in late February 1853.

Godwin, meanwhile, had returned to Prome, where on 5 January he received some very welcome news: King Pagan Min had been overthrown in a palace coup, and the main Burmese Army had withdrawn to Ava to share in the spoils. In late January, advancing cautiously upriver, Godwin met emissaries from the new king, Mindon, who, they said, was willing to negotiate. The sticking point, however, was Mindon’s refusal to cede Pegu. As negotiations continued, the last major operation of the war took place downriver near Donabyu, where the local chief, Myat-Toon, had long been a thorn in the British side. The first attempt to penetrate the narrow creek that led to the chief’s stronghold was beaten back on 17 January. A second more powerful expedition was launched in early February, but it too was forced to retire, with the loss of two naval guns and eighty men, including its fatally wounded commander, Captain Granville Loch, RN. With the honour of the British military at stake, Brigadier-General Sir John Cheape was given the task of capturing the stronghold. He chose to attack by land but lost his way in the jungle and was forced to return to the Irrawaddy. On 7 March, his column increased to 1,100 men and four guns, he set off again with a week’s supplies and assurances that his destination was within three marches. It was not. Harassed by the enemy and slowed by endless river crossings, Cheape made tortuous progress, and on 12 March, with provisions running short, he put the men on half-rations and sent the bullock carts back for more supplies. The convoy returned on the 16th, and two days later, leaving his sick and wounded with a small escort, Cheape continued his advance. Early on 19 March his advance guard at last discovered Myat-Toon’s formidable stockade.

The officer leading the vanguard was Garnet Wolseley, the young ensign of the 80th Foot who had been so shocked by Wellington’s death a few months earlier. Born near Dublin in 1833, the scion of an ancient but hard-up Anglo-Irish family that traced its Saxon descent to pre-Conquest times, Wolseley was a studious and fiercely ambitious officer who had spent much of the voyage out to India learning Hindustani and reading military history. He had been in the army for only a year, the recipient of a commission without purchase in recognition of his late father’s many years of distinguished service. Like many of his poorer colleagues, he ‘looked forward to an Indian career where high pay enabled the infantry officer to live without assistance from home’. Yet he also hoped to emulate the military feats of his forebears, notably Brigadier-General William Wolseley, his great-great-great uncle, who had raised his own regiment of horse and served with William III in Ireland, and his grandfather, who had fought in the Seven Years War with the 1st (Royal) Dragoons before becoming a parson.

Even at this early stage of his career, Wolseley was fiercely critical of anything that did not meet his exacting standards. The ‘great bulk’ of officers he met in India and Burma were, he wrote later, ‘lacking in good breeding, and all seemed badly educated’. Only a small proportion, like him, took their ‘profession seriously, studied hard at all military sciences, and spent many of those deadly midday hours of the Indian summers reading military history and the lives of the great commanders’. As for British uniforms, he regarded them as ‘entirely unsuited for campaigning in a tropical climate’. He wrote:

The Queen’s Army took an idiotic pride in dressing in India as nearly as possible in the same clothing they wore at home. Upon this occasion, the only difference was in the trousers, which were of ordinary Indian drill dyed blue, and that round our regulation forage cap we wore a few yards of puggaree of a similar colour. We wore our ordinary cloth shell jackets buttoned up to the chin, and the usual white buckskin gloves. Could any costume short of steel armour be more absurd in such a latitude?

The army’s only concession to the climate was to allow soldiers to remove their stiff leather stocks, but most of the veterans ‘clung to theirs, asserting that the stock protected the back of the neck against the sun, and kept them cool’. The Burmese soldier, by contrast, was simply dressed in a short cotton jacket, loin cloth and ‘small pugree twisted through his long hair’. His weapons consisted of a dah, or hiltless sword, and a variety of outdated muskets. ‘A cloth fastened round him contains his rice,’ wrote Wolseley, ‘and the pot to boil it in is usually slung to the barrel of his ill-kept firelock, together with the mat which forms his bed. A few bananas and a little native tobacco constitute his luxuries.’ Broad-shouldered, muscular, hardy and brave, the Burmese should have made ideal soldiers. What they lacked, in Wolseley’s opinion, was discipline. ‘They revolt against restraint,’ he wrote later, ‘and if punished for any offence against discipline they desert, and once in their dense forests they are hard to find. They stand being shot at well when behind stockaded defences, but they dislike leaving them, even though a favourable opportunity presents itself, when they might easily inflict great loss upon their enemy.’

This, then, was the foe that Wolseley came up against for the first time – his baptism of fire – on 19 March 1853. Accompanying him on point duty were four privates of the 80th, all recruits in their teens. As they crept along a narrow path, with dense jungle on each side, they could hear the sound of trees being felled for the Burmese to strengthen their defences. Then, as the path turned sharply to the left, the sight of an enemy stockade came into view, about a hundred yards distant on the far side of a large creek: they had found Myat-Toon’s stronghold. With no pickets thrown out, the Burmese were quite unaware of the British presence. Speaking in whispers, Wolseley sent word back to the main force and a short while later received orders to continue his advance – he was ‘to move slowly and be careful not to show [himself]’. He had almost reached the point at which a road forded the creek when the Burmese spotted the approaching column and opened fire along the length of their stockade. He recalled:

The whiz of bullets and the sound of their thud into the stems of trees about us at once added enlivenment to the position. Their fire was too high, and it was not until we began to form up to our right, facing the enemy, that I saw any one fall near me, but before the place was taken all the four boys with whom I started in the morning were hit. The detachments of British troops were now withdrawn into the jungle and formed into line facing the enemy’s works; our two guns, which had been far behind, were now brought up and into action.

Detachments from three regiments – Britons, Sikhs and sepoys – were ordered to advance up the road and storm the stockade. But the sepoys had gone through the horror of the previous expedition and refused to break cover. ‘They seemed in an abject funk’, remembered Wolseley, ‘and I believe could not be got on by their gallant officers. As we passed over them, our men abused them in strong terms, which they seemed in no way to resent.’

The Sikhs were bolder and advanced shoulder to shoulder with the British troops, but had some of the fight knocked out of them when their popular commander was shot in the head and badly wounded. Before long the troops were all mixed together, and, confronted by a withering fire from front and flank, the advance stalled. Volunteers were called for to lead a storming party, and Wolseley and Lieutenant Allan Johnson, another officer destined for high rank, stepped forward. With the two officers in the lead, the mixed detachment tore down the road towards the stockade’s main gate as the Burmese opened up with everything they had, including the two British naval guns that had been lost during the previous expedition. Though out front, and in mortal danger, Wolseley felt something akin to exhilaration as he waved his sword and cheered the men on. Suddenly, not far from the stockade, the ground gave way beneath him, and he fell heavily into a pit disguised with earth and brushwood, a wooden stake almost knocking him unconscious. Gathering his senses, he scrambled out of the far side of the pit and, to his horror, found himself alone, just thirty yards from the enemy stockade. The rest of the storming party had melted away. With bullets kicking up the ground around him, he jumped back into the pit, but it quickly occurred to him that, having dropped his pistol, he would fall easy prey to the first Burmese sally. His only chance was to run for it, and, choosing the moment after a heavy Burmese volley, he set off. Every lungbusting stride brought the anticipation of a bullet in the back. But not one found its mark, and he soon reached the safety of the ragged British line, still angry at being deserted. ‘Had a formed company with its officers been there,’ he wrote later, ‘the whole thing would have been over in a very few minutes.’ Instead the storming party was a mixture of volunteers, many of them raw recruits.

By now Brigadier-General Cheape had appeared on the scene and, seeing the difficulty of the approach, ordered the 24-pounder howitzer to be brought forward. He also ordered up his remaining troops and called for a fresh storming party. Wolseley again volunteered, saying he knew the way, and was joined by a young Madras lieutenant called James Taylor. Having warned Taylor about the pit, Wolseley collected as many 80th men as he could before setting off at the run. He could see numbers of the Burmese above their stockade, urging the British on with shouts and gesticulations. Once again he experienced the thrill of the charge as adrenalin coursed through his veins. ‘The feeling is catching,’ he wrote; ‘it flies through a mob of soldiers and makes them, whilst the fit is on them, absolutely reckless of all consequences. The blood seems to boil, the brain to be on fire.’

Never again in his long and illustrious career would he experience ‘the same unalloyed and elevating satisfaction’. But it could not last. Having safely skirted the pit, he saw Taylor tumble head over heels. A few paces on he too fell heavily, shot in the left thigh by a bullet from a gingall, a heavy musket fired from a rest. As he clamped his left hand on the wound, blood squirted in jets through the fingers of his pipe-clayed gloves. But the seriousness of the wound did not stop him from urging his men on, including one sergeant who stopped to help him. ‘In a few minutes,’ recalled Wolseley, ‘he and those he led – for he was then in command – had clambered up the roughly-constructed stockade and the garrison bolted. Some more men coming up from the rear carried poor Taylor and put him beside me, where he bled to death. He too was shot through the thigh, the bullet in his case cutting the femoral artery. Mine was a remarkable escape. A doctor soon arrived on the scene and put on a tourniquet, which hurt me, but allowed me to be moved.’

Wolseley was evacuated back to Donabyu in a naval pinnace, and from there to Prome on a flat boat towed by a steamer. By the time he reached England, in late 1853, he could walk again. His ‘gallantry in leading the storming party’ was mentioned in dispatches and would probably have merited the Victoria Cross if that medal had then existed.

The size of Myat-Toon’s garrison was later estimated at 4,000 men, one man for every four yards of stockade. Most fled with their chief, leaving behind a huge stockpile of weapons and food, which the British destroyed. Cheape then retraced his steps to Donabyu, arriving on the 24th. His total casualties were not light – 130 killed and wounded, with a further hundred succumbing to cholera – but just about acceptable, considering the difficulties of the climate and the terrain. The fight near Donabyu was the last serious action of the war. After much negotiation, King Mindon agreed to cede Pegu, and hostilities ceased on 30 June 1853.

The Fall of Normandy

Although appointed to the lieutenancy of Normandy for three years in December 1446, Edmund Beaufort did not move there until early 1448. His own men took over from York’s Anglo-Normans during 1447, but the province was essentially leaderless during a period of great uncertainty about the peace policy launched in 1444. Charles VII had agreed to extend the two-year truce agreed at Tours, but Henry failed to follow through with a journey to meet him in France in 1446. The main reason was financial – he had exhausted his credit to pay for Suffolk’s two embassies and could not afford the magnificence the occasion demanded.

A greatly aggravating factor was Edmund’s insistence that he be compensated for the loss of his holdings in Maine before he would consent to handing over the county, as privately agreed by Henry in a letter to his ‘dear uncle of France’ dated 22 December 1445. The letter stressed entreaties by his ‘most dear and well-beloved companion the queen’, who had been assured by her father and Charles himself that the cession of Maine would lead to a lasting peace.

Finally Edmund obtained a settlement of 10,000 livres tournois [nearly £1 million], to be paid annually by the already hard-pressed Norman exchequer. Only then did he move to Rouen, perhaps to ensure he received the agreed compensation. Although he was supposed to share it with the Anglo-Normans who would also be dispossessed, he did not. Consequently a deputation of English knights and squires obstructed the negotiations for the handover, to the point that in February–March 1448 they were besieged at Le Mans and even bombarded by a French army commanded by Pierre de Brézé. The knights handed over the town on 15 March after Charles VII agreed to compensate them himself, but of course they never saw a penny.

Henry was so greatly relieved that on 31 March he recreated the dukedom of Somerset for Edmund. This was further salt in the wounds of the dispossessed Anglo-Normans, particularly those of Richard of York’s affinity, some of whom trickled back to England seeking his ‘good lordship’. The trickle became a flood in 1449–50, and was the reason York became such a determined enemy of Somerset; which, since Somerset enjoyed the unconditional support of the king, brought York into ultimately mortal conflict with the house of Lancaster.

Somerset’s performance of his duties as Lieutenant of Normandy was abject. When all the arguments about the inevitability of the outcome are weighed, the outstanding fact is that he made no serious preparation to resist French aggression. He appears to have shared Henry’s wishful thinking, in the teeth of abundant evidence that Richemont’s military organization was well advanced and could only have one purpose. Even if there might have been some doubt previously, there can have been none after the siege of Le Mans.

Possibly he thought the French would continue to nibble at the edges of Normandy through a process of armed negotiation. This would have granted him time to accumulate as much money as he could before returning to England, leaving his successor to deal with the consequences. The French did not oblige, and Somerset’s ruin would have been complete were it not for the king’s dogged loyalty to him, which may have been born in part of guilty knowledge that he should never have appointed Somerset to an office which required great personal wealth.

Another, stronger reason was that the collapse of the truce was precipitated by a personal decision made by Henry. During the night of 23/24 March 1449, the Aragonese captain known as François de Surienne, a Garter knight for his services to the English crown, took the Breton border fortress of Fougères in a daring escalade. The purpose was to force the Duke of Brittany to release Gilles of Brittany, Henry VI’s childhood friend, imprisoned since June 1446. Henry knew Gilles had been arrested in the first instance by French soldiers acting on the orders of Charles VII. He regarded it as a breach of the truce, and the seizure of Fougères as therefore justified.

Charles, however, saw it as the opportunity he had been waiting for to conclude an explicitly anti-English alliance with Brittany, denounce the truce, and to declare war on 31 July. A year and a fortnight later, to the exhilarated satisfaction – and no small surprise – of the French commanders (among them Marguerite’s father, René d’Anjou), the last of Henry V’s and the Duke of Bedford’s conquests were in French hands.

Hardly any of the smaller fortified towns put up a fight. In most, the inhabitants opened their gates and welcomed the French armies or, as at Verneuil, helped them scale the walls. Most of the English garrisons that prevented this were persuaded to capitulate on generous terms. One such was Regnéville, a port on the coast of the Cotentin peninsula near Coutances, where the king’s stepfather Owen Tudor surrendered to the Bretons after six days. He was permitted to take ship to England with his men, their dependants and possessions.

Obdurate garrisons were bypassed, to fall like ripe fruit in due course. The outstanding example was Fresnay-sur-Sarthe, a small town on the border of Maine. Fresnay held out from September 1449, when the Duke of Alençon recovered his long-lost county in a whirlwind campaign, until March 1450, when the last hope of relief was extinguished. Somerset must have expected many more such hold-outs to buy him time, but Fresnay was held by Anglo-Normans dispossessed in Maine, who judged they had nothing more to lose. Somerset’s own fief of Mortain welcomed the French invaders with open arms, as did Évreux, the chief town of Richard of York’s appanage.

The English were vastly outnumbered. Not counting the Bretons, the four French armies numbered over 30,000 against 6,000–8,000 English in scattered garrisons. But the crowning humiliation was that they were defeated by equal numbers in the only pitched battle of the campaign. On 15 April 1450, about 4,500 men sent from England under Thomas Kyriell (the only knight banneret to respond to John Beaufort’s summons in 1443), joined by 1,500 drawn from the Cotentin peninsula garrisons, were routed at Formigny by two French armies totalling about 5,000. The French commanders were Richemont himself and the Duke of Bourbon, leader of the 1440 revolt against Charles VII.

There is a common belief that Formigny was the first battle won by field artillery, but its role was only indirect. It was an encounter battle in which neither side had been well served by scouts. Taken by surprise and outnumbered, Bourbon did employ a couple of light cannon: but his aim was to keep the enemy out of longbow range. After the English archers rushed the guns he was in serious trouble and was on the verge of defeat when Richemont, marching towards the sound of the guns, appeared on Kyriell’s flank. So, although the guns brought about the timely convergence of the French armies, it was tactical agility, supposedly the decisive advantage enjoyed by the English, which won the day.

The new French guns did, however, bring about the rapid capitulation of major fortresses that in former times had confidently withstood prolonged sieges. In 1414–15 the port of Harfleur held out against Henry V’s primitive bombards for over a year. It fell in three weeks in 1450. Massive Château Gaillard, built on an immensely strong position overlooking the Seine, resisted Henry V for a year in 1419. In 1449 it was battered into submission in less than two months, and was never rebuilt.

Accordingly, when in 1452 York accused Somerset of treachery for capitulating at Rouen after a siege lasting barely a week, and seven months later at Caen after twenty days, he could not argue that further resistance would have affected the final outcome. By convention a fortress commander would hold out while there was hope his own side might send an army to lift the siege, and there was no dishonour in seeking terms when there was no such prospect. It was Somerset’s haste and the terms he negotiated that York judged contemptible.

Somerset had thoroughly alienated the people of Rouen, probably because he needed to wring every penny out of his lieutenancy. Even though the Norman capital had much the largest garrison, commanded by none other than Somerset’s fearsome brother-in-law John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, in October 1449 they abandoned the city to a popular uprising and pulled back to the enormous castle. The main French armies were elsewhere and their heavy guns were at Château Gaillard, so even the minimum precondition of an effective siege had not been met when Somerset capitulated.

Along with the castle, he surrendered the fortified towns of the Pays de Caux and the port of Honfleur on the southern bank of the Seine estuary, which would have isolated Harfleur, on the north bank. In addition, he agreed to pay a ransom of 50,000 Norman saluts d’or [£7,314,000] for himself and his family to travel to Caen. As a guarantee he left Talbot and four other officers as hostages.

Intriguingly, Talbot bore Somerset no ill will; indeed he and his sons were to support him against York in the following years. A hypothesis to fit these facts is that by becoming a hostage for Somerset’s debt Talbot avoided being held to ransom in his own right. What is generally judged to have been an exceptionally shameful act turns out, on closer examination, to have been probably an act of clever collusion between the two peers.

The captain of Honfleur refused to obey Somerset’s order and held out until after Harfleur surrendered, capitulating on 18 January 1450. Talbot remained a hostage until July, when Andrew Trollope, one of his retainers and captain of Falaise, one of the last Norman towns still in English hands, made his release a condition of capitulation. Talbot swore never to bear arms against France again, and was to abide by the letter of his oath. He was unarmed when killed three years later during the last battle of the Hundred Years War.

The Earl of Oxford’s son Robert Vere, commanding the Caen garrison, was able to prevent a revolt by the inhabitants. Besieged during June 1450 by an army led by Charles VII himself, he conducted an active defence of the city that may have included a bribe to Scots members of Charles’s bodyguard to kill him. This, at least, was the charge levelled against them in 1453. One of the illustrations in the 1487 Vigiles du roi Charles VII shows an English sortie against the French bombards (the modern guns had not yet arrived), which finally put a stone shot through the window of the room where Somerset’s duchess and children were sheltered.

Somerset immediately agreed terms of capitulation including an astronomical ransom of 300,000 écus d’or [£43,884,000], with 18 hostages as surety, to permit Somerset, his family and the garrison to evacuate by sea. The ransom was totally unrealistic – it would have wiped out both the Norman and English exchequers – and the hostages were later released for the derisory sums they raised themselves. Understandably uncertain of the loyalty of his troops or of the reception awaiting him in England, Somerset sailed separately to Calais.

With the Normandy debacle well under way, the Parliament summoned to vote emergency funds in November 1449 was in a vengeful mood. Driven by Lord Cromwell, the Tailboys impeachment segued into a full-scale parliamentary attack on Suffolk. The first notable rat to desert the sinking ship was Adam Moleyns, Bishop of Chichester, who in early December resigned the office of Lord Privy Seal, pleading ill health and a belated desire to attend to his neglected diocese, which he had visited only to be invested in 1446.

A month later, he was in Portsmouth delivering wages to the troops assembling for Kyriell’s expedition when a group of Normandy veterans seized him and announced he must die for his role in handing over Maine. He tried to save himself by accusing Suffolk of embezzling the money intended for the defence of Normandy, but was slaughtered regardless. The murder of a bishop was a deeply shocking act in itself; but for the royal household the more worrying aspect was that the killers were men who had served under York, who may have been avenging Moleyns’ attempt to blame him for the parlous state of Normandy’s defences.

Suffolk issued a statement denying Moleyns’ accusation at the opening of the new session of Parliament on 23 January 1450, but it backfired. The Commons cited his own words as proof ‘there was an heavy noise of infamy upon him’, which required he should be brought to trial. Suffolk’s response was worded in a way to imply that the murdered bishop was indeed to blame for the surrender of Maine. This was demeaning: everybody knew the king was personally responsible, but it was treasonable to say so. The feeling was that Suffolk, having profited so greatly from being the king’s chief minister, should now manfully accept his role as chief scapegoat.

On 7 February, the Speaker read out a very long indictment accusing Suffolk of a fantastical plot with the French king to depose Henry VI and to replace him with Suffolk’s son John, whom he had betrothed to his ward Margaret Beaufort to give him a claim to the throne. This and other wild accusations about dealings with the French were simply embellishments to the core charges, which concerned the alienation of crown lands and rights to himself and his affinity. The result, said the indictment, was that there was not enough left to support the king’s government, requiring the Commons to make good the deficit with taxation.

Suffolk was consigned to the Tower to await trial. When he was brought out on 9 March, he did the only thing he could and cast himself on the king’s mercy. On 17 March the king summoned the lords to his inner chamber. In their presence, Suffolk knelt before him to assert his innocence, and once again threw himself on his mercy. Henry made no judgement on the charges against him, but banished him for five years from 1 May. The intention, clearly, was to recall him when the heat had died down.

Suffolk departed for his home in Ipswich, heavily guarded against a London mob intent on lynching him in revenge for what they believed was his murder of ‘Good Duke Humphrey’ in February 1447. When he got home he put his affairs in order and wrote a loving valedictory letter to his young son. The second paragraph, couched as advice, gives us an insight into how Suffolk himself had won the unreserved confidence of the king:

Next [to God], above all earthly things, be a true liegeman in heart, in will, in thought, in deed, unto the King, our elder, most high, and dread Sovereign Lord, to whom both ye and I be so much bound; charging you, as father can and may, rather to die than to be the contrary, or to know anything that were against the welfare and prosperity of his most royal person, but that so far as your body and life may stretch, ye live and die to defend it and to let His Highness have knowledge thereof, in all the haste ye can.

Suffolk sailed from Ipswich on 30 April, bound for Calais. His two ships were intercepted by a flotilla led by the ‘great ship’ Nicholas of the Tower, flying the royal colours, which summoned him. He had himself rowed across without hesitation, perhaps believing the king had changed his mind, only to be seized, ‘tried’ for treason by the crew and his head hacked off with a cutlass. His torso was cast ashore at Dover.

Although Henry and Marguerite were devastated by the news, the circumstances of Suffolk’s death were not investigated. It was clearly not an act of piracy – there must have been collusion with the master of Suffolk’s ship for the interception to take place at all, and no pirate operated a ‘great ship’. One is inescapably drawn to the conclusion that the murder was the work of young Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. As Lord Admiral, Exeter’s father had enjoyed a unique naval affinity, which made him, in practice, pirate-in-chief. The shamelessly corrupt Court of Admiralty was an extremely lucrative operation that provided his principal source of income, and continued to do so for his successors well into the seventeenth century.

When the older Exeter died, Suffolk added the Court of Admiralty to his own bag of offices. Without the income from the court the younger Exeter was decidedly poor. Not only did this give him reason to hate Suffolk, but he would also still have had contacts within the seafaring community made while his father was alive. The remaining members of the royal household would not have dared suggest to the king that a prince of his blood would be capable of such a thing, and the office of Lord Admiral now reverted to the psychopathic young man.

The household’s suspicion that Exeter had assassinated Suffolk would have been subsumed into a growing panic about what they believed was a greater threat. Their fear, which soon infected the king himself, was that the murders of Moleyns and Suffolk were the product of a conspiracy with Richard of York at its heart. Suffolk’s downfall had been initiated by Lord Cromwell, one of York’s councillors, and Exeter was York’s son-in-law. To their fearful minds it looked a lot like two plus two adding up to a deeply ominous four.

After the leader of the London riot against the release of Suffolk suffered the gruesome fate reserved for traitors, his quarters were sent to Coventry and Winchester, where there had been disturbances of the peace, and to Newbury and Stamford, where there had not. They were, however, boroughs owned by York. Further panicked by a lightning strike that severely damaged his favourite palace at Eltham, and by an outbreak of the plague, the king fled to Leicester. On his way there, another man earned a traitor’s death by lashing the ground in front of Henry’s horse, calling for York to do the same to the king’s government.

There is not the slightest evidence that York had anything to do with any of the shocks suffered by the court at this time. Barring the lightning strike, they were the result of a long period of misgovernment. This was not, however, an explanation the king and his household were prepared to contemplate. Much better to blame an external agency of infinite cunning and resource – the essential ingredient of every conspiracy theory throughout history.

The Aftermath of Chickamauga

Battle of Chickamauga – Defense of Horseshoe Ridge and Union retreat, brigade details.

The Battle of Chickamauga was the second deadliest battle of the Civil War with nearly 35,000 total casualties. The Army of the Cumberland had lost over 16,000, including nearly 5,000 being captured as a result of the panic of the 20th. Bragg’s army lost even more, with 2,300 killed and over 14,500 wounded, losing nearly 18,500 all told. The casualties amounted to nearly 40% of both armies, a staggering number.

Like Longstreet, D.H. Hill was shocked that Bragg had no plans to pursue Rosecrans on the 21st:

“Whatever blunders each of us in authority committed before the battles of the 19th and 20th, and during their progress, the great blunder of all was that of not pursuing the enemy on the 21st. The day was spent in burying the dead and gathering up captured stores. Forrest, with his usual promptness, was early in the saddle, and saw that the retreat was a rout. Disorganized masses of men were hurrying to the rear; batteries of artillery were inextricably mixed with trains of wagons; disorder and confusion pervaded the broken ranks struggling to get on. Forrest sent back word to Bragg that ‘every hour was worth a thousand men.’ But the commander-in-chief did not know of the victory until the morning of the 21st, and then he did not order a pursuit. Rosecrans spent the day and the night of the 21st in hurrying his trains out of town. A breathing-space was allowed him; the panic among his troops subsided, and Chattanooga – the objective point of the campaign – was held.”

The day after Chickamauga ended, Rosecrans put his men to work digging defensive entrenchments around Chattanooga and waiting for Washington to send reinforcements. On September 23, Bragg’s army arrived at the outskirts of Chattanooga and proceeded to seize control of the surrounding heights: Missionary Ridge (to the east), Lookout Mountain (to the southwest), and Raccoon Mountain (to the west).  From these key vantage points, the Confederates could not only lob long-range artillery onto the Union entrenchments but also sweep the rail and river routes that supplied the Union army.  Bragg planned to lay siege to the city and starve the Union forces into surrendering.

On September 29, U. S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered Union general Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the newly-created Military Division of the Mississippi, to go to Chattanooga to bring all the territory from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River (including a portion of Arkansas) under a single command for the first time.  Considering General Rosecrans’s spotty record, Grant was given the option of replacing him with General Thomas. Hearing an inaccurate report that Rosecrans was preparing to abandon Chattanooga, Grant relieved Rosecrans of command and installed Thomas as commander of the Army of the Cumberland, telegraphing Thomas saying, “Hold Chattanooga at all hazards.  I will be there as soon as possible.”  Without hesitation, Thomas replied, “We will hold the town till we starve.”

What followed were some of the most amazing operations of the Civil War. Grant relieved Rosecrans and personally came to Chattanooga to oversee the effort, placing General Thomas in charge of reorganizing the Army of the Cumberland. Meanwhile, Lincoln detached General Hooker and two divisions from the Army of the Potomac and sent them west to reinforce the garrison at Chattanooga. During a maneuver in which General Hooker had moved three divisions into Chattanooga Valley hoping to occupy Rossville Gap, Hooker’s first obstacle was to bypass an artillery line the Confederates had established to block the movement of Union supplies. Initially, Grant merely used Hooker’s men to establish the “Cracker Line”, a makeshift supply line that moved food and resources into Chattanooga from Hooker’s position on Lookout Mountain.

In November 1863, the situation at Chattanooga was dire enough that Grant took the offensive in an attempt to lift the siege. By now the Confederates were holding important high ground at positions like Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. First Grant ordered General Sherman and four divisions of his Army of the Tennessee to attack Bragg’s right flank, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Then, in an attempt to make an all out push, Grant ordered all forces in the vicinity to make an attack on Bragg’s men.

On November 24, 1863 Maj. Gen. Hooker captured Lookout Mountain in order to divert some of Bragg’s men away from their commanding position on Missionary Ridge. But the victory is best remembered for the almost miraculous attack on Missionary Ridge by part of General Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland.

General Sheridan was part of a force sent to attack the Confederate midsection at nearby Missionary Ridge.  According to several present, when Sheridan reached the base of Ridge, he stopped and toasted the Confederate gunners, shouting out, “Here’s to you!” In response, the Confederates sprayed his men with bullets, prompting Sheridan to quip, “That was ungenerous!  I’ll take your guns for that!” at which time he lit out, leading a spirited charge while screaming, “Chickamauga!  Chickamauga!”. The advance actually defied Grant’s orders, since Grant, initially upset, had only ordered them to take the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, figuring that a frontal assault on that position would be futile and fatal. As Sheridan stormed ahead, General Grant caught the advance from a distance and asked General Thomas why he had ordered the attack.  Thomas informed Grant that he hadn’t; his army had taken it upon itself to charge up the entire ridge.

As it turned out, historians have often criticized Grant’s orders, with acclaimed historian Peter Cozzens noting, “Grant’s order to halt at the rifle pits at the base of the ridge was misunderstood by far too many of the generals charged with executing it. Some doubted the order because they thought it absurd to stop an attack at the instant when the attackers would be most vulnerable to fire from the crest and to a counterattack. Others apparently received garbled versions of the order.” Sheridan later wrote, “Seeing the enemy thus strengthening himself, it was plain that we would have to act quickly if we expected to accomplish much, and I already began to doubt the feasibility of our remaining in the first line of rifle-pits when we should have carried them. I discussed the order with Wagner, Harker, and Sherman, and they were similarly impressed, so while anxiously awaiting the signal I sent Captain Ransom of my staff to Granger, who was at Fort Wood, to ascertain if we were to carry the first line or the ridge beyond. Shortly after Ransom started the signal guns were fired, and I told my brigade commanders to go for the ridge.”

Regardless, to the amazement of Grant and the officers watching, the men making the attack scrambled up Missionary Ridge in a series of disorganized attacks that somehow managed to send the Confederates into a rout, thereby lifting the siege on Chattanooga. With that, the Army of the Cumberland had essentially conducted the most successful frontal assault of the war spontaneously. While Pickett’s Charge, still the most famous attack of the war, was one unsuccessful charge, the Army of the Cumberland made over a dozen charges up Missionary Ridge and ultimately succeeded.

When the siege of Chattanooga was lifted, the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, the biggest battle in the Western Theater, had been rendered virtually meaningless. Not surprisingly, in the wake of Chickamauga there were recriminations among the generals involved on both sides. Chickamauga ensured Thomas continued to lead the Army of the Cumberland for the rest of the war, while the tension between Bragg and his principal subordinates bordered on outright mutiny. Longstreet discussed the unbelievable sequence of events within the Army of Tennessee’s high command over the next month:

“After moving from Virginia to try to relieve our comrades of the Army of Tennessee, we thought that we had cause to complain that the fruits of our labor had been lost, but it soon became manifest that the superior officers of that army themselves felt as much aggrieved as we at the halting policy of their chief, and were calling in letters and petitions for his removal. A number of them came to have me write the President for them. As he had not called for my opinion on military affairs since the Johnston conference of 1862, I could not take that liberty, but promised to write to the Secretary of War and to General Lee, who I thought could excuse me under the strained condition of affairs. About the same  time they framed and forwarded to the President a petition praying for relief. It was written by General D. H. Hill (as he informed me since the war).

While the superior officers were asking for relief, the Confederate commander was busy looking along his lines for victims. Lieutenant-General Polk was put under charges for failing to open the battle of the 20th at daylight; Major-General Hindman was relieved under charges for conduct before the battle, when his conduct of the battle with other commanders would have relieved him of any previous misconduct, according to the customs of war, and pursuit of others was getting warm.

On the Union side the Washington authorities thought vindication important, and Major-Generals McCook and Crittenden, of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps, were relieved and went before a Court of Inquiry; also one of the generals of division of the Fourteenth Corps.

The President came to us on the 9th of October and called the commanders of the army to meet him at General Bragg’s office. After some talk, in the presence of General Bragg, he made known the object of the call, and asked the generals, in turn, their opinion of their commanding officer, beginning with myself. It seemed rather a stretch of authority, even with a President, and I gave an evasive answer and made an effort to turn the channel of thought, but he would not be satisfied, and got back to his question. The condition of the army was briefly referred to, and the failure to make an effort to get the fruits of our success, when the opinion was given, in substance, that our commander could be of greater service elsewhere than at the head of the Army of Tennessee. Major-General Buckner was called, and gave opinion somewhat similar. So did Major-General Cheatham, who was then commanding the corps recently commanded by Lieutenant-General Polk, and General D. H. Hill, who was called last, agreed with emphasis to the views expressed by others.”

The problem for the Confederates who wanted to be done with Bragg is that he was friends with Jefferson Davis, as Longstreet was reminded when suggesting to Davis that Bragg be replaced by Joseph E. Johnston:

“In my judgment our last opportunity was lost when we failed to follow the success at Chickamauga, and capture or disperse the Union army, and it could not be just to the service or myself to call me to a position of such responsibility. The army was part of General Joseph E. Johnston’s department, and could only be used in strong organization by him in combining its operations with his other forces in Alabama and Mississippi. I said that under him I could cheerfully work in any position. The suggestion of that name only served to increase his displeasure, and his severe rebuke.

I recognized the authority of his high position, but called to his mind that neither his words nor his manner were so impressive as the dissolving scenes that foreshadowed the dreadful end. He referred to his worry and troubles with politicians and non-combatants. In that connection, I suggested that all that the people asked for was success; with that the talk of politicians would be as spiders’ webs before him.”

Despite the negative feelings so many held about Bragg, Davis would not relieve him of command until late November 1863, well after the disastrous siege of Chattanooga was finished. By then, Bragg had successfully suspended Hindman and Polk for what he considered to be their failures during the Chickamauga campaign, and D.H. Hill was also suspended in early October.

With the failure to make anything out of the victory at Chickamauga, the Confederacy’s best chance at somehow turning the tide in the West and possibly winning the war had been lost. As a result, Chickamauga became an extremely sore subject among the Confederates who had fought there, and historians still look at it as the South’s last best chance in that theater.

D.H. Hill, who had played such a controversial role in the campaign, may have put it best:

There was no more splendid fighting in ’61, when the flower of the Southern youth was in the field, than was displayed in those bloody days of September, ’63. But it seems to me that the élan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga – that brilliant dash which had distinguished him was gone forever. He was too intelligent not to know that the cutting in two of Georgia meant death to all his hopes. He knew that Longstreet’s absence was imperiling Lee’s safety, and that what had to be done must be done quickly. The delay in striking was exasperating to him; the failure to strike after the success was crushing to all his longings for an independent South. He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope.

That ‘barren victory’ sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy.”

Romania 1917-18

In 1917 the war for Romania was lost. They had run out of resources and were fighting nearly alone three Empires and one Kingdom. Their only ally, the Russians, turned against them, and now not only that they had a garrison of German troops, but also needed to fight the Russians in their country, what was left of it…Moldova. The situation was bad, the Russians had more soldiers in Moldova had people.

But most of the Russian soldiers accepted to surrender, were sent back to Russia in trains. Yet still, some of them just did not want to go back. And so, the Romanian army had more work to do.

One of the engagements was the Battle of Galati. On 12 January 1918 at Pechea northwest of Galați, a delegation of the Russian 13th Division came to the 4th Romanian Division headquarters to announce that the next day, Russian troops would leave the front and cross the Prut River to Moldova. General Shcherbachev ordered his troops to remain in the position, but was told that the Russians soldiers no longer recognized him as their commander and would leave for Russian soil. If Romanian troops resisted the move, the Russian soldiers promised to destroy everything in their path. There were 12,000 Russian soldiers in total. The Romanian archives speak for no more than 500 soldiers in all Romanian detachments facing them.

On January 19, 1917 the Russian 9th Division swept through a small Romanian detachment at Şenderni and arrived at Movileni where they set-up artillery. A Russian delegation went to Galați and asked Niculescu-Rizea allowing Russian troops to pass through the city, to then head to Moldova. Niculescu-Rizea replied that his orders were to stop that action. The Russians gave him ultimatum. If they were not allowed to pass by 3 in the afternoon they would begin shelling Galați.

For 15 hours the Russian batteries near Movileni opened fire. Bombs fell in the city center, but they caused minimal damage because the Russians were firing at random. The archives do not note any casualties among the civilian population. The greater danger that night for the population was the attempt by the 10th Division to burn the city by filling cars with gasoline and driving flaming vehicles into buildings. During January 20, Romanian batteries returned the Russian fire from their positions at Movileni.

On January 22, the Romanians counterattacked. The Romanian 8th Brigade, arrived from Fântânele and surprised the Russian troops stationed in the bog north of Movileni. The Romanian ships on the Danube, batteries on the south bank bombarded, and two Romanian airplanes dropped bombs on the Russians.

The 500 Romanian soldiers led a bayonet charge up the Tighina Hill which sent the Russians on the run. A handful of soldiers created panic among Russians, so much so that two regiments, the 33rd and 35th, almost 3,000 soldiers, ran south and surrendered to the Germans.

The Kagul Mutiny

Remoteness did present difficulties. The commanders of the Romanian Front held up the news of the February revolution for fear of its local consequences. On 4 March 1917, an NCO who had been overheard discussing the February events with a soldier was arrested and sentenced to death by a court martial. Such desperate measures could not, however, do more than delay the inevitable. By the end of the month, committees had been set up and in early April truly revolutionary events were under way. On 1 April soldiers of the 188th Infantry Division arrested their chief-of-staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Senkevich. On the 7 April, at Kimpolung (Cimpulung Moldovenesc), General Miller, the commander of the 26th Army Corps, was accused of counterrevolutionary activities, namely trying to suppress Army Order Number One and failing to recognize the authority of the soviet. When General Miller tried to order soldiers with red flags out of the inspection parade on that day the troops turned on him, beat him, arrested him and had him sent to Petrograd under armed guard. The report on the incident sent by the commander of the Ninth Army described the meeting of soldiers that had taken this decision as “a wild, undisciplined, mindless crowd”, although in fact, its relatively measured action suggests that it was far from being a straightforward mob and was already on the road to taking more mature decisions. The very fact that they sent the arrested commander to Petrograd is eloquent evidence that they believed their actions to be more legitimate than those of the general and that the new authorities would back them. Significantly, the chairman of the meeting was not a soldier but a veterinary doctor, showing that, at crucial moments, officers of intelligentsia background might well come to the fore.

Be that as it may, the scene was set for a long, difficult and bitter set of confrontations in the area throughout the spring and summer. The desire to see a start made on active peace negotiations spread among the soldiers, and arrests of officers grew in late April and May. In the second half of May the growing tensions in the Sixth Army reached a peak as preparations were undertaken for the June offensive. They burst into open revolt at Kagul on the eastern bank of the Prut between Galati and Kishinev. The initial spark was provided by complaints about rotation of forces in the line and the re-forming of supposedly unreliable units. Various corps and regiments refused to obey orders and began to extend their demands into calls for peace and redistribution of land, to which end they formed links with the local peasantry. Livestock was seized from landowners and there were numerous other illegal acts not specified in the reports. Many more units were wavering. According to the report of the front commander to the War Ministry the main issues at the heart of the revolt of the 163rd Infantry Division were the lack of confidence felt by soldiers in their officers, the immediate conclusion of peace, lack of confidence in the Soviet of soldiers’ and workers’ deputies (presumably the Petrograd Soviet) and in the Provisional Government and finally the holding of weapons and ammunition “which might come in handy in the rear”.

Only the formation of a strike force including elite and ethnically non-Russian cavalry, artillery, aviators and armoured units enabled the authorities to regain control, without having to open fire. Four officers who had led the revolt and 222 soldiers were arrested. The most important were sentenced to twelve years hard labour. The incident was a microcosm of the main revolutionary forces of the moment: initially military based complaints spilling over into broader politicization that was only brought under control by playing off ethnic rivalries and using Muslim troops to suppress Russian rebels and Romanian peasants. Above all, the event showed not only that a minority of officers might be an essential part of mutinous forces but that a spontaneously “Bolshevik” programme of peace, land and lack of faith in the Provisional Government and the Soviet right wing, could be generated by troops far away from any serious direct Bolshevik influence and at an early stage of the revolution.

The suppression of the mutiny in Kagul was by no means the end of turbulence on the Romanian Front. The situation became more and more alarming from the point of view of both the authorities and the troops. For the commanders, nominally headed by the King of Romania, and the army’s hosts, the presence of rebellious Russian armies, who supported local social-democrats and peasants, played on the Romanian landowning elite’s inherent fears of a peasant uprising. In addition, the emergence of increasingly assertive Jews among the troops provoked the strongly anti-semitic reflexes of the Roma nian rulers. On 1 May, a speech, made in French to help get the message across to the upper classes at whom it was aimed, by a Jewish Under-Officer named Giller denounced the misdeeds of the Romanian ruling class, called for the deposition of the king and the release of political prisoners. The incensed Romanian authorities called for the withdrawal of all Jews from army units operating within Romanian territory.

Not surprisingly, Romania was already becoming a focus for extreme rightwing Russian forces who began to see it as a possible platform from which counter-revolution could be launched into Russia itself. One of the worst pogroms had taken place in 1903 in Kishinev, Moldova, a slice of ethnically Romanian territory incorporated in the Russian Empire. As 1917 progressed, the Black Hundreds, the reactionary mystic Badmaev and the “Holy Rus'” organization all gravitated to the Romanian monarchy as a focus of support. This polarization, pre-figuring what Kornilov was to do on a national scale, created a corresponding radicalization on the part of the popular movement. The Soviet right, composed of Mensheviks and SRs, which dominated this area, became alarmed at the growth of the counter-revolution and condemned the reactionary policies of the Romanian oligarchy. Such declarations were not, however, enough to satisfy the grass roots and a gap began to open up between the Soviet leaders and the popular revolution. The troops continued to take action themselves. In late June Russian troops surrounded the jails and released political prisoners on their own initiative. They also increasingly encouraged and even joined in with peasant expropriations of great landowners. Where this not infrequently degenerated into simple looting, the elected soldiers’ committees strove hard to return the offenders to the path of revolutionary discipline.

Overall, one could almost conclude that the centre followed the periphery as far as the Romanian Front went. It experienced a deep, radical, self-generating revolution that, in many respects, was the precursor of events in Petrograd and which owed little to outside tutelage. This was also the case on the Caucasus Front that also exhibited its own sources of revolutionary energy from the very beginning.