The victorious General Allenby dismounted, enters Jerusalem on foot out of respect for the Holy City, 11 December 1917.

General Archibald Murray’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force [EEF] was then ordered into Palestine where it fought two battles at Gaza (March 26, 1917, and April 17–19, 1917). However, both battles found Allied forces facing stiff resistance, and the attacks failed in the objective of seizing Gaza and driving the Central Powers’ forces out of the region. Nonetheless, with additional resources garnered and delivered by the new British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, London was soon able to generate new life into the EEF, including a change in leadership. Following Murray’s unsuccessful attempts at seizing Gaza in the spring of 1917, the British War Cabinet opted to replace him with General Sir Edmund Allenby, known as the “Bloody Bull,” who arrived in Egypt in June 1917.

Empowered with new resources and new staff, Allenby set about reinvigorating EEF troop morale before recommencing operations against enemy positions in Sinai and Palestine. Concerned with reports that Britain was preparing to commit additional resources and renewed focus in the Middle Eastern theater, including Mesopotamia and Palestine, at the end of April 1917, Germany dispatched a military delegation headed by General Erich von Falkenhayn to Turkey arriving in May. The initial concern of the German military delegation was the British occupation of Baghdad, and it advised that a new army should be constituted to address this threat. Consequently, the new Seventh Army was established and based in Aleppo to counter British moves in Mesopotamia (Iraq). However, by September 1917, the greater concern was for the Ottoman presence in Gaza and Palestine, as the EEF was making preparations for getting underway. As a result, operations by the Seventh Army against the British in Mesopotamia were cancelled as Falkenhayn advised for a rapid redeployment of the army from Aleppo to Beersheba in Palestine. While the theory was sound, the practical application of the plan proved problematic as the limited Turkish rail network hindered its implementation. As such, very few of the Seventh Army’s troops were in position before the British attacked during the Battle of Beersheba (October 31, 1917) and the Third Battle of Gaza (November 1–7, 1917).

Allenby brought a different style of leadership to Egyptian-Palestinian theater of operations than his predecessor. Unlike Murray, who had commanded the EEF from Cairo, Allenby frequently visited front line units and moved the Force’s headquarters from Cairo to Rafah nearer to the front lines at Gaza. Allenby also reorganized the Force into a three, primary corps order of battle: XX, XI, and the Desert Mounted Corps. He was also convinced by the Arab Bureau of Britain’s Foreign Office to utilize the Arab forces that had risen in revolt against the Ottomans and were then operating within Arabia. A remarkable British army officer detached to the Arab Bureau (British Intelligence), Major T. E. Lawrence, had found considerable success in working with Arab leaders in fomenting irregular operations, which ultimately caused the Ottoman and German leadership to station forces in response—forces which were badly needed elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Ottomans had called for jihad against the Entente Cordiale in the fall of 1914 in hopes of rousing support for the defense of the empire. Germany attempted to assist the Ottomans in this endeavor as it sent Kress von Kressenstein to Palestine, Oskar von Niedermayer to Afghanistan, Liman von Sanders to Turkey, and Wilhelm Wassmuss to southern Persia. Wassmuss, often referred to as the “German Lawrence,” incited tribes to attack British interests, particularly its Persian oil pipeline, northwest of Ahwaz.

The British government, ever mindful of the power this campaign might have should it be allowed to successfully proliferate, sought the help of the Sharif of Mecca, Emir Abdullah Hussein, in countering the Ottoman call for jihad. The tribe that Hussein led, the Hashemites, was relatively weak, particularly in relation to Ottoman forces. But the alliance with Hussein was much more than a military-oriented alliance. The Hashemites were politically important within the Middle East for a number of reasons, including the fact that Hussein was seen as a descendent of the prophet Muhammad and regarded as the guardian or custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Allenby was facing two defensive lines in Palestine, which were vital to the Ottoman defense of Gaza and Jerusalem. The first included entrenchments that stretched 30 miles from Gaza to Beersheba. The Gaza-Beersheba line was complemented by the Jaffa-Jerusalem line that extended more than 50 miles. Thus, rather than attacking Gaza in frontal assault, as had been the focus of operations by the EEF under Murray, Allenby, the old cavalry officer that he was, sought to maneuver for position through flanking attacks. Thus, he saw the key to taking Gaza would be to first feign a direct attack and draw the forces and attention of the defenders’ leaders at Gaza while sending a force in a flanking attack at unsuspecting Ottoman defenders that manned the lines in defense of Beersheba. Once Beersheba was in Allenby’s hands, he was then positioned to threaten the left flank of the Ottomans’ defensive line protecting its positions within Gaza. Once in such a position, Allenby could then move in three directions against Gaza itself.

Rumors circulated that the British were intent on attacking Gaza once again, but this time the operation would be centered on a naval amphibious landing north of Gaza and then descending down behind defenses. Additionally, British patrols routinely approached Beersheba every couple of weeks, expecting that when the actual attack was commenced, the Ottomans would at first believe it to be another scouting operation. Allenby wrote the following:

When I took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces at the end of June, 1917, I received instructions to report on the conditions in which offensive operations against the Turkish Army on the Palestine front might be undertaken in the autumn or winter of 1917 … The main features of the situation in Palestine were as follows: The Turkish Army in Southern Palestine held a strong position extending from the sea at Gaza, roughly along the Gaza-Beersheba Road to Beersheba. Gaza had been made into a strong modern fortress, heavily entrenched and wired, offering facility for protracted defense … I decided to strike the main blow against the left flank of the main Turkish position, Hareira and Sheria. The capture of Beersheba was a necessary preliminary to this operation, in order to secure the water supplies at that place and to give room for the deployment of the attacking force on the high ground to the north and north-west of Beersheba. It was, however, important in order to keep the enemy in doubt up to the last moment as to the real point of attack, and that an attack should also be made on the enemy’s right at Gaza in conjunction with the main operations.

The Ottomans had positioned nine infantry divisions and one cavalry division in the line protecting Gaza with a total force level of between 35,000 and 45,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry, and 500 artillery guns. The British force was divided into three elements: the strike wing consisted of the Desert Mounted Corps, containing the Anzac and Australian Mounted Divisions and the 7th Mounted Brigade and XX Corps, with four infantry divisions and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade. In total, it was a force of 47,500 infantry, 11,000 cavalry, and 242 guns. On the left of this striking wing was the British XXI Corps, containing three infantry divisions and two brigades for a total of 35,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 218 guns. Between the two main bodies of the EEF and protecting the gap between them was the Yeomanry Mounted Division consisting of some 5,000 cavalry troopers.

In order to facilitate the deception, an artillery bombardment of Gaza began on October 27, four days before the actual attack at Beersheba was scheduled to occur. The bombardment would last for six days, which included naval gunfire and was the largest artillery barrage of World War I, outside of France. On October 31, the British commenced the actual attack as two infantry divisions moved against the well-entrenched and well-defended southwest defenses of the town. The key to the attack, however, was in the flanking maneuver conducted by the 4th Australian Light Horse led by General W. Grant, who, in dramatic fashion, conducted one of the last successful cavalry attacks in the modern warfare. By November 7, Gaza was under British control.

By November 14, the British took Junction Station, which effectively cut the Ottoman rail line into Palestine. From that point, the 75th Division—the last one formed during the war and consisting of Indian Gurkhas and British personnel from India—captured the road from Jerusalem to Jaffa. The key military geographic objective for the defense of Jerusalem, throughout history, has been the vital hill of Nebi Samwil, which from either defenders’ or attackers’ perspective was the key to the city. On November 21, the 75th captured Nebi Samwil, which then provided Allenby and the EEF the position from which the city of Jerusalem could be taken.


On December 8, 1917, Allenby dispatched the XX Corps for the final assault on Jerusalem. The following day, December 9, the Turkish army withdrew from Jerusalem and 400 years of Ottoman rule had come to an end. On December 11, Allenby made a dramatic and well-photographed entry into Jerusalem, choosing to walk instead of ride into the city through the Jaffa Gate. It was the first time since 1187 CE that Western forces controlled the historic city.

By the fall of 1918, the Ottomans fielded three armies with a total of 34,000 men defending a defensive line from the Eastern Mediterranean coast across the Judean Hills, the Jordan Valley, and to the Hejaz Railway. German General Liman von Sanders had replaced Falkenhayn and was in overall command. Under Allenby in Palestine were 69,000 men (57,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry). The Turkish front line defenses were 3,000 yards deep, well-constructed, and protected by thin, barbed wire. The second line three miles to the rear was less prepared and consisted of strongpoints but not adequately connected in a consistent defensive line and unprotected by wire.

The Battle of Megiddo, September 19–25, 1918, was the climactic battle of British operations in Egypt and Palestine against German-led Ottoman forces during World War I. The name applied to Allenby’s final offensive in Palestine was of course chosen for symbolic purposes, as scant fighting relative to other regions actually occurred in the vicinity of Megiddo. Symbolic, figurative, or literal, Allenby’s cavalry did in fact advance past the ancient site of Megiddo, which served as the first battle in recorded history (1457 BCE).

Arrayed in front of Allenby were the Ottoman Eighth, Seventh, and Fourth Armies, with the Eighth nearest the Mediterranean coast, the Seventh in the middle of the Ottoman order of battle, and the Fourth on Allenby’s right flank. Allenby’s main focus was on the Seventh and Eighth Armies, commanded by Mustafa Kemal Pasha and Jeved Pasha, respectively. Once again, Allenby’s ability to keep the enemy from ascertaining his striking plans forced Sanders to defend across the entire front, which left scant few troops in reserve.

By mid-September 1918, Allenby had positioned 35,000 infantry, 9,000 cavalry, and 383 guns on the western fifteen miles of the front line facing 8,000 infantry and 130 guns of the Ottoman Seventh Army. On the remaining 45 miles of the front, the British had 22,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, and 157 guns facing 24,000 men and 270 guns of the Eight and Fourth Ottoman Armies. However, 11,000 of those in the Fourth Army were east of the Jordan Valley, which when actual combat began effectively removed them from making effective contributions. Sanders had placed them guarding his left flank knowing that the “Bloody Bull” had a penchant for sweeping flanking maneuvers and often using his swift moving cavalry. Sanders, who had calculated so well in ascertaining British landing intentions during the Gallipoli campaign, now, with limited forces holding weaker positions, was a victim of British deception as to the actual plans of attack.

Allenby’s battle plan was for his XXI Corps of five divisions to attack along the Mediterranean coast and force Jeved Pasha’s Eighth Army to pull back along the line of the railway north to Tul Keram, followed by a move east to Messudieh Junction. Once this was accomplished, a gap would have been opened up along the coast through which Allenby planned on sending his Desert Mounted Corps. Once past the Ottoman lines it became incumbent upon them to ride north past the Judean Hills and arrive at the Plain of Esdraelon. Their objective was the capture of the Beisan and El Afule, which were key to controlling access to the rail link.

Once in control of Beisan and El Afule, the Desert Mounted Corps would have effectively blocked the escape route via rail for the Seventh and Eighth Ottoman Armies, at which point, the only alternative for retreat open to the Ottoman forces would have been east through the Jordan Valley. XX Corps was assigned the task of advancing parallel to the hills toward Nablus and in blocking the best passes into the Jordan Valley, thereby catching the retreating Ottoman units in a trap.

Allenby benefited from the British Air Corps’ ability to maintain air superiority and in keeping German aircraft from conducting scouting missions. In a preliminary operation, the Air Corps dropped ordnance on Ottoman positions in Deraa (city in present-day Syria), which lent weight to Sander’s opinion that Allied forces would conduct its main attack inland. Simultaneous to the air raid, Arab insurgent forces—among them T. E. Lawrence—cut the rail lines north, south, and west from Deraa, at which time Sanders transferred additional reserves east to address the rising threat. A second preliminary move occurred when the 53rd Division of XX Corps moved to engage Ottoman units east of the Judean Hills. This attack was to place the 53rd in position to maneuver once the actual main attack opened nearer the Mediterranean coast.

The main attack commenced at 4:30 a.m. on September 19, as Allied artillery opened fire for a brief, 15-minute barrage. The following infantry assault overwhelmed the outnumbered Ottomans in the first line. The 60th Division moving on the left of Allied advance gained 7,000 yards, nearly four miles, in the first two and a half hours shattering the first and second defensive lines and taking control of a bridge over the Nahr el Falik. The control of the bridgehead then allowed the cavalry to move forward.By the end of the first day’s operations, XXI Corps had managed to seize most of the railway north of Tul Keram. As the Ottoman Eighth Army was attempting to withdraw through Tul Keram, it was struck from the air and engaged by the rapidly advancing 5th Australian Light Horse as well as the 60th Division, which had pushed forward 17 miles and secured Tul Keram. All cavalry units had met their expected objectives for the first day’s operations and reached the outer perimeter of the Plain of Esdraelon and, by 2:30 a.m. on September 20, were advancing into the valley. The key objectives of El Afule and Beisan were captured later on September 20, securing the railroad in each region. Moreover, as the Allied cavalry swiftly advanced, it nearly succeeded in capturing General Sanders who had made his headquarters at Nazareth.

By close of the second day, the Turkish Eighth Army had essentially been destroyed and the Seventh was near collapse. With the railway blocked, its only chance of escape was east from Nablus down a road leading from Wadi Fara into the Jordan Valley. This position, however, was the objective of the Allied XX Corps, which had not enjoyed the same success as other Allied units. Thus, it was not where Allenby planned for it to be on the night of September 20 and morning of September 21, and the Ottomans began a successful evacuation from Nablus. However, they were then stopped by Allied airpower as Allenby’s aircraft caught Ottoman forces on the road east of Nablus at a gorge. Bombing soon served to block the Ottoman passage through the gorge, and survivors scattered into the surrounding countryside only to be captured piecemeal in follow-on operations. Advancing Allied forces captured over 1,000 vehicles and 90 guns, which had been abandoned along the road.

Allied forces took 25,000 prisoners during and following the Battle of Megiddo. Less than 10,000 Turkish and German soldiers escaped and made their retreat north. British and Allied forces pressed the advantage and continued the pursuit of the retreating Central Power troops through the month of October. The EEF moved north toward the ancient city of Damascus (in present-day Syria). Sanders had placed Ali Riza Pasha Rehabi, an Arab general serving in the Ottoman army, in command of Damascus. Unbeknownst to Sanders, Ali was also the serving president of the Syrian branch of the Arab Secret Society and had been in contact with T. E. Lawrence.



Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel commanding Desert Mounted Corps leads his corps through Damascus on 2 October 1918.

Prince Feisal leaving Chauvel’s Desert Mounted Corps Headquarters in Damascus.

With the Ottoman military position in Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia collapsing at late autumn of 1918, the Arab Secret Society seized control in Damascus. On October 1, in a sequence preplanned by the commander of the EEF, the first troops of the Arab Revolt rode into the city followed on October 2 by Allenby’s forces. During the month of October, Allied forces under Allenby seized Beirut (present-day Lebanon) on October 8; Tripoli on October 18, and the great trading city of northern Syria, Aleppo, on October 25. On October 30, 1918, with all lands outside of Anatolia (present-day Turkey) essentially lost in terms of the Middle East, Istanbul sued for peace and asked for an armistice. The Battle of Megiddo was certainly one of the best planned and executed British battles of the First World War and most certainly that which followed in the aftermath was historic in scale as Britain and France took positions of prominence across the Middle East in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.


Reforming the Ottoman military had been a pressing issue for successive Sultans for at least two centuries in the early modern era and in the lead-up to the First World War. An entrenched bureaucracy, backed by the powerful Janissaries and elite merchants who were quite content with the Ottoman status quo, successfully hindered the necessary reforms. Yet, the reforms needed for successful military operations in the modern, industrialized world went beyond the need to reorganize army units and train their leaders.

As was the case in many of the battles that took place during World War I, in any theater, battle communications with the front were generally broken in short order. Since nearly no battle plan survives, first contact with the enemy fully intact, those in the front lines are unable to receive new orders or benefit from new intelligence other than what they are generating on their own. Accordingly, while brilliant generals and field marshals construct plans that come from a career of experience and study, the original plan most often needs to be adjusted in the face of enemy action.

If, as was widely the case during the war, those at the front cannot communicate with the brilliance in the rear, they are then left to fend for themselves. It is the ability of these officers and men to adapt, adjust, and overcome. Conversely, it is their inability to do so that often factored significantly into the outcome of battle. It was, therefore, the intent of the Ottoman leadership to allow Germany to help develop Auftragstaktik at the general officer level and where appropriate, within its mid-level officer ranks. In the drill regulations of the infantry 1888, German commanders were told to tell subordinates what to do without insisting on how they did it. Due to the increased lethality of modern weapons, it was expected that greater force dispersion would be required. Given this, captains and lieutenants would often find themselves required to direct their units without orders from central command. As such, the nature of the decentralization of the modern battlefield created the necessity of developing initiative, critical thinking, and independent judgment at all levels.

Yet, the ability to think independently, critically, and accurately in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, violence, and danger requires a culture that fosters, over a lifetime, a culture of innovative and courageous behavior. Accordingly, in order to be successful militarily in modern battle-space, traditional and authoritarian societies are faced with a dilemma: continue insisting on a compliant and submissive population producing military leaders incapable of fast and independent thinking or launch societal-wide reforms in the nature of education, socialization, and training, which will empower their commanders and decision makers to adjust quickly and effectively in the heat of modern-era battle.

In essence, the centralized power of the typical autocratic political regime within the Middle East will not simply have to reform in order to create modern democratic societies, rather, and perhaps more importantly, it will have to embrace change in order to defend itself in the modern battle-space. The centralized command structure with initiative and independent thinking suppressed in many of the armies within the modern Middle East will have to be overcome in order to prosecute effective military campaigns in the modern era. The need for military security will require changes in traditional society, which will, in turn, create the conditions leading ultimately toward greater political participation and greater democratization across the region.

This is not to suggest that Ottoman officers, had they been better at operating independently, would have prevailed over Allenby’s forces during the campaign in Palestine during the First World War. It does suggest that given the realities of modern warfare, successful military officers will be forced to think in new and different ways and will benefit from being schooled in the science and art of critical and innovative thinking. The plight of the Mamluks in the face of a rising and technically proficient Ottoman army and their subsequent refusal to adapt to new weaponry and doctrine serve to illustrate the gravity of the situation for Middle Eastern cultures as the twenty-first century unfolds. Allenby’s Middle East operations were instrumental in driving Ottoman and German forces from the Levant, the liberation of Arab lands from Turkish rule, as well as laying the foundation for the arrival of the Jewish people and the ultimate establishment of the state of Israel. As such, Allenby, the EEF, and the Cairo-based Arab Bureau’s contributions to the creation of the modern Middle East are substantial.


In order to conduct modern, industrialized warfare at the great power level, the ability to generate and sustain strategic endurance had become, by the First World War, a prerequisite for success. Accordingly, the great powers, particularly Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, maneuvered for control of those elements that contributed to strategic endurance: people, resources, markets, and trade routes. These crucial elements or components of aggregated power and the direction of that power for the obtainment of political objectives were certainly not new or unique to the modern world having animated world politics for centuries. What was new were the nature of energy, electricity, machining, and mass production, coupled with an exponential rise in the levels of lethality, range, and accuracy of rapid fire small arms and large bore artillery.

Long lasting wars between great power coalitions in the modern age have been won by the side with the largest economic staying power and productive resources. In every economic category, the Anglo-American-French coalition was between two and three times as strong as Germany and Austria-Hungary combined—a fact confirmed by further statistics of the war expenditures of each side between 1914 and 1919: 60.4 billion dollars spent by the German-Austrian alliance as opposed to 114 billion spent by the British Empire, France and the United States together (and 145 billion if Italy and Russia’s expenditures are included).

Given the militarization of the various industrialized economies, as well as the mobilization of the entire populations for prolonged periods, the First World War came to be referred to as a “total war.”

The militarization of societies, economies, and politics was the consequence. In the end, the war proved a contest of productive capacities; and the Allied victory was due to their material superiority, which by 1918 was insuperable.

In order to form sufficient levels of aggregated power that would lead to a war-winning level of strategic endurance, Britain needed to borrow heavily (particularly from the United States and the banking syndicates in Europe) and was forced to make promises that were eventually difficult to honor. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and its Central Powers’ allies, the promises that Britain had made in order to cobble together the winning coalition were, by 1919, beginning to color its postwar Middle East policy. Sharif Ali Hussein and his sons, Faisal and Abdullah, called for the promises made during the Hussein-McMahon correspondences to be honored by establishing an independent Arab state and to be placed under Hussein’s control.

The War of the First Coalition, 1792–1797

The Battle of Valmy was a decisive victory for the French revolutionary army.

The French Revolutionary Wars are customarily defined as the struggles between France on the one hand and the First and Second Coalitions on the other, between 1792 and 1802. The First Coalition initially pitted Austria and Prussia, with the partial engagement of the Holy Roman Empire, against France in 1792, but by the spring of 1793, it had embraced Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Piedmont-Sardinia, Naples, and Portugal. The coalition had fallen apart by October 1797 after one ally after another was either overrun by the French, or made a separate peace to secure the best possible terms, leaving only the British to fight on alone. Yet there was no respite for the continent, for in the summer of 1798 the war was reignited, the very geographic scale reflected in the membership of the Second Coalition, embroiling the Ottoman Empire and Russia alongside Britain, Austria, Portugal, and Naples. After its early victories, this alliance also broke apart. So exhausted were both sides that even France and Britain made peace in 1802 at Amiens, a treaty marking the end of the French Revolutionary Wars.

In the opening campaign in 1792, the calculations of the Austrians, that the French armies were a rabble, seemed to be borne out: the poorly trained volunteers broke and ran at the first encounter with the disciplined fire-power of the Austrians. As Prussia joined the war on 21 May, well might King Frederick William II’s aide-de-camp, Johann von Bischoffwerder, have reassured some officers that ‘the comedy will not last long. The army of lawyers will soon be crushed and we shall be back home by the autumn.’ The Austro-Prussian armies began their slow but relentless advance into France in the summer, provoking the first major political crisis in the French Revolution linked to the war. The sans-culottes, the popular militants of Paris, rose up and, supported by National Guard units (the citizens’ militia created in 1789), overthrew Louis XVI on 10 August 1792, a republic was proclaimed on 22 September 1792, and the King was guillotined on 21 January 1793. ‘They threaten you with Kings!’ thundered the great revolutionary orator Georges-Jacques Danton. ‘You have thrown down the gauntlet to them, and this gauntlet is a king’s head.’ Yet the reality was that, for all the incandescent rhetoric on both sides, the more traditional impulses driving the war were revealed after the first French victory at Valmy on 20 September 1792.

The French army made its stand against the Prussians astride the road to Paris, a hundred miles from the capital. Fought on muddy ground, sometimes knee-deep in places, Valmy was primarily a lethal artillery duel, in which some 20,000 cannonballs were fired. The ragged French volunteers just held their nerve, a resistance that persuaded the Prussians, ravaged by dysentery, to retreat. In the despondent gloom later that evening, the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe gave some Prussian officers cold comfort by telling them that ‘From this place, and from this day forth, begins a new era in the history of the world, and you can all say that you were present at its birth.’ At first, Goethe’s predictions seemed to come true: a second French victory, over the Austrians at Jemappes on 6 November, left Belgium open to French invasion. Intoxicated by this sudden reversal of fortune, the National Convention, the new republican assembly in Paris, issued the Edict of Fraternity on 19 November. This declared the Convention’s intent to export the French Revolution, promising ‘fraternity and help’ to ‘all peoples who wish to recover their liberty’, meaning the overthrow of the existing order.

Yet, as French armies surged across the Low Countries, poured into the Rhineland, and, in the south, swept into Savoy (a duchy ruled by Piedmont-Sardinia which, with unfortunate timing, declared war on France the day after Valmy), the revolutionaries quickly set their principles aside. The occupied countries were too tempting a source of supplies and money for the French armies to leave simply to their own destinies. On 15 December, the Convention abolished the old regime in these territories, but in return the population were told to pay for the military costs of their liberation. The exploitation of conquests to fuel the French war effort was thus established at the very start, but such a ruthless policy could neither continue forever, nor resolve the problem of the people’s political future. The revolutionaries soon articulated their objective: a defensible frontier, particularly in the north. It was Danton again who found the rhetorical flourish in January 1793: ‘The limits of France are marked out by nature, we will reach them in the four corners of the horizon: the Rhine, the Ocean and the Alps.’ On the suggestion of Dutch radical exiles in Paris, those territories overrun beyond these ‘natural frontiers’ would be converted into ‘sister republics’, exploitable satellite states allied to France.

Yet these conquests ensured that the war spiralled outwards. ‘Natural frontiers’ meant the annexation of Savoy, the Rhineland, and Belgium, plus a southern slice of Dutch territory. The logic of this last point meant war with the Netherlands, but the French invasion of the Low Countries also tensed to breaking point France’s relations with the British, already strained by the overthrow of Louis XVI and by the Edict of Fraternity, which politicians feared might be applied to Britain, where there was an articulate and organized radical opposition. The French reopening to shipping of the River Scheldt, closed by treaty since 1648, also posed a direct strategic threat to the British Isles. If the French were to overrun the Netherlands, with its long North Sea coastline and boasting the fourth largest fleet in Europe, then the Royal Navy’s capacity to defend home waters would be severely stretched. It was the French who actually declared war on both Britain and the Netherlands on 1 February. To make matters more desperate, they also opened hostilities against Spain on 7 March, effectively formalizing a rupture which already existed in fact: the Spanish had mobilized their forces in August 1792 (wisely pulling back from the brink after Valmy), but had then vigorously denounced the execution of Louis XVI (King Charles IV of Spain was also a Bourbon). The immediate consequence of the French victory in Europe was therefore to bind together one crisis—in relations between France and the German powers—with another long-term problem: the maritime rivalries of the western European powers, ensuring that the war would have a global impact across the world.

The most important of such repercussions were felt in the Caribbean, particularly Haiti. This, the most prosperous of all of France’s colonies, burst into flames when its African slaves rose up in August 1791, well aware that government authority and the racial hierarchies of the French Empire had been fatally weakened by the Revolution. With the European conflict now engulfing the overseas empires, the Haitian Revolution became part of the global struggle: Spanish officials in neighbouring Santo Domingo immediately began supporting the insurgents as auxiliaries, while the British chose instead to back the white planters, who promised to submit to British authority in return for a restoration of slavery and protection against the insurrection. The French response was momentous: recognizing the reality that the Haitians had effectively liberated themselves, the Republic’s commissioners in Haiti proclaimed the abolition of slavery, an act confirmed for the entire French Empire by the Convention in Paris on 4 February 1794. Slowly, cautiously, the Haitian revolutionaries, including one of their most charismatic leaders, Toussaint L’Ouverture, came over to the French side. The Spanish and the British, who invaded Haiti in September 1793, were driven back, the latter evacuating in 1798.

Back in Europe, the French Revolution was on the brink of collapse under the combined weight of the allied powers by the early spring of 1793. France was invaded across every frontier, north, east, and south. The Convention took the fateful step of imposing conscription, provoking open counter-revolution in western France in March, most notoriously in the Vendée, where, in a brutal civil war which did not end until 1800, the number of dead on both republican and royalist sides may have reached a horrifying 400,000. To war and counter-revolution were piled on the pressures of hunger, inflation, and the looming threat of popular insurrection in Paris. Overwhelmed, the Girondins were toppled by their Jacobin opponents in a coup d’état on 2 June 1793. France exploded into civil war, which the Jacobin government in Paris managed to crush and exact bloody retribution, but not before the French rebels in Toulon—the home of France’s Mediterranean fleet—handed over their port to the British in August 1793. The young Napoleon Bonaparte commanded the artillery which finally drove them out in December. The Jacobins were able to master this intense crisis only through Terror, involving the arrest of ‘suspects’; the trial and execution of people accused of treason; the summary execution of people found openly rebelling against the Republic; strict economic controls, backed up by draconian penalties; and, above all, the empowerment of the government to prosecute the war to the utmost. The levée en masse of 23 August requisitioned all adult males and all the country’s resources in the first modern attempt to wage ‘total war’: there were close to a million Frenchmen under arms by the end of 1794, of whom perhaps three-quarters were combat-effective.

The war’s dysfunctional pendulum finally swung back the other way on 26 June 1794, with a decisive French victory over the Austrians at Fleurus. A crushing British naval triumph over a French fleet in a battle remembered by the British as the ‘Glorious First of June’ could not dampen the renewed French impetus on the continent. With the tide of war turning, the Jacobin dictatorship was overthrown on 27 July 1794 (the Thermidor coup) and the Terror was over. Over the following year, the Convention drafted a new constitution, creating the Directory, which would govern France from October 1795: Bonaparte, still an artillery officer, prevented the Directory from being still-born, since his ‘whiff of grapeshot’ helped crush a royalist insurrection in Paris that month. He would destroy the same regime four years later.

Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars.

Meanwhile, French armies had surged forward on all fronts, pouring into Belgium, the Rhineland, and northern Spain. In the deathly cold winter of 1794–5, the blue-coated hordes even managed to sweep into the Netherlands, since the waterways which usually provided the country’s natural defences were frozen solid. So thick was the ice that in January the French cavalry thundered across the frozen sea to capture the Dutch fleet anchored at Texel: ‘the first and last time—it can safely be assumed—that a naval engagement has been won by cavalry,’ writes Tim Blanning. The balance of forces was tilting in France’s favour. Prussia signed a peace treaty at Basel in April 1795, the Netherlands was turned into France’s first ‘sister republic’ in May, and Belgium was formally annexed by France in October. Spain signed a peace treaty, also at Basel, in July 1795 and then this devoutly Catholic monarchy went so far as to enter an alliance with the godless French in August 1796. Spain, always caught in the crossfire in the Franco-British rivalry, saw in France the best hope of security for its extensive overseas empire. The French could now combine their fleets with those of the Dutch and the Spanish, while French control of the entire coastline from the Frisian Islands to Galicia strained the capacities of the Royal Navy. The British moved quickly to neutralize the most dangerous of these threats: the Dutch colony on the Cape of Good Hope, which was, the British commander who led the assault explained, ‘a feather in the hands of Holland, but a sword in the hands of France’, since it was the pivot of the sea route between India and Europe.

Yet the French were approaching a high-water mark in their success against Britain. In December 1796, an attempted invasion of Ireland was foiled when the French fleet was scattered by a storm. In February 1797, the danger still seemed so serious that there was a run on the Bank of England. The panic was becalmed that month when Admiral Sir John Jervis intercepted and destroyed a numerically superior Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent as it was trying to link up with the French Atlantic fleet at Brest. The crisis was not over: in March, the French managed to land a motley band of deserters and adventurers on the Pembrokeshire coast. Although this, the last invasion of mainland Britain, was quickly mopped up, March and June saw mutinies break out in the Royal Navy at Spithead and the Nore, primarily over pay, rations, and conditions. These were suppressed with a mixture of executions and concessions, but it illustrated just how precarious Britain’s situation was. The French and their allies tried to combine again in October 1797 when the Dutch fleet put to sea, but ran into Admiral Adam Duncan’s ships off Camperdown: the dogged Dutch resistance only broke after nine ships of the line were taken. France’s problems were compounded when the struggle for the sea spiralled into an undeclared naval war with the United States.

The war in Europe had strained French relations with the Americans, theoretically allied to France since 1778, when the old regime entered the American War of Independence. The United States, however, declared its neutrality in 1793: its armed forces were tiny and the British were the young republic’s most important trading partner. Moreover, President George Washington was angered by the over-zealous French ambassador, Edmond Genêt, who armed privateers to sail from American ports against British shipping and who tried to whip up American public support for France. Yet the Americans also had grievances against the British: they harassed American shipping as they tried to throttle French commerce and seized sailors whom they suspected of desertion from the Royal Navy. The two countries nearly slid into war, until both sides pulled back from the brink in November 1794, when they resolved their differences in the Jay Treaty (named for the American diplomat involved), which effectively tore up the Franco-American alliance. The aggrieved French immediately launched privateering raids against American merchantmen: by June 1797, they had carried off some 316 ships. Although the two republics never formally declared war, they did exchange plenty of shots in anger on the high seas. An American effort at negotiation fell apart when it was learned in April 1798 that the slippery French Foreign Minister, Charles-Maurice Talleyrand, had tried to extract a bribe from the US envoys, who were approached by three agents known only as ‘XYZ’. The quasi-war raged on.

Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli, 14 January 1797.

If the French were frustrated at sea, they triumphed on land. A French assault in Germany floundered in 1796, but this was offset by a lightning strike into Italy by Bonaparte, now a general. Piedmont, its army outmanoeuvred and overwhelmed, sued for peace before the month was out. Bonaparte then moved against the Austrians, defeating them at Lodi on 10 May and entering Milan, the centre of Austrian power in Italy, five days later. The French had moved so quickly that they had easily outrun the other French thrust against Austria through Germany, so while waiting to strike northwards, Bonaparte raided central Italy, forcing Parma, Modena, and Tuscany to disgorge their hard currency. The Pope was not spared: the French invaded the Papal States—the Papacy’s territorial domains in central Italy—and, at the Treaty of Tolentino in February 1797, forced the pontiff to yield some of his territory to France’s new Italian sister republic, the Cisalpine, as well as some of his most cherished artworks, which were carted off to France and deposited in the Louvre. Then, having repulsed no less than three Austrian counter-attacks in the north, Bonaparte crossed the Alps and struck into Austria itself, entering an armistice at Leoben in April 1797. The peace treaty was finally signed at Campo Formio in October. The Austrians agreed to the French annexation of the left bank of the Rhine, the hard-won ‘natural frontier’, and recognized the Cisalpine Republic, in return for which Bonaparte, showing an almost casual regression to old regime balance of power ways, allowed Austria to annex Venice. The War of the First Coalition was over.

This was not a peace, but a stalemate: British and French negotiations in the summer of 1797 collapsed when a coup d’état in Paris in September (the Fructidor coup) purged the legislature and the Directory of moderate republicans and of real or suspected monarchists. The coup was a military intervention which set a dangerous political precedent—not least because it was Bonaparte who had provided the troops. The Directory was now led by hard-line republicans determined to pursue the war with more vigour and in this they had the wholehearted support of the generals. In the first months of 1798, the northern French ports saw a build-up of an ‘Army of England’ commanded by Bonaparte for the long-awaited descent on Britain. Yet the French could not control the Channel for long enough: the most they managed was to land 1,000 men in Ireland, in support of an insurrection which had erupted in May against British rule, arriving too late to make an impact.

By then, the war had thundered eastwards and engulfed another long-term challenge, the expansion of Russia. The Russian occupation of Poland in May 1792 and the Second Partition in 1793 naturally provoked Polish patriotism. After trying in vain to secure French support, Tadeusz Kościuszko proclaimed Poland in insurrection in Kraków in March 1794. After some early victories, the uprising crumpled under the sheer weight of Russian numbers. As the Russians closed in on Warsaw, the Prussians disengaged from the war against revolutionary France, which was not the easy ‘promenade’ they had expected, and instead sought a share of the territorial spoils in Poland. Even the Austrians, more committed than Prussia to the war in the west, were determined to have a slice of the conquests: they withdrew 20,000 troops from Belgium for operations against Poland, which both German powers invaded in June. After a slaughter which made the French Terror look amateurish (20,000 Poles were massacred in a single day on 4 November), the Russians took Warsaw. In the Third Partition between Russia, Austria, and Prussia, Poland was wiped off the political map in the New Year.

December 1941 East Front

On the Russian front, the Germans had been so close to Moscow on the morning of December 2 that they thought they could see the towers of the Kremlin through their field glasses. Some of them were convinced that they had seen movement in the streets as well. But that had been earlier, before the weather closed in. The Germans could hardly see one another’s faces now that the snow had begun to fall again.

The snow was still falling as Lieutenant Heinrich Haape and his two companions drove up to the front line from the railway town of Klin. According to the map in the Cabinet War Rooms, the front lay directly ahead of them, a neat length of black yarn crossing the road a few miles short of Moscow. The reality, in the murk and chaos, was rather harder to determine.

Haape was a medical officer attached to the Eighteenth Infantry Regiment. Together with Oberleutnant Kageneck and Fischer, their driver, he was bringing up a carload of cognac, chocolate, cigars, cigarettes, and medical supplies—gifts from the Luftwaffe, which still had access to such luxuries. Sitting beside Kageneck while Fischer followed the tracks of some other vehicle through the snow, Haape could hardly believe that they were almost in Moscow at last.

Already there were signs of an approaching city all around them: houses, side streets, billboards along the way plastered with enormous pictures of Lenin and Stalin. Now and then there was even a two-story building among all the wooden shacks. But no people. None that Haape could see. The whole place appeared to be deserted:

Not a soul was in sight. Many of the buildings were burnt-out shells, a heap of rubble bearing mute evidence of a bombing raid or concentrated artillery fire. Not a building was occupied—every man, woman, child and beast had fled. The snow had drifted up against the doors of the wooden hovels, and on the window-sills. An occasional Wehrmacht signboard, in code, showed us that we were still on the right road.

By Haape’s calculation another fifteen minutes at the same speed would bring them to Moscow’s city limits. He found it sobering, frightening even, to think that they could be in Red Square fifteen minutes after that, if the Russians didn’t stop them first.

They drove on for some time before coming at length to a front-line post beside the road. Two officers emerged as they drew up. One asked where they were going.

“Moscow,” Kageneck told him.

“That’s where we’re going too. Perhaps you’d better wait for us.”

The officer pointed with his leather glove. There were Russians to the right and left of them. The tram stop to Moscow lay just ahead, but the trams weren’t running. The officer advised them to come back next week if they wanted to drive any farther into Moscow.

He told Haape that the men in his unit had taken 25 percent casualties from frostbite alone in the past few days. They were still waiting for their winter clothing to arrive. All any of them could think about was getting to Moscow before Christmas and finding somewhere warm and dry to spend the rest of the winter. The troops had convinced themselves that the fall of Moscow must surely mean the end of the war:

One more jump and we’ll be there,” the officer said confidently. “It’ll be over. Surely we can’t be denied it now?”

Haape wished he could be so certain. Like many in the German army, he was beginning to have his doubts about the wisdom of invading Russia.

He walked over to the tram stop. It was a stone shed with wooden seats. The tramlines were invisible under the snow, but a row of telegraph poles pointed the way to Moscow.

A bin on the wall was full of old tram tickets with Moskva stamped on them. On impulse Haape pocketed a few as a souvenir. Then he and the others returned to their car and drove back the way they had come. It was probably as near as any German got to Moscow that winter.


Some 130 miles to the south, General Heinz Guderian was acutely aware of the difficulties facing the troops as they struggled to fight a war in the bitter cold, with the temperature continuing to plummet. If he had his way, the men under his command would dig in for the winter, recoup their strength, and wait for spring before attempting to advance any further. But Hitler’s orders were unequivocal. Guderian was to push on, regardless of the weather. There was nothing else he could do if he wanted to retain his command.

Guderian was one of the stars of the war so far. He had never needed any urging to push on in the past. His panzer tanks had led the way in Poland and France, moving forward so fast that his men had nicknamed him “Der schnelle Heinz” as they visited blitzkrieg on their enemies. It was only an order from above that had prevented him from annihilating the British at Dunkirk.

Guderian’s panzers had led the way in Russia too. They had swept all before them as they aimed straight for Moscow. They might have taken the capital already if Hitler hadn’t suddenly diverted them south to reinforce the Kiev front.

Guderian was in command now at Tula, covering the approaches to Moscow from the south. He had set up a temporary headquarters at Yasnaya Polyana, the country estate just outside Tula that was home to the Tolstoy family. Guderian had arrived on December 2, taking over one of the two big houses on the property for himself and his staff. The other was still occupied by the family.

It had not escaped the Germans’ notice that Yasnaya was where Russia’s most famous novelist had written his most famous novel. Leo Tolstoy had spent most of the 1860s writing War and Peace, a tribute to the courage of the Russian people during the Napoleonic campaign of 1812, in which his father had fought. The Germans knew all about War and Peace, even if they hadn’t read it themselves. In particular, they all knew how it turned out in the end.

There was a Tolstoy museum at Yasnaya, whose contents the Russians had prudently removed before the Wehrmacht arrived. Guderian had given orders that the Tolstoy family’s remaining furniture and books were to be locked away in two rooms for safekeeping. He had also ordered that the novelist’s descendants were to be left undisturbed in their own house on the estate.

But War and Peace was not so easily locked away. The 1812 campaign was on everybody’s minds as the Germans braced themselves for a struggle that was clearly going to be much harder than anticipated. Russian accounts of the 1812 campaign attributed Napoleon’s defeat to the formidable fighting qualities of the Russian soldier; French ones blamed the weather. Both seemed eminently plausible to the Germans.

The resilience of the Russian army had been their first big surprise. It was poorly equipped and led after Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. The Germans had expected to cut through it like a knife through butter, as they had with every other army over the past two years.

They had been wildly successful at first, driving the Russians back across one endless horizon after another. But their success had not led to a Russian surrender, as it had with everyone else. It had steeled the Russians’ resolve, if anything. The fighting was just as determined as ever.

The real revelation, however, had been the weather. The Germans had never seen anything like it before. Winter had hardly begun and already they were knee-deep in snow. The temperature had dropped to unbelievable levels, –30º F as a matter of routine, –60º on occasion.

That meant that nothing worked as it was supposed to. The breechblocks on rifles froze, as did the oil in crankcases. Dynamos didn’t function, engines wouldn’t start, axles seized up, and cylinder blocks cracked open. Panzer crews had to light fires under their tanks for hours just to thaw out the machinery. And that was before winter had even hit its stride.

Human bodies couldn’t function properly either in the extreme cold. The Germans had little winter clothing because Hitler had refused to accept that the campaign might last this long. Wounded men were freezing to death as a result. Frostbite was causing as many casualties as normal battle wounds, often resulting in amputation.

Without overcoats, men with dysentery staggered outside to relieve themselves and died from congelation of the anus as soon as they opened their bowels. Without gloves and fur-lined boots, healthier men could do little to help them. It was no way to fight a war.

All along the line German commanders were recognizing the inevitable and abandoning the advance for the time being. They were going over to the defensive, digging in for the duration of the winter and waiting for better times in the spring.

It was the sensible thing to do, but it was not popular with the high command back in East Prussia. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt had just been sacked for ignoring Hitler’s order to stand fast, and evacuating Rostov before his troops could be overwhelmed.

Guderian’s relations with Hitler were equally strained. Surrounded by yes-men who only told him what he wanted to hear, the Führer did not take kindly to plain speaking from professional soldiers. Guderian never hesitated to query decisions of the Führer’s when he didn’t agree with them. As a result, his own position was far from secure that morning as he prepared to leave Yasnaya Polyana for a visit to the headquarters of the Thirty-First Infantry Division farther along the line.

Guderian was looking forward to the visit. His old infantry battalion was part of the division. He was going to see his old comrades after he had been to headquarters, chatting with the men and finding out for himself how much fight was left in ordinary soldiers.

His immediate military objective was to close the ring around Tula to prevent the Russians from reinforcing the city. It wouldn’t be easy, after everything his troops had been through. As he set off for the Thirty-First Division, Guderian needed to satisfy himself that the men under his command still had the appetite for a fight before sending them into action again in the middle of a Russian winter.


Adolf Hitler was on his way back to East Prussia after a trip to Ukraine to see his generals and assess the military situation for himself. He wasn’t a happy man as his aircraft touched down near Rastenburg. For one thing, the weather in Ukraine had been so awful that his return flight had been delayed and he had had to stay overnight at Poltava. For another, he had made a mess of sacking Rundstedt after the German retreat from Rostov.

Rundstedt had already evacuated the city when Hitler ordered him to hold his ground. The field marshal had offered to resign his command if the Führer no longer had confidence in him. Hitler had accepted the offer on December 1, only to be told by his pusillanimous generals when he arrived in Ukraine that Rundstedt had been quite right to withdraw. There was nothing else the Wehrmacht could have done.

Hitler was sick of them all as he returned to Rastenburg. He told Heinz Linge, his valet, that he was never going to visit his generals in the field again. “Linge,” he confided, as they flew home, “I’m glad it’s you sitting behind me, instead of one of those Obergruppenführers who could shoot me in the back with a pistol.”

He was relieved to get back to the Wolf’s Lair, his military headquarters at Rastenburg. It lay in the forest close to the airfield, a giant network of steel and concrete bunkers, heavily camouflaged and protected from attack. Hitler had spent most of his time there since the invasion of Russia in June.

There were three security zones at the complex, spread out over two and a half square miles. The outer zone was ringed with mines and barbed wire, defended by elite troops in pillboxes and machine-gun emplacements. The middle zone housed the soldiers’ barracks and accommodation for various Nazi officials.

The inner zone was for Hitler and his close wartime associates, men like Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, Alfred Jodl, and Wilhelm Keitel. It comprised ten camouflaged bunkers with six feet of steel-reinforced concrete overhead. It was in the inner zone that Hitler oversaw his campaign to conquer the world.

The gates swung open to receive him. Hitler had a great deal on his mind as the car drew up and he returned to his bunker. The crisis on the Russian front was coming to a head as the German advance ran out of steam. His generals were urging tactical withdrawal to avert disaster, but withdrawal would mean a considerable loss of morale as well as much-needed equipment too frozen to move.

More than that, and far more seriously, it would also mean the loss of Hitler’s reputation for invincibility. Hitler was the demigod who had descended from the clouds in Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the 1934 Nazi Party rally at Nuremburg). He could not afford to lose that reputation now. As he prepared for the six o’clock military briefing that evening, Adolf Hitler was surely aware that he would never regain his aura of divinity, if ever his generals lost it for him in the wastelands of Russia.

War of 1812 – The Campaigns Of 1814 and 1815

Burning of the White House, 1814.

The new year of 1814 dawned with a fresh possibility for an end to the war. After refusing to allow Russia to mediate matters, the British offered to begin direct negotiations late in 1813, and in January, Madison nominated Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell to form a five-man commission with Adams, Bayard, and Gallatin at Gothenburg, Sweden; they arrived there in April.

Little action was taken in Washington during the winter to plan new campaigns. Recruitment continued in new and old regiments, and there were some changes made in their organization. Armstrong ordered Wilkinson to break up his camp at French Mills, sending part of it to Sackets Harbor under now-Major General Jacob Brown of the U. S. Army and the rest to Plattsburgh. From there, Wilkinson made a halfhearted attempt to invade LC in March, but this came to grief in a battle at Lacolle, LC, on 30 March. By that time, Armstrong had already recalled the erratic general to face an inquiry into his St. Lawrence River campaign; Major General George Izard was given command of the Right Division of the northern army at Plattsburgh, while Brown commanded the Left Division. Secretary Jones gave Chauncey permission to construct four new ships at Sackets Harbor and allowed Macdonough to build a warship and gunboats at Vergennes, Vermont. Jones also divided Chauncey’s command by putting Captain Arthur Sinclair in charge of Perry’s former squadron at Erie.

The British were building two frigates and a 100-gun ship at Kingston and debating plans for regaining control of the upper lakes. Drummond and Yeo proposed an ambitious attack on Sackets, but Prevost vetoed this, making it known that he was expecting an armistice to be called shortly.

Nothing of the kind was to happen because, on 6 April, Napoleon abdicated his authority, bringing an end (temporarily) to the great European struggle. The British government now resolved to send some of its best regiments and officers to America to settle the matter with force; these numbers were added to reinforcements already on their way, eventually raising British military strength to nearly 50,000 on all fronts.

Meanwhile, Drummond and Yeo modified their plans and launched, on 5-6 May, an amphibious attack on Oswego, Chauncey’s key transshipment point for heavy materiel sent from New York City. At the cost of heavy casualties, the assault netted some guns, ammunition, rigging, and stores, and Yeo followed it up by blockading the Lake Ontario shore between Oswego and Sackets. Chauncey’s building had started late and an early thaw left his supply trains bogged down in mud across New York, so the assault and blockade worsened his dilemma. However, on 30 May, a small number of naval, military, and native personnel guarding a supply convoy of bateaux headed from Oswego lured nearly 200 seamen and marines from Yeo’s squadron into an ambush, and captured or killed them all. Yeo soon lifted his blockade and returned to Kingston with his larger ships after deploying four of his small vessels to supply Drummond’s army on the Niagara Peninsula.

The Americans had started a campaign on the peninsula almost by accident. Madison’s cabinet did not set its campaign goals until the first week of June, and by that time Armstrong had sent Brown conflicting orders until the general ended up at Buffalo preparing for an invasion of UC. This scheme was pared down when the cabinet committed Sinclair’s squadron and a military contingent for an expedition on the upper lakes instead of to support Brown. “To give immediate occupation to your troops,” Armstrong suggested to Brown, instead, why not capture Fort Erie?

Brown’s army, numbering about 5,000 men in the early phase, captured Fort Erie on 3 July and then beat the British army under Major General Phineas Riall at Chippawa on 5 July; Brigadier General Winfield Scott’s brigade played a key role in this unprecedented American victory. Brown then advanced to the vicinity of Fort George, where, he had been led to believe, Chauncey would arrive with siege weapons and support. Chauncey’s squadron did not sail until late in the month, and Brown ended up withdrawing to Chippawa and then engaging Drummond in the bloody battle of Lundy’s Lane on 25 July.

The Americans withdrew to Fort Erie, which they enlarged and improved, and Drummond soon followed to lay a siege. This period saw the most intense fighting of the war on the Niagara Peninsula with the failed assault on the fort on 15 August followed by weeks of skirmishing and sniping and culminating in the face-to-face combat in a rainstorm during Brown’s sortie on 17 September. Drummond was lifting his siege at this point and fell back to Chippawa, where Izard soon arrived, having been sent with his division from Plattsburgh by Armstrong. Apart from a skirmish at Cook’s Mills, Izard accomplished no more than Brown could, and when he retreated to Buffalo after blowing up Fort Erie on 5 November, the last shots had been fired in anger on the shores of the Niagara.

Had Madison’s cabinet kept its first intentions, Sinclair would have transported Brown’s army to the Grand River, where the army would have gone overland to attack the British at Burlington Heights. But Michilimackinac continued to distract Madison and his advisers even though their victory at Moraviantown had broken the back of Tecumseh’s native resistance so that only a few of the “Western Indians” remained with the British, while many of their people had gone home and would sign a treaty with Harrison in July.

Probably more interested in securing the fur trade than native alliances, the administration sent Sinclair with 750 regulars and militia volunteers to recapture the fur fort and destroy an RN dockyard rumored to be under development in Georgian Bay. After numerous delays, the force entered Lake Huron on 14 July, burned the abandoned British posts at St. Joseph Island and at St. Mary, destroyed one merchantman and captured another, and arrived off Michilimackinac on 26 July. The attack was made on 4 August and ended in failure. Sinclair sent some of his vessels back to Lake Erie with casualties and proceeded into Georgian Bay, but there was no dockyard to be found. He had to content himself with destroying another merchantman before heading for home, after leaving two schooners to intercept the British supply route to Michilimackinac. Soon after his return to Erie, Sinclair was dismayed to hear that a small band of RN seamen, infantry, natives, and traders had captured both his schooners, giving the British a stronger upper hand on Lake Huron and beyond.

While Sinclair pursued his mission, the American army on the Detroit River made no effort to establish an American presence throughout southwestern UC other then deploying several raiding parties into the Thames River valley. These resulted in minor actions with British militia and regulars, such as the skirmish at McCrea’s Farm (15 December 1813) and the violent clash at the Longwoods (4 March 1814). Brigadier General Duncan McArthur began a raid near the end of October with 1,000 men in support of Brown’s army on the Niagara Peninsula, but he got no further than the rain-swollen Grand River, burned some barns and homes, and routed the local militia at Malcolm’s Mills (6 November 1814) before returning to Detroit. The British did not try to reclaim this territory, choosing instead to patrol the area and keep a reserve at Burlington.

For the first time since the Fort Dearborn massacre in August 1812, action occurred west of the lakes. At St. Louis, Governor William Clark of Missouri Territory (Meriwether Lewis’s partner in exploration) feared a British invasion down the Mississippi from their fur-trade post at Prairie du Chien in modern-day Wisconsin. In a preemptive strike, Clark captured the village on 2 June 1814 with a company each of militia and regulars. He left a detachment behind to build Fort Shelby and returned to St. Louis. News of the occupation reached Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDouall at Michilimackinac, and he quickly sent a force of regulars, fur traders, and natives to retake the place, which they accomplished after a brief siege (17-20 July). The next day, a relief force from St. Louis was attacked by Fox, Kickapoo, and Sac warriors at the Rock Island rapids 100 miles south of Prairie du Chien. This prompted Clark to send a second relief force, but it came to grief at the same place on 5 September. The village and the renamed Fort McKay remained in British hands.

The eastern flank of the northern border saw its major action in 1814. Having launched and fitted out his new warship by early May, Commander Pring attempted to interrupt Macdonough’s shipbuilding at Vergennes, Vermont, but was repelled in the skirmish at Otter Creek (14 May). The Americans sailed two weeks later with a stronger squadron, forcing Pring to withdraw to Isle-aux-Noix. There was skirmishing along the border through the spring and summer, but General Izard did not use his division to invade Canada. Instead, Armstrong sent him in August to join Brown, leaving Brigadier General Alexander Macomb in charge of about 3,500 regulars (many of whom were ill) at Plattsburgh.

The regiments from Europe began arriving at Quebec early in the summer, and with them came orders for Prevost to make an incursion into the United States in coordination with other operations in Maine and Chesapeake Bay. To this end, he formed an 8,100-man army in three infantry brigades, plus dragoons, artillery, and natives. Prevost’s intention was to capture Plattsburgh and, perhaps, advance farther south, but his scheme rested on the RN squadron at Isle-aux-Noix defeating Macdonough. This was impractical since the vessels were not fitted out fully, especially the newly launched frigate Confiance, and were manned mainly with soldiers. Prevost arrived at Plattsburgh on 6 September and impatiently called for the navy to join him. Under Captain George Downie, the squadron sailed before it was properly prepared and suffered an ignominious defeat at Macdonough’s hands on 11 September. Prevost had just started his land attack (later than planned) when he heard of Downie’s defeat and promptly called off the attack. The next day, the army returned to LC, where Prevost was roundly criticized and eventually summoned home to face charges brought against him by Commodore Yeo, who claimed he had goaded Downie into action. The American victory was complete, and Macdonough and Macomb became heroes.

Nearly 300 miles due east, the British had enjoyed much greater success after a nearly bloodless campaign to occupy the easternmost portion of Maine. Because the boundary between the territory and Canada had long been disputed, the British government ordered Lieutenant General Sir John Sherbrooke to seize the territory from the Penobscot River to New Brunswick as part of its escalation of the war. With one regiment and several warships, the British captured Eastport, Maine, on 11 July without a fight. In September, Sherbrooke was at the head of four regiments in a large squadron that captured Castine on the Penobscot River on 1 September and took Hampden and Bangor two days later. Very little fighting occurred, and because of some judicious administration, the subsequent occupation of the area (which lasted until April 1815) was conducted in an amicable way. Although swords rattled in Boston and plans were discussed in Washington, no effort was made to regain the captured territory.

The administration was too busy anyway with more immediate problems at Washington. The plans discussed by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and the British government before he left England were wide ranging, and he had latitude to choose specific campaign goals. After taking command of the North America Station at Bermuda in April 1814, Cochrane assessed the situation and decided to center on the Chesapeake Bay region first. To that end, he sent Rear Admiral Cockburn to establish a base at Tangier Island and begin raids while he waited for regiments to arrive from Europe.

Cockburn resumed his aggressive activities, which included stopping the advance of a gunboat flotilla under Captain Joshua Barney, USN, and trapping it in the Patuxent River. When Cochrane finally arrived in August with Major General Robert Ross and an army of 4,500, Cockburn recommended an expedition up the Patuxent toward Washington. This led to the British victory at Bladensburg (24 August) and the brief occupation and burning of Washington over the next day. As a diversion, Captain James Gordon sailed a squadron up the Potomac River to Alexandria, which surrendered without a fight. Despite the effort of naval heroes John Rodgers, David Porter, and Oliver Perry to stop Gordon with fireships and shore batteries, he soon rejoined Cochrane’s fleet.

These events humiliated the administration and threw it into chaos. Armstrong was forced to resign, and James Monroe took his place as secretary of war. After hesitating, Cochrane decided to attack Baltimore, but Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland Militia commanded there and had greatly improved its defenses. Cochrane landed Ross early on 12 September to attack the city’s flank, but the general was killed by a sniper a few hours later. Smith’s advance force broke at the battle of North Point that afternoon, but the extent of the fortifications and the determined resistance maintained during the bombardment of the harbor and Fort McHenry on 13-14 September convinced Cochrane to withdraw. The successful defense of Baltimore nearly made up for the destruction of Washington.

Cochrane left a small force to blockade and raid the Chesapeake and turned his attention toward the Gulf coast. In the spring, he had sent naval and Royal Marine officers to form an alliance with the Creek nation in preparation for an attack on New Orleans. The events of the Creek War (1813-1814) and the competence of Brigadier General Andrew Jackson depleted the strength of the Creek “Red Sticks,” and by September they could offer the British little assistance. Not fully aware of this situation, Cochrane proceeded with a plan that dedicated an army of 10,000 to the campaign.

Cochrane reached the staging point at Jamaica in November and hurried on to the British base in western Florida, where he learned that the Americans controlled Mobile, blocking the overland route to New Orleans. As a result, he and Major General John Keane decided to approach the city by water from the east, resulting in a slow and fatiguing transfer of men from ships to shore. After a small USN flotilla made a brave but unsuccessful stand at the battle of Lake Borgne (14 December), the British pushed on and gained their beachhead at the Villere’ plantation below New Orleans on 23 December.

Jackson had effectively coordinated the defense of New Orleans and ordered an attack on the British the night they arrived. He failed to push them off but set the pattern for what was to come. Even when Major General Sir Edward Packenham arrived with most of the rest of the army, he was not able to penetrate Jackson’s defenses, as he learned in actions on 28 December and 1 January 1815. His grand assault on 8 January quickly turned into the sharpest British defeat of the war, with nearly 2,000 men killed, wounded, and captured. Packenham and his second in command died of their wounds, and his successor, Major General John Lambert, and Cochrane decided to pull out. Jackson held his lines firm, expecting another attack. His brilliant generalship made him the foremost hero of the age.

Lambert and Cochrane landed their troops on Dauphine Island off Mobile to recuperate and then captured nearby Fort Bowyer on 12 February. They might have been contemplating another attempt on New Orleans, but the matter was soon nullified when news of peace arrived. Cochrane had sent Cockburn to Cumberland Island on the border of Georgia and Florida to begin a campaign that would potentially unite with his own, but this did not get under way until January 1815, and it accomplished little until halted in February. Cochrane had extended the blockade to the entire American coast, though the deployment of much of his force for the various campaigns limited the blockade’s overall success. Still, merchants in both nations complained loudly about lost capital (especially at the hands of privateers) and gradually pushed their governments toward peace.

On the oceans, the opposing navies fought to a near draw in 1814 and the last ship-to-ship actions in 1815, with six victories for the RN and seven for the USN. The British ended the cruise of the Essex at Valparaiso, Chile, on 28 March 1814 and captured the USS President off New York on 15 January 1815. The smaller American cruisers, however, continued to show their advantages over RN sloops sent to catch them, and the USS Constitution capped its fighting record with the capture of two warships off Madeira on 20 February. After innumerable delays, peace negotiations had finally started on 8 August 1814 at Ghent in Dutch Flanders. They dragged on for four months as the opposing commissions presented proposals and counterproposals on wide-ranging topics. News of the burning of Washington set the American cause back, but reports of the successful defense of Baltimore and Prevost’s failure at Plattsburgh gave them an advantage. The British representatives had to refer every item to officials in London, while the American delegates argued among themselves. In the end, the British government decided to get out of the war, fearing that the uneasy peace in Europe following Napoleon’s abdication was about to collapse. On 24 December, the delegates signed the Treaty of Ghent, which essentially ordered a return to a status quo ante bellum.

Angolan Civil War

The Cold War fought by proxy – Cuban T-34/85s on the streets of the Angolan provincial city of Huambo in 1975. The Cubans fought on the side of the Communist MPLA in the Angolan civil war, which broke out following the withdrawal of the Portuguese colonial authorities. Despite their age, the T-34/85s gave good and effective service.

In Angola, three nationalist organizations strove for dominance. The MPLA, founded in 1956, was led by Agostinho Neto, a Portuguese-educated medical doctor. The FNLA, established in 1962 as a merger of two regional parties, was led by Holden Roberto, a brother-in-law and protégé of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who seized power in the Congo in 1965. UNITA, which broke from the FNLA in 1966, was led by Jonas Savimbi, a Swiss-educated political scientist with a master’s degree from the University of Lausanne. Each of the movements was roughly associated with one of Angola’s three main ethnic groups, although each had members of different ethnic origins, and the MPLA in particular stressed its inclusive national appeal. The MPLA’s stronghold was among the Mbundu in north-central Angola, which included the capital city of Luanda. It also found strong support among Western-educated intellectuals (assimilados), urban workers and the petit bourgeoisie, people of mixed race (mestiços), and a small number of Angola’s 200,000 Portuguese settlers. The FNLA evolved from earlier ethnically based movements in the northwest and was dominated by the Bakongo, who had ties to similar populations in the Congo. UNITA was based primarily among the Ovimbundu in the central highlands.

The three Angolan movements were also distinguished by ideology. The MPLA was avowedly Marxist. Leading members had ties to the Portuguese Communist Party dating to the 1950s. The FNLA and UNITA used anticommunist rhetoric to win international backing but accepted support from China, which was intent on countering Soviet patronage of the MPLA. Internally, UNITA adopted a hard-line Maoist ideology, at least initially. Both the FNLA and UNITA criticized the prominence of whites, mestiços, and Western-educated Africans in the MPLA and presented themselves as the only representatives of authentic African nationalism. Both organizations spurned the MPLA’s offer to establish a common front and systematically attacked MPLA cadres. While the MPLA, and to a lesser extent the FNLA, bore the brunt of the fighting against the Portuguese, UNITA concentrated its efforts on ousting the MPLA from the eastern part of the country, where both movements were recruiting among the smaller ethnic groups. By 1971, Savimbi had signed secret deals with Lisbon in which UNITA agreed to suspend military operations and to collaborate with Portugal against its rivals.

In 1961, the PAIGC, FRELIMO, and the MPLA established the Conference of Nationalist Organizations of the Portuguese Colonies (CONCP), with the goal of coordinating the liberation struggle in all three territories. The three organizations also participated in the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, where the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America was founded with the pledge to support national liberation and economic development on all three continents.

External Actors

Although Soviet involvement in the Portuguese territories was minimal in the 1960s, Lisbon claimed that it faced a Soviet-backed communist insurgency and sought support from its NATO allies. The NATO countries responded by providing hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic aid that enabled Portugal to finance three simultaneous wars and bolster its failing economy. By far the largest military supplier, France contributed armored cars, helicopters, planes, warships, submarines, and ammunition. In addition to ships and planes, West Germany furnished weapons and napalm and collaborated with the Portuguese secret police against the liberation movements. As part of the NATO defense pact, the United States provided military equipment to Portugal for European defense. Although Washington stipulated that American equipment could not be used in Portugal’s African wars, Lisbon openly violated the agreement, and Washington did nothing to enforce it. From the Kennedy through the Nixon administrations, American weapons, tanks, planes, ships, helicopters, napalm, and chemical defoliants were used against Africans in the Portuguese colonies, while American military personnel trained thousands of Portuguese soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques.

NATO’s official support for Portugal was countered by a disparate group of nations and nongovernmental organizations that sustained the anticolonial movements. The most significant liberation supporters were the Nordic countries, which included neutral Sweden and Finland as well as NATO members Norway and Denmark. The Nordics established close relationships with the liberation movements and were their main source of humanitarian assistance. The World Council of Churches, whose Programme to Combat Racism established a special fund to provide humanitarian aid to the liberation movements, was another important source of moral backing and material aid. The OAU, established by thirty-two independent African countries in 1963 to unite the continent and eradicate colonialism, mobilized military, economic, and diplomatic support through its Tanzania-based Liberation Committee. Finally, communist countries – most importantly, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China – responded to the Portuguese onslaught with military assistance to the various liberation organizations.

The War

The richest and most strategic of the Portuguese colonies, Angola attracted the most outside interest during the periods of decolonization and the Cold War. A major producer of oil, industrial diamonds, and coffee, Angola was the site of significant investments by American, British, Belgian, French, and West German firms. The colony bordered Mobutu’s Congo (renamed Zaire in 1971) and South African–occupied Namibia. Zaire and South Africa were determined to install a compliant regime on their perimeters. Angola became a Cold War battleground when the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba embroiled themselves in the conflict on the eve of Angolan independence.

From the outset, Angola’s three liberation movements aroused interest among the Cold War players. In the 1960s, the United States supported Portugal but hedged its bets by giving token financial and military support to the FNLA. Although American aid was not substantial enough to threaten Portugal’s hold, it did strengthen the FNLA vis-à-vis the better-educated, better-organized MPLA. Indirect support for the FNLA through the American client regime in Zaire proved to be far more significant. Mobutu hoped to use the FNLA and the French-backed separatist movement, Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, to annex Angola’s Bakongo areas and the oil-rich Cabinda Enclave, thus forming a wealthier, more powerful Greater Zaire. In the early 1970s, China, North Korea, and Romania also supplied the FNLA with weapons and advisors, while China gave further aid to UNITA. Initially the recipient of both Chinese and Soviet aid, the MPLA became entangled in the Sino-Soviet conflict, and opposing sympathies fractured its leadership. The MPLA-Soviet relationship survived but remained tense due to Soviet distrust of the independent-minded Neto. In 1965, a small number of Cubans helped the MPLA in its battles against the Portuguese. In subsequent years, MPLA soldiers received material assistance and military training from China, Cuba, North Korea, and Eastern Europe, as well as the Soviet Union. Soviet disenchantment with the MPLA – due primarily to its internal leadership struggles – led to the cessation of Soviet aid for several months in 1974. Yugoslavia, which prized its independence from the Soviet Union, stepped into the breach and became the MPLA’s main external source of support during this period. As in the cases of Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique, the Nordic countries, especially Sweden, were a significant source of humanitarian assistance – in this case for the MPLA.

The Portuguese coup in April 1974 dramatically altered the lay of the land. China immediately intensified aid to both the FNLA and UNITA, using Zaire as a conduit to send arms, advisors, and military instructors. The CIA followed suit, funneling support to the FNLA through Mobutu’s territory. In August, the Soviet Union announced its moral support for the MPLA but demanded that the movement reconcile factional differences before Moscow would consider providing material aid. By autumn, it was clear that the MPLA would not soon resolve its internal disputes. Concerned by the escalating involvement of China and the United States, the Soviet Union reluctantly threw its weight behind the strongest faction, led by Agostinho Neto.

In fact, Moscow was not anxious to embroil itself in the Angolan conflict. Urging the three movements to resolve their differences through negotiation, the Soviet Union supported an African-led peace initiative. The resulting Alvor Accord, signed by Portugal and the three liberation movements on January 15, 1975, obliged the signatories to form a transitional government that included representatives from all three movements and to hold constituent assembly elections in October. The elected assembly would choose a president, and independence would be granted on November 11, 1975. Twenty-four thousand Portuguese troops would remain in Angola to implement the agreement.

The Alvor Accord was violated almost immediately. The FNLA was the strongest movement militarily, but the MPLA was far better established among the civilian population. It had developed a broader base and achieved greater grassroots mobilization than either the FNLA or UNITA. War would play to the FNLA’s strengths, whereas peaceful political activism would benefit the MPLA. Despite Washington’s public support for the Alvor Accord and the warning by Africanists in the foreign service against choosing sides, Henry Kissinger considered the MPLA to be a Soviet proxy and was determined to challenge it. In his dual role as Ford’s national security advisor and secretary of state, Kissinger showed no interest in reconciliation. The CIA resumed covert support for the FNLA less than a week after the signing of the Alvor Accord, authorizing $300,000 in covert funds on January 22. The money was used to buy vehicles, a newspaper, and a television station – in short, to provide greater means for the politically weaker movement to reach the Angolan people. More significantly, Washington began to provide substantial military and economic support for the FNLA through the Mobutu regime, which had lobbied hard for American involvement. From March through May, the FNLA launched a series of attacks that killed MPLA activists in the capital and elsewhere in northern Angola. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Zairian soldiers infiltrated into Angola to fight on the FNLA’s behalf. Resisting Portuguese requests that it keep Mobutu at bay, Washington refused to intercede, asserting that it was not the United States’ business to impose policy positions on the Zairian president.

Lukewarm about the MPLA, Moscow responded reluctantly to the American-led escalation. It was only in March 1975, when it became clear that Zaire and the United States planned to exclude the MPLA from the political arena, that Moscow resumed weapons shipments – the first since 1974. By the end of May, a strengthened MPLA was able to expel the FNLA from Luanda, where the MPLA had enormous popular support. In late June, South African intelligence reported that an MPLA victory could be thwarted only through South African support for its rivals.

July ushered in a new phase of the struggle, during which South African and American intelligence collaborated closely, and the United States pressed South Africa to intervene militarily. Moving in tandem, Pretoria and Washington funneled weapons and vehicles valued at tens of millions of dollars to the FNLA and UNITA. On July 14, South Africa authorized a weapons shipment worth $14.1 million. A few days later, the CIA began to channel another $14 million in weapons, tanks, and armored cars, using Zaire as its base of operations. Nearly $3 million of these funds were allotted to reimburse to Mobutu for his part in the war effort. On August 20, another $10.7 million in covert American funds were authorized. Two days later, South African troops crossed the border into southern Angola in pursuit of Namibian guerrillas from the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), who were fighting South Africa’s illegal occupation of their homeland. South African raids would continue through September, as FNLA and UNITA forces assisted South African soldiers in locating and destroying SWAPO guerrillas. The incursions into Angola by soldiers from the apartheid state upped the ante, dramatically altering the political stakes.

As Washington and Pretoria bolstered the FNLA and UNITA, Moscow escalated its support for the MPLA, supplying more arms and military advisors. In September, East Germany followed suit with $2.5 million in military aid, furnishing weapons, instructors, pilots, and doctors. By September 22, the MPLA, with its augmented external support, had halted the advance toward Luanda of FNLA and Zairian troops accompanied by Portuguese mercenaries. By that time, the MPLA was dominant in nine of Angola’s sixteen provinces, including the capital, the coastline from Luanda to Namibia, and the coastal hinterland. Angola’s five major ports, the oil-rich Cabinda Enclave, and most of the diamond-bearing Lunda district were also under MPLA control.

Although Zairian troops had been involved in the Angolan conflict from the outset, foreign intervention took on a new dimension in mid-October when the South African Defence Force (SADF) launched a massive invasion. By the end of the month, an estimated 1,000 South African soldiers were entrenched in Angola. Another 2,000 troops, as well as planes, helicopters, and armored vehicles, were poised on the border. Joined in Angola by FNLA and UNITA soldiers, Zairian troops, and European mercenaries, the South African contingent, with CIA encouragement, began to advance on Luanda, rapidly winning the territory that the FNLA and UNITA had been unable to conquer on their own.

Until this point, Cuba’s response to MPLA requests had been relatively modest. During the waning years of Portuguese rule, Cuba trained MPLA cadres in neighboring Congo-Brazzaville; in the spring of 1975 it sent military advisors to assist in MPLA military planning, and in August it provided $100,000 for weapons transportation. It was only after the South African invasion in October that Cuba responded to the MPLA’s pleas for troops. Unwilling to upset a tenuous détente with the United States, Moscow had refused to supply Soviet troops – or to airlift Cuban soldiers – until after Independence Day, which according to the Alvor Accord would be on November 11. As the agreement disintegrated, it became clear that whoever controlled the capital on Independence Day would determine the government. Convinced that South Africa would take Luanda before November 11 unless impeded by outside forces, Havana was unwilling to wait. On October 23, Cuban soldiers participated in the fighting for the first time. A few days later, Chinese military instructors, who had been training FNLA soldiers in Zaire, ceased their support – embarrassed by their now-public association with the apartheid regime. On November 10, MPLA and Cuban forces held Luanda against an onslaught of 2,000 FNLA and 1,200 Zairian soldiers, more than 100 Portuguese mercenaries, and advisors supplied by South Africa and the CIA. The Portuguese high commissioner transferred sovereignty to “the Angolan people,” rather than to any of the warring movements, and on November 11 the MPLA announced the establishment of the People’s Republic of Angola.

After independence, thousands of foreign troops poured into Angola. Having waited until November 11 to intervene directly, the Soviet Union embarked on a massive sea- and airlift, transporting more than 12,000 Cuban soldiers between November 1975 and January 1976. Moscow also sent military instructors and technicians, along with heavy weapons, tanks, missiles, and fighter planes. Meanwhile, thousands of South Africa troops and hundreds of European mercenaries, the latter recruited and paid for by the CIA, arrived to assist the MPLA’s rivals. In late November, with a final expenditure of $7 million for the Angolan operation, the CIA’s secret Contingency Reserve Fund was depleted. By that time, America’s once-covert role had been exposed. Embarrassed by the imbroglio, especially American collaboration with white-ruled South Africa, Congress passed two bills that banned further funding of covert activities in Angola, and a reluctant President Ford signed them into law. Abandoned by its allies, South Africa withdrew from Angola during the first few months of 1976. Without Pretoria’s backing, the FNLA and UNITA rapidly collapsed. By February 1976, the MPLA, with Cuban assistance, controlled all of northern Angola. Disgusted by the collaboration between the MPLA’s rivals and apartheid South Africa, the OAU and the vast majority of African nations recognized the MPLA government. By the early 1980s, only the United States and South Africa continued to withhold diplomatic recognition.


The Danish Kings of England




The most famous of these Scandinavian kings is Cnut or, as most of us know him, Canute. Even today, the story of his vain attempt to turn back the tides over a thousand years ago is still told (although this story is based on a misunderstanding), but what else do we know about him and his eighteen-year rule of England? Cnut’s father was the Danish king Svein Forkbeard and his mother was probably the widow of Erik the Victorious of Sweden. He had one older brother, Harald, who became king of Denmark upon his father’s death in England in 1014. Cnut was with his father, Svein, when he died at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, but although Svein had just driven the English king, Æthelred II, into exile and had received the surrender of ‘the whole nation’, Cnut was forced to fight on in the confusion that followed his father’s death. Early in 1017, this young Danish prince was crowned king in London’s Westminster Abbey. There was certainly a degree of luck involved in Cnut’s capture of the throne: the English king Æthelred II died during the battle for his throne, and the machinations and eventual defection of Eadric Streona, a powerful Mercian noble, seriously weakened the rule of Æthelred’s son and successor, Edmund Ironside. Following Eadric Streona’s flight and a Danish victory at the unknown place called Assandun, Edmund came to terms with Cnut at Olney near Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, agreeing to give a substantial slice of his kingdom to the Dane. In the same way that Alfred the Great had given land to the Viking leader Guthrum, Edmund offered and Cnut accepted control of Mercia. But just over a month after this meeting, Edmund died and Cnut lost no time in claiming the entire kingdom for himself. That he was able to make good this claim shows very clearly, however, that Cnut owed his victory to more than luck. He saw off the threat of several rival claimants to the throne: Edmund’s sons and wife were exiled; Edmund’s brother, Eadwig, was exiled and then murdered; and Cnut married Emma, Æthelred’s widow and the mother of Edmund’s young half-brothers, Edward and Alfred, who had fled to the safety of their uncle’s court in Normandy. Cnut managed to neutralize politically the most powerful of his remaining opponents through a skilful blend of diplomacy, bribes, threats, and outright violence: the Viking leader, Thorkell the Tall, who had fought for Æthelred II against Cnut’s father was given the earldom of East Anglia and, ultimately, the position of regent in Denmark; while the treacherous Eadric Streona was first given Mercia and then conveniently murdered at the Christmas gathering at Cnut’s court in 1017, along with three other prominent nobles.

Although we might expect this victorious Viking to set about plundering further wealth from his newly conquered kingdom and to run it as some kind of military protectorate, Cnut appears to have done everything possible to avoid alienating his new subjects and disrupting political life any more. To this end, the new law-codes he drafted with the help of the Anglo-Saxon archbishop of York, Wulfstan II, were to all intents and purposes identical to those of Æthelred, and contained the promise to observe zealously the laws of Edgar established in the mid-tenth century. At the same time, most of Cnut’s army was disbanded, eliminating the need for heavy taxation of his new kingdom and providing an important psychological step in helping to restore a sense of normality to English political life. The men that Cnut gathered around him at court included English nobles, although many of these were new men who owed their rise to power and therefore their loyalty to Cnut. The most famous of these was Godwine (d. 1053), who was given the prestigious earldom of Wessex by Cnut in the early 1020s and who, before his death, was said to have ‘been exalted so high, even to the point of ruling the king [by then Edward the Confessor] and all England.’ Godwine married Cnut’s Danish sister-in-law, Gytha; his daughter Edith married king Edward the Confessor in 1045; and his son Harold became, however briefly, king of England in 1066. The family provides an outstanding example of the mixed Anglo-Scandinavian aristocracy that emerged during Cnut’s reign, with three of Godwine’s and Gytha’s children bearing Scandinavian names (Swein, Harold, and Tostig), and four of them bearing Old English names (Edith, Leofwine, Gyrth, and Wulfnoth).

Such was Cnut’s concern to set his throne on a firm footing that he wrote two open letters to his people explaining his absences from England in 1019 and 1027 – an unprecedented move by an English monarch, which underlines the importance Cnut attached to popular support for his reign.


Then I was informed that greater danger was approaching us than we liked at all; and then I went myself with the men who accompanied me to Denmark, from where the greatest injury had come to you, and with God’s help I have taken measures so that never henceforth shall hostility reach you from there as long as you support me rightly and my life lasts.

In the letter that he sent following a visit to Rome in 1027, Cnut seems even more anxious to justify his absence from England and to inform his subjects of his achievements on their behalf, his concern suggesting that all was not well at home:

I make it known to you that I have recently been to Rome to pray for the remission of my sins and for the safety of the kingdoms and of the people which are subjected to my rule […] I therefore spoke with the emperor [Conrad] and the lord pope and the princes who were present, concerning the needs of all the peoples of my whole kingdom, whether English or Danes, that they might be granted more equitable law and greater security on their way to Rome, and that they should not be hindered by so many barriers on the way and so oppressed by unjust tolls; and the emperor and King Rodulf [of Burgundy] consented to my demands […] Now, therefore, be it known to you all, that I have humbly vowed to Almighty God to amend my life from now on in all things, and to rule justly and faithfully the kingdoms and peoples subject to me and to maintain equal justice in all things; and if hitherto anything contrary to what is right has been done through the intemperance of my youth or through negligence, I intend to repair it all henceforth with the help of God […] And therefore I wish to make known to you, that, returning by the same way that I went, I am going to Denmark, to conclude with the counsel of all the Danes peace and a firm treaty with those nations and people who wished, if possible for them, to deprive us of both kingdom and life.

Looking at the documents that have survived from Cnut’s reign, it is very easy to forget that Cnut was a Scandinavian conqueror who had no hereditary claim on the English throne. Interestingly, many of the Norse skaldic poems composed at his court, which must have been intended for a Scandinavian audience, emphasize both his right to the English throne and his godliness (see, for example, Hallvarðr Háreksblesi’s Knútsdrápa). Cnut clearly saw skaldic poetry as an important form of propaganda, legitimizing his rule of the kingdom he had conquered by force. The poets who composed these stanzas recognized the importance of these issues to their king.

His reign was a time of stability for many of his English subjects, who were now spared the threat of Viking attacks and the punitive taxes needed to fund defences against the raids. This is clearly seen in the fact that there is no indication of any serious rebellion or popular opposition to his rule, such as that which followed the Norman Conquest of 1066. Rather ironically, Cnut’s control of England instead coincided with a period of political turmoil in Scandinavia, as Cnut sought to extend his control over his Scandinavian neighbours. In a remarkable turnaround, the king of England was no longer preoccupied with defending his kingdom from Viking attacks; he was attacking them in their homelands of Norway and Sweden. And he appears to have enjoyed some, admittedly short-lived, success, for in the 1027 letter to his English subjects, Cnut describes himself as ‘King of England, Denmark, Norway, and part of Sweden’.

However, the North Sea Empire that Cnut carved out for himself rapidly disintegrated following his death at Shaftesbury in Dorset on 12 November 1035, during the short and turbulent rules of his two sons and successors, Harold I Harefoot and Harthacnut. Harold and Harthacnut had different mothers – Harold’s mother was the Mercian noble lady, Ælfgifu of Northampton, whom Cnut had married before he became king of England, while Harthacnut’s mother was Cnut’s Queen, Emma of Normandy. The two half-brothers were bitter enemies and, immediately after their father’s death, there was a battle for power. Harold won the first round in this contest, and was crowned king of England in 1036, while Harthacnut was securing his throne in Denmark, where he had been brought up. Here, Harthacnut was preoccupied with an invasion by the Norwegian king Magnus the Good and, in 1036, was forced to sign a peace treaty in which Harthacnut renounced all Danish claims to Norway, recognized Magnus as king of Norway and, most humiliating of all, made Magnus Harthacnut’s heir (incidentally, it was this treaty that Harald Hard-Ruler later claimed gave him the right to the English throne, and which triggered the (unsuccessful) Norwegian invasion of 1066).

Although he had the support of Earl Godwine of Wessex in England, Harthacnut’s absence in Denmark meant that he was unable to press his claim to the throne over that of his half-brother, and he only succeeded to the English throne following Harold’s death from a mysterious illness in 1040. One of the first acts of his reign was to have Harold’s body dug up and unceremoniously thrown into a bog. In contrast to his father’s reign, Harthacnut’s rule in England was short and unpopular: he levied a tax of 21,000 pounds of silver to pay for the expansion of his fleet from 16 to 62 warships, and he was accused of murdering Earl Eadulf of Northumbria. Danish rule over England came to a rather inglorious end just two years after Harthacnut’s succession: he died at a wedding feast on 8 June at Lambeth in present-day London where, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he was seized by convulsions as he drank. Who poisoned him is not known, but there was certainly no shortage of discontented candidates. Harthacnut was succeeded by his half-brother, Edward the Confessor (d. 1065), the son of Æthelred II and Emma. Edward, who had been bought up at the Norman court, was keen to cut off all links with the Scandinavian past, and even forced his Norman mother, Cnut’s widow Emma, into political obscurity amid rumours that she had promised to support an invasion by Magnus of Norway. Yet the Anglo-Scandinavian Godwine family, who had enjoyed an extraordinarily rapid rise to fame under Cnut, remained powerful despite Edward’s attempts to reduce their influence. He had them exiled following a dispute in October 1051 but was reluctantly forced to welcome them back in 1052. Only Edward’s cousin (once-removed, through Emma of Normandy), William, was able to finally remove the Godwines from power and to reorient English politics away from the North to Normandy in the South in the bloody conquest of 1066.

While a good deal is known about Cnut’s reign and those of his two sons, the history of Viking rule in the Danelaw over 100 years earlier is much more shadowy and elusive. As early as 876, one of the leaders of the ‘Great Heathen Army’, Halfdan, is said to have taken some of his warriors and settled in Northumbria (north-east England), where they set about the very un-Viking-like activities of ‘ploughing and providing for themselves.’ This is the first recorded Viking settlement in England, but little more than these bare facts are known, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was more concerned with the continuing atrocities performed by Viking armies further south than with the peaceful ploughing by Viking farmers in the far north of the country. Clearly, however, Halfdan must have wielded some political power in the area where he settled. The most likely candidate for Halfdan’s seat of government is York, the capital of the kingdom of Northumbria, which had been captured by the Great Army in 866-67 and whose warring kings, Ælla and Osberht, had both been killed by the Vikings. York certainly became the most important seat of Scandinavian power in northern England in the following years, and the first definite reference to a Scandinavian king of York was made by The Chronicle of Æthelweard, which noted the death of a king called Guthfrith (also known as Guthred) on 24 August 895. Guthfrith seems to have become king of York at some point between 880 and 885, and was converted to Christianity around 883. Like Cnut, he enjoyed the support of the Church – in this case, the important monastic community of St Cuthbert, which had relocated from the vulnerable monastery of Lindisfarne to Chester-le-Street in County Durham. It may seem startling to us that these monks had such short memories and were willing to support a Viking usurper, whose countrymen had wreaked such bloody havoc upon their holy monastery of Lindisfarne less than a hundred years previously. But, in the complex web of political rivalries in the north, it seems that ethnicity never mattered as much as we might suspect. What was important was that political and economic privileges were secured for the monks, and a Viking king, dependent on the monastic community for his power, was much less likely to interfere than the Saxon kings of Wessex, who were currently adding the non-Scandinavian areas of Mercia to their own kingdom and were threatening to swallow up the rest of England.

Coins minted in York provide the names of two kings with Scandinavian names, who probably ruled York shortly after Guthfrith: Cnut and Siefrid. These coins, with Latin legends and modelled on the coinage of the kings of Frankia, provide an important illustration of how, already, these conquerors were absorbing and adapting west European customs to their own advantage. No Scandinavian king minted his own coinage in Scandinavia until around 995, and these early coins in Denmark, Norway and Sweden were essentially copies of Anglo-Saxon ones, but the new Viking kings of York recognized the enormous propaganda value of circulating their own proclamation of victory and power. Every time someone used one of these coins, they were reminded who was king of York. The names of the people who produced these coins, which were normally given on the reverse of the coin, were predominantly Anglo-Saxon or Frankish during the early years of Viking power in York, which demonstrates the conquerors’ dependence on the expertise of native or ‘imported’ craftsmen at this point – as well as these craftsmen’s co-operation with their new rulers. This was to change dramatically over the following century and, by around 1000, some three-quarters of moneyers had Scandinavian names. At the time of the Norman Conquest, all moneyers operating in York had Scandinavian names – a clear testimony to the popularity these names had enjoyed in the town following its capture by the Great Army in 866.

Although York was remote from the West-Saxon court, the Viking rulers of the north were inevitably drawn into the political struggles of the south. Indeed, it is likely that they encouraged them and tried to use them to their own advantage. Perhaps one of the most significant threats to the rule of the kings of Wessex in the period after the Scandinavian settlements was reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 899. Æthelwold, the nephew of King Alfred the Great, revolted against his newly crowned cousin, Edward the Elder, and was accepted as king of Northumbria by the Danish army. The young prince was later also acknowledged as leader by the Vikings in Essex and incited East Anglia to rebellion before being killed by Edward the Elder’s army. His threat to Edward’s throne, rather than his alliance with Vikings, was probably the greater of his crimes and in its description of Æthelwold’s death one version of the Chronicle, compiled at Winchester in the heartland of Wessex, stresses that it was Æthelwold who had incited the Scandinavian king of East Anglia, Eohric, to hostility. Interestingly, the so-called northern version of the Chronicle has slightly different wording at this point, and simply states that the Scandinavians had chosen Æthelwold as their king. To the southerners, emphasizing Æthelwold’s treachery was the most important fact because he was so close to the throne that he could pose a real threat. A number of other significant facts underlie the Chronicle’s account of Æthelwold’s defection: clearly there was serious political unrest in Wessex and the Scandinavians in the north of England were quick to take advantage of it. Interestingly the Chronicle still describes the Scandinavians of Northumbria as a Danish army, an alien force to be reckoned with, despite its earlier talk of ploughing and settling down. Were the descendants of Halfdan’s army still really organized into an army over twenty years after they settled in Northumbria, or did the court-based chronicler want to play up the treachery of Æthelwold and the threat that Northumbria posed to Wessex in order to justify and glorify Edward’s actions and achievements? The Anglo-Saxon word for army is here, and as late as 1013, when describing Svein Forkbeard’s campaign of conquest in England, the Chronicle refers to the Scandinavian settlers of the Danelaw in this way:

And then Earl Uhtred and all Northumbria immediately submitted to him [Svein Forkbeard], and all the people in Lindsey, and afterwards the people of the Five Boroughs, and quickly after, all the raiding army [here] to the north of Watling Street.

Dorothy Whitelock notes that the word here seems to be ‘used in the sense of the organised inhabitants of an area of Danish settlement.’ Clearly, almost 150 years after the first Scandinavians settled in northern and eastern England, the colonists were no longer the soldiers of a Viking army, but memories of their ancestors lived on in English minds.

The episode of Æthelwold’s rebellion neatly demonstrates that the Viking Age in England was more than the straightforward clash of Scandinavians and English: there was north-south rivalry and, more particularly, conflict between Wessex and the rest of England as Alfred the Great’s descendants sought to unite the country under their own rule. In the north of England, this brought them into conflict with the Scots as well as the Vikings. Edward’s ‘reconquest’ of the Danelaw was a campaign to strengthen his own position rather than an idealistic or ethnically driven crusade to put England under English kings again – the fact was that the kings of Wessex had never before held power in northern England. The presence of the Vikings in the north provided a convenient excuse and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to extend southern power into the north, where longestablished English dynasties had been driven out by the Scandinavians and where the new rulers were not yet properly or securely established.

As the Æthelwold episode and the ‘reconquest’ show, however, the Viking kings of York were not the only force to be reckoned with in the Danelaw – East Anglia, the Five Boroughs of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford, and Lincoln, and areas of the present-day counties of Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire had each been occupied by different ‘armies’ which recognized different leaders and rulers, some of whom are named in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s account of the reconquest of the Danelaw. Many of these men bore the title of jarl, the Scandinavian word for earl, or hold, a lesser noble, but some are called king: for example, Eohric of East Anglia who was killed in 904 with Æthelwold; Eowils and Halfdan of Northumbria who were killed in the Battle of Tettenhall in 910; and an unnamed king killed at Tempsford in 920. The geopolitical fragmentation of the Danelaw is also reflected in the way that Edward and his sister, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, won territory from the Vikings bit by bit: the southern part of Danelaw (Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire) had fallen to Edward and Æthelflæd by 914; East Anglia was brought under English control in 917; the reconquest of the Five Boroughs was accomplished in the period 917-920; while, despite the capture of York by Æthelflæd in 918, the southern part of Northumbria, the old kingdom of Deira, remained intermittently independent until the death of its last Scandinavian king in 954.