The Russo-Turkish War (1811)

Ottoman Army Early 19th Century.

Portrait of Mikhail I. Kutuzov. G. Dawe, 1829. After Count Kamensky died in April 1811, Kutuzov was appointed commander-in-chief of the Danube army. Several months were dedicated to preparation, and on June 22 (July 4), 1811, the Russian army thoroughly defeated the outnumbered Turkish army (15 to 20,000 against 60,000) near Ruse (Turkish: Rusçuk). Soon, another part of the Turkish army was blocked and then captured near Slobozia.

Hostilities had opened between Russia and Turkey soon after Russia and Austria had been humiliated at Austerlitz in 1805. The following year Sultan Selim III had deposed the pro-Russian Hospodars of Wallachia and Moldavia (parts of modern-day Romania), whilst France occupied Austrian Dalmatia. This seriously threatened what was known as the ‘Danubian Principalities’, consisting of modern-day Romania and Serbia. Russia looked upon these areas as a safeguard against any possible attack on Russian territory from the Balkans. Fearing such an attack, Russia promptly advanced a force of some 40,000 men into the principalities to deny them to any others, particularly France. The sultan’s reaction was decisive, declaring war and blocking off the use of the Dardanelles to Russian ships. The subsequent actions of Admiral Seniavin and his victory over the Turkish fleet at Athos, and the deposing of Selim III have already been covered.

The Turkish armies had not performed any better than their fleet. Count Gudovich with 7,000 men had destroyed a Turkish force numbering no fewer than 20,000 men at Arpachai on 18 June. A vast Turkish army advancing into Wallachia was also defeated at Obilesti three days later, on 21 June 1807, by General Mikhail Miloradovich, with just over 4,000 troops.

The war might well have petered out at this point had not the Treaty of Tilsit enabled the Russians to transfer large numbers of their troops from central Europe to Bessarabia, bringing the size of their army up to 80,000 men. However, this sizeable force, under the ageing Field Marshal Prozorovsky, achieved virtually nothing, losing great numbers of troops in a vain attempt to storm the fortress of Brailov. Eventually, in August 1809, Prozorovsky was superseded by Prince Bagration, who immediately crossed the Danube with the army and laid siege to Silistra, but abandoned the attempt on the advance of a Turkish relieving army.

Hostilities were renewed in 1810 with Count Nikolay Kamensky (who had superseded Bagration) defeating these Turkish reinforcements and again attacking Silistra, which finally surrendered on 30 May. Kamensky tried to take a number of other fortresses without success, which cost him a great deal of time and huge numbers of casualties, but he did succeed in defeating a 40,000-strong Turkish army at Vidin on 26 October. In February 1811 Kamensky fell ill and died, leaving his forces under the command of General Louis Andraut de Langeron. But for all of this fighting, and despite numerous successes, Russia was no closer to a final victory.

Relations were also beginning to sour between Napoleon and Alexander over Russia’s clear disregard for the Continental System,1 and therefore Alexander appointed his favourite, General Mikhail Kutuzov, to command his forces in the south with clear orders to force Turkey to the peace table as quickly as possible. Kutuzov astounded everyone, promptly evacuating Silistra and beginning a retreat northward. The Turks took confidence from this manoeuvre and an army of 60,000 men was amassed at the fortress of Shumla. Kutuzov’s army, numbering some 46,000, finally stood against the Turks at Rousse on 22 June 1811 and defeated the Turkish hordes. Kutuzov, however, did not take advantage of his victory, but rather ordered his army to retire once again into Bessarabia. Alexander was livid at this retreat and demanded an explanation, but Kutuzov simply said nothing.

In late October 1811 the Turkish army under Lal Aziz Ahmet Pasha, of around 70,000 men, began to cross the Danube. Some 50,000 men crossed the river, whilst the remaining reserve of 20,000 remained on the eastern bank guarding the stores and food supplies. On the night of 2 November 1811 a large Russian cavalry force crossed the Danube and launched a terrible attack on the Turkish reserve, destroying it completely and slaying around 9,000 men. The main Turkish army was now stranded on the western bank and virtually surrounded; even more seriously, all their supplies had also been captured. At this point Kutuzov launched an all-out attack. He surreptitiously allowed the Pasha to escape, knowing that the Grand Vizier was forbidden from ever taking part in any peace negotiations. With him gone, Kutuzov sought negotiations and after some procrastination peace was signed with Turkey on 28 May 1812, Russia gaining Bessarabia by the treaty.

Peace with Turkey was urgently needed as Napoleon had spent the spring of 1812 in drawing troops from every corner of Europe to congregate in Poland, to form the largest army the world had ever seen. Napoleon was about to invade Russia; nobody knew how it would end at that moment, but that decision was going to change everything. As the campaign season arrived in 1812, few realised how momentous the following six months would be in world history and how rapidly the balance of power in Europe would change. This was as true in the Mediterranean as anywhere else.

But we cannot ignore another war that broke out that summer; it had been brewing for some time and had the potential to seriously hamper British efforts against Napoleon. For years the rapidly expanding American merchant fleet had been complaining loudly against the British insistence on their right to board American ships and to remove any British men found on board. This high-handed approach had caused serious resentment, particularly when American sailors were wrongly accused of being British and were taken off to serve in the Royal Navy. In reality, there was wrong on both sides. Whilst the Americans claimed that some 5,000 American sailors were taken into the British navy, it also has to be admitted that America’s merchant fleet had grown so rapidly, acting as a neutral carrier, that they had enticed some 10,000 British merchant seamen to join their ships for higher wages. It is also true that numerous American ships had been detained by the British for breaking the rules on supplying materials to Napoleon’s Europe, but again it was true that French frigates and privateers had been equally guilty of capturing hundreds of American merchant ships. Indeed, the American government became so upset with Britain and France over these issues that it contemplated going to war with both at the same time! However, sanity prevailed and on 12 June 1812 President Maddison declared war on Britain.

This involved a number of embarrassing single-ship defeats for the British navy and an unsuccessful American invasion of Canada. But even during the height of this war, American merchant ships continued to be granted licences to ship badly needed grain to Spain to feed Wellington’s army. However, this war had virtually no effect on the war in the Mediterranean, except for the capture of an odd American merchant vessel to boost prize money.

The research paper examines the attempts by the Ottoman and Persian Empires to destabilize the situation in the North-Western Caucasus and Transcaucasia on the eve and during the Patriotic War of 1812. It focuses on countermeasures against the Turkish plans, taken by peaceful Circassian princes and Russian regional administration. With the use of new archival documents, we were able to reconstruct the picture of Circassian raids on the Russian territory in 1812—1814. The paper also retrace the picture of the Kakheti uprising and its orchestrating process considering Napoleon’s invasion of the Russian Empire. The sources used to prepare the work include archival documents stored at the State Archives of the Krasnodar Krai, Krasnodar, Russia, and the Central State Historical Archives of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia. A considerable part of the archival material has never been published before. In conclusion, the authors note that both Persia and Turkey strove to widely leverage the war between Russia and France to their own advantage. The consolidated efforts of the Russian administration thwarted the attempt by Turkish intelligence agents in Circassia to use the anti-Russian Circassian militia in combat operations against Russia. At the same time, Persia achieved impressive progress in destabilizing the situation in Transcaucasia. The uprising was led by Georgian Tsarevich (An heir apparent of a tsar) Alexander, and the region of the uprising comprised Kakheti. In the area, Russian troops had small garrisons that were to protect Kakheti and central Georgia from Lezgin attacks. It was them who fell victim to insurgents. In terms of the number of casualties among the Russian army soldiers, the uprising in Kakheti in 1812 can be described as the deadliest incident in Transcaucasia in the 19th century. At the same time, the Treaty of Bucharest and Treaty of Gulistan, which ended the Russo-Turkish (1806—1812) and Russo-Persian (1804—1813) wars, were the first diplomatic acts that legally formalized a fait accompli — the annexation of a large part of Transcaucasia to Russia.

Source: Aleksandr A. Cherkasov, Larisa A. Koroleva, Sergei Bratanovskii, Nugzar Ter-Oganov (2019). The Russian-Turkish and Russian-Persian Front Line on the Eve of and During the Patriotic War of 1812. Bylye Gody. Vol. 52. Is. 2: 585-595

The End of Germany’s WWI in Europe

As the year 1917 drew to its close, the Allied war effort rested almost solely on the shoulders of the United Kingdom and its empire — a situation serious enough to persuade the British prime minister to once again address the question of peace negotiations. His speech to the British Trade Union Congress of 5 January 1918 followed a peace feeler by the German secretary of state, Richard Kühlmann. Under what came to be known as the ‘Kühlmann Peace Kite’, the Berlin government was willing to accept terms favourable to Britain. Belgium and Serbia were to be restored, Alsace-Lorraine to be returned to France, and there would be colonial concessions to Britain. As there was no reference to Russia, the Germans obviously expected compensation at Russia’s expense. The Kühlmann Peace Kite soon turned out to be another diversionary manoeuvre, like the German peace talk a year earlier, but the possibility of peace in the east offered a way out of Britain’s difficulty.

Referring to the German-Bolshevik peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, Lloyd George expressed his regret that the current Russian rulers had withdrawn from the war and had commenced negotiations with the enemy without consulting the Allies. Thus the latter had ‘no means of intervening to arrest the catastrophe which is assuredly befalling their country. Russia can only be saved by her own people’. Lloyd George did not call for the destruction of Germany or Austria-Hungary; nor did he want Germany to lose her former position in the world. Only her quest for world domination was to be abandoned. The demand for a democratic order in Germany, it was hoped, would strengthen the position of moderate elements in German politics against the OHL. The independence of Belgium, of course, had to be restored, and Alsace-Lorraine returned, but his reference to Russia offered Germany a chance of peace with gains in the east.

Lloyd George’s speech, which also aimed at securing the support of the British workforce for a further year of war, was almost immediately overshadowed by a move that was to have enormous consequences for the peacemaking of 1918–19 and the rest of the century: president Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Announced by the president on 8 January 1918, they played a key part in the evaluation of the post-war peace treaties, and in particular the Treaty of Versailles. Since the signing of the treaty, accusations have been made that international guarantees allegedly made by the president in the Fourteen Points were not honoured. The losers were deceived and treated in a dishonest manner. As will be shown below, according to post-war German political and historical accounts, this failure to follow ‘Wilsonian principles’ was the chief injustice imposed on the German nation in 1918–19. Over the years, this interpretation has also gained considerable support in some in the former Allied nations. The importance of this issue for the subsequent discussion in this book calls for a brief analysis of the Fourteen Points.

Wilson made his proposals in January 1918, at a time when U.S. troops were still to arrive in Europe in significant numbers. They were another attempt by the president to stop the slaughter and to establish peace. No doubt he also hoped that the success of his initiative would spare the Americans major combat and loss of life. That some of his points later became part of the peace treaties, and were incorporated into the charter of the League of Nations, did not make them post facto into a binding legal document or a set of immutable laws for the peacemaking process. They did not and could not constitute more than another step on the part of the president towards finding a way to end the war; nor were they meant to. Any serious peace negotiations could only commence in collaboration with the Allies — above all, Britain and its empire, France, and Italy, who had borne the brunt of the war on various fronts for three-and-a-half years.

The first five of Wilson’s points dealt with general issues: (1) open covenants and abandonment of secret diplomacy; (2) freedom of the seas in times of war and peace; (3) freedom of trade; (4) reduction of armaments; and (5) a fair settlement of colonial issues.

Of these, the first two had a short life. Article 2 was not accepted by Britain. The first demand, to establish open covenants, was also abandoned before the peacemaking process proper commenced. Wilson himself acknowledged that open diplomacy, which would involve media access to the negotiations, would allow the deleterious effect of public opinion to influence the proceedings, rendering meaningful negotiations impossible. As the subsequent century has shown, noble as are the goals of abandoning secret diplomacy, no government lays bare its security and surveillance policies.

Articles 6 to 13 contained demands affecting specific countries involved in the war. There was to be withdrawal of foreign troops from Russia (Article 6); from Belgium (Article 7); from France, which included Alsace-Lorraine (Article 8); and from Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro (Article 11). The peoples of the multinational empires of Austria-Hungary and Turkey were to be given the freest opportunity for autonomous development (Articles 10 and 12), the frontiers of Italy were to be adjusted along recognisable lines of nationality (Article 9), and there was to be an independent Polish state with free and secure access to the sea (Article 13). Last but not least was the formation of an association of nations to secure international stability and order (Article 14).

The Allies’ enthusiasm for Wilson’s latest peace initiative was lukewarm. Officially, the British, French, and Italian governments backed his proposals. After all, they included some of the Allies’ key demands — withdrawal of German troops from France, Belgium, and large parts of south-eastern Europe, free access to the sea for Poland, and adjustment of Italian frontiers — and, of course, the last thing they could afford at the beginning of 1918 was to put off the U.S. Behind the scenes, however, they held fears that the ‘holier than thou’ president Wilson, with his Presbyterian idealism and his belief that it was his God-given task to secure world peace and democracy, would monopolise the peacemaking process and might give away at the peace table what the soldiers had been fighting for so bitterly — a settlement that would put an end to future German aggression.

Their concerns were soon laid to rest. Little more than two weeks after Wilson’s proposal of the Fourteen Points, the new German chancellor, Georg Friedrich von Hertling, who had succeeded the ousted Bethmann-Hollweg in November 1917, rejected both peace moves on behalf of the German government and military. Germany’s military leaders remained firmly committed to the fight for realisation of their maximalist war aims, and all political parties with the exception of the Independent Socialists rejected the Allies’ proposals outright, despite the fact that acceptance would have left the German empire in a far stronger position in the peacemaking process than was the case at the year’s end.

The OHL, and in particular Ludendorff, obviously buoyed by their victory in the east, would ensure that there were rich pickings. Negotiations with the new Bolshevik government started on 22 December in the Belo-Russian city of Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky, who led the Soviet delegation, tried his best to avoid a catastrophe for Russia. In mid-January, the chief German negotiator, Max Hoffman, presented the German demands. These included the establishment of independent states in the Polish and Baltic regions formerly belonging to the Russian empire, and in the Ukraine.

For a month, Trotsky tried various tactics to stall the negotiations, in the hope that the revolution would spread to Germany or that Germany might be defeated in the west. But when the Germans, tiring of his efforts, resumed their military offensive on 18 February, the Soviets had no alternative but to surrender. This time, the terms were much harsher. Russia ceded more than 290,000 square miles of land and around a quarter of its population. This territory effectively contained the countries of Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and Belarus, where the Germans immediately set out to establish client states. Russia, in addition to its population losses, lost half of its industries, nine-tenths of its coal deposits, one-third of its railway network, one-third of its agrarian lands, and its complete oil and cotton production. The treaty, which achieved the maximalist war aims spelt out by the German establishment as from September 1914, aroused the sort of popular euphoria that had greeted the outbreak of war, and was supported with great enthusiasm by the middle-class parties in the Reichstag. As the SPD had always maintained that Germany was fighting a defensive war and was not bent on achieving territorial gains, its caucus members officially abstained from voting. Again, only the Independent Socialists voted against Brest-Litovsk.

To most Germans, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk seemed to confirm that the stand taken by the war leadership was the correct one, further enhancing the prestige of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. The German victory in the east had the effect of consolidating the social, economic, and political system of Wilhelmine Germany, rather than hastening its demise.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk did not end German expansion in the east. Their forces continued to push into southern Russia, occupied the Crimea, and, after reaching the Black Sea, advanced into Trans-Caucasia. In August 1918, the Soviets signed a further treaty that forced them to cede Georgia, surrender all of Russia’s gold to Berlin, pay six billion marks in reparations, and leave the full exploitation of the Donetz Basin coal-fields to Germany. As German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler aptly comments, ‘[T]he constellation in the East in the summer of 1918 make the goals of Hitler’s Russian politics in no way appear as the megalomaniac visions of a fantasist, a foreigner who imposed himself on German history, but as the concrete continuation of the state of affairs already established a generation earlier’. The jubilation of the OHL over their conquests in the east was to be ephemeral: dark clouds had massed in the west.

Imperial Germany’s final attempt to defeat the Western Allies began on 21 March 1918. Backed up by artillery fire from 2,800 guns and 1,400 heavy mortars, a force of close to four million men, attacking on a front of 50 kilometres, managed to penetrate 60 kilometres into enemy territory. It was Ludendorff’s last hoorah. ‘Operation Michael’ ran out of steam on the second day. As in the summer of 1914, inadequate transport ensured that the advancing troops could not be properly supplied with reinforcements, ammunition, and, this time in particular, food. Allied forces were able to regroup, and managed to push back all subsequent attempts to break through. At the end of April, Ludendorff had to admit that the attack had failed. He continued for another two months with various efforts (‘hammer-blows’) to bring about a change in the fortunes of war, but 1.5 million casualties had brought Germany’s fighting capacity close to its end. In mid-July, the Allies started their counter-offensive. Because of the losses Germany had incurred in Operation Michael, the Allies had the advantage in manpower. Moreover, 100,000 motor trucks ensured that there would be no supply problem (the German army at its peak could boast only 20,000 motor cars). The Allied advance was supported by 1,500 British and French tanks, while the sum total of German tanks was 80, most of them out of action. France and Britain had also gained control of the air: France alone was able to put 3,440 aircraft into the sky.

The French commenced the offensive, and succeeded in pushing back the Germans at a rapid rate. They were joined at the beginning of August by British, Australian, and Canadian forces who, on 8 April at Amiens, broke decisively through the trench-line for the first time in the war. The breakthrough was supported by 500 tanks, which this time made easy work of the barbed wire. Now there was no halting the advance. On 29 September, British and Australian troops broke through the well-fortified Hindenburg Line, which rapidly collapsed, and the German war effort was suddenly in free fall. The soldiers, undernourished, and physically and mentally exhausted, deserted in droves. The OHL was forced to admit that the war had been lost and that the government should seek armistice negotiations.

It speaks to the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the supreme command that they blamed everyone but themselves for Germany’s defeat. On 1 October, Ludendorff, who more than anyone had been responsible for the mindless prolongation of the slaughter, instructed the Kaiser ‘to bring those people into the government [the Reichstag members — in particular, the Social Democrats] who are largely responsible for things having turned out as they have. We shall therefore see these gentlemen enter the ministries, and they must now make the peace that has to be made. They must now eat the soup that they have served us’.

The view that the German military had fought bravely and well to the end, and would not have faced defeat but for the civilian government and the political left, was widely shared by the German officer corps. They were to despise the Republic that emerged from the war. Ludendorff’s shifting of responsibility was the beginning of a legend that was to bedevil Weimar democracy from the beginning. The alleged breaking of the Wilsonian promises and the ‘stab in the back’ legend would play a key role in the rise of National Socialism.

Götterdämmerung (The End)

The news that Germany’s war effort had collapsed was received by the Reichstag, politicians, the media, the civilian administrators, and the public at large with the greatest incredulity. The OHL had continued to maintain that Germany’s victory was imminent until they stared defeat in the face. However, there was no time to procrastinate about the responsibility and the reasons for defeat. The Supreme Army Command had insisted that armistice negotiations commence immediately. A hastily convened new government under Prince Max of Baden, to date an unknown political quantity, which included Reichstag members and even Majority Socialists, approached the U.S. president on 4 October to commence negotiations based on his Fourteen Points. It must be pointed out, however, that the formation of this government was seen by the OHL and its political and economic backers as a temporary measure intended to solve Germany’s hopeless military situation. With peace established, the generals were confident and determined that there would be a return to — what was to them — the state of political normality: the traditional Kaiser system with its inequality, class system, and social discrimination.

On 5 October 1918, French intelligence detected that the newly formed government had secretly approached Wilson for an armistice. The realisation that the president was considering a response to the German request without consulting his Allies stung the Entente leaders, who angrily informed Wilson that they would not negotiate an armistice agreement on the basis of the Fourteen Points. Wilson’s note of 15 October to the German government, which stressed that armistice conditions could only be worked out in full consultation and co-operation with his Allies, and that they would commence only after serious constitutional changes had been implemented (which included the abdication of the kaiser), did little to pacify the governments in London and Paris.

Wilson’s note immediately brought cries of foul play from the German establishment. They claimed that, by attempting to dictate the peace (Friedensdiktat), the Allies were playing a cheating game. In the meantime, the conflict between those who tried to save as much as possible of the old imperial system and proponents of a constitutional monarchy dragged on until the end of October, when the latter carried the day. All attempts to establish a workable political solution were cut short by the consequences of the decision of the German admirals to sail their ships from their anchorage at Kiel to challenge the Royal Navy. Apparently it was more important to save their honour and that of the German navy than to go on living since, given the vast superiority of the British battleships, it would have been nothing more than a suicide mission. The sailors, on hearing the news, decided that they preferred life, and mutinied. They were joined within a day by workers in the city, where on 2 November a Soldiers and Workers Council was formed. This had a snowball effect throughout Germany, and little more than a week later the once mighty Imperial Germany was overthrown by revolution.

In the midst of this revolutionary turmoil, the Allies finally agreed on a reply to the German request for an armistice. Following three weeks of acrimonious confrontation — at one point, Lloyd George angrily announced that if the Americans wanted to make peace with the Germans, they should do so, but that the British nation would then continue the war itself — the victorious powers drafted the armistice conditions, which they handed to a German delegation on 8 November at Rethondes in the forest of Compiègne. Peace was to be based on president Wilson’s Fourteen Points, with the following addendum, drawn up by U.S. secretary of state Robert Lansing on the insistence of Lloyd George, and since referred to as ‘Pre-Armistice Agreement’ or the ‘Lansing Note’:

Further, in the conditions of peace laid down in his address to the Congress of January 8, 1918, the President declared that invaded territories must be restored as well as evacuated and freed. The Allied Governments feel that no doubt ought to be allowed to exist as to what this provision implies. By it they understand that compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea and from the air.

The public was not made aware of this addition, and one of the many stratagems used by the subsequent German government to undermine the Versailles Peace Treaty was to claim that they had been made to believe that peace was to be based on what were to be called Wilson’s ‘original points’.

Then followed the other armistice conditions (also largely concealed from the public eye): German armies were to withdraw to the right bank of the Rhine, and three military bridgeheads were to be established by the Allies at Cologne, Mainz, and Koblenz, extending 30 kilometres to the east of the river. There was to be the surrender of huge quantities of military material and transport equipment, the immediate release of prisoners of war without reciprocity, the destruction of Germany’s U-boats and the internment of the bulk of the German naval assets, and the renunciation of the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest.30 The Fourteen Points, along with the Lansing Note and the armistice conditions, were to be binding — that is, there were to be no negotiations. There was no alternative to acceptance of the armistice conditions. At 11.00 a.m. on 11 November, the armistice was signed at Rethondes.

Two days before the signing, Kaiser Wilhelm II left Berlin for the Netherlands to seek political asylum, which was granted by the Dutch royal family. On 9 November, a revolutionary government was formed in Germany, which immediately announced Wilhelm’s abdication as German Kaiser and King of Prussia.

To summarise, the signing of the armistice was not an act of preparation for a mutually negotiated peace agreement. It was an unconditional capitulation on the part of the German empire. But this was not how the events of 11 November were presented to the German people — nor, if it had been, would they have believed it.

The Red Army of the Russian Civil War

The supreme achievement of the Soviet government in the civil-wars years: the creation of the Red Army. Much of the credit for this has, rightly, been apportioned to war commissar L. D. Trotsky.

The foregoing account of the 1919 campaigns concentrated on the White advances because the Reds tended not to make grand strategic decisions in that year. Rather, they reacted to the probings of their opponents and took advantage when the latter collapsed. That, however, is not to downplay the supreme achievement of the Soviet government in the civil-wars years: the creation of the Red Army. Much of the credit for this has, rightly, been apportioned to war commissar L. D. Trotsky.

The Red Army was born out of the disintegration of the Imperial Russian Army, which the Bolsheviks had done so much to foster (regarding the army as a nest of real and potential counterrevolutionaries). Prior to October 1917, the party’s propagandizing among troops fostered disorder and desertion; after October, Sovnarkom issued an avalanche of decrees canceling all ranks and titles, permitting the election of officers, expanding the competences of soldiers’ committees, and ordering the demobilization of successive classes of conscripts. All this culminated in the order for a general demobilization of the old army on 29 January 1918. However, the disintegration of the old army did not necessarily imply the creation of a new one.

Like most socialists, the Bolsheviks generally despised militarism and regarded the standing army as the chief instrument of state oppression of the working class. For them, especially those consolidating around N. I. Bukharin, A. S. Bubnov, and V. M. Smirnov as the nucleus of the Left Bolsheviks within the party, one of the essential purposes of the revolution was to destroy the army and to replace it with a democratic militia system. As advocates of the untapped potential for revolutionary creativity of the proletariat, the Left further considered that any subsequent conflict, either domestic or international, would be conducted according to quite different principles of organization and strategy—a concept they dubbed “revolutionary war”—in which what would count would not be military training or experience but the unstoppable and incorruptible élan of the workers-in-arms. However, the militia system failed at the first hurdle, during the German invasion of Soviet territory in February 1918 that was occasioned by Sovnarkom’s initial reluctance to accept the peace terms on offer at Brest-Litovsk. It had been expected that at least 300,000 recruits would come forward for this partisan army, but only around 20,000 were mustered (a third of them from Petrograd). Consequently, the German advance was virtually unopposed during the “Eleven-Days War,” and the Soviet government had to accept the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

All this had an immediate impact on Trotsky, who resigned as foreign commissar and became People’s Commissar for Military Affairs on 14 March 1918. A dedication to order, routine, hierarchy, and discipline was central to his character and style as a revolutionary, and he soon began to impose those characteristics on the Red military. Within a week of becoming war commissar, he was telling the Moscow Soviet, “Comrades! Our Soviet Socialist Republic needs a well-organized army,” and went on to assert:

While we were fighting with the Kaledinites we could successfully remain content with units which had been put together in haste. Now, however, in order to cope with the creative work of reviving the country . . . , in order to ensure the security of the Soviet Republic under conditions of international counter-revolutionary encirclement, such units are already inadequate. We need a properly and freshly organized army!

But how was such an army to be organized and led? Certainly Trotsky knew such a task would be beyond his own capabilities and those of the other journalists and activists who led the Bolshevik party. So, in a leap of faith that must be regarded as one of the key moments in the civil wars, Trotsky grasped the nettle and, in address of 28 March 1918 to a Moscow city conference of the party, he focused on what he termed the “sore point” in party discussions, which for him had to be at the heart of the new army:

the question of drawing military specialists, that is, to speak plainly, former officers and generals, into the work of creating and administering the Army. All the fundamental, leading institutions of the Army are now so constructed that they consist of one military specialist and two political commissars. This is the basic pattern of the Army’s leading organs. . . . Given the present regime in the Army—I say this here quite openly—the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree.

Within a few weeks, more than 8,000 former officers were serving in the Red ranks, and by the end of 1918, 30,000 of them were employed—not as “officers,” but to spare Bolshevik blushes, as “military specialists” (voenspetsy)—a disproportionate number of them being graduates of the imperial Academy of the General Staff.95 There were, of course, cases of treachery and desertion by voenspetsy (notably when virtually the entire faculty of the Academy of the General Staff itself went over to the enemy on the Volga during the summer of 1918), which fed the fires of opprobrium that leftist party radicals felt for this “treachery” to proletarian principles. Also, Trotsky’s wish—expressed in an article of 31 December 1918 eulogizing “The Military Specialists and the Red Army”—that he was returning to the topic “for the last time, I hope,” was not realized: residual Left Bolshevik resentment at such confounding of revolutionary purity remained widespread (and was voiced with great bitterness at a conference of Bolshevik army delegates in late March 1919). Critics of the employment of voenspetsy could point out that it had, after all, been stated, in the Sovnarkom decree of 3 January 1918, which first mentioned the creation of such a force, that “the Red Army of Workers and Peasants will be formed from the most conscious and organized elements of the working masses”—a definition that hardly encompassed the employment of the military elite of tsarist Russia. Debates on this issue would become particularly vitriolic and divisive at the Eighth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in March 1919, where concessions had to be made to Trotsky’s opponents in order to defuse a sizable “military opposition” within the RKP(b). This loosely organized group was demanding that military commissars be afforded a greater role in decision making within the army and that party institutions should assume a larger role in directing a Red Army that was increasingly manned by conscripted peasants. Although it was claimed at the time, by Trotsky, that only 5 out of 82 voenspetsy army commanders ever deserted, a more recent investigation of materials in the Russian archives has established that some 549 highly valued genshtabisty deserted from the Red Army in the period 1918–1921, and that in total, almost one in three voenspetsy managed to flee to the enemy. Yet despite this debilitating and dangerous hemorrhage, and despite the lingering qualms of the Leftists, at least the principle of utilizing officers and experts had been firmly established, and the majority of officers employed in the Red Army (including 613 genshtabisty) remained at their posts.

Left Bolshevik (and Left-SR) irritations were at least partly salved by a second, truly revolutionary aspect of the new army: the appointment of so-called military commissars to all units. Although this office was based on the far-distant precedent of a similarly named institution at the time of the French revolutionary wars, and while the Provisional Government of 1917 had also named its special plenipotentiaries at the front and in the regions “commissars,” the military (or political) commissar of the Red forces was an original phenomenon. It was, in fact, one of the key martial innovations of the Reds during the civil war. According to an order signed by Trotsky on 6 April 1918:

The military commissar is the direct political organ of Soviet power in the army. . . . Commissars are appointed from among irreproachable revolutionaries, capable of remaining under the most difficult circumstances, the embodiment of revolutionary duty. . . . [They] must see to it that the army does not become disassociated from the Soviet system as a whole and that particular military institutions do not become centers of conspiracy or instruments to be used against the workers and peasants. The commissar takes part in all the work of the military leaders, receives reports and dispatches along with them, and counter-signs orders. War Councils will give effect only to such orders as have been signed not only by military leaders but also by at least one military commissar.

He was equally insistent, though, that “the commissar is not responsible for the expediency of purely military, operational, combat orders.”

In terms of army administration, the aforementioned Supreme Military Council was at the apex of a still nebulous command hierarchy of what was becoming, in the first half of 1918, the “Worker-Peasant Red Army.” This new, revolutionary armed force had been first mentioned by (a similar) name in a Sovnarkom decree of 3 January 1918 (“On the Formation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army”), but did not begin to become a living reality until its founding units were mustered from 23 February of that year (a date subsequently celebrated as “Red Army Day” in Soviet Russia). The Supreme Military Council itself replaced the improvised Revolutionary Field Staff and was given the tasks of providing strategic leadership to the armed forces of the Soviet Republic and overseeing the building of the Red Army. Following the setbacks on the Volga during the summer of 1918, however, it was abolished on 6 September 1918 and was replaced by the Revvoensovet (Revolutionary Military Soviet, or Council) of the Republic (RVSR), which restored some of the influence of senior commissars. In the midst of these events, on 2 September 1918, Vācietis was promoted to main commander in chief (Glavkom) of the Red Army (his predecessor, M. D. Bonch-Bruevich, who had failed to recognize the crucial importance of the Eastern Front, was quietly shunted aside). On 11 September 1918, the RVSR then devised a formal structure for the entire Red Army, which was divided (initially) into five armies, each with 11 divisions of between six and nine regiments (plus reserve units), grouped around three fronts (the Northern Front, the Eastern Front, and the Southern Front) and the Western Fortified Area. Revvoensovets were then established for each army (from 12 December 1918), military commissars were assigned to shadow commanders and to offer ideological guidance and motivation to Red forces, and regular units finally displaced almost all irregular (“partisan”) formations. The structure of the Red Army that would eventually emerge victorious from the wars was thus essentially in place before the end of the first year of serious struggle. Moreover, with control of the heartland of the old empire firmly established, the Soviet regime was able to draw upon the stocks of supplies meant for the old army—supplies that had had to be stretched to breaking point in 1916–1917 to maintain the Imperial Russian Army of some 10,000,000 men, but which would provide rich pickings for a Red Army that would never put in the field more than 5 percent of such a figure.

Thus, the new Red Army (unlike the Whites) had some central, strategic direction (greatly aided by the fact that the Soviet government had inherited, wholesale, the central administrative apparatus and personnel of the old army—from telegraphists to typewriters).105 The Whites were far less fortunate in this respect, having to rely on the meager resources of the outlying military districts of tsarist times to which they had been confined. The coordinating organs of the Red Army were then topped off, following a VTsIK decree of 30 November 1918, with the formation of the Council of Workers’ and Peasants’ Defense (from April 1920, the Council of Labor and Defense, the STO). This body, which was chaired (ex officio) by Lenin and included Trotsky (as chair of the RVSR, although he was rarely available to attend its meetings), Stalin (as the representative of VTsIK), and several people’s commissars of the most interested commissariats, was created by Sovnarkom but was coequal to it, as STO directives were considered to be the equivalent of state laws. It played no part in the formation of military strategy, but STO sought instead to direct and coordinate the work of all economic commissariats with all institutions having a stake in the defense of Soviet Russia. In the circumstances of a confusion of civil wars, it managed that task with relative success. Again, the Whites had nothing to compare with it.

From May 1918, the nascent Red Army could also begin to draw on a steadier stream of recruits, as a general mobilization was instituted and the volunteer principle was abandoned, although the registration of those eligible was rudimentary and the nonappearance and desertion of mobilized men remained a problem. By late 1918, the Red Army was still a long way from resolving this issue, but it was much closer to doing so than were its rivals, and signs were apparent that a solution acceptable to both sides of this bargaining process—the citizens and the state—was achievable. Back in June 1918, the Bolsheviks had attempted to mobilize all workers and all “nonexploiting” peasants aged 21–25 years in 51 districts of the Volga and the Urals, but in the absence of a functioning central draft organization, impromptu and usually unsuccessful local levées had had to be attempted. Hardly more was achieved by a countrywide draft on 11 September 1918, while even by early 1919 drafts were widely evaded; for example, in May 1919, a month after a draft was initiated, Tambov had produced precisely 24 recruits of the 5,165 anticipated, and by the time this round of mobilizations was called off (in June 1919) just 24,364 of 140,000 expected recruits had been mustered.108 In his examination of this phenomenon, Erik Landis describes “hundreds of thousands” of deserters taking up arms in the Red rear and this “green army” severely compromising the stability of Red fronts from around April to September 1919 (just as Denikin was preparing his advance). According to one pioneering Western study of the phenomenon of desertion, the rate of flight was so great throughout the civil wars that ultimately the Reds were only able to triumph over their enemies by dint of the larger pool of men they could draw upon.

This may well have been the case, but a more recent investigation concludes that retention rates were gradually improving in the Red Army. In the most insightful examination of this process to date, Joshua Sanborn dates the beginning of it to a decree passed at the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets on 10 July 1918 that linked citizenship to military service and obliged all healthy men aged 18–40 years to come forward. Improvements thereafter he attributes to the Soviet state building an apparatus that could be seen to apportion the burden of mobilization at least reasonably fairly among its citizens—the crucial factor being that the system was one that was central, not local, and therefore perceived to be less open to abuses. In sum, Sanborn concluded, the Bolsheviks “created a state-sponsored discourse that finally incorporated the idea that soldiers acquired rights when they performed their national duty.” In particular, they were assured that their families would be cared for and that they, as soldiers, would be respected by the state and would acquire privileges above those granted to other citizens. Tied to this, though, was a degree of flexibility in the approach of the state. The Red Army could, of course, unleash terror against those who deserted, and by April 1919 the Anti-Desertion Commission had established numerous branches at local levels, which organized armed patrols to comb the countryside and snare runaways and had the power to confiscate property from the families of known deserters and those suspected of assisting or harboring them. But, as Sanborn notes, commanders actually used a “two-pronged” approach to desertion. This was reflected in an order by Lenin of December 1918 in which, while describing deserters as “heinous and shameful” and representative of “the depraved and ignorant,” he nevertheless offered a two-week amnesty for those absentees who returned to their units. This was accompanied by a nationwide propaganda campaign to convince shirkers and deserters that they could not hide and would be punished, while the Red Army Central Desertion Commission urged that repression be mixed with “proof of concern for the families of Red Army soldiers.” Finally, an intensive and extensive “verification” campaign seems to have been particularly effective throughout 1919, during which all those men of draft age in the Soviet zone were required to attend meetings at which their eligibility for military service would be checked. Of course, given the ongoing chaos, this was never applied universally, but in the second half of 1919, 2,239,604 men attended such meetings and 272,211 of them were then enrolled in the armed forces. By August 1920, a further 470,106 men were recruited by this means. Thus, noted Sanborn, “a military service consensus had been reached and conscription normalized.” Certainly the White forces never came close to emulating this—although their failure to do so had as much to do with a lack of administrative resources in the peripheral areas in which they operated as with ignorance of the importance of such systems of social control. On the Red side, the results were clear: a Red Army of 800,000 men in January 1919 would become one of 3,000,000 by January 1920.

White Defeat in the Russian Civil War

The Red versus White struggle was decided on the battlefield, but the outcome of civil wars also depends on the contenders’ ability, through politics and propaganda, to convince people to fight for them (or at least not to raise arms against them). In this field, governance, the Whites were a spectacular failure. Consequently, no matter how successful their main military thrusts were, when the tide turned and advances morphed into retreats, the Whites had nothing to fall back on. Hence the precipitous collapse of the AFSR, the North-West Army, and Kolchak’s Russian Army.

This is not to say that the Whites did not try to compete with the Bolsheviks on the political plane—however much their background in the Russian military tended to incline them to regard “politics” as a dirty word (a feeling amplified by the disasters of 1917). Both Kolchak and Denikin actually elaborated political programs in 1919 that might—despite the generally held perceptions of the Whites as “reactionaries”—broadly be described as “liberal.” They repeatedly committed themselves to resuscitating local governments, to respecting the right of the non-Russian peoples to self-determination, to respecting the rights of trade unions, and to radical land reform, and vowed that, upon victory in the civil war, they would summon a new national assembly to determine the future constitution of the Russian state. Kolchak, whose Omsk government was more stable, rooted, and fully developed than the rather nebulous and peripatetic Special Council that advised Denikin, tended to take the lead in such matters, but both the main White military camps had phalanxes of Kadet auxiliaries to add flesh to the bones of their declarations on politics and to staff their press agencies, advisory councils, and bureaus of propaganda. Moreover, there is little doubt that both Denikin and Kolchak held genuinely progressive views on a range of issues, including the necessity of radical land reform in Russia—the key issue of the previous century—and that both were entirely sincere in their protestations that they had no personal desire to hang on to political power for a moment longer than it would take to drive Lenin from the Kremlin. Also, although the document that established the Kolchak dictatorship (“The Statute on the Provisional Structure of State Power in Russia”) made no provision for its termination, the admiral put on public record, in a speech at Ekaterinburg in February 1919, for example, a solemn pledge that he would not retain power “for a single day longer than the interests of the country demand,” and asserted that “in the future the only admissible form of government in Russia will be a democratic one.” And these declarations reaped some rewards: in May 1919, for example, the Big Four at Paris were sufficiently impressed with Kolchak’s democratic credentials that they would consider recognizing his regime as the government of all Russia.

However well-drafted or well-intentioned, though, there was always something flimsy, half-baked, and unconvincing about White politics; and a lingering sense prevailed that neither Denikin nor Kolchak was much interested in the details of the political concerns that had been agitating Russia since—and, indeed, long before—February 1917. Moreover, however egalitarian were the personal beliefs and intentions of the major White leaders, who were far from the clichéd caricatures of prince-nez-adorned, sadistic fops of Bolshevik propaganda, this could not disperse the stench of restorationism that suffused their camps, which were heavily populated with the former elite of the Russian Empire. British officers with the mission in South Russia, for example, who had been invited to a banquet held by the local branch of the Union of Landowners at Novocherkassk, soon sensed that they were among “a hot-bed of monarchists” and were deeply embarrassed when one of the guests (a cousin of Nicholas Romanov) ordered the orchestra to play “God Save the Tsar,” the old imperial anthem (which had been banned since the February Revolution).

Consequently, although Denikin’s land laws and labor legislation might have promised fair treatment to peasants and workers, the populace of territory occupied by the AFSR invariably felt the whip and wrath of returning landlords and factory bosses, who had been driven out by the wide-scale seizures of private property that had accompanied the spread of Soviet power in 1917–1918 and now sought revenge and recompense. The same rule applied in the east, as Kolchak’s forces advanced from Siberia (where large, landed estates were almost unknown) across the Urals to the Volga region (beyond which they became general)—despite the fact that Kolchak himself was clearly committed to a progressive land reform resembling that assayed in Russia in the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution and that Omsk’s Ministry of Agriculture was teeming with former associates of the reforming prime minister of those days, P. A. Stolypin. Most telling of all was that Kolchak’s “Decree on Land” was not issued until April 1919, when his army’s move toward European Russia necessitated such action. Similarly, on the second great issue of the day—national self-determination—Kolchak also remained silent until the spring of 1919, when the focus of Paris on the Whites’ intentions prompted action—or at least more promises.

A variety of explanations might be adduced for such prevarication. A generous reading of White policy would emphasize that the movement was genuinely committed to a stance of non-predetermination—one that, disinterestedly, inhibited (even forbade) the introduction of significant reforms during the armed struggle; such acts, according to the doctrine, which was routinely espoused by the Whites, would have to await the decisions of a new constituent assembly, once the Bolsheviks had been defeated. A less generous exposition of the “White idea” could cite cynical distortions and maskings of their true aims by the Whites, in order to secure peasant recruits to man their armies and Allied weapons to equip them, while attempting to hoodwink any too-trusting members of the national minorities into accepting that promises of self-determination emanating from Omsk and Ekaterinodar were real.

The Whites’ evasive and contradictory stance on the nationalities question was particularly damaging to their cause (given that, especially in South Russia and the northwest, they tended to be operating from bases in lands where Russians were in a minority and non-Russians were using the postimperial and post–world war hiatus to fashion their independence. Thus, Denikin would occasionally sing the praises of self-determination, yet more often espouse the cause of a “Russia, One and Indivisible,” while engaging in a prolonged border war (the “Sochi conflict”) with the Democratic Republic of Georgia, and also directly insulting the Ukrainians by referring to that land by the condescending tsarist-era term “Little Russia.” He would also offer up such alarming suggestions regarding the proper delineation of a new Polish–Russian border, in the wake of the establishment of the Second Polish Republic at the world war’s end, that Warsaw would call a halt to his army’s operations in the spring of 1919 and then enter into secret peace talks with Moscow that would facilitate the redeployment of 40,000 men from the Red Army’s Western Front to its “Southern Front, Against Denikin” in the autumn of that year. Another instructive example was the case of Daghestan and its neighbors in the Caucasus, who had united in an autonomous Mountain Republic. This regime had initially been dissolved by the Bolshevik-dominated Terek Soviet Republic at Vladikavkaz in the spring of 1918, but had reestablished itself as Soviet power crumbled in the North Caucasus later that year. It then had repulsed a new Soviet offensive in April 1919, only to find that, when Denikin’s forces subsequently occupied the North Caucasus and then Daghestan, it had to flee again—this time from the Whites.

In Siberia, Kolchak had less immediate concerns with the non-Russian nationalities, who were not present in sufficient numbers within his realm to cause harm (although the desertion from his front line around Ufa, in February 1919, of 6,500 Bashkir forces, who had despaired of their treatment by the Whites, left a big hole in the front line). However, as supreme ruler his pronouncements on the issue had national and international consequences, and here it was revealing that Kolchak should choose the case of Finland, which was already independent and certainly unrecoverable, to dig in his heels: when General Mannerheim, in July 1919, offered a deal whereby his 100,000-strong army would capture Petrograd for the Whites in return for some not inconsiderable but hardly outrageous conditions (recognition of Finnish independence, the secession to Finland of Pechenga, self-determination for Karelia, free navigation through Lake Ladoga for Finnish merchant vessels, etc.), Kolchak refused to agree. His advisor, George Guins, would plead with him that “the prime aim must be the defeat of the Bolsheviks and only second the putting back together of Russia,” but the admiral would not recognize the logic of such an approach. For Kolchak, Russia could not be saved from the Bolsheviks if it was in pieces, because Russia in pieces was not Russia.

So, both generous and cynical approaches to White politics have elements of truth to them. Over and above such considerations, however, it has to be conceded that—for what they regarded as the purest of motives—the White leaders distained all politics; their contempt for what they, as officers, regarded as an unwholesome and ungentlemanly pursuit was at least honest, if misguided, and was certainly reinforced by the depressing experience of 1917, when all Russia seemed to have turned into a vast, endless, clamorous, and pointless political meeting.

The Whites’ distaste for politics, and especially class-based politics, knitted perfectly with the claim of their Kadet allies to be, as a party, “above class” and “above politics” (although, again, a cynic might point out that the Kadets were calculating here that there was no strong bourgeois class in Russia that might support their liberal platform) and with that party’s historical tendency to place nation above all else. Moreover, the particular circumstances of post–world war Europe at the moment, over the winter of 1918–1919, that the White movement reached maturity, strongly reinforced this predilection. The White leaders were all too well aware that although there were ranks of irreconcilable anti-Bolsheviks in and around the governments in London, Paris, and Washington, there were many Allied politicians who did not fear the Soviet government, or who hoped to use Russia’s discomfort to their own countries’ advantage, or who were genuinely overwhelmed by war-weariness. In these circumstances, the end of the world war might not prove advantageous: consequently, a Kolchak supporter in the Russian Far East, for example, recorded his impressions of the sight of British Tommies celebrating the armistice as “not particularly joyous,” as civil wars waged on in Russia; the admiral’s secretary, the aforementioned Guins, would reflect that the collapse of Germany had been “fatal to the anti-Bolshevik struggle”; and one of his generals would bluntly assert that, from 11 November 1918 onward, “Kolchak had no Allies.” Consequently, if Kolchak and his supporters were to win what they desired above all else—the admittance of Russia to the family of Allied “victor nations,” a seat at the forthcoming peace conference, and the opportunity to ensure that their country was properly rewarded for the very considerable part it had played in the world war—the lesson was clear. A few days after having assumed the mantle of “supreme ruler” in November 1918, Kolchak spelled out that lesson:

The day is dawning when the inexorable course of events will demand victory of us; upon this victory or defeat will depend our life or death, our success or failure, our freedom or ignoble slavery. The hour of the great international peace conference is now near and if, by that hour, we are not victorious then we will lose our right to a vote at the conference of victor nations and our freedom will be decided upon without us.

Kolchak’s calculations were correct. In November–December 1918, nothing was done by the Allies to dissuade Romania from snatching formerly Russian Bessarabia from its German occupiers. Then, at meetings on 12–19 January 1919 in Paris, the Council of Ten decided that no Russian representatives would be afforded a seat among them. Days later, in accordance with a scheme devised by Lloyd George and Robert Borden, the prime minister of Canada, an invitation was sent out by radio (from a transmitter atop the Eiffel Tower) suggesting that all warring parties in “Russia” should meet at a separate peace conference at Prinkipo, off Constantinople, in the Sea of Marmara. When informed of the latter, Kolchak was aghast and spluttered, “Good God! Can you believe it? An invitation to peace with the Bolsheviks!” Had he been told some weeks later, in early March 1919, that a senior American diplomat, William C. Bullitt, was at that moment being entertained in Moscow, was parlaying in a semi-official manner with Lenin, and was offering very generous terms to end the intervention, Kolchak’s language might have been less temperate. Then, in April, news broke of a scheme approved in Paris for supplying food relief and medicine to the peoples of Russia, including those in the Soviet zone. Kolchak’s precise response to news of this initiative of Fridtjof Nansen is unrecorded, but he probably found himself in unusual accord with Trotsky, who, surveying the scene on 13 April 1919, commented, “We have before us a case of betrayal of the minor brigands by the major ones.”

In the light of all this, it seems sensible to conclude that analyses of the Whites’ defeat in the civil wars that focus on their tardy, half-hearted, and haphazard attempts to win political support are—however accurate such a portrayal—ultimately misguided. “All for the Army,” as the mantra went at Omsk, was probably a reasonable response to the circumstances of the time. The price to be paid, however, in terms of popular support and the concomitant ability to absorb and bounce back from military defeats, was revealed in the manner in which all four of the major White fronts disintegrated once their advances had been turned.

Slaughter at Chinju

While Hideyoshi wined and dined the Ming envoys at Nagoya, his commanders in Korea were preparing once again for battle. Their target: Chinju. This strongly fortified southern city, sixty kilometers to the west of Pusan, had remained a sore spot with the Japanese ever since they had failed to take it in November of the previous year. In that battle a disciplined force of only 3,800 Koreans held out for five days against a 15,000-man army from Mori Terumoto’s seventh contingent from Honshu, inflicting such heavy casualties—some accounts put the figure as high as fifty percent—that the Japanese were forced to withdraw. This loss never ceased to rankle the Japanese. It also left an enemy stronghold in uncomfortably close proximity to their defensive perimeter on Korea’s southern tip. There were a number of hawks within the Japanese camp, meanwhile, notably Kato Kiyomasa and Kobayakawa Takakage, who felt angry and humiliated at the unexpected setbacks suffered in the war, and who now urged Hideyoshi to allow them the opportunity to inflict one final attack against the incompliant Koreans, a parting blow to remind them and in turn the Chinese that the might of Japan remained undiminished and would have to be appeased.

It was for these three reasons that Hideyoshi, although ostensibly immersed in negotiations with the two Ming envoys, sent the order to Kato in Korea: attack Chinju. Wipe it off the map.


News of the planned assault on Chinju soon reached the ears of Ming negotiator Shen Weijing at Pusan, passed to him by Konishi Yukinaga, who claimed that he had tried without success to dissuade Kato from launching such an attack. Shen in turn warned Commander in Chief Kim Myong-won, explaining that the Japanese were out to avenge themselves upon the Koreans for defeating them at Chinju the previous year, for destroying so many of their ships, and for repeatedly ambushing Japanese soldiers who were out working in the fields. Shen assured Kim that the coming attack would be a single act of face-saving aggression, and not part of any renewed offensive to grab more territory. The Koreans should therefore keep clear of Chinju for a time and let the Japanese have their revenge, for then they would be satisfied and would surely return home.

Some among the Koreans were willing to accept Shen Weijing’s advice. Guerrilla leader Kwak Jae-u, the famous “Red Coat General,” said that while he was prepared to sacrifice his own life, he was not willing to throw away the lives of his men in what was clearly a lost cause. Others, however, were determined to hold the city at any cost. Government-official-turned-guerrilla-leader Kim Chon-il was one of the first to enter Chinju at the head of three hundred volunteers (“an unruly mob gathered from the streets of Seoul,” observed Yu Song-nyong), and immediately tried to assume overall command, much to the aggravation of the city’s magistrate, So Ye-won. Others followed: Hwang Jin, army commander of Chungchong Province, with seven hundred men; Kyongsang Army Commander Choi Kyong-hoe with five hundred; Vice-Commander Chang Yun with three hundred; guerilla leader Ko Chong-hu, who had seen his father Ko Kyong-myong slain in the Battle of Kumsan, with four hundred. Yi Chong-in, the magistrate of Kimhae, also arrived and assumed a leadership role.

In Seoul, Li Rusong received the news of the planned Japanese attack with understandable consternation and dispatched orders to his generals in the south to take steps to halt the move. From his camp near Taegu, “Big Sword” Liu Ting sent a message to Kato Kiyomasa at Ulsan reminding him that any aggression against Chinju would be an abrogation of the armistice that existed between their two armies, and would lead to further hostilities. Kato made no reply. Liu also sent an aide to Chinju itself to inspect the city’s defenses and offer assurance of Chinese support in the event of an attack.

By the middle of July between 3,000 and 4,000 Korean defenders had gathered within the walls of Chinju, a force roughly equal to the one that had held off 15,000 Japanese attackers in November of the previous year. They were by no means all crack troops, however, and would be facing an army of possibly 93,000, the bulk of Hideyoshi’s remaining invasion force plus reinforcements recently sent from Japan. There was no way the Koreans could stand against such overwhelming numbers, the largest single enemy force so far assembled in the war. “Red Coat General” Kwak Jae-u saw this clearly, and urged his friend Hwang Jin not to throw his life away trying to defend the place. Hwang agreed that Chinju was probably doomed. He had already given his word to Kim Chon-il and others, however, that he would stay and fight. So stay and fight he must. As Kwak Jae-u rode sadly away, knowing he would never see Hwang again, the defenders of Chinju raced to stockpile food and arms in preparation for the coming fight. Then the gates of the city were closed and barred.

In the second week of July a tidal wave of Japanese troops began filing out of the chain of forts encircling Pusan and moving west toward Chinju, looting and burning as they went. Kato Kiyomasa led the operation. This was a bit of appeasement thrown his way by Hideyoshi, in exchange for the two Korean princes he would soon be required to release. Kato was keeping these two royal teens, Sunhwa and Imhae, in comfortable confinement at his fort at Ulsan, and was not eager to give them up. He would have to, however, if negotiations with China were to bear any fruit. As a sop to his honor he was given Chinju instead.

By this time several tens of thousands of terrified civilians had joined the defenders holed up inside Chinju: women and children, the infirm, the aged, driven to take refuge by the violence of the Japanese advance. As this tremulous multitude peered out over the walls on the nineteenth of July, enemy units began arriving and took positions on three sides of the city: Ukita Hideie’s forces on the east, Konishi Yukinaga’s on the west, Kato Kiyomasa’s on the north. A fourth unit, Kikkawa Hiroie’s, could be seen on the other side of the Nam River, cutting off retreat to the south. Still others established an outer perimeter to guard against counterattack, until Chinju was surrounded “in a hundred layers” and looked like “a small, lonely boat in the middle of a sea.”

The assault began the following day, ashigaru foot soldiers peppering the ramparts with musket fire, keeping the Koreans down while their comrades filled in portions of the moat that had previously been dug outside the north wall. With this obstacle overcome, a unit of men advanced to the wall itself and began prying stones out from the base. The effort came to an abrupt halt when a cascade of stones fell down on them, killing some and driving the rest back.

The fighting continued day and night through July 21 and 22, the Japanese taking turns assaulting the walls and then falling back to rest, keeping up an unrelenting pressure on the Korean defenses. Then, on the twenty-third, they began erecting a mound of earth with a blockhouse on top adjacent to Chinju’s west gate, planning to use the elevation to fire their muskets over the wall and into the city. Inside the fortress the Koreans responded by rushing to build an elevated blockhouse of their own. The work was completed in a single night, many of the women within the city working alongside Chungchong Army Commander Hwang Jin in hauling basketfuls of soil and packing it in place. By morning the Japanese and the Koreans faced each other from atop similar elevated platforms, one outside the wall, the other within. In the exchange of fire that ensued, the Koreans managed to destroy the Japanese blockhouse with their cannons and, at least for the moment, put an end to the threat.

On the twenty-fourth the Japanese went to work again on the base of Chinju’s fortifications. The men assigned to the task, this time holding stout wood and leather shields over their heads, advanced to the base of the wall and began prying out the lower course of stones. The Koreans responded with a barrage of arrow and musket fire, but could not penetrate the thick roofs under which the Japanese were sheltered. It was only by dropping heavy stones down on the Japanese that they were finally able to kill some and drive the rest away.

At about this time it started to rain in torrents. It began for the Koreans as a welcome relief, for they were able to snatch a little rest when the Japanese, unwilling or unable to use their muskets in the wet, were forced to call off their assault. (By the late sixteenth century the Japanese had invented a cover for their arquebuses that allowed them to fire them in the rain, but it was an imperfect solution for keeping a wick lit and powder dry.) The downpour, however, soon turned into a curse, for the dampness went to work on the glue holding the Koreans’ composite bows together, rendering some of them useless, and also began washing away the soil at the damaged portions of the walls, weakening them even further.

During the respite the Japanese sent a message into the beleaguered city demanding its surrender. “The Chinese have already given up,” it read. “Why do you dare continue to resist?” Commander Kim Chon-il sent a reply flying back over the walls: “Three hundred thousand Chinese soldiers have been sent to help us. When they arrive you will all be destroyed.” The Japanese scoffed at this bravado, hoisting their trouser legs above the knee and miming effeminate Chinese officials running away.

Inside the city everyone was exhausted and spirits were low. In an effort to boost morale, Kim Chon-il climbed to a high lookout and, peering over the wall, announced that he thought he could see fighting going on in the distance, a sign that the reinforcements Ming general “Big Sword” Liu Ting had promised would soon be arriving to save them. This lifted everyone’s spirits for a time. But it was a lie. The Chinese were not coming, and Kim Chon-il knew it. Turning to his colleague Choi Kyong-hoe he said, “After I beat this enemy I will chew the flesh of Helan Jinming.” Kim, feeling abandoned and betrayed, was likening “Big Sword” Liu to a reviled commander from China’s Tang dynasty (618–907) who, in a well-known episode that forever blackened his name, refused to come to the aid of a beleaguered comrade and thereby ensured his defeat.

From his camp outside the city, Kato Kiyomasa was making preparations for a renewed attempt to undermine the walls. This time he had his men fashion four kame-no-kosha, or “turtle wagons,” heavily built carts with stout wooden roofs. These crude vehicles were wheeled up to the base of the walls, and parties of men went to work with crowbars on the lower courses of stones, prying them out one by one. The Koreans could see what was happening below but were unable to stop it, their arrows and musket balls and stones bouncing harmlessly off the roofs of the wagons. Someone finally had the idea of dropping oil-soaked cotton down onto the contraptions and setting them alight. Kato, calmly perceiving the weakness, promptly ordered more carts built, this time with fire-retardant ox hides nailed to the roof.

While this was going on, Japanese forces were applying pressure at many other places around the city. Five more elevated firing platforms were erected in front of the east and west gates, and a bamboo palisade was constructed along one side, allowing Kato’s musketeers to take up positions close to the walls. Inside the city, Hwang Jin, Kim Chon-il, and Kimhae magistrate Yi Chong-in fought desperately to repel these various advances, but their men were growing exhausting. During a lull in the fighting Hwang Jin leaned over the wall to assess the situation. “The trench out there is full of enemy dead,” he observed. “There must be more than a thousand….” At that moment a Japanese soldier hiding at the base of the wall aimed his musket straight up at Hwang’s exposed head and fired, sending a ball through the Chungchong Army commander’s helmet and into his skull. He fell down dead on the spot. Kim Chon-il replaced the fallen commander with Chinju magistrate So Ye-won, but So quickly proved unsuited for the task. The strain of six days of fighting had left the militarily inexperienced civil official unhinged, crying and riding around aimlessly on his horse, his scholar’s hat tossed carelessly to one side. Kyongsang Army Commander Choi Kyong-hoe, seeing that So’s erratic behavior was adversely effecting morale, intended initially to kill him as an example to the men, but in the press of events merely pushed him aside and replaced him with Vice-Commander Chang Yun. Within hours Chang himself was dead, killed by a musket ball just like Hwang Jin.

On July 27 the repeated forays by the Japanese to pry stones away from Chinju’s fortifications finally succeeded in collapsing a portion of the east wall. Kato Kiyomasa’s men were the first to enter the city. For the Koreans sheltering inside the end had come. They cried out to Kim Chon-il: “Commander! The enemy has breached the walls! What should we do?” There was nothing that Kim could tell them. He did not have enough men to resist the Japanese troops now pouring into the city; everyone was exhausted after a week of battle, every arrow had been fired, every stone had been thrown. And now there was no way at all to escape. Those who chose to die fighting did so with swords and spears and bamboo staves, no match for the muskets and katana of the Japanese. The rest abandoned their positions and raced from one wall to the other, searching in vain for a way to get out. As the Japanese proceeded to tear the city to pieces, Kim Chon-il and his eldest son Kim Sang-gon, accompanied by army commander Choi Kyong-hoe, guerrilla leader Ko Chong-hu, and a few others, retreated to the Choksongnu pavilion on the south wall of the city overlooking the Nam River. After bowing to the north, toward the capital and their king, the men embraced and, with tears streaming down their faces, bid one another farewell. Then they joined hands and threw themselves into the water below.

Yi Chong-in continued to resist until the bitter end, fighting off the attacking Japanese in a rearguard action that took him onto the rocks at the edge of the Nam River. Here he is reported to have seized two Japanese in his arms and shouted, “Kimhae Magistrate Yi Chong-in is dying here!” He then cast himself into the water, carrying the two soldiers down with him.

Chinju magistrate So Ye-won met a less glorious end. Okamoto Gonojo, a samurai in the service of Kikkawa Hiroie, came upon him sitting on a tree stump, injured and exhausted, and cut off his head. It rolled down an embankment and was lost in the grass. Not wanting to lose the prize, Okamoto sent two men down to retrieve it, and later had it pickled in salt and sent to Japan for presentation to Hideyoshi.

At least sixty thousand Koreans lost their lives in the Second Battle of Chinju. Most were killed in the massacre that followed the taking of the city, an orgy of destruction that has been called the worst atrocity of the war. The Japanese under Kato, Ukita, and Konishi had no mercy. They did not leave a cow or dog or chicken alive. In a frenzy of revenge against a nation that refused to be conquered, they pulled down the walls and burned all the buildings. They filled the wells with stones. They cut down every tree. When the destruction was finished Chinju ceased to exist. Since the beginning of the war, the Korean annals would later report, no other place had been so thoroughly destroyed, nor had loyalty and righteousness been so magnificently displayed.

A large number of civilians committed suicide in the wake of the fall of Chinju, many by drowning themselves in the Nam River. The most famous instance involved a local female entertainer, or kisaeng, named Non-gae, then no more than twenty years old. Shortly after the fall of the city, Non-gae went out onto the rocks at the base of the Choksongnu pavilion, where a group of senior Japanese commanders were having a banquet to celebrate their success. When the Japanese saw her beckoning to them seductively, “they gulped down their spit” but no one dared to approach. Finally one of them, reportedly a samurai named Keyamura Rokunosuke from Kato Kiyomasa’s contingent, drunkenly climbed down from the pavilion and out onto the rocks, Non-gae luring him on with an amorous smile. When he reached her she took him in a passionate embrace, then suddenly jumped into the river below, dragging them both to their deaths. This act of defiance and self-sacrifice would become widely celebrated in the decades that followed. In the eighteenth century the Chinese characters ui-am, meaning “righteous rock,” were carved on the face of the rock from which Non-gae was thought to have leapt. A shrine and commemorative stone would be later erected nearby. Today Non-gae is the symbol of the city of Chinju, and her story known to virtually every Korean.

Samuel Hawley taught English in East Asia for many years. His books include Speed Duel, about the land speed rivalry in the 1960s between Craig Breedlove and Art Arfons; I Just Ran: Percy Williams, World’s Fastest Human, about one of Canada’s greatest yet least known sports heroes; the companion volumes America’s Man in Korea and Inside the Hermit Kingdom on George Foulk, America’s representative in Korea in the mid 1880s; and the novels Homeowner With a Gun and Bad Elephant Far Stream. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.

This is a great book on a war that few in the West know about. [Equally great, in my view, is Stephen Turnbull’s “Samurai Invasion: Japan’s Korean War 1592 -1598.” Compared to Turnball, Hawley delves a little deeper into the Korean perspective, while Turnball has a wealth of detail on the Japanese. But this is not a criticism of either; I read them both, Turnball first, then Hawley, and in so doing it reinforced many of the key points of the war.]


The Assault on Haengju

Although the Ming army had retired to Pyongyang, the Japanese in Seoul were now surrounded on all sides by native Korean troops, guerrillas, and monk-soldiers, and were thus unable to venture into the surrounding countryside in anything but large, well-armed groups. Several companies of Korean government soldiers still remained to the north, forces under Commander in Chief Kim Myong-won at the Imjin River, General Yi Bin at Paju, and Generals Ko On-baek and Yi Si-on at Haeyu Pass. Twenty kilometers to the west at Chasong, a force of one thousand monk-soldiers attacked a Japanese unit and, at a cost of nearly half their number, succeeded in driving them back within the city walls. Two thousand monks under Yujong achieved similar results ten kilometers to the northeast at Surak-san, driving the Japanese garrison there back into Seoul and claiming the mountain for themselves. A third contingent of six hundred monks made an attack at Ichon in the southeast, again suffering heavy losses, but again driving the Japanese back into the capital.

And at Haengju to the west lay the biggest thorn of all: twenty-three hundred Koreans under Cholla Province Army Commander Kwon Yul, holed up in a wooden stockade on a bluff overlooking the Han River.

Kwon Yul was a fifty-five-year-old civil servant of middling rank from a family of note in Kyongsang Province. Before the war he had served, on Yu Song-nyong’s recommendation, as magistrate of Uiju on Korea’s border with China, and later as magistrate of Kwangju in the southwestern province of Cholla. Immediately following Hideyoshi’s invasion he raised troops in the Kwangju region and led them north in a failed attempt to halt the Japanese advance before it reached Seoul. He then returned south and participated in the defense of Cholla Province, which the sixth contingent of the Japanese army under Kobayakawa Takakage was threatening to overrun. Kwon distinguished himself by defeating Japanese units in two engagements, the Battles of Ungchi and Ichi, in the second week of August. Recognizing his ability, the government appointed him army commander of Cholla Province in the following month.

By this time Kwon had come to the conclusion that the Japanese were too skilled in warfare to be defeated on open ground, and that the Koreans should therefore fall back on their traditional strength of fighting from behind walls. He would make his first attempt at this in October of 1592 from a base at Toksan, a mountain redoubt two days’ march south of the capital, overlooking the main road from Pusan to Seoul. From an ancient Paekche dynasty fortress that they strengthened and enlarged, Kwon and his men attacked enemy foraging parties and small units passing along the road and generally proved troublesome enough that the Japanese high command in Seoul sent a company south to besiege the fortress. The effort, we are told, was soon abandoned. According to one report, Kwon fooled the Japanese into giving up and returning to Seoul by having a horse rubbed down with rice grains until its coat sparkled in the sun. To the Japanese watching in the distance it appeared that the animal had just been washed, a sign that the Koreans within had ample stores of water to withstand a lengthy siege.

Early in 1593 Kwon Yul led his men farther north in preparation for the anticipated allied attack on Seoul. Incorporating a unit of monk-soldiers under the priest Choyong into his ranks, he set to work strengthening a dilapidated fortress on a hill outside the village of Haengju on the north bank of the Han River ten kilometers west of the capital. It was a highly defensible position, protected at its rear by a steep drop-off down to the Han. If an attack came, it would have to be made uphill and from the north, straight into the Koreans’ concentrated fire.

With the retreat of the Ming army, Kwon Yul’s fortress at Haengju emerged as the greatest immediate threat to the Japanese in Seoul. On March 14 they decided to do something about it. Some hours before dawn, the west gate of the city was opened and a long line of troops filed out and turned toward Haengju, marching along the north bank of the Han to the accompaniment of drums and horns and gongs. The daimyo on horseback in the lead constituted an all-star cast from the Korean campaign. There was Konishi Yukinaga, leader of the first contingent that had spearheaded the invasion, recently back in Seoul after the retreat from Pyongyang. There were third contingent leader Kuroda Nagamasa, and Kobayakawa Takakage, hero of the Battle of Pyokje. There were Hideyoshi’s adopted son Ukita Hideie, the young supreme commander of all Japanese forces in Korea, and the veteran Ishida Mitsunari, one of the overseers sent from Nagoya to help him. Accompanying them were more than half the troops garrisoning Seoul, a total of thirty thousand men.

The twenty-three hundred Korean troops and monk-soldiers within Haengju fortress, crowded together with thousands of civilians who had fled their villages to seek shelter within the walls, watched the noisy approach of this enemy multitude with growing trepidation. When the Japanese arrived at the base of their hill in the soft light of dawn, the Koreans observed that each soldier had a red-and-white banner affixed to his back, and that many wore masks carved with fierce depictions of animals and monsters and ghosts. Panic was now hovering just beneath the surface, held in check by the calm authority of Commander Kwon Yul. As the Japanese busied themselves below with their pre-battle preparations, he ordered his men to have a meal. There would be no telling when they would have a chance to eat again.

The battle began shortly after dawn. The Japanese, so numerous that they could not all rush at the ramparts at once, divided into groups and prepared to take turns in the assault. Their strength must have seemed overwhelming to the Koreans. For once, however, the muskets of the Japanese were of only limited use, for in having to fire uphill they were unable to effectively target the defenders holed up within. Their lead balls simply flew in an arc over the fort and into the Han River beyond. The advantage was with the Koreans, firing down upon the attacking Japanese with arrows and stones and anything else that came to hand. They had a number of gunpowder weapons as well, including several large chongtong cannons and a rank of hwacha (fire carts), box-shaped devices built onto wagons that fired up to one hundred gunpowder-propelled arrows in a single devastating barrage. Alongside these more traditional weapons was an oddity that employed a spinning wheel mechanism to hurl a fusillade of stones. It was called the sucha sokpo, the “water wheel rock cannon.”

Konishi Yukinaga’s group led the Japanese assault. Kwon Yul waited until they were within range, then beat his commander’s drum three times to signal the attack. Every Korean weapon was fired at once, bows, chongtong, hwacha, and rock cannons, raking Konishi’s ranks and driving his men back. Ishida Mitsunari was the next to the attack. His force too was driven back, and Ishida himself was injured. Next up was Kuroda Nagamasa, the Christian commander of the third contingent, otherwise known by his baptismal name Damien. He had been thwarted once before by Koreans fighting behind walls, at the Battle of Yonan the previous year. This time he took a more cautious approach, positioning musketeers atop makeshift towers so that they could fire into the fortress while the rest of his force held back. A fierce exchange of fire ensued; then Kuroda’s men too were forced to retreat.

The Japanese had now attacked Haengju three times and had failed even to penetrate the fortress’s outer palisade of stakes. Young Ukita Hideie, determined to make a breakthrough in his, the fourth charge, managed to smash a hole in the obstacle and got near the inner wall. Then he was wounded and had to fall back, leaving a trail of casualties behind. The next unit to attack, Kikkawa Hiroie’s, poured through the gap Ukita’s forces had opened and was soon attacking Haengju’s inner wall, the last line of defense between the Japanese and Kwon Yul’s troops. The fighting now was at arm’s length, with masked warriors attempting to slash their way past the defenders lining the barricades, while the Koreans fought back with everything they had—swords, spears, arrows, stones, boiling water, even handfuls of ashes thrown into the attackers’ eyes. As the fighting reached its peak no sound came from Kwon Yul’s drum. The Korean commander had abandoned drumstick and tradition in favor of his sword and was now fighting alongside his men. At one point the Japanese heaped dried grass along the base of Haengju’s log walls and tried to set them ablaze. The Koreans doused the flames with water before they could take hold. In the seventh attack led by Kobayakawa Takakage, the Japanese knocked down some of the log pilings and opened a hole in the fortress’s inner wall. The Koreans managed to hold them back long enough for the logs to be repositioned.

As the afternoon wore on the Korean defenders grew exhausted and their supply of arrows dwindled dangerously low. The women within the fort are said to have gathered stones in their wide skirts to supply the men along the walls. This traditional type of skirt is still known as a Haengju chima (Haengju skirt) in remembrance of this day. But stones alone were not enough to repel the Japanese for long. Then, when all seemed lost, Korean naval commander Yi Bun arrived on the Han River at the rear of the fortress with two ships laden with ten thousand arrows. With these the defenders of Haengju were able to continue the fight until sundown, successfully repelling an eighth attack, then a ninth.

Finally, as the sun dipped below the horizon out beyond the Yellow Sea, the fighting petered out and did not resume. The Japanese had suffered too many casualties to continue. Their dead numbered into the many hundreds, and their wounded, including three important commanders, Ukita Hideie, Ishida Mitsunari, and Kikkawa Hiroie, were many times more. They had in fact been dealt a terrible defeat, the most serious loss on land so far at the hands of the Koreans. Throughout the evening the survivors gathered what bodies they could, heaped them into piles, and set them alight. Then they turned around and walked back to Seoul. One Japanese officer in the disheartened assembly would later liken the scene beside the Han River that day to the sanzu no kawa, the “river of hell.”

When they were gone, Kwon Yul and his men came out and recovered those bodies that the Japanese had been unable to retrieve, cut them into pieces, and hung them from the log palings of their fort. These grisly trophies were an indication of how much had changed for the Koreans since the beginning of the war, of how the previous ten months had transformed them from shell-shocked, indecisive “long sleeves” into bloodthirsty warriors, bent on revenge. The Japanese would not be able to hold their ground for long against such grim determination, not with their dwindling numbers and growing problems with supplies. Hemmed in by a foe of evidently growing strength, willing to endure enormous hardship and loss to drive them out, the withdrawal of the Japanese from Seoul became certain, with or without the intervention of the Ming Chinese.

Sooner or later, Hideyoshi’s troops would have to march south.

pigyok chincholloe

The Koreans brought with them a secret weapon. It was called the pigyok chincholloe (flying striking earthquake heaven thunder), translated by one writer as the “flying thunderbolt.” In the early hours of October 12, 1592, under the cover of darkness, Pak sent a group of soldiers up to the base of the walls of Kyongju where they set up and fired the weapon, hurling a mysterious ball of iron into the midst of the enemy camp. “It fell to earth,” a Japanese chronicler tells us, “and our soldiers gathered about it to look. Suddenly it exploded, emitting a noise that shook heaven and earth, and scattering bits of iron like pulverized stars. Those who were hit dropped dead on the spot. Others were knocked down as if by a powerful wind.” Only thirty-odd men were killed in the blast, but it so panicked Tagawa’s garrison that it abandoned the city and fled to Sosaengpo, leaving Kyongju and a large store of rice to the Koreans.

The pigyok chinchollae would be employed on other occasions in the Imjin War, notably at the First Battle of Chinju in November 1592, and at the Battle of Haengju in March of the following year. It was invented some time earlier in the reign of King Sonjo by Yi Chang-son, head of the government’s firearms department, probably as an adaptation of the catapult-fired pi li hu pao (heaven-shaking thunder) bomb previously developed in China and used against the Japanese in the failed Mongol invasion in 1274. Unlike the pi li hu pao, however, the pigok chincholloe was shot with gunpowder from a mortar, making it the world’s first mortar- or cannon-fired explosive shell. It was manufactured in various sizes, from a twenty-one-centimeter version fired from the Korean’s largest mortar, the daewangu, down to ten-centimeter models shot from the medium-sized chungwangu. The projectile itself was a hollow cast-iron sphere packed with gunpowder and pieces of shrapnel, with a delayed action fuse inserted through an opening in the top, consisting of a length of cord wound around a screw-like wooden core in turn inserted in a sleeve of bamboo. After the mortar was charged with gunpowder, the sphere was placed in the mouth, the end of the fuse protruding from its top was lit, and then the mortar was fired, hurling the device over a distance of five to six hundred paces. After it landed its fuse would continue to burn, spiraling down through the center of the sphere until it reached the base of the bamboo sleeve, ignited the gunpowder, and exploded the shell.

Samuel Hawley taught English in East Asia for many years. His books include Speed Duel, about the land speed rivalry in the 1960s between Craig Breedlove and Art Arfons; I Just Ran: Percy Williams, World’s Fastest Human, about one of Canada’s greatest yet least known sports heroes; the companion volumes America’s Man in Korea and Inside the Hermit Kingdom on George Foulk, America’s representative in Korea in the mid 1880s; and the novels Homeowner With a Gun and Bad Elephant Far Stream. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.

This is a great book on a war that few in the West know about. [Equally great, in my view, is Stephen Turnbull’s “Samurai Invasion: Japan’s Korean War 1592 -1598.” Compared to Turnball, Hawley delves a little deeper into the Korean perspective, while Turnball has a wealth of detail on the Japanese. But this is not a criticism of either; I read them both, Turnball first, then Hawley, and in so doing it reinforced many of the key points of the war.]



Although Morosini held overall command of Venetian forces, it would be Königsmarck who led most of the successful land campaigns.


Although Swedish, Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck was born in Minden, Northern Germany, where his mother had been accompanying his father on military campaigns. Following these campaigns, the family resided in Stade, where Königsmarck was privately educated before attending the University of Jena. He later undertook the Grand Tour, visiting many places in Europe.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Königsmarck became a military man and rose to the rank of Field Marshall, commanding Swedish forces at the Battle of Stralsund in 1678 during the Scanian War. He became the Governor of Swedish Pomerania in 1679. Königsmarck would later join Francesco Morosini during the Morean War, commanding Venetian land forces until his death from the plague in 1688.

In 1685, Konigsmarck took service with the Republic of Venice. Alongside the Doge of Venice, Francesco Morosini, he led the Venetian conquest of the Morea in the early years of the Morean War 1684- 1699 between Venice and the Ottoman Empire as commander of the Venetian land forces. He served in this role when Venetian artillery fire in 1687 accidentally destroyed major parts of the Parthenon, which the Ottoman Turks used for ammunition storage.

Swedish field commander General Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck wrote later: “How it dismayed His Excellency to destroy the beautiful temple which had existed three thousand years!”. By contrast Morosini, described it in his report to the Venetian government as a “fortunate shot”.

Mixed fleets of galleys and sailing ships dominated operation during the Morean War (1684- 99). Both sides found mixed forces of galleys and sailing warships were essential to support land operations. The stowage capacity of sailing ships made long-distance cruises more sustainable, such as the periodic Venetian blockades of the Dardenelles and speculative coastal raiding.

The first real Ottoman three-decker was a 108 gun ship commissioned in 1697 and participated in the last naval battles of the First Morean War (1684-99).

In 1684, the Venetian battleships effectively defended the lines of communication between Morea and the Holy League ports, but could not catch the Turkish galley forces which supported and reinforced the garrisons. Likewise, the Turks found that their galleys could not successfully attack Christian sailing warships. In 1690, 26 Turkish galleys failed to capture three Venetian warships which had been isolated during a lull in the winds.

Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck [German]

‘Even a Small Invasion might go a Long Way’ I

A flame fougasse demonstration somewhere in Britain. A car is surrounded in flames and a huge cloud of smoke. circa 1940.

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H(U) – Tauchfahig (U-Panzer / Submersible Tank)

‘I hear from Lancaster in the flats who has just been to Wickham Market in Suffolk, that on Saturday night and again on Tuesday invasion was attempted. Not one Nazi returned. Their bodies are still being washed up along our shores. That is the end of all Nazis who seek to molest our freedom – death.

Diary entry on 14 September 1940 by London schoolboy, Colin Perry. By a curious irony it was a quarter of a century before, on 8 September 1915 that Zeppelins had made their first big raid on London.

On Saturday, 7th September after a bath and a quick change into a respectable uniform a small party of fighter pilots of 242 Squadron at Coltishall in Norfolk were soon jammed into an ancient car and bounced along the narrow, winding road which leads to Norwich. Some hours later they were still wedged together in the crowded, stuffy bar of the ‘Bell’ when a posse of Service police stalked in and announced that all RAF personnel were to report back to their airfields at once. At Coltishall Pilot Officer ‘Johnnie’ Johnson and his fellow pilots found that Alert No. 1, ‘invasion imminent and probable within twelve hours’, had been declared by the responsible authorities and the defences were to be brought to the highest state of readiness. The scene in the mess could only be described as one of some confusion. Elderly officers, mobilized for the duration, darted about in various directions. Their CO was not to be seen and the pilots tried to get a coherent explanation of the situation. They soon heard half a dozen different versions, the most popular of which was that the invasion was under way and some enemy landings were expected on the east coast. Perhaps the CO and the flight commanders were already at dispersal and Johnson left the ante-room to make a telephone call from the hall. As he hastened along the corridor he almost collided with a squadron leader who stumped towards him with an awkward gait. His vital eyes gave Johnson a swift scrutiny, at his pilot’s brevet and the one thin ring of a pilot officer.

‘I say, old boy, what’s all the flap about?’ he exclaimed, legs apart and putting a match to his pipe.

‘I don’t really know, sir,’ Johnson replied. ‘But there are reports of enemy landings.’

The squadron leader pushed open the swing doors and stalked into the noisy, confused atmosphere of the ante-room. Fascinated, Johnson followed in close line-astern because he thought he knew who this was. He took in the scene and then demanded, in a loud voice and in choice, fruity language, what all the panic was about. Half a dozen voices started to explain and eventually he had some idea of the form. As he listened, his eyes swept round the room, lingered for a moment on his pilots and established a private bond of fellowship between them.

There was a moment’s silence whilst he digested the news. ‘So the bastards are coming. Bloody good show! Think of all those juicy targets on those nice flat beaches. What shooting!’ And he made a rude sound with his lips which was meant to resemble a ripple of machine-gun fire. The effect was immediate and extraordinary. Officers went about their various tasks and the complicated machinery of the airfield began to function smoothly again.

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940. Pattern of condensation trails left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight.

Vera Shaw, a plotter at 11 Group Headquarters, Uxbridge, wrote: ‘Early duty. Lovely day dawning, though trouble expected. Around 0800, warning from Command of a big raid. It came! 250-plus aircraft approaching Dover. Plots came thick and fast. Soon table covered with raids. Noise indescribable – why must everyone shout so? Squadron board shows all squadrons in combat. By midmorning the King and Mr. Churchill appear in the Controller’s room. At one stage, Mr. Churchill asked if we had any more squadrons to call on. ‘No,’ said the Controller.’

At 1554 hours the first track plotter at Bentley Priory reached forward to place an initial raid counter on the table map. Showing twenty-plus over Pas de Calais, it was quickly followed by others of growing size, until Dowding realised that this was the largest raid he had yet faced. As the full situation was flashed to Group and sector controllers, fighters of all three southern Groups were frantically brought to state. The first coastal Observer Corps report of the enemy formation reached the Maidstone centre at 1616 hours and told of many hundreds of aircraft approaching the coast between Deal and the North Foreland. Half an hour before, Hermann Göring, ridiculously bedecked in pale blue and gold had stood on the cliffs near Calais and watched wave upon wave of his bombers and fighters set course for London. Göring had launched 348 bombers and 617 single-and twin-engine fighters in the greatest aerial armada yet seen in the first of German ‘reprisal’ attacks on the capital following raids by RAF Bomber Command on Berlin. Hitler had seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by diverting Luftflotten (Airfleet) 2 and 3 from their attacks on the RAF sector stations to attack London. He wanted retribution for the raids on Berlin and in the process changed the entire nature of the battle. The German Airfleet commanders, Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperrle and Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring were divided on how to defeat RAF Fighter Command. Against his wishes, Kesselring had been discharged from the army on 1st October 1933 and appointed head of the Department of Administration at the Reich Commissariat for Aviation (Reichskommissariat für die Luftfahrt), the forerunner of the Reich Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium), with the rank of Oberst (colonel). Kesselring had become Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe on 3rd June 1936 and he oversaw the expansion of the Luftwaffe, the acquisition of new aircraft types such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Ju 87 and the development of paratroops. Like many ex-Army officers, he tended to see air power in the tactical role, providing support to land operations. On 1st October 1938 he was promoted to General der Flieger (air general) and became commander of Luftflotte 1, based in Berlin. While Sperrle wanted to continue the attacks on the fighter stations Kesselring argued that it was a waste of time as RAF Fighter Command could simply withdraw out of range to the north of London. ‘We have no chance of destroying the English fighters on the ground’ he said. ‘We must force their last reserves of Spitfires and Hurricanes into combat in the air.’ To do so he needed to attack London. An OKW Directive on 16 August had already said as much: ‘On D-1 day the Luftwaffe is to make a strong attack on London, which should cause the population to flee from the city and block the roads.’

It did nothing of the kind. Peter Wood, who was living in Tulse Hill in south London and working in the City for a shipping company was playing football near Crystal Palace when he heard some unseasonal thunder. He looked up to see the sky full of German bombers – but the game went on. ‘Literally dozens of Germans, accompanied by smaller aircraft which I took to be fighters, were going over at about 500 feet. There didn’t seem to be any gunfire from our defending forces at all. Fortunately for us, they overflew us, because they were obviously heading for the docks, for what was, as we know now, the first bombing of the docklands at that time. We shrugged our shoulders and carried on to finish our game of football. After that the bombing of London increased in volume and the routine was to sleep in a reinforced cellar where my wife’s family lived in Tulse Hill and when the all-clear went in the morning, you just got up, washed and dressed and went to work.’

This vast aerial armada, the greatest yet seen, had assembled 88 miles away over the Pas de Calais and headed towards the Thames Estuary on a twenty mile front stepped up from 14,000 feet to 23,000 feet. The more than a mile and a half high formation covered an astonishing 800 square miles, a sight which must have sent shock waves throughout Fighter Command when the radars first picked up the mass formation. At 1617 hours Air Vice-Marshal Park ordered eleven RAF fighter squadrons into the air and six minutes later all remaining Spitfires and Hurricanes were brought to Readiness. By 1630 all twenty-one squadrons stationed within seventy miles of London were in the air or under take-off orders. Take-off orders were passed to the pilots by the sector controller by telephone or loudspeaker. Flight Lieutenant Denis Robinson of 152 Squadron at Warmwell recalled: ‘The worst time was just waiting. When the phone rang the orderly would shout ‘Squadron Scramble – Angels 15 [15,000 feet].’ In an instant we were running to our aircraft, grabbing the parachute off the wing, buckling it on as you scrambled into the cockpit. Then pull on the helmet already attached to radio and oxygen supply, whilst somehow starting the engine. It was a grass field without runways, so it’s a matter of getting into the wind, keeping a sharp look-out for other aircraft, full throttle and away we go.’ Further instructions followed over the aircraft radio after take-off.

The RAF pilots who were sent up to intercept became embroiled in melees and attacks that might begin and be pressed home at any height from 25,000 feet down to near the ground. One moment there could be as many as 140 separate fights going on at the same time, the next pilots were seemingly alone. It was a situation that must have frozen the blood of even the bravest of men, if they had time to dwell on it. The situation demanded the utmost alertness and once sighted, the RAF pilots opened fire at an average of 200 yards, closing sometimes to less than fifty yards. As the first four squadrons of RAF fighters attacked the southern flank of the huge formation it was soon apparent to Dowding and Park that the Luftwaffe was heading for London and not the precious Essex and Kentish fighter airfields. Breaking out of a layer of haze east of Sheppey, fighter pilots found themselves on the edge of a tidal wave of aircraft, towering above them rank upon rank, more than a mile and a half high and covering 800 square miles, all heading for the capital. The full force of the raid was destined to fall on the east end of the city and the docks at Rotherhithe, Limehouse and Millwall and the Surrey Docks and those hard by Tower Bridge. The vast gasworks at Beckton and the West Ham Power Station shook and erupted under the storm of explosive. Two hours later fires were raging for almost ten miles down the banks of the River Thames. By 17:45 hours the German formations had turned south and east for home, scattered and disordered but still largely intact.

From 2010 hours until 0430 hours on Sunday morning a second wave of bombers – 318 Heinkels and Dorniers, their bomb loads composed of a high proportion of incendiaries streamed in from the east, stoking the fires which now raged scarcely checked along nine miles of waterfront, turning the already blazing fires into a raging inferno. Fire crews struggled to subdue firestorms. The devastating attack left 306 killed and 1,337 seriously injured in the capital itself and a further 142 killed in the suburbs. Despite the spirited and strong resistance put up by the fighter squadrons, not least the Poles of 303 Squadron, many of the bombers had a clear run over the capital, which was heavily bombed. Nineteen Fighter Command pilots were lost from the 28 fighters shot down and 41 German aircraft were destroyed.

At the height of the raid and in the belief that the large scale air attack on the nation’s capital heralded the invasion, GHQ Command Home forces issued the invasion imminent alert, code word ‘Cromwell’ to all army units in southern and eastern areas. The warning signified that an invasion attempt was expected at any time within the next 48 hours. Army units from Division down to Battalion level recorded receipt of ‘Cromwell’ between 2100 to 2130 hours. Throughout the following hours all units took up positions ready for immediate action, essential telephone and telegraph lines were taken over and in coastal areas, harbour authorities stood by ready to immobilise dockside facilities on receipt of more definite orders. The Home Guard were called out in parts of southern and eastern England and in many cinemas feature films were interrupted by onscreen notices advising military personnel in the audience to return to their barracks. Corporal Bunty Walmsley, a locally recruited WAAF who worked in the Operations Room at Stratton Strawless Hall on the Norwich to Aylsham road not far from RAF Coltishall on a six on-twelve off shift pattern in three watches, recalled that she with other members of her watch were suddenly roused from their beds and told to immediately assemble outside to be addressed by the WAAF Commanding Officer. Garbed in various forms of night attire, they all staggered outside looking the worse for wear. The next moment their Commanding Officer appeared, dressed in full uniform and, to their amazement, proceeded to inform them that the Germans had invaded the south coast and that further landings were likely. She went on to say that if Coltishall should be involved, she expected each one of them to defend the station by any means possible. Bunty’s only weapon was a poker allocated to her billet! In the morning, they were all due to report for their watch at 0800 hours. On meeting up with some of the RAF section of her watch, the WAAFs discovered that none of them had been disturbed and were equally unaware of an invasion.

242 Squadron had spent another frustrating day at readiness at Coltishall waiting for 11 Group’s call. To them 7th September must have seemed like another opportunity missed as the squadron spent most of the day kicking its heels as reports filtered through of waves of German bombers attacking London. Finally, at 0445 hours, Operations rang and Bader and his pilots, straining at the leash, at last got the order to scramble. Once airborne ‘Woody’ Woodhall the sector controller at Duxford calmly told Bader that there was some ‘trade’ heading in over the coast. Wing Commander Alfred Basil ‘Woody’ Woodhall was a South African who in 1914 had been a lance corporal in the Witwatersrand Rifles before joining the Royal Marines. During the early 1920s, he had flown biplane torpedo bombers before transferring to the RAF in 1929. When war came, Woodhall had a desk job at the Air Ministry and he was posted to Duxford on 12 March 1940 as senior controller. When the sector controller directed his fighters to intercept a hostile raid a simple code was used between them: ‘Scramble’, take-off; ‘Angels (ten)’, height (10,000 feet); ‘Orbit’, circle (a given point); ‘Vector’ (one-eight-zero), steer (course of 180 degrees); ‘Buster’, full throttle; ‘Tally-ho!’, enemy sighted; ‘Pancake’, land. The South African asked Bader to ‘Orbit North Weald. Angels ten’ and added, ‘If they come your way you can go for them.’

Bader climbed to ‘Angels 15’. Nearing North Weald Woodhall called Bader again. ‘Hallo, Douglas. Seventy-plus crossing the Thames east of London, heading north.’ In the distance Bader saw black dots staining the sky. They were not aircraft. They were anti-aircraft bursts. This could mean only one thing. Over the radio Willie McKnight called out, ‘Bandits. 10 o’clock.’ Bader recalled, ‘We had been greatly looking forward to our first formation of 36 fighters going into action together, but we were unlucky. We were alerted late and were underneath the bombers and their fighter escorts when we met fifteen miles north of the Thames.’ All Bader could do was attack the formation of about seventy Dorniers of KG 76 and Bf 110s of ZG 2 heading for North Weald as best they could while eight Spitfires of 19 Squadron tried to hold off assaults from the Bf 109s flying high cover. When the claims were totted up they totalled eleven enemy aircraft and two probables; all for the loss of two Hurricanes and one pilot killed. On landing Bader rang the Operations Room in a fury to be told that they had been sent off as soon as 11 Group had called for them from Duxford. This was one of the recurring problems during this heavy last period of the battle. Next morning, 242 Squadron flew to Duxford where Bader and his pilots again spent a frustrating day waiting in vain to be summoned by 11 Group as the German bombers returned to bomb London.

When the belief that the large scale air attack on London heralded a German invasion, GHQ Command Home forces issued the invasion imminent alert, code word ‘Cromwell’ to all army units in southern and eastern areas. The warning signified that an invasion attempt was expected at any time within the next 48 hours. The war diary of the 2nd Liverpool Scots for Sunday, 8th September, records: ‘10:20 hours Code word ‘Cromwell’ called off, just another jittery flap. In some parts of the country they even rang the church bells.’ The ringing of church bells was the signal for an airborne invasion, causing several instances of mild panic. Very quickly the alarm was relayed to other counties and, before it could be countermanded, in various places actions began to be taken. In Lincolnshire, possibly owing to faulty communications, the local defence forces believed that the signal had been given because an unidentified boat had been seen off the coast and a motor-cycle dispatch rider raced from church to church in the city of Lincoln. While the bells of five of the churches began to ring out across Lincolnshire, warning the outlying villages that the Germans were coming, two Royal Engineer officers arrived at Lincoln railway station, reported to Mr L. J. Stephens, the District Superintendent and told him that the Germans had landed and therefore they had brought along explosives with which to destroy his railway yard. Stephens, a cautious man, insisted on telephoning the London and North Eastern Railway’s Southern Area Central Control. He found out the true situation and so Lincoln’s railway station was saved. But before the ‘Cromwell’ order was countermanded, several small bridges in Lincolnshire were destroyed by zealous sapper officers.

Although the invasion imminent warning should have remained operative for two days, it was called off by 1000 hours on the Sunday morning and virtually all units had been stood down. The diary of the 5th Battalion Kings Regiment at Felixstowe reported that all troops had ‘stood-to’ until 0915 and that there had been ‘no activity during the night’. The following entry also notes that officers met later in the morning to, ‘discuss [the] previous nights happenings.’ Army units along the east coast generally reported a quiet night, at least quieter than the previous Saturday night. Though the invasion alert was a false alarm, curious rumours of a real invasion attempt were already spreading through the eastern counties. The 165th Infantry Brigade received a letter from Divisional command saying that ‘the troops must be persuaded to think that the invasion threat is not over’. This directive was passed to all the Brigade’s subordinate Battalions, including the men of the 2nd Battalion Liverpool Scottish at Shingle Street. Why senior army officers were insistent that the ordinary soldiers defending the Suffolk coast needed to be told that the threat of invasion was not over (or needed reminding that it still existed) is difficult to understand especially given what happened later that same evening. And curiously, just weeks later these denials were being contradicted by Air Ministry bulletins suggesting an invasion attempt had been broken up by the RAF sometime during September. It was also reported that the RAF had bombed a large scale enemy invasion practice causing huge losses and it was claimed that the bodies of German soldiers had been washed up on shores from France to Norway – but there was no official mention of any on English beaches, at least not at first.