Yorkshire in the English Civil War: Opening Moves

The Earl of Newcastle quickly decided on a course of action. The bulk of his army would advance on Tadcaster from the east, along the main road from York, and attack Lord Fairfax’s army at Tadcaster. Newcastle’s Lieutenant-General, the Earl of Newport, would advance towards Wetherby and then attack Tadcaster from the northwest. Fairfax’s force would be trapped between the two forces and destroyed.

Lord Fairfax was well aware of his isolated and precarious position. He gathered as many troops as he could at Tadcaster and made preparations to defend the town by building a redoubt on the crest of the hill above the east bank of the River Wharfe. This fortification defended the town from any attack from the direction of York. There were several houses close to the redoubt and these may also have been fortified, although contemporary accounts make no mention of it. Another possibility is that these houses were demolished and their rubble used in the construction of the earthwork.

During 6 December the Royalist forces began their advance. Late in the day Lord Fairfax called a Council of War. The Parliamentarian commanders decided that their position was untenable. Sir Thomas Fairfax, Lord Fairfax’s son, gives a figure of only 900 men for the force his father had available and these were opposed by over 6,000 well-equipped Royalist troops a few miles to the east. Newcastle was advancing with the main body of the army, which comprised the foot, artillery and a few troops of horse: some 4,000–4,500 men. Newport’s flanking force was formed from the bulk of the army’s horse and amounted to about 1,500 men, although one Royalist account numbers them at 15,000 – obviously a zero too many!

Lord Fairfax decided that the only course of action was to withdraw his army towards the west, in the direction of Leeds. On the morning of 7 December, a large proportion of Fairfax’s men were formed up on Tadcaster’s main street ready to march, when firing broke out on the opposite bank. Fairfax had left a rearguard to defend the redoubt and this was now being attacked by Newcastle’s foot. Withdrawal was no longer an option and Fairfax had to stand his ground. Reinforcements were rushed across the bridge to support the earthwork’s defenders and the Royalist attack was brought to a halt. A second Royalist attack developed from the north along Mill Lane and succeeded in capturing a house close to the bridge and cutting off the defenders of the redoubt. A Parliamentarian counterattack recaptured the house and drove the Royalists back along Mill Lane. To prevent the Royalists repeating their attack a number of houses were set on fire. For the remainder of the day the battle degenerated into a long-range musketry exchange.

Although Newcastle’s prompt attack had prevented the Parliamentarians from withdrawing, the second half of his plan did not come to fruition. Why did the Earl of Newport not strike the town from the northwest as he had been ordered? The probable reason is that his force was accompanied by a pair of light guns and these, in combination with the state of the roads in December, conspired to slow him so much that he was unable to reach the battlefield. In Drake’s History of York a much more interesting reason is given. Drake states that Captain John Hotham despatched a letter to Newport, under Newcastle’s signature, ordering him to halt and await further instructions. If there is any truth in this it would have been a brilliant stroke by Hotham but would have meant that the Parliamentarians would have had to be aware of Newport’s flank march.

Although Lord Fairfax had held his ground, he was still in a dangerous position. In a letter to Parliament he asserted that he could have continued to hold Tadcaster had he not been low on gunpowder – a curse of armies throughout the Civil Wars. Without powder his musketeers could not oppose the enemy and Fairfax had no choice but to withdraw. It is interesting that Fairfax decided to withdraw to Selby, while Captain Hotham withdrew to Cawood. This seems a little strange as it was taking Fairfax away from his main area of support in the West Riding but it moved him closer to Hull which, as has already been mentioned, was a major magazine and a ready source of supply for him.

On the morning of the 8th the Royalists occupied Tadcaster. Newcastle then moved his army south and garrisoned Pontefract Castle. He also set up several other small garrisons, including one at Ferrybridge, which effectively cut off Fairfax from the West Riding. Elements of the Royalist army, under Sir William Saville, captured Leeds and on Sunday 18 December moved on to attack Bradford. Heavily outnumbered by the Royalist troops, the ill-equipped citizens of Bradford held their ground around the church and, once they had been reinforced by a body of men from the Halifax area, drove the Royalists off and sent them scurrying back to Leeds. During the action a Royalist officer had asked for quarter but the citizens who were attacking him did not understand what the term meant and cut him down. This led to the ominous term ‘Bradford quarter’.

Several days after the attack on Bradford Sir Thomas Fairfax arrived at the town with reinforcements. He immediately put out a call for volunteers to carry out an attack on Leeds. By the morning of the 23rd he had gathered 1,200–1,300 musketeers and horse and a substantial body of clubmen – ill-armed local volunteers – possibly as many as 2,000. The town was defended by Sir William Saville who had 1,500 foot and five troops of horse and dragoons.

The course of the storming of Leeds is straightforward to trace on the ground. At the time Leeds comprised three main streets: the Headrow, Briggate and Kirkgate. All of these streets still exist. At the bottom of Briggate a bridge crossed the River Aire and the road continued on to Hunslet. All the exits to the town had been barricaded and an earthwork ran from close to St John’s church, across the Headrow and then down to the river.

Fairfax’s force approached the town along the Headrow and summoned Saville to surrender. When this summons was refused Sir Thomas began his assault. Fairfax attacked along the Headrow while Sir William Fairfax attacked the area around St John’s church. Neither of these attacks made much progress. Sergeant-Major-General Forbes had been despatched to attack the enemy earthwork where it approached the river, while Captain Mildmay had been sent on a more circuitous route to approach the town from the far side of the Aire and prevent any enemy escaping in that direction. Forbes, supported by musket fire from Mildmay’s men, managed to break into the town and was soon reinforced by Mildmay’s men who had stormed the defences of the bridge. The combined force then attacked up Briggate towards the Market Place which stood at the top of Briggate close to the Headrow. The success of this attack allowed the Fairfaxes to force their way into the town and Sir Thomas led a cavalry charge along the Headrow into the Market Place. Many of the Royalist garrison were killed or captured and some were drowned trying to swim the Aire. The survivors continued on to Wakefield but their arrival seems to have panicked the garrison of that town which promptly withdrew to Pontefract. A force of Parliamentarian troops from Almondbury, near Huddersfield, occupied Wakefield on 24 January 1643.

In the aftermath of the loss of Leeds and Wakefield, Newcastle pulled the bulk of his army back to York. Before he could turn his attention fully on defeating Lord Fairfax he had two tasks to carry out. The first was to escort an ammunition convoy from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Earl despatched James King, his Lieutenant-General, with a body of horse to carry out this mission. Sir Hugh Cholmley attempted to intercept the convoy at Yarm in North Yorkshire on 1 February. Cholmley was defeated and King moved on to deliver the precious gunpowder to the army at York. Cholmley’s defeat may have been one of the main contributory factors to his subsequent change of sides.

Newcastle’s second task was to secure the Queen after her impending arrival and aid her march to join her husband at Oxford. The Queen arrived at Bridlington Quay – the town and harbour were separate at this time – on 22 February. Newcastle immediately set off with a large force to escort the Queen to York but while she was awaiting his arrival she was still in danger. Several Parliamentarian ships arrived and began a bombardment of the town and the Queen and her ladies had to take shelter in a ditch. Help was at hand when the Dutch admiral, van Tromp, who had escorted the Queen’s ship from the Continent, threatened the Parliamentarian commander that his ships would engage if the Parliamentarian ships did not withdraw. This had the desired effect and Newcastle was able to escort the Queen to safety at York on 7 March.

On 25 March Sir Hugh Cholmley changed sides. His defeat at Yarm and the Queen’s arrival finally decided him on this course of action. His defection was a great boon to the Royalist cause and gave them control of much of the East Coast of Yorkshire. It also seems to have had an effect on the Hothams who began a correspondence with the Earl of Newcastle and became very uncooperative with Fairfax.

Fairfax found himself in an unenviable position. The main Royalist army was at York and considerably outnumbered his own force. The East Riding was now under Royalist control and, to his rear, the Hothams had withdrawn their troops into Hull and were refusing to cooperate with him. His main base of support was in the West Riding, around the mill towns and he took a decision to withdraw to Leeds. His first action was to call his son, Sir Thomas, from Leeds with a small force of horse and musketeers and a large body of clubmen. His plan called for Sir Thomas to carry out a diversionary attack on Tadcaster with the troops he had brought from the West Riding, while his father with the main force marched directly from Selby to Leeds. On the morning of 30 March the Fairfaxes put this plan into action.

The plan worked well. Lord Fairfax and his men arrived safely at Leeds while Sir Thomas drove the garrison of Tadcaster out of the town. He may have exceeded his father’s orders at this point, which may have been to demonstrate against the town, not to capture it. Unfortunately, Sir Thomas tarried in Tadcaster for too long and as he began to march up onto Bramham Moor a pursuing body of Royalist horse came into sight. The Royalists, under Colonel George Goring, comprised twenty troops of horse and dragoons, some 1,000 mounted men. To oppose them Fairfax had only three troops of horse, amounting to around 150 troopers. The rest of his force was made up of musketeers and a large body of clubmen. When attacked by horse it was usual for the pike to provide protection against them for the musketeers. As Fairfax had no pikemen with him his force was in considerable danger from the Royalist horse, particularly as they had to cross two large areas of open moor-land before they reached the safety of Leeds.

As Fairfax ascended the road onto Bramham Moor he had to pass through an area of enclosures. This was ideal terrain for his horse to hold up the larger enemy force, while his foot crossed the first area of open ground and reached the shelter of the next area of enclosures. Having held the enemy for what he deemed to be a sufficient amount of time, Fairfax pulled back his horsemen and set off in pursuit of his foot. Imagine his surprise when he found his foot were waiting for him and had not yet crossed the open ground. The Parliamentarian force continued to march westwards and Fairfax spotted the enemy horse on a parallel road several hundred yards to the north. The Parliamentarians successfully reached the next area of enclosures and continued onto the open ground beyond – Seacroft Moor. By now Fairfax’s men were beginning to straggle and Goring timed his attack perfectly. Although the pitifully small force of Parliamentarian horse attempted to protect the foot, the force was quickly broken as Goring’s horsemen mounted an unstoppable charge. Fairfax and most of his troopers were able to escape to Leeds but most of the foot were killed or captured. Sir Thomas summed up the action as ‘the greatest loss we ever received’.

The storming of Wakefield

After the defeat at Seacroft Moor, Lord Fairfax concentrated his men into two garrisons: Bradford and Leeds. It was during this period that one of the most mysterious battles of the Civil War in Yorkshire took place, at Tankersley, just off junction 36 of the M1. Little is written about this action, either by contemporary or modern authors, but it was a sizeable affair with up to 4,000 men taking part. A force of Derbyshire Parliamentarians marched north and were intercepted and defeated by a force of local Royalists. These Royalist troops may have been the advance guard of a planned advance into the south of the county.

The Earl of Newcastle still had one major task to perform before he turned his attention fully to defeating Lord Fairfax – the safe despatch of the Queen to the south. His first move was to lay siege to Leeds, but after a few days the Royalist army moved to Wakefield, where Newcastle left a garrison of 3,000 men, before moving into South Yorkshire. On 4 May Newcastle captured Rotherham. Accounts of the siege are contradictory – the Duchess of Newcastle’s account states that the town was taken by storm, while a letter from Lord Fairfax to Parliament states that the town held out for two days and then yielded. Fairfax goes on to state that the Royalists then plundered the town and forced many of the prisoners to join their army.

Two days after the capture of Rotherham the Royalist army moved on Sheffield but found that the town and castle had been abandoned by the garrison. Newcastle installed Sir William Saville as governor of the town and gave him orders to use the local iron foundries to produce cannon. The Royalists then spent the next two weeks consolidating their position in the south of the county until, on 21 May, Newcastle received startling news – Wakefield and the bulk of its garrison had fallen to the Parliamentarians.

Wakefield is one of the best examples of the storming of a town and is worth looking at in detail. Newcastle’s march into the south of Yorkshire presented the Fairfaxes with an ideal opportunity to strike back. Sir Thomas Fairfax gives the reason for the attack on Wakefield as an attempt to capture Royalist troops to exchange for the prisoners taken at Seacroft Moor. Prisoner exchanges of all ranks were a common occurrence during the Civil War. A good example of this is the case of Colonel George Goring. As will be described shortly, Goring was captured at Wakefield and remained a prisoner for almost twelve months. He was exchanged during the spring of 1644 in time to take part in the Marston Moor campaign. Many of the Parliamentarian troops captured at Seacroft Moor were not soldiers but clubmen – ill-armed local volunteers. On a number of occasions – Bradford, Leeds, Seacroft Moor and Adwalton Moor – Lord Fairfax used clubmen to supplement his limited supply of regular troops. As these men were agricultural workers and tradesmen their imprisonment had a major effect on the local economy of the areas from which they came. One of the reasons that Wakefield was chosen as a target was that Lord Fairfax had received intelligence that it was held by only 800–900 men, a serious underestimation of the garrison’s actual strength.

During the evening of 20 May a force of 1,500 men gathered at Howley Hall, near Batley, from the garrisons of Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and the hall itself It comprised 1,000 foot, probably all musketeers, and eight troops of horse and three troops of dragoons. The mounted troops were divided equally between Sir Thomas Fairfax and Sir Henry Foulis, while the foot was commanded by Sergeant-Major-General Gifford and Sir William Fairfax. There is no mention of any artillery being present, which is hardly surprising as this was a raiding force. Sir Thomas Fairfax had overall command.

The Parliamentarian force moved on Wakefield via Stanley, where they attacked the small garrison, capturing twenty-one prisoners in the process. They then moved on to Wakefield where, alerted by survivors from the Stanley garrison, the Royalist horse and musketeers were waiting for them, as Sir Thomas Fairfax reported:

About four a clock in the morning we came before Wakefield, where after some of their horse were beaten into the town, the foot with unspeakable courage, beat the enemies from the hedges, which they had lined with musketeers into the town.

The Parliamentarians first encountered a strong patrol of horse from the town which they quickly drove back. They then found 500 musketeers manning the enclosures outside the town and again, after a short fight, these were driven back. With the approaches to the town cleared the Parliamentarians could put their plan into action. It should not be imagined that Wakefield was a fortified town. Its defences were formed by the hedges and walls of the houses along its four main streets – Kirkgate, Westgate, Warrengate and Northgate. The end of each street was barricaded. Fairfax’s plan was to attack along two of these streets: Northgate and Warrengate. No account states who attacked along which street but it can be surmised from subsequent events that Sir Thomas Fairfax and Gifford attacked Warrengate while Foulis and Sir William Fairfax attacked Northgate. The reasoning behind this is that Sir Thomas and Gifford were the first to reach the Market Place and the route along Warrengate is shorter, and that Gifford was able to plant a captured gun in the churchyard to fire on the Market Place. If he had attacked down Northgate he would have had to cross the Market Place, which was full of Royalist troops, to get to the churchyard.

The Royalist defences held out for some considerable time: one and a half to two hours are mentioned by contemporary accounts. Sir Thomas Fairfax wrote two accounts of the action, one immediately after the battle and one in his memoirs many years later. In his memoirs he reports that:

After 2 hours dispute the foot forced open a barricade where I entered with my own troop. Colonel Alured and Captain Bright followed with theirs. The street which we entered was full of their foot which we charged through and routed, leaving them to the foot which followed close behind us. And presently we were charged again with horse led by General Goring, where, after a hot encounter, some were slain, and himself [Goring] taken prisoner by Captain Alured.

The account written shortly after the action is very much in agreement:

When the barricades were opened, Sir Thomas Fairfax with the horse, fell into the town, and cleared the street where Colonel Goring was taken, by Lieutenant Alured, brother to Captain Alured, a Member of the House.

It is interesting to note the difference in the ranks of the Alured brothers given in the two accounts. The first gives their ranks at the close of the Civil Wars while the second gives their ranks at the time of the action.

After a lengthy dispute, Gifford’s foot managed to break into the end of Warrengate and open the barricade. This allowed Fairfax to lead his four troops in a charge down the street which was packed with enemy foot. These were quickly dispersed. Fairfax was then counterattacked by a body of horse led by George Goring. The Royalist horse was defeated and Goring captured by Lieutenant Alured. During this phase of the fighting Sir Thomas became separated from his men:

And here I cannot but acknowledge God’s goodness to me this day, who being advanced, a good way single, before my men, having a Colonel and a Lieutenant Colonel (who had engaged themselves as my prisoners) only with me, and many of the enemy now between me and my [men] I light on a regiment of foot standing in the Market Place. Thus encompassed, and thinking what to do, I spied a lane which I thought would lead me back to my men again; at the end of this lane there was a corps du guard of the enemy’s, with 15 or 16 soldiers which was, then, just quitting of it, with a Sergeant leading them off; whom we met; who seeing their officers came up to us. Taking no notice of me, they asked them what they would have them do, for they could keep that work no longer, because the Roundheads (as they called them) came so fast upon them. But the gentlemen, who had passed their words to be my true prisoners, said nothing, so looking upon one another, I thought it not fit, now, to own them as so, much less to bid the rest to render themselves prisoners to me; so, being well mounted, and seeing a place in the works where men used to go over, I rushed from them, seeing no other remedy, and made my horse leap over the works, and so, by good providence, got to my men again.

Sir Thomas’s bravery can never be doubted but sometimes his common sense can be. This would not be the last time his impetuous courage would leave him stranded on his own in the midst of the enemy.

Gifford had continued his attack along Warrengate, bringing the captured cannon with him. As he reached the Market Place he realised that it contained three troops of enemy horse and a regiment of their foot, as Fairfax reported:

Yet in the Market Place there stood three troops of horse, and Colonel Lampton’s Regiment [foot], to whom Major General Gifford sent a trumpet with offer of quarter, if they would lay down their arms, they answered they scorned the motion; then he fired a piece of their own ordinance upon them, and the horse fell in upon them, beat them out of the town.

In his memoirs Fairfax mentions that Gifford set the cannon up in the churchyard. Having given the Royalist troops an opportunity to surrender, Gifford ordered his men to open fire and then ordered Fairfax’s rallied troopers to charge the enemy. This was the last straw. Those who could, escaped; the remainder threw down their arms and surrendered. By nine o’clock Wakefield was firmly in Parliamentarian hands. Accounts do not give figures for the dead and wounded but do give a list of captured men and material: thirty-eight named officers, 1,500 common soldiers, four cannon, twenty-seven foot colours and three horse cornets, along with weapons and a large amount of powder, ball and match. The weapons, powder and ammunition were a great boon to the Parliamentarian cause. In a letter to Parliament Lord Fairfax summed up the victory:

And truly for my part I do rather account it a miracle, than a victory, and the glory and praise to be ascribed to God that wrought it, in which I hope I derogate nothing from the merits of the Commanders and Soldiers, who every man in his place and duty, showed as much courage and resolution as could be expected from men.

How had this ‘miracle’ taken place? The Parliamentarian victory at Wakefield flies in the face of military wisdom. The victors had taken a town garrisoned by twice their number and had captured more prisoners than they had soldiers. There are a number of reasons for the Parliamentarian victory. Firstly, they attacked the barricades at the end of the streets, which meant that only a limited number of Royalist troops could defend at any given time. Once the attackers had penetrated the barricades, the enemy troops, packed in the streets behind, were unable to defend themselves, as was also the case with the troops packed into the Market Place. There also seems to have been a breakdown in the Royalist command structure, with troops standing still instead of reacting to the changing situation. One possible reason for this is given by Dr Nathaniel Johnstone, a contemporary who left the following anecdote:

There was a meeting at Heath Hall upon the Saturday, at a bowling, and most of the officers and the governor were there, and had spent the afternoon in drinking, and were most drunk when the town was alarmed. It was taken fully by nine o’clock in the morning, and more prisoners were taken than the forces that came against it. It seems probable that Sir Thomas Fairfax had notice of their festivities at Heath, and perceived the advantage which they might afford him.

It has been reported that Goring had arisen from his sick bed to lead the mounted counterattack but Johnstone’s account may give another reason for Goring being seen reeling in his saddle – he was still drunk. His later record would point to this being a strong possibility.

Whatever the reasons for the Royalist defeat, Sir Thomas and his men had won a remarkable victory. They had no plans to remain in the town and expected a rapid response from Newcastle. Sir Thomas led his men out of Wakefield and back to their garrisons, complete with the spoils of their victory. The Fairfaxes had their prisoners for exchange but we do not know whether this ever took place.

Lützen 1631

Prelude: The Battles of Steinau and Alte Veste

Wallenstein had brought the imperial army back up to about 65,000 men. He advanced from Znaim into Bohemia with nearly half that number at the end of April. Saxon resistance collapsed. The Saxons and Bohemian exiles had thoroughly alienated the Bohemians by their plundering so that even the Protestants were glad to see them re-cross the mountains in mid-June. Wallenstein decided against invading Saxony. Leaving troops to guard Bohemia and Silesia, he headed west to join Maximilian at Eger on 1 July. Both men made an effort to get along. Maximilian was careful to address Wallenstein as duke of Mecklenburg, and loaned him 300,000 fl. for provisions.

Gustavus had left Johann Georg to fight alone. He knew the elector was still negotiating with Wallenstein and feared he might defect. He headed northwards, entrenching at Nuremberg on 16 June when he learned imperial detachments were already moving to intercept him. It would have been safer to have marched north-west to Würzburg to be closer to his other armies in Lower Saxony and the Rhineland, but Gustavus could not afford to lose a prominent Protestant city like Nuremberg. Six thousand peasants were conscripted to dig a huge ditch around the city and emplace 300 cannon borrowed from the city’s arsenal. The cavalry were left outside to maintain communications while Gustavus waited for his other armies to join him.

Having arrived on 17 July, Wallenstein resolved not to repeat Tilly’s mistake at Werben and to starve the Swedes out rather than attacking their entrenchments. He built his own camp west of the city at Zirndorf that was 16km in circumference and entailed felling 13,000 trees and shifting the equivalent of 21,000 modern truck-loads of earth. Imperial garrisons in Fürth, Forchheim and other towns commanded the roads into Nuremberg, while cavalry patrolled the countryside. Gustavus was trapped. He had 18,000 soldiers, but faced insurmountable supply problems as the city’s 40,000 inhabitants had been joined by 100,000 refugees. The Imperialists burned all the mills outside the Swedish entrenchments and the defenders were soon on half rations.

The situation was initially much better in Wallenstein’s camp because it received supplies from as far away as Bohemia and Austria. Things worsened with the hotter weather in August though. The concentration of 55,000 troops and around 50,000 camp followers produced at least four tonnes of human excrement daily, in addition to the waste from the 45,000 cavalry and baggage horses. The camp was swarming with rats and flies, spreading disease. Wallenstein had become a victim of his own strategy and by mid-August his army was no longer fully operational after the Swedes captured a supply convoy. He was unable to intercept a relief force of 24,000 men and 3,000 supply wagons sent by Oxenstierna to join Gustavus.

As tension mounted in Franconia, Johann Georg tried to improve his bargaining position by sending Arnim to invade Silesia. The hagiography surrounding Gustavus has overshadowed these events that involved significant numbers of troops and are very revealing about tension within Sweden’s alliance. Arnim had 12,000 Saxons, plus 3,000 Brandenburgers and 7,000 Swedes. The latter were under the command of Jacob Duwall, born MacDougall in Scotland, who had served Sweden since 1607 and raised two German regiments that formed the bulk of his corps, and whose presence was to ensure Arnim remained loyal. Duwall was a man of considerable energy, but like many professional officers he had become an alcoholic.

Imperial reinforcements were rushed from Bohemia to join the Silesian garrisons under the elderly Marradas, who collected 20,000 men at Steinau, an important Oder crossing between Glogau and Breslau. He entrenched on the Gallows Hill, south-east of Steinau, between it and the river, and posted cavalry on the Sand Hill west of the town to watch the approach. Musketeers occupied the Geisendorf suburb to the west and a nearby churchyard. The advance guard under the firebrand Duwall arrived at midday on 29 August, and immediately engaged the imperial cavalry. After two hours of skirmishing the Imperialists retreated into the marshy Kalterbach valley south of Steinau. Saxon artillery had now arrived on the Sand Hill and compelled the cavalry to retreat further into Marradas’s camp, exposing the musketeers. Duwall’s younger brother led 1,000 Swedish and Brandenburg musketeers who stormed the suburb and churchyard. The Imperialists set the town on fire to forestall further attack, virtually destroying it. Duwall wanted to press on, but Arnim refused. The two were barely on speaking terms and Duwall was convinced Arnim was still negotiating with the enemy on the Gallows Hill.

Rather than assault the camp the next day, Arnim marched south to Dieban further upstream where he built a bridge, intending to cross and cut Marradas off from the other side. Marradas belatedly attacked Dieban, but was repulsed on 4 September and retreated, having left a small detachment at the Steinau bridge to delay pursuit. The allied losses were slight, but the Imperialists lost 6,000, mainly prisoners or men who fled during the initial engagement. The losses indicate the continued poor condition of parts of the imperial army, especially when irresolutely led. Arnim pressed on, taking Breslau and Schweidnitz where he reversed the re-Catholicization measures. The Imperialists were driven into the mountains. Arnim had conquered Silesia with fewer troops and against greater odds than Frederick II of Prussia’s celebrated invasion in 1740.

Wallenstein decided to punish Saxony, and ordered Holk with 10,000 men from Forchheim to invade the Vogtland that formed the south-western tip of Johann Georg’s territory. As Holk began systematic plundering to intimidate the elector, the pressure mounted on Gustavus to break out of Nuremberg. The reinforcements sent by Oxenstierna arrived on 27 August, giving him the largest army he ever commanded: 28,000 infantry, 17,000 cavalry and 175 field guns. Disease and Holk’s detachment had reduced Wallenstein’s force to 31,000 foot and 12,000 horse. The odds were still not in Gustavus’s favour, especially considering Wallenstein was entrenched on high ground above the Rednitz river over 6km from Gustavus’s camp. The river prevented attack from the east, while the more open southern and western sides were furthest from Gustavus and would be difficult to reach without exposing his flank. This left the north, held by Liga units under Aldringen, and which was the strongest, highest side. The entrenchments were covered by abatis, the seventeenth-century equivalent of First World War barbed-wire entanglements made by felling and trimming trees to leave only sharpened branches pointing towards the enemy. The ruined castle that gave the position its name (Alte Veste) provided an additional strong point.

Surprise was impossible. Gustavus’s intentions were clear once he seized Fürth to cross the Rednitz on the night of 1–2 September. There is some indication that Gustavus only attacked because he thought Wallenstein was withdrawing, but this was probably put about just to excuse the debacle. The king planned to pin Wallenstein with artillery fire from east of the Rednitz, while he and Wilhelm of Weimar attacked Aldringen, and Bernhard of Weimar worked his way round to hit the weaker western side. A preliminary bombardment failed to silence the imperial artillery. Gustavus pressed on regardless, sending his infantry up the wooded northern slope early on 3 September. Thin drizzle had already made the ground slippery, and it proved impossible to bring up the regimental guns as the rain grew heavier during the day. The assault was renewed repeatedly into the night, but only gained a few imperial outworks on the western side. Gustavus gave up. He retreated covered by his cavalry, having lost at least 1,000 killed and 1,400 badly wounded. General Banér’s wounds left him incapacitated for the rest of the year. Worse, demoralization prompted 11,000 men to desert. Altogether, at least 29,000 people died in Gustavus’s camp during the prolonged stand-off, while animal casualties left only 4,000 of his cavalry mounted by the end.

Unable to remain in Nuremberg, Gustavus pulled out on 15 September. He waited a week at Windsheim to the west, before deciding that Wallenstein no longer posed an immediate threat and marching south, intending to winter in Swabia. Wallenstein had lost less than 1,000 men, but his army was sick. So many horses had died that 1,000 wagons of supplies were abandoned when he burned his camp on 21 September. He moved north, overrunning the rest of Franconia and into Thuringia, while Gallas marched through north-east Bohemia to reinforce Holk’s raiders putting pressure on Saxony. The Imperialists occupied Meissen and despatched Croats towards Dresden with the message that Johann Georg would no longer need candles for his banquets as the Imperialists would now provide light by burning Saxony’s villages.

Maximilian and Wallenstein parted ways at Coburg in mid-October. The elector agreed that Pappenheim and the Liga field force would join Wallenstein from Westphalia in return for Aldringen and fourteen imperial regiments being assigned to stiffen the Bavarians. The arrangement proved unsatisfactory, and the resulting acrimony revealed the continued tension between Maximilian and the emperor. Wallenstein complained that Pappenheim did not arrive fast enough, and indeed repeated orders had to be sent before that general finally gave up his independent role and marched to Saxony. Maximilian resented Aldringen for still reporting to Wallenstein, who already recalled some of the regiments by late November. Maximilian returned south to protect Bavaria, while Wallenstein marched north-east into Saxony, ordering the plundering to stop as he now intended to winter in the electorate.

Battle of Lützen

Gustavus realized his mistake. Wallenstein was not only threatening his principal ally, but endangering communications with the Baltic bridgehead. Against Oxenstierna’s advice, he raced north, covering 650km in 17 days at the cost of 4,000 horses. En route he passed Maximilian heading in the opposite direction. The armies were only 25km apart, but unaware of each other’s presence. The main Saxon army was still with Arnim in Silesia. Johann Georg had only 4,000 men, plus 2,000 Lüneburgers under Duke Georg who shadowed Pappenheim through Lower Saxony. Leipzig surrendered a second time to the Imperialists and its commandant was executed by the furious elector, who then made his widow pay the cost of the court martial.

Pappenheim joined Wallenstein on 7 November, while the Saxons retreated into Torgau and Gustavus rested at Erfurt after his long march. It was now very cold. Wallenstein dispersed his troops to find food, sending Colonel Hatzfeldt with 2,500 men to watch Torgau. Pappenheim was restless, wanting to return to Westphalia where the Swedes were known to be picking off his garrisons. Sick with gout, Wallenstein lacked the energy to argue, and let him go with 5,800 men. Gallas was summoned from the Bohemian frontier to replace him, but it would be some time before he arrived.

Gustavus had moved east down the Saale, taking Naumburg on 10 November. He decided to force a battle, hoping for another Breitenfeld to restore his reputation, dented by Alte Veste. As he approached the Imperialists, he learned from peasants how weak Wallenstein was and pressed on to catch him. General Rodolfo Colloredo, commanding a detachment of 500 dragoons and Croats, blocked him at the marshy Rippach stream east of Weissenfels, delaying him for four hours on 15 November. It was now too late for battle, and Gustavus was forced to camp for the night.

Wallenstein abandoned his retreat to Leipzig when he received word from Colloredo, halting at Lützen still 20km short of his destination. He had only 8,550 foot, 3,800 horse and 20 heavy guns. His right was protected by the marshy Mühlgraben stream. The Weissenfels–Leipzig highway crossed this at Lützen, a town that comprised 300 houses and an old castle surrounded by a wall. Wallenstein guessed correctly that Gustavus would not attempt another frontal assault, but would cross further south-east to outflank him. Accordingly, he drew up just north east of the town parallel to the road. Musketeers spent the night widening the ditches either side of the road, while Holk supervised deployment of the main army, lighting candles to guide units into position. Four hundred musketeers were posted in Lützen to secure the right, and thirteen guns were placed on the slight rise of Windmill Hill just north of the town. Around half the cavalry drew up behind with the rest on the left. The infantry deployed in between in two lines, with another 7 guns on their left and 420 musketeers lining the ditches in front. There were not enough cavalry to cover the gap from the left to the Flossgraben ditch that cut the highway beyond Wallenstein’s position. Isolano’s 600 Croats were posted as a screen across the gap with the camp followers and baggage massed in the rear holding sheets as flags to create the impression of powerful forces behind. They were supposed to wait until Pappenheim, recalled during the night, could replace them.

Johann Georg refused to send reinforcements from Torgau, but Gustavus had nearly 13,000 infantry, 6,200 cavalry and 20 heavy guns and so remained confident. His army assembled in thick fog about 3,000 metres to the west early on 16 November to hear the king’s stirring address. As Wallenstein predicted, Gustavus swung east across the Mühlgraben and then north over the Flossgraben to deploy around 10 a.m. in front of him. The action began as the fog lifted around an hour later and the Swedes made a general advance towards the imperial positions. Gustavus used his customary deployment in two lines, with the cavalry on the flanks stiffened with musketeer detachments. The best infantry were in the first line, while the king commanded most of the Swedish and Finnish horse on the right and Bernhard of Weimar led the 3,000 mainly German troopers on the left.

The Croats soon scattered, prompting the decoy troops to take to their heels. Gustavus was nonetheless delayed by the musketeers hidden in the ditch. Widely cited reports that Wallenstein spent the day carried in a litter stem from Swedish propaganda. Despite pain from gout, he mounted his horse to conduct an energetic defence. Lützen was set on fire to stop the Swedes entering and turning his flank. The wind blew the smoke into his enemies’ faces and, as at Breitenfeld, it quickly became impossible to see what was happening. Bernhard’s men were unable to take either Lützen or Windmill Hill. The real chance lay on the other flank where Gustavus had more space to go round the end of the imperial line. Wallenstein switched cavalry from his right to stem the king’s advance.

Pappenheim arrived in the early afternoon with 2,300 cavalry, having ridden 35km through the night. His arrival encouraged the Croats to return and together they drove the Swedes back across the road. The veteran Swedish infantry also suffered heavy casualties and fell back, having failed to dislodge the imperial centre. Wilhelm of Weimar’s bodyguard fled, panicking the Swedish baggage which also took off. Several imperial units had also broken, and both armies were losing cohesion. Pappenheim had been shot dead early in his attack; Wallenstein’s order summoning him was later retrieved bloodstained from his body. The battle disintegrated into isolated attacks by individual units.

Gustavus appears to have got lost as he rode to rally his shattered infantry and was shot, probably by an imperial infantry corporal. His entourage tried to lead him to safety, but blundered into the confused cavalry mêlée still in progress amid the smoke on the right where he was shot again, by Lieutenant Moritz Falkenberg, a Catholic relation of the defender of Magdeburg, who himself was then slain by the Swedish master of horse. The fatal shot burned the face of Franz Albrecht of Lauenburg who was accompanying the king as a volunteer. Under attack himself, Franz Albrecht could no longer support the king in his saddle and he fell dead to the ground. The Swedes never forgave the duke for abandoning their monarch’s body, which was subsequently stabbed and stripped by looters. Rumours of the king’s death added to the growing despondency in the Swedish ranks. Knyphausen, commanding the infantry, insisted Gustavus was only wounded and the royal chaplain, Jacob Fabricius, organized psalm singing to boost morale. Unaware of what had happened, Bernhard continued his fruitless attacks on Lützen.

The fighting subsided around 3 p.m. Knyphausen advised retreat, but Bernhard, now appraised of the situation, urged another assault that finally carried Windmill Hill. Firing ceased two hours later, after dark. Pappenheim’s 3,000 infantry arrived an hour after that. Wallenstein was exhausted and appalled at the loss of at least 3,000 dead and wounded, including many senior officers. He decided to retreat and abandoned his artillery and another 1,160 wounded, who were left behind in Leipzig as he fell back into Bohemia. The Swedes lost 6,000 and were on the point of retreating themselves when a prisoner revealed that the Imperialists had already gone.

The disparity of the losses, magnified by Gustavus’s presence among the Swedish dead, fuelled the controversy over who really won. Protestant propaganda and Gustavus’s firm place on later staff college curricula have ensured that Lützen is generally hailed as ‘a great Swedish victory’. Wallenstein showed far superior generalship, whereas Gustavus relied on an unimaginative frontal assault with superior numbers. The Swedes were able to claim victory because Wallenstein lost his nerve and retreated, not least because he was not certain until 25 November that Gustavus was dead. Wallenstein probably regretted this mistake. He certainly vented his fury on the units that had fled in the battle, insisting on executing eleven men, but he also distributed bonuses to the wounded and richly rewarded those who distinguished themselves like Holk and Piccolomini.

Lützen’s real significance lay in Gustavus’s death. The Swedes continued fighting, already helping the Saxons evict the remaining Imperialists from the electorate by January. But their purpose had changed and Oxenstierna sought, albeit with little success, to extricate his country under the best possible terms.

The Syrian Civil War – Evolution of the Syrian Army’s Way of War

By Eyal Berelovich


The views expressed above are those of the author and do not represent those of the Israel Defense Force Ground Forces, the R.D.C Department, or the Israel Defense Force.

Professor Eyal Zisser’s 2018 article on the Syrian Civil War begins with the following words: “In March 2011 a revolution erupted in Syria. It began as a limited local non-violent protest in the rural and peripheral areas of the country, and within a few months escalated into a bloody civil war that quickly became sectarian, and worse yet – religious, a holy war (Jihad). The civil war attracted foreign intervention that transformed Syria into a regional and international arena of conflict, with the rival sides being used by the global and regional powers as pieces on the chess-board of their conflicts.” [i]

Most descriptions and analyses of the war divide it chronologically into several main phases. Some discuss it according to its geographic separation into the main arenas where the actual battles occurred (east Syria vs west Syria, north vs south). To provide a wide view of the war this article will therefore describe the war according to these two parameters.

The Intra-Syrian War (April 2011 – Summer 2013)

During this period the Syrian Regime army attempted to reconquer the cities in which the rebellion broke-out, employing the forces locally available in their permanent pre-rebellion garrisons and using pre-rebellion combat doctrines.

Syria’s pre-rebellion strategic planning envisioned two threat scenarios:

    A war with Israel requiring it to focus its forces in southern Syria

    A two-front war with Israel in the south and the US forces attacking from Iraq in the east.

To tackle the first scenario about half of the Syrian army was permanently garrisoned in southern Syria and would be reinforced with forces garrisoned elsewhere across the country. To tackle the second scenario the Syrians planned to focus their defense on the four main cities of Syria, the prime centers of population, economy and political power that are considered to be the ‘centers of gravity’ of the state – Damascus, Hama, Homs and Aleppo – along with the border with Israel. This plan meant giving-up the mostly unpopulated desert of eastern Syria without a major fight. [ii]

The permanent deployment of the Syrian army was as follows: [iii]

    Southern Syria: 1st Corps, 4th Corps, majority of Republican Guard units, majority of 4th Division and supporting forces.

    Central Syria: Around Hamma and Homs – most of 3rd Corps.

    Eastern Syria: 17th Division and supporting units.

    Northern Syria: 14th Special Forces Division, reduced 15th Special Forces Division, 76th Armored Brigade, 41st and 46th Special Forces Regiments.

As the rebellion escalated and proliferated to multiple fronts the Syrian regime adapted the logic of the two-front war plan to contend with it – concentrate on the major cities and the travel-routes connecting them. All else was initially ignored.[iv]

Army units sent to reconquer the cities, while beginning to suffer from mass desertions of Sunni-Arab personnel of all ranks, included maneuver units and special forces. The former were chosen according to their proximity to these cities and the latter because they were regarded as loyal to the regime. The operations emphasized quick maneuvers along the major streets to dominate focal points, without attempting to conduct methodical clearing operations or to destroy rebel forces. The attacking forces received only a minimum of artillery or air support.

In early 2012 the Syrian regime forces adopted a new concept of operations which can be summarized under the slogan: Clear and Hold. Regime forces conducted pincer maneuvers to surround rebel-held regions, then employed massed artillery and air strikes to destroy the built-up areas and enemy forces. After lengthy fire preparation, tanks, infantry (riding armored vehicles to their objectives then dismounting to fight) and special forces conducted methodical clearing operations through the built-up areas. On completion of the clearing phase chosen units were deployed throughout to hold the ground, dominate the population and prevent the rebels from returning to reclaim them.

Regime forces were organized in combined arms battlegroups: tanks, mechanized infantry, artillery, combat-engineers and logistics. Though successful in Homs, the Regime army did not have enough personnel to conduct multiple simultaneous operations across the entire country.[v] Furthermore, such operations inflicted no fewer casualties to Regime forces than to the rebels. In this context one must again mention the mass desertions that reduced the Syrian army’s personnel to less than half its prewar figures.

The pre-rebellion Syrian army was organized in organic permanent divisions. As the Civil War progressed it adopted more flexible division-equivalent task organized headquarters, shifting subordinate units between them. These commanded not only official Syrian army units but also militias established in populations loyal to the regime (such as the Shabakhya). Initially the militias were especially prevalent in the Homs and Ladakiya regions, the concentrations of the Alawite communities. Missions began being allotted based on the political and professional trust of the Regime in various commanders and various units. This new pattern would continue throughout the war.

By autumn 2012 the initial successes of the Regime faded as the need to employ more and more forces to hold reclaimed territory reduced the ability to concentrate enough forces for clearing operations in other areas. Meanwhile the gradually growing rebel forces counter-attacked or infiltrated into cities and towns and conquered or took control (depending on the presence of Regime holding forces or lack thereof) of entire regions, cities, towns and major portions of the four critical cities, Damascus, Homs, Hamma and Aleppo. The regime responded by trying to defend everywhere and to counterattack to retake all lost ground almost everywhere. This caused it to dilute its forces even further – thus, for example, in 2012 the Republican Guard units (the most loyal and professional units of the Syrian army) were concentrated in Damascus with a portion in Aleppo; during 2013 more and more Republican Guard units were sent to Aleppo and some also to Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria; by 2014 the Republican Guard was spread even more: brigades and independent battalions in Damascus, Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, and Ladakiya. [vi]

A Civil War Assisted by Foreigners (Summer 2013 – 2018)

Two decisions had transformed the civil protest into a general civil war: the use of the army to suppress the protests in Dar’a and the attempt by rebel politicians to form an organized national opposition as an alternative to the Assad regime (in fact rebel factions were many and the organization never represented more than a minority of them). These decisions also created the conditions for foreign intervention with different foreign powers supporting different sides in the conflict.

Initially foreign intervention was limited to diplomacy, funding and supply of weapons. However, as the pressure mounted through 2012, and a trend of gradual defeat loomed, the Assad Regime began to request direct military involvement from its allies Iran and Iran’s semi-independent Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. Meanwhile the Rebels requested assistance from the Sunni-Arab Gulf States, the West, Turkey or al-Qaeda (depending on the Rebel faction in question). By summer 2013 the civil war was no longer an internal Syrian affair, but a regional conflict, and was gradually becoming a global affair as non-regional powers intervened diplomatically or with the supply of funds and weapons. Iranian proxy militias and Iranian forces were actively fighting with the Syrian Regime. Border clashes occurred with the Turkish military as it supported the rebels near the border.

In 2014 transfer of Regime forces from Eastern Syria enabled the Islamic State (declaring its independence from al-Qaeda and announcing the reestablishment of the Moslem Caliphate) to stake a claim to this area and begin conquering it – fighting the minimal Regime forces there and also the disorganized and disunited rebel forces. The eruption of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and its horrific massacres of rival groups and non-Sunni populations hastened the direct military intervention of more foreign powers into the war, especially the non-regional powers – the USA (2014) and Russia (2015).

In 2014 the US, which had been providing support for the Syrian Rebels, initially only non-lethal but gradually adding some weapons, escalated supplies of weaponry to ‘acceptable’ rebel factions and initiated training programs – which ultimately failed. [vii]

In late 2015 Russia too, which had till then provided diplomatic support, vetoing anti-Assad UN resolutions, and weapons, concluded that it must escalate its involvement both in quantity of weapons, training programs for the Regime army, and in actual physical involvement by embedding advisors in Regime units and employing small Russian forces to participate directly in combat.

From summer 2013 to summer 2015 the weapons and capabilities of the rebels improved considerably as they began to receive funding and advanced weapons from the Arab Gulf states and the USA. New anti-tank missiles proved useful in countering the Regime’s advantage in armored vehicles – these missiles being more advanced than the models pilfered from Regime army stores. In 2013 the rebels recorded 107 anti-tank missile attacks, 288 in 2014, 547 in 2015, 667 in 2016. However, from 2017 the frequency of anti-tank missile attacks dropped. This was caused by the weakening of the Rebel factions amenable to the West vice the strengthening of Jihadist factions and the successful resurgence of Assad’s forces – proving to the Western supporters that the war could not be won without sending their own military forces to Syria. The West, therefore, gradually withdrew its support and supply of weapons to the rebels.[viii]

During the same period the Rebels also began to use drones, initially for intelligence collection and then for dropping munitions on Regime forces. The Islamic State lead the way in quantity and quality of use, but the others followed. Iranian and Hezbollah forces also employed drones for surveillance and attack and gradually the Syrian Regime forces too adopted Russian and Iranian surveillance drones to assist in directing air and artillery fire, but not to conduct strikes themselves. [ix]

The period 2013 – 2018 can be sub-divided chronologically: from 2013 to 2015 period covering the gradual defeat of the Assad Regime and 2016 to 2018 seeing the reversal of this trend and the gradual defeat of the rebels, but it is more useful to divide the fighting throughout this period geographically – dividing the war into two separate campaigns: one in eastern Syria and one in western Syria and covering each one chronologically. It is, however, impossible to completely separate the operations in each area from the other because of reciprocal effects between them.

War in the East

By 2014 the territory previously known as Syria included three political entities trying to defeat each other: the Assad Regime, the Islamic State and an amorphous collection of militias (sometimes fighting each other) collectively called the Syrian Rebels. The principle generator of the change in the political and military fields was the Islamic State. It conquered most of eastern Syria easily against only sporadic weak resistance of Regime and rebel forces because these were concentrated in western Syria. Subsequently, the arrival of Islamic State forces in western Syria created the impression that Assad’s time was up, however, it actually created the conditions for Assad’s ultimate victory.

The Islamic State’s operational art and tactics dazed its rivals. Islamic State forces emphasized fast movements in multiple columns to surprise and overwhelm the enemy with concentric attacks and protect themselves from enemy aerial superiority. [x] When they encountered an organized determined enemy they failed – thus at Deir al-Zor, the 104th Paratrooper Brigade of the Syrian Republican Guard, 137th Mechanized Brigade and units from 17th Infantry Division, successfully defended the city and its environs for three years against all Islamic State attacks. [xi]

In 2014 the US began to directly attack the Islamic State forces in eastern Syria and in Iraq, also providing aerial strike support to Kurdish militias in Syria who were being attacked by the Islamic State and barely holding out. Islamic State difficulties in eastern Syria impacted its abilities to free forces to fight in western Syria, where too it was attacking both Rebel factions and Regime forces.

Unlike the failure of US support and training programs for Rebel factions in western Syria, the US support and training programs for the Kurdish forces in north-eastern Syria succeeded in creating a viable force that ultimately, with American fire support, defeated the Islamic State and even conquered its capital Rakka (October 2017), eliminating it as a major player in the war, though as a nuisance it continues to fight to today.

In July 2017, simultaneously with the gradually successful Kurdish offensive against the Islamic State, the Regime army conducted an equally successful offensive against the Islamic State in central-western and eastern Syria. The Regime employed Divisional Battle Groups such as the militia-based ‘Tiger Force’ commanded by Suhil al-Hassan, the ‘Desert Hawks’ brigade and the 30th Republican Guard division. The offensive began with a pincer attack surrounding Islamic State forces in Hama and Homs districts, followed by an offensive towards Deir al-Zor. The offensive was conducted simultaneously on multiple axes (M-20, Route 42, and Route 4), conquering towns, villages and the countryside. [xii]

In each phase Regime forces maneuvered to achieve numerical superiority over the enemy and were supported by Russian air strikes.[xiii] The Regime offensive reasserted its presence in central eastern Syria, its control over a section of the Syria-Iraq border and broke the siege of Deir al-Zor in September 2017, while the Islamic State was simultaneously fighting a losing battle against the Kurds further north. [xiv]

War in the West

The first employment of non-Syrian forces in the Civil War occurred with the entry of Hezbollah units into combat around the city of al-Qusayr in 2013. The battle for al-Qusayr was commanded by a Hezbollah commander who, in addition to a brigade’s worth of Hezbollah troops, received armored, mechanized, artillery and air units of the Regime army under his command – creating a division sized taskforce. [xv]

From summer 2013 to autumn 2015 fighting raged through all western Syria from the north to the south:

    In the north-west the Regime lost most of Idlib province to the ‘Victory Army’, a coalition of rebel militias lead by Jabhat al-Nusra (the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda). The loss of Idlib increased pressure on Regime forces fighting to retake eastern Aleppo from the rebels.

    In the center-west Islamic State forces captured major suburbs of Damascus such as the al-Yarmoukh Palestinian Refugee Camp and the al-Suweyda district. They also conquered northern Homs, the environs of al-Rustan and parts of Hamma district.

    In the south-west the rebels gradually captured most of the Syrian Golan and parts of Dara. Repeated rebel attempts to enlarge their holdings were defeated only at great cost to Regime forces.[xvi] Regime counterattacks were defeated in turn.

By the end of 2014 Regime regular forces were down to 125,000 active personnel from the original 250,000 to 325,000 serving on the eve of the civil war. The dearth of personnel, caused by mass desertion, defection, draft-dodging as well as mass casualties, compelled the Regime to mobilize reservists (many of whom also did not report for duty or defected) and rely more and more on private militias raised by private citizens who supported the Regime – mostly from the religious minorities who feared Sunni rule, and the forces provided by Iran and Hezbollah. By the end of 2014 the ratio of army personnel to militia personnel was approximately 1:1.[xvii]

The personnel issue impacted the organization of forces for battle, so that, for example, in the battle for Hamma in early 2014 was conducted by an ad-hoc task-force combining units of the Alawite National Defense Forces militia, an Iranian funded Shiite militia from Iraq, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards unit, the 106th Syrian Republican Guard Brigade, remnant units of tanks, mechanized infantry, artillery and engineers taken from a variety of Regime formations, Syrian combat aircraft allocated for the battle and Iranian RPV units. In July 2014 the 11th Armored Division took over the defensive battle around Hamma. In August units from the 4th Armored Division were sent to Hamma to conduct a counterattack. In October the ‘Tiger Force’ militia, which was also commanding units allocated to it from the 11th Armored Division and others, lead the attack to conquer the town of Murak.

In the long battle for Hamma the Regime forces conducted a complex operation that included:

    Isolating the city with army and militia units;

    A heavy preparatory bombardment;

    An armored and mechanized assault to capture the edge of the city’s built-up area;

    Followed by a methodical fire-intensive combined-arms attack to conquer and clear the city portion by portion.

The emphasis was still on the maneuver portion of the battle and the goal was destruction of the rebel forces rather than negotiating their surrender or chasing them away.

The introduction of Russian commanders and units into the war in September 2015 brought a significant change to the capabilities of Regime’s forces:

    Russian domination of the planning and command of operations significantly improved tactical and administrative conduct.

    Dramatic improvement in the ability to locate rebel forces and positions.

    Dramatic increase of the Regime’s firepower by deploying Russian combat aircraft to Syria.

The Russians rushed to learn the situation on the ground and to integrate themselves into the massively disrupted Regime military structure. Two issues they chose not to change:

    First, the employment of flexibly composed divisional taskforces based on commanders and units known for their loyalty to the regime and known for their ability to achieve their tactical and operational objectives in the battlefield

    Second, focusing operations in western Syria around its vital core. Rather they increased the focus of these operations with an emphasis on concentration of forces in sequential offensives rather than the previous tendency to disperse forces to fight everywhere simultaneously.

The Russian takeover of planning and command of operations brought a significant change in strategy and operational method: rather than the previous concept of surrounding an area, conquering it, clearing it methodically and then holding it; the Russians changed the object of the operations: surrender of the enemy verses his destruction, to be achieved mainly by a continuous bombardment that would gradually break the defenders’ spirit rather than by maneuver. Simultaneously to the constant bombardment, Regime forces raided the rebel positions or captured key terrain. The aim of these maneuver-operations was to increase pressure on the local population and erode the ability of the opposition forces to resist. This new method of operations was usually conducted in the following manner:

    The area of operations was carved into smaller geographical sectors;

    Each sector was attacked in turn, enabling a larger concentration of force. The Regime army attacked and conquered only towns and villages that it needed to create an effective encirclement of the main objective.

    During the attacks and after the entire area of operations was surrounded and bombarded for days.

    Following days or weeks of bombardment and a gradually tightening siege the Regime offered terms of surrender that included transporting unrepentant rebels to the rebel-held Idlib province so they could join their compatriots there and allowing repentant rebels to reintegrate as loyal citizens – their ‘misdeeds’ forgiven.

This method drastically reduced Regime casualties. Its one drawback was the survival of many rebels ‘to fight another day’ – but apparently the Russians assessed that a dozen small successful battles followed by one big one would be cheaper than a dozen medium-sized battles. Events were to prove them correct.

An example of this new method can be seen in the battle for East Ghouta – a major suburb of Damascus. East Ghouta was besieged from 2012 to February 2018 and all attempts to conquer it by the previous method had failed. In February 2018 Regime forces attacked according to the new method. The area was divided into sectors to be treated separately one-by-one. From February till the end of April Syrian artillery pounded the more densely populated western sector with short pauses. Every day 300 to 500 shells and bombs were fired into the built-up area, on some days 900 and on one specific day 1,660 artillery shells and 1,250 aerial bombs. Syrian ground forces conducted ‘nibbling’ attacks to tighten the siege and gradually cut different sectors off from each other. Each ‘island’ was then attacked separately till the rebels within surrendered. [xviii]

By mid-2018 the Regime and its allies had completed the reconquest or surrender of virtually all western Syria. After a period of recuperation and reorganization the Regime now focused on the last rebel-held province – Idlib. The campaign to retake Idlib included a political-military complication – the presence of Turkish troops monitoring a ceasefire agreed upon by them and Russia while the Regime forces were busy elsewhere.

Turkish direct military involvement had begun in 2016 and escalated since: capturing bits of tactically important ground along the border, providing supporting fire to rebel forces near the border and providing weapons and training for rebel forces. In 2017 the Turks invaded Syrian territory outright, using both their own forces and a proxy Syrian Rebel militia. Their main objectives – drive the Syrian Kurds away from the Turkish border to prevent cooperation between them and Turkish Kurd rebels, stop the massive migration of Syrian civilians to Turkey by providing a safe-haven on the Syrian side of the border and prevent the total defeat of the Sunni Rebellion.

The Regime offensive into Idlib was conducted very slowly – the success of the previous battles had brought a large concentration of rebel forces there and these were supported by Turkey. Regime forces conducted a methodical attack – each one aimed at taking only a small area: methodical surveillance of the area to detect Rebel forces and positions, an air and artillery bombardment lasting days to reduce them, a combined-arms attack – usually in two prongs several kilometers apart to surround the chosen area, and then a methodical clearing of that area in a converging attack. The focus was along the eastern portion of Idlib – further from the Turkish border and through which ran the main highway connecting central Syria to Aleppo. Gradually, as small success followed small success, and despite a number of successful rebel counterattacks, the Regime forces advance increased its pace. To halt it in February 2020 the Turks escalated their presence and provided artillery support to the rebels and began to suffer a trickle of casualties themselves. Then, on 27th February, a single Regime airstrike killed 33 Turkish soldiers. Turkey responded with an all-out armed-RPV aerial offensive on the Regime forces and a major rebel counterattack assisted by Turkish artillery. However, after an initial shock that allowed the rebels to recapture a swathe of territory, Regime forces recovered, adapted to the new tactical situation and resumed their advance, taking again all the ground lost to the Rebel counterattack and more. On 5th March Turkey capitulated, withdrew its demand that the Regime forces withdraw to the previous ceasefire line and agreed to a new ceasefire on Russian terms. By then the Regime had taken 43% of Idlib province and opened the highway – a clear-cut victory.

Stabilization Operations (2018 – 2020)

Apart from Idlib and a few small scattered areas where rebel presence is still prevalent, the Regime has begun work on rebuilding the shattered country – including the rebuilding of its army. Many former rebel leaders and their followers have been integrated into the local government bureaucracy and even into Regime military forces as regional commanders in charge of local peace, each in his region. Occasionally friction arises between former rivals and sometimes this leads to local firefights. The Regime responds by setting up an ad-hoc taskforce that ‘floods’ the troubled area with forces and conducts forced arbitration between the belligerents. What fighting continues along the Idlib front and here and there across Syria, especially in the former Islamic State areas in the east, have de-escalated to low intensity guerrilla and counter-guerrilla operations.

The rebuilding of the Syrian army has begun. However, this is fraught with political rivalries too: the Iranians are trying to increase their political say in Syria and are funding certain army commanders and units; the Russians have their favorites too. Assad is trying to regain independence from both but seems to prefer Russian tutelage to Iranian – especially as the Iranians are trying to embroil him in fighting with Israel. Israel was not directly involved in the civil war, but it has a major interest in its results and over the years has worked to further those interests with humanitarian aid to the Syrian population near its border, military actions and diplomatic agreements with Russia.

The Way Ahead

During the years of the civil war the Syrian army changed its modus operandi at the strategic, operational, and tactical level. The change occurred because the previous operational concept failed, and the army forces were unable to carry major offensive operations. The Russian military intervention brought a different approach to utilizing the Syrian military force. Attrition-based warfare proved the correct strategy for reconquering Syria. It also proved to be an operational concept that allows the Syrian army to overcome its enemies. The question is will it affect the future structure and military strategy of the Syrian army: The new Syrian army will need to face three separate threat scenarios:

    A renewal of the rebellion;

    A Turkish invasion;

    War with Israel.

Each scenario requires a slightly different force posture and capabilities though the latter two are similar. As it now stands it seems the Russians are leading the Syrian military revival so one can assume a future Syrian army similar in structure and doctrine to the directions the Russian army is developing, adapted to the unique local circumstances – especially the need to conduct counter-insurgency operations on a day-to-day basis for the foreseeable future while simultaneously building the capability to fight a technologically superior regular warfare enemy. Thus, it is plausible to think that the army will be made of two armies: one that can execute offensive operations to limited geographical objectives and another that will be able to only do defensive operations. Both armies will have sufficient fire power to attrite enemy forces while minimizing the damage the enemy could cause them.


[i] Eyal Zisser, “The Civil War in Syria – A Human Tragedy and Failure of the International Community”, Politics, Issue 27 (Spring 2018), pg 23, (Hebrew).

[ii] Shmuel Shmuel, “The Syrian Army 2006 – 2011: Organization and Operational Concept”, Ma’arachot (October 2020), pp 16 – 24 (Hebrew).

[iii] Force deployment see: Joseph Holliday, “The Syrian Army: Doctrinal Order of Battle”, Institute for the Study of War, 15 February 2013, p.35.

[iv] Threat scenarios and plans see: Training and Doctrine Command – G-2 ACE Threats Integration, U.S. Army TRADOC Report: Syria Threat Tactics (February 2016), p. 3.

[v] Shmuel Shmuel, “The Syrian Army 2006 – 2011: Organization and Operational Concept”, Ma’arachot (October 2020), pp 16 – 24 (Hebrew).

[vi] Holliday, 2013, pp. 13-15.

[vii] Gregory Waters, “Syria’s Republican Guard Growth and Fragmentation”, Middle East Institute (December 2018), pp. 3-4.

[viii] David Alexander, ” U.S. military pays Syrian rebels up to $400 per month: Pentagon”, Reuters, 23 June 2015.

[ix] “Syria crisis: ‘Only four or five’ US-trained Syrian rebels are still fighting”, BBC, 17 September 2015; Paul Mcleary, “The Pentagon Wasted $500 Million Training Syrian Rebels. It’s About to Try Again” Foreign Policy, 18 March 2016.

[x] Yogev Elbaz, “Anti-Tank Combat in the Syrian Civil War 2012 – 2020”, Ma’arachot (October 2020), pp 24 – 30 (Hebrew).

[xi] Ariyel Biton, “The Employment of Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles in the Syrian Civil War”, Ma’arachot (October 2020), pp 38 – 46 (Hebrew).

[xii] Andrea Beccaro, “Modern Irregular Warfare: The ISIS Case Study”, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 29(2), (2018), p. 211.

[xiii] Jessica D. Lewis, “The Islamic State: A Counter Strategy for a Counter State”, Institute for the Study of War (June 2014), pp. 13-16.

[xiv] Christopher Kozak, “An Army in all Corners – Assad Campaign Strategy in Syria”, Institute for the Study of War (April 2015), pp. 34 – 35.

[xv] “Syria War: Army breaks IS siege of Deir al-Zour”, BBC, 5 September 2017.

[xvi] Chris Tomson , “Syrian Army, Palestinian militia dislodge ISIS from strategic town in east Aleppo, AMN, 10 May 2017;

[xvii] Leith Aboufadel , “Elite Republican Guard unit deploys to Sukhnah for big battle with ISIL”, AMN, 26 July 2017;

[xviii] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 16 July 2017, https://www.syriahr.com/en/69998/

[xix] “Syrian army encircles Daesh militants in desert: monitor”, Arab News, 24 August 2017.

[xx] Chris Tomson, “In pictures: ISIS ready to fight to the last man in besieged Aleppo pocket – Map update”, AMN, 1 July 2017.

[xxi] “Involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian Civil War”, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 2 June 2013, pp 7 – 14, 17 – 33.

[xxii] See for example: Aron Lund, “The Battle for Daraa”, Carnegie Middle East Center, 25 June 2015.

[xxiii] https://twitter.com/archicivilians/status/613926043011776512;

[xxiv] Christopher Kozak, ” The Assad Regime Under Stress: Conscription and Protest among Alawite and Minority Populations in Syria”, Institute for the Study of War, 15 December 2014; Training and Doctrine Command – G-2 ACE Threats Integration, U.S. Army TRADOC Report, p.5; “Insight: Battered by war, Syrian army creates its own replacement”, Reuters, 21 April 2013.

[xxv] Lukas Andriukaitis, Emma Beals, Graham Brookie, Eliot Higgins, Faysal Itani, Ben Nimmo, Michael Sheldon, Elizabeth Tsurkov, Nick Waters, Breaking Ghouta, Washington: The Atlantic Council, 2018, pp. 14- 45.

Into Poland 1939

Johann Graf von Kielmansegg had grabbed what sleep he could on the floor of the village school in Panki. He was up before dawn this Saturday morning. He washed himself vigorously in the school’s water fountain, then climbed into his staff car to return to the front line. As he did, he watched three bombers coming in low from the east. The Luftwaffe returning from its first raid of the day, Kielmansegg thought. Something dark fell from one of the bombers then three, four, five explosions. Lumps of earth flew through the air. Another stick of bombs fell directly over Panki, but it did not halt 1st Panzer Division. Only poor roads and the odd demolition hindered the armour’s advance. There was little sight of the enemy. The race to Warsaw had begun in earnest.

Everywhere on the first day of battle German troops had punctured the Polish lines: in Pomerania, in the Corridor, in Silesia, in the Carpathians. In places the enemy had offered battle, but invariably the invader had skirmished briefly with his foe, and his foe had fallen back. Only on the Westerplatte, where this fledgling conflict had begun, did the sense of success elude the attacker. Every attack against the peninsula had been repulsed for the cost of just four dead. Henryk Sucharski, the garrison’s commander, was pleased. Battle-hardened veterans had stiffened the resolve of his younger troops. In each man there was a feeling of ‘having won the first battle’. With dawn on the second they waited for the attacker to come once more. But he did not…

There had been little darkness by the banks of the Brahe. All through the night flares had raced into the sky above the bivouacs of 3rd Panzer Division around the hamlet of Hammermühle, forty miles north of Bromberg. Blazing farms lit up the valley ‘like burning torches’. Wild rifle and pistol fire persisted throughout the night. Two Polish officers in a large Mercedes, its headlights on full beam, accidentally drove through the German picket line and were immediately taken prisoner and marched off into captivity. But if the panzer men believed they were dealing with a shaken, demoralised, beaten enemy, they were sorely mistaken. With first light, the Poles swept forward – infantry and cavalry, elements of two divisions and one brigade – determined to crush the German bridgehead. The 3rd Panzer’s commander Geyr von Schweppenburg and his staff fled, dashing back over open ground to find shelter as Polish shells and machine-gun fire chased them. The defence of the bridgehead was leaderless; Geyr had little idea where his men were.

Geyr’s superior Heinz Guderian was not a man to be unnerved. The attack on 3rd Panzer did not unduly trouble him. But the timidity of 2nd Motorised Infantry Division on the armour’s left flank did. Like the panzers, the infantrymen were set upon by enemy horsemen, the Pomorska Cavalry Brigade. Generalleutnant Paul Bader warned his corps commander he would be forced to fall back. Guderian exploded. Had Bader ever heard of Pomeranian grenadiers being overrun by enemy cavalry, he asked. No, Bader sheepishly replied, he had not. His division would stand firm. Still Guderian was unconvinced. His mistrust was well founded. When he visited the division’s staff that morning it was, he recalled, ‘all at sea’. There was only one solution. The panzer General took charge, leading the regiment which had withdrawn in the face of Polish cavalry back to the positions it had held.

Hundreds of miles to the south in the Carpathians, the Landsers of 7th Infantry Division had already marched half a dozen miles. Some men had spent an unsettled night billeted in a Polish restaurant; its owner reluctantly served the invaders a few glasses of rather stale beer before the men settled down on hay in the adjacent stable. About to doze off, the Landsers were startled by the crack of infantry fire. For an hour, the soldiers swept through the neighbouring meadows on a mild, bright moonlit night, then rested for a couple of hours. Well before dawn, the division was on the move again, unhindered, in silence. Where is the enemy? the men asked themselves. He had gone and so too the few villages who inhabited this mountainous landscape. All that remained were cattle. Only as the infantrymen approached the heights of Barania, beyond the village of Szare, did the enemy appear, sending artillery shells raining down on the men. As the morning mist began to disperse the German guns opened fire on the slopes of Barania. The Poles fell back. The German troops stormed through a brook then up the hill. At the top they enjoyed a warm meal, pork they were told, and looked down the valley towards Polish bunkers defending the village of Wegierska Gorka, a handful of miles to the north.

Some thirty miles away, Heinz Borwin Venzky’s armoured reconnaissance unit drove past Polish field fortifications on the road to the Upper Silesian town of Auschwitz. Panzers and infantry had stormed the bunkers at dawn; the tell-tale markings of caterpillar tracks were still visible on the road and in the fields. ‘Dead Poles lie around everywhere,’ Venzky wrote as his unit rolled past the battlefield for a good half hour. Some dead looked as if they were sleeping peacefully; others were a bloody mess. Wounded Poles crouched apathetically by the side of the road. Bloody scraps of uniform and dented steel helmets were scattered around. Shot-up anti-tank guns were stuck in ditches. Under one smashed limber, Venzky spied a dead Pole. ‘From a pale face, his empty, wide-open eyes stare towards heaven.’

Auschwitz was also the objective for one Polish reserve officer, marching with his column towards the town against a tide of dejected, panicking soldiers. The remnants of three divisions were falling back in chaos. Fear of German panzers had gripped every man. There was talk of an enemy breakthrough barely a dozen miles away. The officer and his men continued towards Auschwitz, but as they approached the town they were attacked from behind by German armour. The column scattered; the men abandoned their kit and, in some cases, their guns and ran for Auschwitz. The roads were crammed with retreating military vehicles and refugees. The staff of 6th Division forced their way through by brandishing pistols. They attempted to rally the men and succeeded in forming a new line in Auschwitz itself. But how long would it last?

4th Panzer Division was finding Saturday, 2 September, no easier than Friday, 1 September. Shortly before mid-day Willi Reibig drove over the previous day’s battlefield north of Czestochowa – Tschenstochau to the Germans – as he moved into position to attack. A Polish field kitchen had been overrun on the first day of the war. Dead Poles lay scattered around it, with wood and coal still littering the field. A bit further on Reibig came across a wrecked field howitzer, ammunition and shell cartridges, more dead. A hideous sweet smell drifted across the battlefield, hardly surprising under the heat of the September sun. Reibig’s panzers crept slowly along, then as the ground opened up before them, the crews sighted dismounted Polish cavalry resting in a copse, and immediately opened fire. The panzers opened fire. ‘The Poles run away as if giant fists have waded in,’ he recalled. ‘Columns of smoke rise over the forest like fiery pine trees. What has not stayed down, dashes in great bounds and disappears behind a hill.’ The panzers pursued the horsemen into the wood, yet Reibig and his comrades found fighting among the trees unnerving. It wasn’t natural panzer country; it was difficult to manoeuvre, to sight the enemy amid the undergrowth, to avoid incoming Polish shells. ‘With a strange piijüh, piijüh, the shells whistle past us,’ wrote Reibig. ‘These hardly worry us – for what whistles has already passed and can do no harm. The bullet which you don’t hear is the one which hits you.’ It was the crack of rifle fire striking at the trees which gnawed at the men’s nerves. ‘We curse this damn bush war where we can never bring our full might to bear properly.’

As 4th Panzer battered its way forward, its right-hand neighbour, 1st Panzer, was racing for the River Warthe – the only substantial natural obstacle on the road to Warsaw. A reconnaissance unit pounced on a train packed with reservists. The soldiers fled into the surrounding woods, but were soon rounded up; none expected the Germans to be so deep inside Polish territory after less than thirty-six hours of war. The Poles had no time, too, to blow the bridges over the Warthe. All three fell undamaged into 1st Panzer’s hands and by 2pm, the first Germans were across the river far to the northeast of Czestochowa. Poles hampered the division’s onward move. Not the Polish Army, but civilians, refugees in their hundreds, clogging the roads with horses, carts, but mostly on foot. ‘There are also unintentional moments of comedy,’ Johann Graf von Kielmansegg observed, ‘like when an old farmer’s wife moved along with a cackling chicken under her arm and a gigantic alarm clock in her other hand as her sole possessions.’

On the east bank of the Vistula, the right arm of the German pincer squeezing the Corridor was lumbering towards the city of Graudenz. The East and West Prussians of 21st Infantry Division had been given wildly optimistic orders on the first day of battle – to smash any Polish forces northwest of Graudenz, then seize the city and the bridges over the Vistula, more than a dozen miles from the division’s jump-off position. Still, they had given it their best shot, punching their way over a small river, the Ossa, to within four miles of Graudenz. The second day of September dawned with the Vistula valley shrouded in thick fog. Under a blanket of artillery fire 45th Infantry Regiment tried to force its way through the Polish defences on the Ossa. It was cut down by a devilish hail of shell, mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire. ‘Medics here, medics there,’ recalled squad leader Karlheinz Herzberg. ‘Cries of: “Medic”, “Mother”, “Mama”, “Help” were drowned out by commands and orders. In the haze an olive-green helmet appeared sporadically and then vanished. In the bright morning after gaining a few hundred metres of ground the order to dig in arrived.’ The regiment dug in, but still the enemy’s shells continued to crash down. Incompetence now came to the attackers’ aid. The Polish command decided its two divisions blocking the road to Graudenz should swap places. As 16th Division began pulling out of the line, there was all manner of chaos as communications broke down and troops ran into each other. Their commander, Colonel Stanislaw Switalksi, lost his head and ordered a general retreat a dozen miles to the southwest. At times, particular among the rearward columns, the withdrawal turned to panic. Switalksi was promptly sacked, but the damage had been done. Only Graudenz’s small garrison and the militia – the Obrona Narodowa – stood between 21st Infantry Division and the town.

A few dozen miles to the west, 9th Infantry Regiment was rushing towards the Brahe to help Geyr von Schweppenburg and his beleaguered panzer division. The regiment force marched along the few roads which ran through a land studded by copses and lakes and which were now crammed with supply columns, hundreds of vehicles, limbered carts, unable to move. As Oberst Werner Freiherr von und zu Gilsa, the regimental commander, pushed his men east from Pruszcz down a railway line towards the village of Klonowo, half a dozen miles away, Polish troops swarmed out of the copses and south, over the rail line. They were thrown back. At dusk, the Poles came again – and again they were repulsed. Von und zu Gilsa feared a renewed attack. His men had not eaten for more than a day, they were exhausted by marching and fighting, but above all they were running out of ammunition. Inexperienced in battle, the men had swiftly devoured what supplies they carried with them – they had left the ammunition columns behind on the clogged roads. If the Poles came on again in force, supported by artillery, there was a chance they would smash their way through Gilsa’s lines and reach the banks of the River Brahe, barely a mile to the south, where all manner of vehicles were waiting to cross the makeshift bridge thrown across the river by 3rd Panzer.

But the Poles did not come. They did not come because Geyr and his men had weathered the storm and renewed their thrust to the Vistula. The sun beat down mercilessly. The roads were poor and usually only suitable for single-file traffic. Signs of Polish disintegration spurred the German armour on. Frequently the lanes were blocked by enemy columns which had bumped into each other in the chaos of battle, or by carts and trees struck by the stukas. By the side of these roads were abandoned ammunition and baggage wagons, the cadavers of horses, dead Poles.11

On the Westerplatte still they waited. Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, plans for a concerted raid on the Polish depot by dive-bombers had been postponed and delayed. In Schleswig-Holstein’s sick bay, bandmaster Willi Aurich was tending to the wounded from yesterday’s fighting. ‘On the bed opposite me lay two grey-black bodies, only one of which moved slightly from time to time and gave out awful, loud groans,’ he recalled. An hour before dusk, Aurich moved to the upper deck. A shipmate pointed to the sky. High above the Bay of Danzig three dots appeared. The dots multiplied. Six, nine, a dozen. For forty minutes they peeled off, one by one, sixty dots in all. The sirens screamed as the Ju87s of Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 plummeted towards the peninsula, then dropped 150 bombs upon the stubborn fortress. Observers on the Schleswig-Holstein saw clouds of smoke and dust tumbling into the sky – and just one section of wall crumble under the weight of the attack. ‘The heavens darken with rising smoke,’ Aurich recorded. ‘On board everyone is full of confidence that this must be the end for the Westerplatte.’ For a moment, the sailors thought they saw a white flag hoisted above the depot, only for it to be quickly hauled down again.

They had seen a white flag. Henryk Sucharski had lost his mind. The forty-year-old was a career soldier, a veteran of the Italian Front with the Austro-Hungarian Army in the Great War. But two days of intense bombardment had shattered the commander’s nerves, his deputy Captain Franciszek Dobrowski observed. ‘He was shaking and blubbering, his lips were foaming.’ Sucharski ordered the white flag hoisted and began burning all his secret papers. His officers mutinied. The Westerplatte’s doctor was summoned. Henryk Sucharski was strapped to a bed, a stick thrust between his teeth. The white flag was lowered, and resistance resumed.

Willi Reibig’s armour eventually emerged from the undergrowth only to run into fierce Polish resistance in front of the village of Kocin Nowy, eight miles north of Czestochowa, which was promptly set ablaze. By the time Reibig passed through it, the first inhabitants were nervously returning home. They stood, staring at the ruins of their cottages. Those who could still find a cellar untouched by fire or artillery were branded ‘the happy ones’ by the panzer men. Other refugees appeared, people who had fled the border villages with the imminence of war and headed for the forests. Now they emerged, wailing, shaking from fear. That evening, Reibig wandered back through the German lines. ‘I noticed a lovely smell,’ he remembered. A calf – wounded in the fighting

– had been slaughtered by an enterprising Landser. ‘A piece of dry bread and one piece of fried meat was an exquisite meal after the day’s exertions,’ wrote Reibig. ‘After eating, calm gradually descended, and I hit the sack and tried to sleep. But before I slowly crossed into the land of dreams, yesterday’s and today’s experiences once again flashed before my eyes. Another hot day had drawn to a close.’

Fifteen miles to the east, Graf von Kielmansegg settled down in his billet, a doctor’s house in the village of Gidle on the right bank of the Warthe. The bulk of his division was across the river. No German unit had punched its way further into Polish territory.

It was twilight before 7th Infantry Division was in position to attack the bunkers at Wegierska Gorka. The soft blue hue in the heavens contrasted with the red of countless fires in the valley of the River Sola. Luminous green tracers raced towards the embrasures of the concrete fortifications. A thousand gun barrels roared – machine-guns, rifles, field guns. A flamethrower was sent up to clear out one particularly troublesome bunker. The way was cleared into Wegierska Gorka, although little remained of the Carpathian village which now burned fiercely. Set against the yellow-red glow of the flames, the advancing landsers were easy targets for Polish sharpshooters hiding on the hillside. But beyond the blazing ruins, the infantry were plunged into darkness, stumbling through a brook, scrambling up a hill whose slopes were covered by trees in pitch blackness – so dark it was barely possible to see the man in front.

For some this was still a Blumenkrieg. The soldiers of 309th Infantry Regiment settled down in the homes and barns of German farmers. There had been no contact with the enemy.

It had been an exhausting, blazing, muggy Saturday in the Corridor. The night was cool. The men were tired and, above all, hungry and thirsty; the division’s supply columns were still far to the rear, unable to force their way through the traffic jam on the Brahe. In desperation, a few men grabbed their rifles and crawled over the fields in the darkness to milk any cows they could find. Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg shared the men’s exhaustion. But he also knew that his panzers stood a hair’s breadth from the Vistula. As far as the Generalleutnant was concerned, the enemy was cut off. The battle of the Corridor had been won.

Long before first light the following morning, Sunday, 3 September, Geyr von Schweppenburg ordered his armour to race along the left bank of the Vistula and begin clearing out the pine woods, marshes and scrubland of the Tucheler Heath. The Poles struck back, trying to force their way southeastwards towards Schwetz by the banks of the Vistula. They threw infantry and cavalry down the main road. 3rd Panzer’s artillery opened fire. It took a terrible toll. Limbers and baggage carts were overturned, horses ran around wildly and Polish soldiers threw away their guns and hurried across the fields in panic. Geyr threw in his infantry to complete the rout; by nightfall, more than 800 prisoners and fifteen guns had fallen into his hands. The road to Schwetz was a graveyard of wrecked vehicles and smashed guns. As for Schwetz itself, German armour dashed past it and continued north along the Vistula valley. The closer the panzers drew to Graudenz, the louder the sounds of battle drifting across the Vistula became and the brighter the fires burning in the town; 21st Infantry Division was fighting in the suburbs of Graudenz. They seized the railway yard. But they fell short of taking Graudenz. With darkness descending – and with the threat of fighting in the streets by night – 21st Infantry withdrew.

By first light that Sunday, staff officer Johann Graf von Kielmansegg was already at work in the courtyard of a doctor’s house in Gidle. Many of the village’s residents had stayed behind – convinced the panzer troops were English; some had even handed the soldiers flowers. Kielmansegg’s commanding officer, Friedrich Kirchner paced up and down the courtyard with his operations officer, Walther Wenck, discussing the situation. The deceptive tranquillity of this Sunday morning was shattered by the drone of aircraft. Luftwaffe formations had already roared overhead in both directions all morning long, but this time there was a loud cry. ‘Look out, bombs!’ Kirchner and his closest staff jumped into a hastily-dug trench, as the bombs straddled the doctor’s house. All missed their true targets – the Warthe bridges – but the attack was one of fifteen suffered by 1st Panzer’s columns that day, proof that the Polish Air Force had deliberately avoided battle on the first two days of the campaign – rather than being driven out of the sky. The division moved its command post repeatedly, finally settling in a forest. ‘We finally feel safe to some extent in a forest, when right next to us a blazing Polish aircraft crashes into the forest and sets it ablaze,’ wrote Kielmansegg. ‘Once more we have to run. But a success all the same!’ There was a begrudging admiration for the Polish airmen who ‘carried out their orders with great courage and also considerable skill. A shot-down Pole was one of numerous prisoners who said nothing during interrogation, despite his wounds.’

There was little sign of enemy aircraft twenty or so miles to the west of Kielmannsegg. In fact, there was little sign of any enemy as the artillery of 19th Infantry Division moved their guns across the Warthe. The fighting had long since passed. Soldiers bathed in the river. And on its bank, a naked Landser armed with a bayonet tried in vain to catch a goose.

Hitler’s Gets an Ultimatum

In Berlin, Paul Schmidt moved quickly through the corridors of the Foreign Ministry in the Wilhelmstrasse, carrying several sheaths of typescript paper handed to him minutes earlier by Sir Nevile Henderson. Britain’s Ambassador to Germany had arrived punctually at 9am – as he said he would. The supercilious Ribbentrop could not possibly see Henderson. He asked his interpreter, Paul Schmidt, to receive the British envoy. And now Schmidt hurried through the heart of Berlin’s government quarter to the Reich Chancellery bearing an ultimatum from the British.

The mood for the past two days in the Chancellery had been upbeat. London and Paris beat their chests and threatened ultimata, but that was all they were – threats. They had buckled at Munich, they would buckle again now, twelve months later. But the mood this Sunday morning was dark. A procession of Party bigwigs gathered in the Führer’s outer office. The Führer sat at his desk, his Foreign Minister by the window. Schmidt quickly translated the ultimatum. Germany had until 11am to agree to cease hostilities and withdraw its troops from Poland, otherwise it would be at war with the Empire. Hitler thought for what seemed like an eternity, then turned to Ribbentrop: ‘Was nun?’ what now? Ribbentrop was crestfallen. ‘I assume the French will present us with a similar ultimatum within the hour,’ he said quietly. At mid-day, French Ambassador Robert Coulandre duly obliged. He gave Hitler until 5pm to comply.

The Führer had no intention of complying. He summoned his three military commanders, then paced up and down a room overlooking the Chancellery garden, dictating four appeals – to the soldiers in the East, in the West, to the German people and to the Nazi Party. Walther von Brauchitsch strolled into Hitler’s office quietly confident. His army was on the verge of a great victory in the Corridor; the enemy was completely on the back foot. The war in Poland, he told his Führer, would be decided in a few days. Luftwaffe Commander-in-Chief Hermann Göring was deeply shaken, however. ‘If we lose this war, then God have mercy on us,’ he muttered. Erich Raeder, the Navy’s elderly head, tottered out of the Reich Chancellery ashen-faced. Hitler had repeatedly assured the Grossadmiral there would be no war with the Britain until 1944. Faced with the overwhelming might of the Royal Navy, the men of the Kriegsmarine ‘can do no more than show that they know how to die gallantly,’ Raeder lamented.

A fanfare blasted out over the loudspeakers erected around the Wilhelmplatz in central Berlin at mid-day. Several hundred Berliners were enjoying a Sunday lunchtime stroll on a glorious early autumn day. They stopped and listened to the announcer declare that Britain had declared war on Germany. American journalist William Shirer studied their faces. Berliners were dumbfounded, depressed, silent. Like their Führer, they had expected the ‘Polish thing’ to be settled in a few weeks. Few believed the Polish war would become a European war. But now it had. There was, Shirer observed, ‘no excitement, no hurrahs, no cheering, no throwing of flowers, no war fever, no war hysteria.’ Berliners ‘just stood there as they were before. Stunned.’

The downbeat mood in Berlin was not shared by Varsovians. Around mid-day loudspeakers across the Polish capital crackled into life. Britain had declared war on Germany, they proclaimed. ‘It was an electrifying moment,’ hospital secretary Marta Korwin remembered. ‘Warsaw overflowed with joy.’ Varsovians rushed out into the streets to celebrate, they laughed and cried with joy, they converged on the British Embassy, ignoring calls to disperse as German bombers roamed overhead. ‘Roly’ Sword, Britain’s military attaché, stepped out on to the balcony to acknowledge the crowds below him which stretched for miles down the Nowy Swiat. Sword raised a glass to the throng, then urged Jozef Beck, the Polish foreign minister, to join him in a toast to the two nations. The foreign minister shook his head. ‘Non, le moment est trop triste pour ma patrie.’ – no, this is too painful an hour for my country.

Jewish schoolteacher Chaim Kaplan was not among those celebrating. He knew Britain could not help his country directly. He knew Britain could not spare his beloved Warsaw from German air raids – there had been four on 2 September alone. He feared for Poland’s future. ‘She is at the mercy of the full force of war with a cruel, barbaric enemy who is armed to the teeth.’ And he feared for humanity. The German-Polish war, he wrote in his diary, had become a world war – ‘a bloodbath of nations’.

There was little jubilation, too, among the first refugees arriving in Warsaw that Sunday. Carts crammed with entire families moved wearily through the streets; the more agile struggled on bicycles with personal possessions dangling in bags from the handlebars. ‘They had fled to the “safety” of the capital of the country,’ Korwin observed, ‘but only found more German bombers over Warsaw.’

In Silesia, 1st Light Division crossed the Warthe northeast of the ruins of Wielun, still smouldering from the raids on the first day of the war. News reached the men that they were now at war with Britain and France as well. ‘Now this war has become a World War and it will last at least four years,’ a reservist officer said to himself.

Austrian infantryman Wilhelm Prüller spent his first wedding anniversary, 3 September, marching down the road to Krakow. He continued marching, resting, marching some more, preparing for battle, all Sunday and into Monday. Battle rarely came. There was sporadic shelling, the odd fire-fight, a few German dead, more wounded, but rarely did the enemy offer battle outright. ‘They continue to withdraw,’ he fumed. ‘They should face and fight us in a decent and manly way – but not a bit of it.’

Had he known the enemy’s plight, Wilhelm Prüller might not have been so frustrated. Everywhere the Army of Krakow was falling back. This was not an orderly retreat. It was chaos. The line the staff of 6th Division had tried to hold at Auschwitz crumpled almost immediately. All Sunday one Polish reserve officer and his men marched wearily eastwards. At dusk they trudged into Skawina, seven miles from Krakow. The horizon to the southeast glowed red: the town of Wadowice, barely a dozen miles away, was obviously ablaze. Civilians panicked. Soldiers panicked. All rushed towards Krakow in disorder. Command broke down. Officers were unable to give orders. Whenever soldiers asked where they should go the answer was always the same: to Krakow.

All over the lower slopes of the Beskids and the Upper Vistula valley the scenes were identical: Landsers marching forwards, Polish soldiers and civilians retreating. The men of 132nd Infantry Regiment found themselves showered with gifts from ethnic Germans. ‘It’s raining sandwiches, milk stands in pails by the side of the road – we can fill our canteens to our heart’s content,’ one delighted Landser wrote. ‘There’s fruit by the ton. And everywhere there are cheerful faces, the hands of young women waving and eyes looking on longingly.’ The joy of the liberated Volksdeutsche contrasted sharply with the plight of the Poles. Oberleutnant Heinz Borwin Venzky’s armoured reconnaissance column passed small carts crammed with goods, hauled by mules which could barely move any more. Some people walked barefoot, carrying their shoes in their hands, others carried large bundles, worried expressions etched on their faces. Woman cried. Old men shuffled along. They had fled in the face of the invader. Now the invader had overtaken them and they wandered forlornly towards their homes. Few expected to find them still standing, for the landscape was littered with villages and towns in flames, set ablaze either by German artillery or by the infantry, which torched every settlement where they encountered resistance. By night, wrote Prüller, ‘the whole countryside was red with fire’. War reporter Leo Leixner was spellbound by the ‘fantastic sight’ of Krakow and the landscape of the Upper Vistula under the pale glow of the moon. But it was not only the Polish land given a blue-green tint by the moon; the marching troops were also illuminated. Four cavalry who had ridden on ahead to reconnoitre were picked off by Polish troops. ‘We don’t know whether to thank the moon because it shows us the way, or curse it,’ wrote Leixner. When the cavalry failed to return, the troops decided the moon was their foe. ‘Damned light, horrible night.’

By nightfall, Adolf Hitler had recovered his poise. The Allies had declared war, but they would not fight, he explained to his Propaganda Minister. No, in the West there would be nothing more than a ‘potato war’.a Joseph Goebbels was unconvinced, but he stood behind his Führer. ‘We will fight and work towards victory one way or another.’ The two men shook hands and parted company. Shortly before 9pm, a series of staff cars pulled out of the Reich Chancellery and into Berlin’s empty, blacked-out streets. They drew up less than half a mile away outside the Anhalter Bahnhof. ‘Twenty-five years ago I was sucked into the First World War covered with flowers accompanied by stirring regimental music through an enthusiastic crowd of people,’ Army liaison officer Nikolaus von Vormann recorded in his diary. ‘Today the streets, shrouded in total darkness, were deserted.’

Waiting for Hitler and his entourage at a sealed-off, dimly-lit platform was a ten-carriage train, with two flak wagons added for protection, the Sonderzug (special train). The stationmaster watched the Führer and his party climb aboard, then blew his whistle. The wheels of two large, dark-green locomotives slowly turned and the train moved gently out of the station and headed northeast. There was no thought in Adolf Hitler’s mind of withdrawing from Poland. His troops were bearing down on Warsaw; Danzig was German again; Fourth Army was on the verge of cutting off the Polish Corridor. Yet Hitler knew that news of the Anglo-French declaration of war would unsettle many of his men – Germany was now fighting a conflict on two fronts. The Führer sought to reassure his Army swarming across Poland. ‘I know that you are aware of the magnitude of the task before you, and that you are doing your utmost to speedily throw down the adversary as a first step,’ he told them. They should not worry themselves about the Western Front. The West Wall would ‘shield Germany’ from the French and British onslaught. The Sonderzug continued through the night. At four minutes before 2am on 4 September, it drew into Bad Polzin (today Polczyn-Zdroj) 140 miles northeast of Berlin and stopped.

All through the night a column of staff cars drove steadily through Prussia towards Bad Polzin. When Adolf Hitler stepped off his train the next morning he found nearly eighty vehicles waiting for him and his entourage. A large beige open-top Mercedes pulled up for Hitler, shepherded by two armoured cars. The Führer climbed in, accompanied by his adjutants and his valet Heinz Linge. The Mercedes set off almost immediately, followed by two cars with half a dozen men of Hitler’s bodyguard, the Führer Begleit Kommando – Führer Escort Command. Three more Mercedes drew up for senior Wehrmacht officers, Hitler’s personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, physicians and various adjutants, followed by another two armoured cars. The rest of the motorcade – more than seventy vehicles – was dedicated to the golden pheasants of the Nazi Party, the weasely de facto Party chief-of-staff Martin Bormann, the sycophantic von Ribbentrop, the head of the Reich Chancellery Hans Lammers, and others. The dignitaries jostled for position, each one determined to be ahead of his rival in the interminable column.

The Führer’s motorcade snaked through Pomerania. The Mercedes threw up huge clouds of dust on the sandy roads, enveloping everything – especially the Party bigwigs, much to the amusement of the military adjutants. Volksdeutsche stood by the roadside. Some held hastily-made banners, others hung out black-white-red flags hidden during two decades of Polish rule. Whenever the Mercedes drew to a halt, soldiers surrounded Hitler’s car – there were no barriers, no cordon to hold them back. The Führer was in his element, at ease as he had never been before nor would be again. He shook the hands of his soldiers, who cried out, yelled, smiled, laughed, joked. The motorcade visited the command posts of Fourth Army in Komierowo, twenty-five miles northwest of Bromberg, then to II Corps in Pruscz, half a dozen miles from the Vistula, and finally to the command post of 3rd Infantry Division in Topolno on the left bank of the Vistula, fifteen miles northeast of Bromberg. In glorious sunshine, the Führer looked across the Vistula valley. ‘What this means to me!’ he enthused. Here, seven centuries before, Hermann Balk, the first Landmeister (ruler) of the German order of knights in Prussia, had begun the German colonisation of the land beyond the Vistula. To Nikolaus von Vormann the vista was intoxicating. ‘The view of the land of Kulm stretched far and wide, land fertilised with German blood,’ the officer recalled. To the southeast, perhaps twenty-five miles away, was the Teutonic fortress of Thorn, birthplace of Copernicus. And just half a dozen miles to the northeast were the historic towers and spires of Kulm itself. The panzers, von Vormann observed, were rolling through the city. This was the land where Nikolaus von Vormann had been born nearly forty-four years earlier. This was not the time to think about the future. A single thought dominated the Oberst’s mind. ‘A grave injustice in the Versailles Diktat had finally been put right,’ he remembered. ‘Historic German land had become German once more.’

Gawilghur and the End of the Second Anglo-Maratha War Part I

Arthur Wellesley

Gawilghur Fort

A resounding victory won at small cost solves many military problems. The war against the Mahrattas was going astonishingly well in Wellesley’s immediate theatre of operations. After the battle on 29 November 1803 both British armies were in fine physical and mental condition. The enemy was still numerous, but Mahratta morale was low.

Elsewhere in India there was more good news. On 1 November General Lake won decisively at Laswaree in a battle comparable to Assaye in viciousness and in what it achieved. Perron was utterly defeated. As we have seen, Scindia had lost in Guzerat also; Baroch had fallen. Colonel John Murray of the King’s 84th Foot had been engaged in a local conflict on behalf of the Gaikwar against a rival for the throne. Murray did better than expected and was able to consider an advance on Scindia’s capital at Ougein. Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. R. Harcourt of the King’s 12th Foot had conquered Berar’s entire province of Cuttack with a force of no more than 3,000. This campaign was complicated by weather and terrain, but it did not involve a great deal of fighting. For the first time British controlled territory extended along the coast from Madras to Calcutta. The Mahratta Confederacy no longer touched on the Bay of Bengal.

The two British armies that had won at Argaum moved by easy stages carrying their wounded towards Ellichpoor. On 3 December Wellesley camped only fifteen miles south of Gawilghur and reported to Stuart in Madras that from the plain ‘It does not appear to be as strong as many hill forts in Mysore taken by our troops.’ Even nowadays the resemblance to Nundydroog is remarkable when Gawilghur is observed from the south, though Gawilghur is much larger. The fortress town was thought to contain Berar’s treasure and some of his family. He also used it as a kind of fortified hot-weather retreat. But British armies in India usually had less trouble taking hill forts of all types than one would expect from looking at the places.

A hospital was established at Ellichpoor. Wellesley then apparently approached to within two miles of Gawilghur from the south south-east during a personal reconnaissance. The principal problem in attacking the fortress was one of getting close to it.

The approaches from the south consisted of two ‘roads’ leading to the fortress from the valley below. The easterly approach was so difficult that it would not even accommodate bullocks. It is still in use, but one must climb, not walk. The westerly road was narrow and steep, but moderately loaded carriage bullocks could go up. It was scarped on both sides at the top, however, and had the final disadvantage of passing for half a mile within point-blank range of the guns on the west wall of the Inner Fort.

If the fortress-town had been as inaccessible on all sides as it was from the south, the place might have been impregnable. Unfortunately for Berar’s garrison, the two rocky hills on which the fortress had been built were connected on the north by a narrow tongue of land to a whole low range of flattened mountains of similar elevation (about 3,600 feet) which extended east and west for many miles. Since the place could not be taken from the south, it had to be besieged from the north. At Ellichpoor, which was part of Hyderabad and in possession of the Nizam’s killadar, Wellesley learnt that the main approach to Gawilghur was from the north and lay along the narrow tongue of land.

The information available at Ellichpoor was meagre perhaps because Gawilghur, though only thirteen miles away as the crow flies, was in another country and much further by the only practical route which led through hilly jungle – a glorified path not wide enough for any wheeled vehicle. On the other hand, the jungle was not as impenetrable as that in India ‘below the ghauts’. Madras pioneers with strong working parties from the infantry should be able to help the bullocks and elephants pull and push the artillery up the hills and then west along the more or less flat crests. The total distance was about twenty miles.

Wellesley began his operations from Ellichpoor on 6 December 1803. He sent Chalmers and the 1/2 Madras from his own army to clear Deogaum and the valley four miles south of Gawilghur. From Stevenson’s army he sent Captain Alexander Maitland with the 1/6 Madras and two companies of the King’s 94th ‘to seize the fortified village of Damergaum which covers the entrance to the mountains’. Both these detachments succeeded in their missions, although Mahratta strength in the area was considerable. By this time Gawilghur was known to contain not only its normal garrison, but most of the survivors of Manoo Bappoo’s regular infantry. Enemy patrols were active in the foothills, so ample guards would have to be left at Ellichpoor for the hospital.

The two British armies moved out of Ellichpoor at sunrise on the 7th. Wellesley advanced only as far as the village of Deogaum, nine miles from his starting place and in a direct line between Ellichpoor and Gawilghur. A standard camp was established near the village. Stevenson’s army, temporarily reinforced by two of Wellesley’s iron 12-pounders and artillery and engineer personnel, had a much more difficult assignment. The troops began to climb the Gawilghur hills at Damergaum and continued into rugged country. They had to cut out trees and build roads with earth and rock, at one point filling in a chasm to save miles of additional road. After four days of exhausting work Stevenson’s army complete with its battering artillery and ammunition reached the village of Lobada on the ridge level with Gawilghur.

From this side the fortress was not so awe-inspiring. Although it was built on the summits of two hills with deep and precipitous slopes almost all round, a corridor about 400 yards broad led from the hills to the northern wall. The tongue of land was not open to the wall; two-thirds of it was protected by a tank or artificial lake nearly full of water. There remained, however, a ribbon of meadow about 120 yards wide which led up to the double northern wall with an extremely complicated entrance system.

Wellesley was at Lobada on the evening of 10 December because Stevenson’s health had not improved. For the next five days he was to divide his time almost evenly between the two armies. This involved a ride of just over twelve miles from Deogaum to Lobada over the rough new road, but he could probably cover the distance in about an hour and a half.

During the night of the nth a breaching battery was begun on the crest of a small rise overlooking the tank only 250 yards from the outermost wall. Fire was opened on the morning of the 12th from two 18-pounders and three iron 12-pounders. There was an enfilading battery of less powerful pieces – two such batteries later on – set further back and to the east to keep enemy personnel from repairing the walls or retrenching the breach.

The weather of India is hard on masonry. The stone used originally at Gawilghur was probably a by-product of scarping the hilltops on which the place was built, and was not good building stone. As at Ahmednuggur, the old solid-masonry walls appeared stronger than they actually were; 12-pounder and 18-pounder shot travelling at more than 1,200 feet per second caused extreme damage after a few hours. Almost every round brought down chunks of masonry. There were to be three breaches in all, a wide one in the lower wall and two in the upper structure.

The fortifications of Gawilghur still are quite complicated. They were built to fit the terrain rather than according to any regular plan. Gawilghur had, therefore, a weakness common to all fortresses of India design; it had little or no means of delivering flanking fire. The outer defences extended for more than six miles and varied in strength in accordance with the designers’ estimates of the inaccessibility to an enemy. In March 1968, for instance, I found one stretch of nearly a mile on the north-east side of the Inner Fort where I could see no trace of any fortifications. In 1803 there might have been a palisade or a trench of some sort, but nothing substantial since the slopes below were unclimbable from a military point of view. Such gaps in the fortifications did not constitute a physical weakness and did not contribute to the ultimate fall of Gawilghur. But they may have undermined the morale of the defenders.

The enemy had more than fifty pieces of artillery on the walls and in cavaliers, concentrated where targets were likely to appear. Some of the guns were large. One is still there, an enormous wrought-iron gun mounted on a small mamelon on the north side of the Inner Fort which could fire through nearly 180 degrees at any target that appeared on, or south of, the crest to the north. Another similar piece was mounted so as to fire into the valley to the south; its balls were said to carry for a distance of several miles, but accuracy would have been poor and a single plunging ball would have been most ineffective.

Stevenson’s army had only an imperfect knowledge of Gawilghur’s internal design. No accurate plan or sketch was available. The British did not understand the communications between the smaller, but slightly higher, Outer Fort on the north-western hill and the Inner Fort on the larger south-eastern hill which was unapproachable except by way of the Outer Fort. The two flat peaks were separated by an irregular ravine up to 300 feet deep, but it could not be clearly seen from any accessible point to the north. In addition to fortifications the Inner Fort contained a number of tanks and many solid buildings. It was at that time a considerable town.

In December 1803 Gawilghur had a garrison of 2,000–4,000 men under a Punjabi killadar, whose name may have been Beny Singh, and a civilian population of about 15,000–30,000. After Argaum Manoo Bappoo and some 4,000–6,000 of his regular infantry came in, accompanied undoubtedly by camp followers who in Mahratta armies were often semi-armed.1 Gawilghur was naturally strong, well fortified by Indian standards and amply garrisoned. Weapons, ammunition and military equipment were plentiful. The tanks were still reasonably full in spite of the poor monsoon and there was plenty of grain.

Throughout history, however, sieges have depended more on skill and morale than on walls and weapons. Wellesley’s engineers were well trained and veterans of similar operations in India. They had skilled pioneers to do their work. The gunners knew how to hit where their shot would be most effective and how to maintain their pieces in action efficiently. The assault would be led by active and courageous British officers who were exceptionally capable with their personal weapons.

By contrast, the Mahratta leaders had little knowledge or skill in the defence of their fortress. They did not try to prevent Stevenson’s army from approaching the ‘isthmus’ which was the only effective breaching ground. They made no effort to protect the wall with an earthen glacis or any form of outwork. They did not fire during the night of the nth at the place where the main battery had to be located.

We should look briefly at what had occurred south of Gawilghur. Between 6 and 8 December Wellesley had driven in all the Mahratta pickets, but he did not endeavour to invest the enormous fortress. He kept the bulk of his troops in camp at Deogaum four miles away, though he had a forward concentration post in the small village of Baury at the junction of ‘roads’ from the south and the north-west gates. British patrols pushed north on both tracks to within a musket shot of the walls. The difficult eastern route to the south gate of the Inner Fort was the only one that could possibly be used to get artillery within range of the fortifications. The other road was better in that it could accommodate draft animals, but was commanded by fire from the guns on the walls of the Inner Fort.

EIC engineers had much experience in moving guns over impossible terrain mainly by manpower. They attempted to get Wellesley’s two remaining iron 12-pounders up the eastern route on the night of the nth. The Indian and, perhaps, European pioneers were reinforced by working parties of muscular Scots from the 74th and 78th regiments. If the task was humanly possible, these men would accomplish it.

Early in the evening engineers, pioneers, artillerymen and working parties began their efforts. We should remember that they had to do their work without artificial illumination, and there was no possibility of dragging the pieces up complete with their carriages – the wheels would not roll over the small steep cliffs. Stripping the carriages was no problem, but each gun, in modern terminology the tube only, became a nine-foot fiend weighing 4,100 pounds (32 cwt) able to crush men with the smallest slip or roll. There was no way to secure tackle above, not even room for a team to pull from a distance. Elephants, which normally were used in all difficult gun movements, could not negotiate the terrain.

The job simply could not be done; the route was too steep and too uneven. After ten hours’ labour, the men buried the pieces under debris and retired as dawn was coming. On the night of the 12th they did manage to get forward two brass 12-pounders and two 5·5-inch howitzers, much lighter pieces, which they mounted in a battery within 400 yards of the south gateway, but about 450 feet below it. The brass 12-pounders had to fire at an elevation of almost thirty degrees and did no serious damage. Their shot are said to have rebounded back to the guns themselves and perhaps into the valley below. The battery was more like a sheepfold than a normal emplacement.

Stevenson’s battering pieces did far better on the northern side. They opened on the 12th, and by the morning of the 14th the breaches were thought practical: an armed man could climb into the fortress. Wellesley had a close look with a telescope and decided on an assault the next day. Stevenson was in no better health, so Wellesley continued to direct both armies, giving verbal orders and discussing all pertinent details with Stevenson’s corps commanders. He confirmed his instructions in writing later that day from his camp at Deogaum.

Wellesley knew from his own inspection that Stevenson’s breaches into Gawilghur were moderately difficult; if the garrison worked hard at repairing the defences on the night of the 14th, they might be un-negotiable the next morning. A skilful fortress commander would surely do this and perhaps place mines and other obstacles in the way of the assault. To discourage such measures, however, a large gun loaded with grape was discharged at the breaches every twenty minutes throughout the night.

A dawn assault had some advantage, but not enough to outweigh a few hours’ additional battering if it should be found necessary. Wellesley also wanted the enemy inside Gawilghur to see his two powerful British forces approaching from the south. The assault was set for 10 a.m.

Wellesley’s attack from the south had no hope of taking the place, but some of the Mahrattas inside had surely heard of the British escalade of the pettah at Ahmednuggur. Wellesley was still relying on audacity. If the Mahrattas had fought skilfully and courageously, Gawilghur could hardly have been taken at all, at least not on the 15th. But the image of British invincibility was already established. Even Hindoos who did not place such a high value on their lives as Europeans could fight effectively only in an atmosphere of some hope.

Stevenson’s attack through the northern breaches was to be led by Lieutenant-Colonel William Kenny of the 1/11 Madras with the grenadier company and two battalion companies of the King’s 94th and the flank companies of three EIC battalions – his own, the 2/11 and the 2/7 Madras. There were also small units of pioneers and artillery, making a total of about 1,000 men in all.

The force that would make the second assault through the breaches if the first should fail, or would follow into the Outer Fort if it succeeded, was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Peter C. Desse of the 2/2 Madras; he had the light and two more battalion companies of the King’s 94th with the flank companies of the other three EIC battalions of Stevenson’s army – the 2/2, the 1/6, and the 2/9 Madras. Desse also had pioneers and artillery for a total of about 1,000 fighting men.

Behind these two forces Major James Campbell of the King’s 94th led the other four battalion companies of his corps, backed up by the battalion companies of the 2/7, the 1/11, and the 2/11 Madras under EIC Lieutenant-Colonel John Haliburton, who was senior to all officers except Stevenson in the army. We will hear more of Haliburton.

The assaults were to be pressed home regardless of cost; a total of about 4,600 first-quality fighting men were assembled in the four assault commands. Only EIC Lieutenant-Colonel H. Maclean with the other three EIC battalions less their flank companies was held in camp as a reserve.

Gawilghur and the End of the Second Anglo-Maratha War Part II

Wellesley’s two southern, essentially diversionary, assaults were commanded by Wallace and Chalmers. Wallace was to take the steep route to the southernmost gate and had his own under-strength King’s 74th, the right wing of the King’s 78th, and the ever-reliable 1/8 Madras; Chalmers was to ascend by the less difficult, though far from easy, road which led round the west side to the Outer Fort and was commanded by heavy guns on the west wall of the Inner Fort. He had the left wing of the King’s 78th and the 1/10 Madras.

Wallace and Chalmers began their movement on time, but the Mahratta killadar (Beny Singh?) apparently tried to negotiate for terms before the assault. Stevenson, in spite of his illness, was now at hand to take charge of such a situation. Nothing but surrender at discretion was acceptable and the Mahrattas were given only half an hour to decide. However, when the enemy was seen to be violating the truce Stevenson ordered Kenny forward before the time had elapsed.

Stevenson’s storming parties swept up the breach in the approved fashion of the time and apparently without serious difficulty. The Scots, followed by the sepoy flankers, went into Gawilghur covered by a storm of grape from all three British batteries which lifted only as they began to climb into the line of fire. A few brave Mahrattas rushed forward to contest the narrow passages at the top, but with shock weapons only. No effort had been made to retrench, or to close the breach with gambions. There were many cannons and scores of wall-pieces, but none had been shifted to sweep the breaches. The greater physical strength and discipline of the Highlanders were too much for the enemy in the close confines of the breach itself and the passages which lay beyond it. Their bayonets and clubbed muskets quickly killed almost every man that ventured to oppose them. A single Mahratta is said to have fought on equal terms with the assaulters for a time, but he too was killed.

Kenny’s party entered the Outer Fort with relatively minor casualties, but apparently then split up. Remember, no one in the British camp knew much about the lay-out of Gawilghur. One group which probably went through the right-hand upper breach moved slightly west of south pressing their enemies towards the gate Chalmers was approaching. This ‘north-west’ gate actually lay in the south wall of the Outer Fort. In an endeavour to escape from some of Kenny’s men, the garrison opened this gate and ran head on into Chalmers and the left wing of the 78th. These unfortunate men had just escaped from Scots in trews and were faced with more in kilts. They were caught literally between two fires. Those who had already emerged from the gate were on a narrow scarped causeway blocked by red giants behind viciously gleaming bayonets. The Highlanders’ blood was fired by the audacious ascent and the skirling pipes. The situation for the enemy, especially at the head of their narrow column, could hardly have been worse. Heavy bullets from Brown Bess muskets were ploughing into them, front and rear. The survivors had a choice between the bayonets and the jagged rocks below. This double-ended slaughter was soon over. Chalmers’ column from the valley below entered the Outer Fort.

Kenny himself and some of his men probably used the left-hand upper breach, went straight south and then east of south towards the Inner Fort. They soon received the support of Desse’s units which had cleared the breaches and moved in the same direction. For the first time the significance of the half-seen ravine between the two hills became apparent. The British columns had overwhelmed the Outer Fort, but they were as far from taking the larger and more powerful Inner Fort as on the day before. The most formidable defences in Gawilghur, the so-called ‘third wall’, lie south of the ravine. On this side the only entrance is through a series of five massive gates with long, steep and narrow angled passages between. The entire route was swept by fire from battlements along the top of each passage. This retreat route for the garrison in the Outer Fort was apparently prematurely closed which led to the slaughter at the ‘north-west’ gate.

The series of gates and passages from the Outer into the Inner Fort could probably have been forced by British infantry, perhaps with the aid of an artillery piece, but it would have been a long and costly fight. Fortunately, it was unnecessary. Kenny and Desse formed their twelve companies of sepoy flankers, or at least a major part of them, in line at the bottom of the ravine. They extended a distance of about 350 yards from east to west, filling most or all of the portion of the ravine between the Inner and Outer Forts. The sepoys were told to fire at any enemy heads appearing above the ‘third wall’ battlements. Kenny then led the three companies of Scots under his command at the succession of gates. He fell mortally wounded, but his units began to make some progress.

Meanwhile, there was another development. The ‘third wall’ along the north-west side of the Inner Fort is built along the top of a steep cliff. From the north-east – the only place from which much of it could be seen before the assault – this cliff seemed near impossible to climb. However, Captain Campbell1 of the light company of the King’s 94th had studied it and the wall above with a telescope, perhaps from well down in the chasm. He believed that it could be climbed and led his men up a route he had already chosen. They carried with them a single sturdy ladder, not more than fifteen feet long, and reached the base of the wall on the top of the cliff without being discovered. They were taking full advantage of the covering fire from Desse’s sepoys. Kenny’s assault on the series of gates and twisting passages undoubtedly occupied most of the garrison’s attention.

Campbell was the first man up the ladder and leapt down inside, sword in hand, followed quickly by his men. For a few seconds the Scots had to fight for their lives. Again physical strength, discipline and courage was on their side. Once all eighty of them were inside, the local opposition lost heart. Campbell led his men east behind the battlements to the head of the line of passages and gates and started opening them one at a time from the top. There were several short, bloody clashes, but the Mahrattas were always over borne.

Ten minutes later Campbell and his men admitted the rest of the British force into the Inner Fort. All organized resistance collapsed soon thereafter. Elphinstone tells us that he and a small party, haphazardly collected, opened the southern gate so that Wallace’s column could enter. The colours of Berar were replaced by those of the King’s 78th for which an even higher spot was found.

Elphinstone gives, perhaps unintentionally, an interesting picture of Wellesley’s own movements during the storm of Gawilghur. On the morning of the 15th, Stevenson asked the young civilian, ‘Will you go down from the fort to the valley below, or ride round by Damer-gaum, to tell the General what happens?’

‘Neither, Sir! We are going to meet inside.’

Wellesley was never again so far forward in action as at Sultanpetah Tope. He lost control of a whole situation there because he was leading in a physical sense, but he was not going to sit in his tent at Deogaum and wait for someone to bring him news of the assault on Gawilghur. He entered the Inner Fort with Wallace, probably between the right wing of the 78th and the 74th.

British casualties were light, a total of 126. The Mahrattas lost tragically. Wellesley was to write three weeks later that the loss of ‘the enemy was immense. The killadar, all the principal officers, and the greater part of the garrison were killed.’ The killadar atoned somewhat for his military inefficiency by dying sword in hand. So did Manoo Bapoo who had aimed so high and failed so ignominiously at Argaum. The fighting at the breaches and both inside and outside the ‘north-west’ gate was excessively bloody. There were some other spots of extreme resistance which led to severe enemy casualties. Quarter was not normally given when fortresses were stormed in India; the danger was too great that prisoners taken would return to the fight.

Some historians have assumed that practically the entire garrison of Gawilghur perished because they could not escape. I disagree; the walls were never high nor was the descent into the ravine unmanageable. In my opinion an active man with a turban of tough material that could be used as a rope could leave Gawilghur at almost any point and get away safely. There still is, for instance, a way out from the extreme eastern corner where a middle-aged American can get out and back again even without a turban. I believe there were at least 8,000 fighting men inside Gawilghur, of whom more than half got away.

Gawilghur contained fifty-two cannon, including the big wrought-iron pieces already mentioned, and 150 smaller wall-pieces which apparently were -pounders. The garrison had 2,000 new British Brown Bess muskets complete with bayonets, scabbards, belts and cartridge boxes. There were, of course, many other weapons, including matchlocks and bows and arrows, but Berar’s entire regular infantry had modern arms, most of them made in Agra probably after the French pattern.

There had been rumours in the British camps that Gawilghur contained treasure of gold and silver coin, plate and jewels belonging to the Rajah of Berar. The treasure was not discovered, although the British found tons of copper coins together with some silver bowls and dishes worth less than 300,000 rupees in all. No other coins and no gold vessels were discovered, nor were any jewels captured for the public treasury, although individual soldiers undoubtedly did obtain some loot. If the treasure ever had been kept in Gawilghur, and there seems to be little reason to doubt that some at least had been there, the Mah-rattas got it out in time. The British armies neither tried nor could possibly have succeeded in surrounding the place. It is also possible that the treasure was hidden and recovered later. Gawilghur was too large for an efficient search.

British soldiers, particularly the Light Company of the King’s 94th, performed superbly in the taking of Gawilghur. The routes from the valley below were extremely rough and steep. Had Chalmers not fortuitously found his gate open, the passages behind it appear defensible by boys with rocks. The same is true of the southern entrance to the Inner Fort.

Wellesley’s own contribution was as much physical as mental. He directed both armies, which meant an average of at least thirty-five miles of riding each day, much of it over a bad new road. He made no mistakes in the siege and assaults, but the victory depended in about equal parts on the professional skills of his armies, especially the engineers and artillerymen, and on the dominance of the Scottish infantry already established on the plain of Argaum and in the rolling country between the Kaitna and the Juah. Wellesley was able to retain the initiative and keep pressure on the enemy. He won with a combination of military expertise, fighting efficiency and audacity.

A military victory again solved problems. The Rajah of Berar was now nearly defenceless and his capital at Nagpoor lay open to an advance from Ellichpoor only eighty miles north-east. For once, a Mahratta chief had no desire for diplomatic manoeuvring. Berar wanted peace on any terms as quickly as possible. His vakels came the day after Gawilghur fell.

The Governor-General had given Wellesley command of all military forces and control of all British Residents in the Deccan; he had also granted him complete authority to negotiate with both Berar and Scindia. This appointment was of extreme consequence; Wellesley was authorized to deal with the two rulers not only over their territory in the Deccan, but in the rest of India as well. Nominally, Scindia had controlled territory far to the north around Delhi and Agra; Berar had ruled Cuttack (his littoral on the Bay of Bengal). Much of these areas had now been taken from them. In those days conquered territory was not often returned. But a peace treaty would have to state precisely each territorial gain for the EIC, the Peshwa and the Nizam, and every other condition in favour of the British and their allies. Wellesley was aware that the enemy was extremely capable at interpreting documents that were the least bit ambiguous in their interest. His military responsibility would cease with the restoring of peace, but the treaties he made might last for generations.

Few young professional soldiers have had such great political and diplomatic responsibility and none have handled it better. The Treaty of Deogaum was concluded with Berar three days after the fall of Gawilghur. The Rajah was to disband his army, to receive a British Resident, to give up all of Cuttack and to surrender to the EIC and its allies his domains to the west of the Werdah river. The treaty was extremely advantageous to the British administration in India, but left the State of Berar still in being. The Wellesleys did not want to destroy the old order completely, but just to mould it according to their own ideas. The Rajah would become a minor power within a few years, but his people would benefit from an imposed peace and what was likely to be a more comfortable and prosperous situation.

What appeared to be a simple, easily interpreted clause of the treaty gave rise to a problem. Wellesley had chosen the Werdah, a large and well defined stream, as a definite frontier between the territories of Hyderabad and Berar. As early as 24 October Wellesley wrote to the younger Kirkpatrick, who still was British Resident at Hyderabad, for a complete list of the Nizam’s districts and villages, but none was furnished. However, he was told by the Nizam’s chief representative in his camp, Rajah Mohiput Ram, that the Nizam had no territory east of the Werdah. After the treaty was signed, Wellesley discovered that the Nizam did in fact have three districts on that side of the river. Mohiput Ram had been disloyal to his master. On 9 January 1804 Wellesley wrote to the Governor-General, ‘It is scarcely possible to believe that Rajah Mohiput Ram did not know that the Soubah of the Deccan had territories on the left bank of the Wurda, but he told me upon more than one occasion that he had none. But supposing him to have had a knowledge of the extent of his master’s territories in that quarter, his conduct in deceiving me upon that subject is not more extraordinary than his having been the channel by which a present of five lacs of rupees was offered to me provided I would consent to make peace with the Rajah of Berar on condition of his ceding to the Company the province of Cuttack only.’ Treaty or no treaty, Wellesley had no intention of depriving the Nizam of territory that had been long in his possession, even though the new frontier became less workable.

Wellesley realized, of course, that a treaty signed by an Indian prince was valueless in itself. If Berar was not made to abide by the British interpretation of this instrument, he certainly would not do so. Stevenson was told to repair his gun carriages, return the men and material borrowed from Wellesley’s army and return to Ellichpoor from Gawilghur by the route that he went up. He was then to move east towards Nagpoor until Berar proved his sincerity, or at least complied because of his inability to do anything else.

Scindia was not personally involved in the siege and fall of Gawilghur. For reasons best known to himself he neither interfered with the British armies there nor tried to raid Poona or Hyderabad. Now he was even more anxious for peace than during the short-lived armistice before Argaum. Wellesley’s victory at Argaum followed by the capture of Gawilghur put the British in as superior a position to Scindia as they were to Berar. The former had already lost heavily in Guzerat and might lose his capital to British forces operating from there. As we have seen, Murray was ready to march on Ougein on receipt of Wellesley’s orders to do so.

By now Lake had defeated Perron completely. The area from south of Agra to north of Delhi was British; so was a considerable area to the south-east known as Bundelcund. With Berar and Perron defeated and Holkar neutral, Scindia was virtually helpless; British armies could attack his remaining territories in Hindostan from the south, west, east and north. Arthur could have dictated severe terms to Scindia, but the Wellesley policy was not to destroy Indian states, just to change them enough to make sure they fitted into their new concept of India. In many respects subsidiary treaties were better than extending the Company’s direct control.

The treaty with Scindia was signed on 30 December 1803. He was to receive an EIC subsidiary force similar to those at Hyderabad and Poona. He was to give up a great deal of territory in the north, some in Guzerat and all his possessions south of the Godavery, including the magnificent fortress at Ahmednuggur, except for hereditary holdings of sentimental but small actual consequence. These were to be held for revenue only and not to be occupied by military units of any type.

More humiliating, all disagreements between Scindia and the Nizam or the Peshwa were now to be arbitrated by the British. On the other hand, Wellesley refused to allow Mohiput Ram and his Hyderabad forces to keep some of Scindia’s towns and villages taken after Assaye and Argaum which were not confirmed to the Nizam in the treaty. Scindia conceivably might be as good an ally in future as the new Nizam. The French officers in Scindia’s Regular Battalions were eliminated – no foreigners unacceptable to the British were to be admitted to his territory.

At this time another political-military development was completed, the alliance between the British, the Peshwa and Amrut Rao. Amrut Rao joined Wellesley’s armies with a considerable body of cavalry on 22 December. Negotiations had been going on for months. Amrut, the Peshwa’s brother by adoption, had never completely gone over to Holkar. Whatever Amrut’s intentions might have been, Wellesley’s final rush for the Peshwa’s capital in April had prevented him from burning the city. He had wanted to come over to the British since Wellesley’s arrival at Poona. Loyalty to Bajee Rao was secondary to his desire to be on the winning side. Amrut Rao was abler than his adopted brother. Wellesley compared them in his dispatch to the Governor-General’s secretary of 26 January 1804. Having complained of the Peshwa he continues, ‘I do know that if I was to give the government over to Amrut Rao I should establish there a most able fellow, who, if he should prove treacherous, would be a worse thorn in the side of the British Government than the creature who is Peshwa at present can ever be.’

British prestige in India had never been so high. Half a dozen armies had won quickly and decisively, sometimes against nearly impossible odds. The Governor-General’s diplomacy had been extremely successful without sacrificing the reputation for fairness and honesty so coveted by all the Wellesleys. The change from the spring of 1798 to the beginning of 1804 is almost unbelievable. Shore had complied with his instructions from home and had allowed British prestige and power to decline. He refused to support his allies and quaked before potential enemies. The Wellesleys and their band of active young men had restored local dominance within the old British areas of influence around Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and carried the fight to their enemies. The French had been removed successively from Hyderabad, Mysore and the Mahratta countries. The Company’s territory had been more than doubled. Hyderabad, Mysore and Baroda had become prosperous and happy allies. During the winter of 1803–4 Britain appeared to have no serious rival in India at all. The future seemed secure.

There was still some fighting to be done after Wellesley concluded his treaties, some of it because of them. When Mahratta armies were defeated as at Assaye and Argaum, massive desertions were usually one result. Further, under the new treaties both Scindia and Berar were required to disband their forces. Not all their men could return to peaceful pursuits as there were too many of them. Some had either to plunder or starve; they formed themselves into bandit groups around leaders who were able to direct their joint activities productively. Berar and Scindia both covertly encouraged these bands, especially in territory they had surrendered, but the British armies which had won against regular foes won against these irregulars with comparatively little trouble.

First in point of time, EIC Major-General Dugald Campbell, Wellesley’s senior who commanded south of the Kistna only, pursued a new Dhoondiah Waugh who had appeared in his area and had a growing following. He was not, of course, the man whom Wellesley and his cavalry had finally caught and killed at Conaghul on 10 September 1800. The second Dhoondiah was really Mohamet Beg Khan, but he was trying to gain mystic strength from a name associated with the earlier leader.

Campbell began a rapid three-day pursuit on 28 December 1803 and caught the new King of Two Worlds on the 31st. Mohamet Beg Khan and about 3,000 of his followers were killed. Campbell was using the organization, strategy and tactics already evolved by Wellesley in his pursuit of the original Dhoondiah Waugh. British armies in India would never again move like vast slow pastoral migrations as Cornwallis’s and Harris’s had done towards Seringapatam.

Early in 1804 Wellesley ordered Malcolm to procure from Scindia a letter disavowing one of his lieutenants, Mulwa Dada, who had started to operate in Scindia’s name against territory belonging to Hyderabad, the EIC and the Peshwa. Once Wellesley had the letter, he informed Mulwa Dada ‘that he is little better than a common thief’ and threatened to hang him if he were captured. The message appears to have been enough for Mulwa Dada; we hear no more of him.

The killadar who surrendered Ahmednuggur and then removed most of the valuable public property in his private baggage was of a different stamp. He continued to operate as a freebooter after the treaties; Wellesley pursued him twice without success. But accurate and recent information about the killadar reached Wellesley during the evening of 3 February while he was bringing his army back towards Poona. Wellesley selected a special force consisting of all cavalrymen whose horses were in good shape, the complete King’s 74th, the whole 1/8 Madras (Wellesley’s own), and 100 screened volunteers from each of the other five EIC battalions. There were also twelve guns, those attached to the complete units selected.

This force began its march at 6 a.m. on 4 February and had covered eighteen miles by noon when they camped in accordance with Wellesley’s usual marching procedure. The enemy was not alarmed by the movement. At 10 p.m. the special force recommenced the march and covered forty-two more miles in the next fourteen hours. They came up with the former killadar and his forces and utterly destroyed them.

These sixty miles were covered in a total of 30 hours, twenty hours of marching time.1 Not a man dropped out. There were undoubtedly enough spare horses and bullocks to take care of any who fell lame. The physical condition and discipline of men and beasts must have been practically perfect. To march so far with a considerable proportion of the whole command infantry and then fight successfully, even against a disorganized enemy, is an almost incredible feat. It was a greater achievement than Wellesley’s dash for Poona the year before, which was completed with cavalry only.

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan, but mostly populated by ethnic Armenians. In 1988, when interethnic clashes between Armenians and Azeris erupted in Azerbaijan, the local authorities declared their intention to secede and join Armenia. Baku rejected this and armed conflict erupted. A ceasefire was brokered in 1994; since then, Armenia has controlled most of Nagorno-Karabakh. While Armenia provides political, economic and military support to Nagorno-Karabakh, the region has declared itself independent – although this has not been recognised by any other state, including Armenia. Baku claims Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories as part of Azerbaijan.

On 27 September 2020, a new war erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, which saw both the armed forces of Azerbaijan and Armenia report military and civilian casualties. Azerbaijan made significant gains during the war, regaining most of the occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh and large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the culturally significant city of Shusha. The war ended on 10 November 2020, when a trilateral ceasefire agreement was signed between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, which forced Armenia to return all the remaining occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

Military lessons from Nagorno-Karabakh

The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war holds important lessons for European defence. European governments should study it urgently.

In the last decade, it was no secret that Azerbaijan was steadily building up its armed forces. But, despite this, few experts predicted this month’s clear-cut military victory by Azerbaijan over Armenia. Much of this victory is credited to the technical and financial side of the war: Azerbaijan was able to afford more and it had Turkish and Israeli technology that was simply better than what Armenia had to draw on. But the lessons of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war go deeper and are more complex than just questions of technology. And they hold distinct lessons for how well Europe can defend itself.

Lesson 1: Strategy and politics matter

The course of every war is influenced by the specific political circumstances that trigger it – and this war was no exception. Azerbaijan and Turkey were confident in the success of their offensive action, as Russia had from the onset of the war indicated that it had no intention of assisting the Armenians outside of their recognised borders. Russia also saw Azeri military pressure as a tool to weaken the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, who headed the 2018 revolution that removed the old regime. Azeri action would, moreover, be likely to lead Armenia accept previously negotiated “peace plans” that would strengthen Moscow’s geopolitical position. This adverse political situation directly translated into military disadvantages on the battlefield for the Armenians.

Knowing Moscow’s tacit acceptance of a military intervention, Turkey based several F-16 fighters in Azerbaijan in October 2020 as a general deterrent. These were later used to sweep the sky of any Armenian ground-attack aircraft that tried to engage in combat. For its part, Armenia had just received eight Su-30 interceptors from Russia this summer, but did not even try to use them to contest the Azeri drones and F-16. The main reason for this was that Russia wanted Armenia not to enter into a direct confrontation with Turkey proper, and so it kept its aircraft on the ground. Russia effectively served air superiority on a diplomatic silver platter to Azerbaijan and Turkey. This proved decisive.

Lesson 2: Computers and networks matter

Like in Syria and Libya, Russian air-defence systems proved to be ineffective against small and slow drones. This has inspired a debate in the West about whether Russian air-defence systems are generally overrated. But this verdict would be premature.

Armenia’s most ‘modern’ air-defence systems, the S-300PT and PS series and the 9K37M Buk-M1, were both developed in the 1980s. While the missiles are still potent, their sensors are designed to detect, identifiy and track fast-moving fighters, and their moving-target indicators disregard small, slow drones. Like many 1980s systems, a lot of computing is predetermined by hardware layout, and reprogramming requires an extensive refit of the entire system, which the Armenians had not done. These systems are also incapable of plot-fusion: accumulating and combining raw radar echoes from different radars into one aggregated situation report. Plot-fusion is essential to detecting small and low-observable targets such as advanced drones or stealth aircraft. None of the export versions of Russia’s air-defence systems that it has sold to Syria, Turkey, North Korea, and Iran are capable of plot-fusion. (In the latter two cases, these are disguised as ‘indigenous’ systems like the Raad or Bavar 373.) There is therefore a huge difference in performance between Russian air-defence systems protecting Russian bases in Armenia and Syria and those Russian air-defence systems exported to Armenia and Syria.

Azerbaijan’s drones roamed free because Armenia had no jammer able to interrupt the signals linking the drones to their guidance stations. Only in the last days of the war did Russia use the Krasukha electronic warfare system based at the Armenian city of Gyumri to interdict Azeri deep reconnaissance in Armenia proper. Still, the Azeris also used the Israeli Harop loitering munition, which was able to work under adverse conditions (although at reduced effectiveness) as it does not, unlike drones, require a guidance link. Hence among armies that are likely to prepare to fight wars in the future – not only the US, China, Russia but regional powers such as Turkey, Israel, and South Africa – this experience will certainly prompt further research into artificial intelligence and autonomous lethal weapons systems. Rather than banning this class of ammunition by a prohibitive arms control treaty, as envisioned by Europe, they will experiment with how to make use of the new technologies and best integrate autonomous lethal weapons systems into their combined-arms manoeuvre forces, thereby increasing their operational tempo and effectiveness.

Lesson 3: Fight ‘around’ the enemy’s strength

Before the war, on a tactical level the Armenian army was superior: it had better officers, more motivated soldiers, and a more agile leadership. In all previous wars with Azerbaijan, this proved to be decisive. But Azerbaijan found a way to work around it. This is where the drones came in: they allowed the Azeris to reconnoitre first the Armenian position and then the placement of reserves. Armenian positions then could be extensively shelled with conventional artillery, weakening their defences. Drones then guided the onslaught towards the Armenian reserves, bringing in artillery, multiple-rocket systems with cluster munitions, their own missiles, or using Israeli-made LORA ballistic missiles to destroy bridges or roads linking the reserves with the front. Once the Armenian side was incapable of sending reserves into battle, the Azeri army could move in any number it wished to overwhelm the isolated Armenian positions. This procedure was repeated day after day, chipping one Armenian position away each day and resupplying artillery during the night.

This tactic also worked well in mountainous territory the Armenians thought would be easy to defend. In the mountains, there is only one road connecting the front to the rear, which made it even easier for drones to spot targets. When the battle over Shusha demonstrated that the Armenians would not stand a chance even in this territory, the Armenian army started to disintegrate and Yerevan had no choice than to agree a ceasefire on adverse terms.

In the West, much of the drone discussion has focused on the technical side of drone warfare. But this aspect was less spectacular in this war. The numbers of vehicles claimed to be destroyed are most likely exaggerated – for example, this Azeri-language Sputnik report claims that more tanks were destroyed than the number of tanks Armenia has in active duty. The Azeri tactical use of drones was impressive, as was the way they embedded them in conventional armoured operations to work around the strength of the opponent’s armed forces. This intellectual creativity should probably be assigned to Turkish military advisers, who, by refining Azerbaijan’s way of fighting, contributed as much to Baku’s victory as the delivery of hardware.

Europe should look carefully at the military lessons of this conflict, and not dismiss it as a minor war between poor countries. Since the cold war, most European armies have phased out gun-based self-propelled air-defence systems. Man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) like the Stinger and Igla – the primary short-range air-defence systems in Europe – have little chance of acquiring such small targets like loitering munitions or small drones invisible to the operator. In the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war more MANPADS were destroyed by drones than they could shoot down drones themselves. No European army has a high-resolution sensor-fusion- or plot-fusion-capable armoured air-defence system to protect its own armour. Only France and Germany have (short range) anti-drone jammers and base-protection assets. Most of the EU’s armies – especially those of small and medium-sized member states – would do as miserably as the Armenian army in a modern kinetic war. That should make them think – and worry.