WWI [blue] and WWII [green] U-boats Compared.

When World War I commenced in early August 1914, the German Imperial Navy had not completed its big-ship buildup. The High Seas Fleet was therefore not strong enough to sail out and confront Britain’s powerful Grand Fleet in a single, decisive battle. Nor was the Royal Navy capable of mounting a decisive attack on the Imperial Navy in its home waters. Hence a big-ship standoff ensued, during which the opposing admirals schemed ways to entrap the other’s fleet in the confined waters of the North Sea by guile and deception. The naval war between these two great maritime powers thus proceeded in a curious, cautious, and unforeseen manner. There was only a single major surface-ship battle—Jutland—and it was brief and inconclusive.

Early in the war both Germany and Great Britain deployed submarines on offensive missions. The initial forays were remarkable. German U-boats sank three British heavy cruisers (Aboukir, Hague, and Cressy) and two light cruisers (Pathfinder, Hawke) with the loss of over 2,000 men. British submarines sank the German light cruiser Hela. Both navies were thus compelled to view the submarine as a grave new threat and they reacted accordingly. The British Grand Fleet withdrew temporarily from its North Sea base in Scapa Flow to safer waters in north Ireland. The German High Seas Fleet sharply curtailed operations in its home waters, the Helgoland Bight.

The British imposed a naval blockade against Germany with the aim of shutting off the flow of war matériel. The British did not strictly observe the prize laws; even neutral ships loaded merely with food were harassed, blocked, or turned back. In retaliation, the German Naval Staff authorized German U-boats to harass Allied merchant shipping. On October 20, 1914, a U-boat, observing the prize laws, stopped, searched, and scuttled the 866-ton British freighter Glitra off Norway. A week later another U-boat, operating in the English Channel, torpedoed without warning a French steamer, Admiral Ganteaume, which was believed to be laden with troops and therefore fair game under the prize laws. In fact the ship was jammed with 2,400 Belgian refugees, including many women and children. Fortunately, it did not sink.

These two U-boat attacks on unarmed merchant ships carried profound implications for the island nation of Great Britain, entirely dependent upon her vast mercantile fleet for survival. An organized U-boat guerre de course might be ruinous. Accordingly, the British government denounced the attacks as illegal, treacherous, piratical, and immoral. Ship owners, merchants, and insurance carriers the world over joined the chorus of denunciation.

The Central Powers, composed of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had planned to defeat France in a quick campaign, then turn about and crush czarist Russia. But the plan went awry. The armies in France bogged down in bloody trench warfare; Russia attacked from the east, creating a two-front war. Not having anticipated a long war, the Central Powers had not stockpiled large supplies of war matériel. As a result of the British blockade, by early 1915 the Central Powers were running out of iron ore and oil and other war essentials as well as food.

To this point U-boats, strictly observing the prize rules, had sunk ten British merchant ships for about 20,000 tons. Owing to the shortage of torpedoes—they were still virtually handmade—most of these sinkings had been achieved by gunfire or forced scuttling. The surprising ease of these successes had led the senior German admirals to conclude that if the prize rules were relaxed, even the small number of U-boats available for distant operations could impose an effective counterblockade on the British Isles. The mere appearance of a single U-boat, manned by only two dozen men, whether successful in the attack or not, caused great psychological alarm, compelling the enemy to devote a hugely disproportionate share of his manpower and resources to neutralize the threat. All this would severely impair Britain’s ability to carry on the war, the advocates postulated, and might result in a tit-for-tat deal in which Britain agreed to lift its blockade of Germany.

Neither the Kaiser nor his Chancellor was keen on the proposal. Germany had already incurred heavy criticism from many quarters for sinking merely ten merchant ships. A relaxation of the prize rules would doubtless draw even harsher criticism, especially from neutral nations such as the United States, which had a substantial financial interest in sea commerce and might retaliate by entering the war. Moreover, the number of U-boats available for blockading the British Isles seemed too slight. To announce a blockade and fail abjectly would be worse than no attempt at all.

And yet the proposal would not die. Its advocates argued, not without justification, that the moral arguments were no longer relevant. In its ruthless blockade of Germany, they insisted, Britain had repeatedly violated the prize rules and other traditions protecting sea commerce, most notably in refusing the passage of neutral ships carrying only food. This line of reasoning, and other arguments, finally persuaded the Kaiser and his Chancellor to authorize a U-boat blockade of Great Britain.

The stage was carefully set. The Kaiser publicly declared that from February 18, 1915, onward, the waters around the British Isles were to be considered a “war zone.” Prize rules would no longer be strictly observed. British and French merchant vessels would be sunk without warning or exceptional measures to provide for the safety of the crews. Care would be taken to spare neutrals not carrying contraband, but all neutrals would sail the waters at their own peril. U-boat skippers, the Kaiser further declared, would not be held responsible if “mistakes should be made.”

So was launched history’s first systematized submarine guerre de course. The initial results were less than impressive. In the month of February 1915, the twenty-nine U-boats of the German submarine force sank 60,000 tons of merchant shipping; in March, 80,000 tons. The weakness of the blockade lay in the small number of U-boats available. Owing to the time spent going to and from German bases and in refit, after the initial deployment it was difficult to establish organized U-boat patrol cycles that kept more than six or seven U-boats in British waters at any given time. Notwithstanding the fear and confusion and diversion of resources it precipitated, the first U-boat blockade did not achieve its main goal. First Lord Churchill declared the blockade a failure; British imports in 1915 exceeded those of 1913. The British government refused to entertain any suggestion of lifting the blockade of Germany.

With each merchant ship sinking, the cries of moral indignation intensified. Three sinkings in particular outraged the Americans: the 32,500-ton Cunard liner Lusitania on May 7, with the loss of 1,198 passengers (128 Americans) and crew; the 16,000-ton White Star liner Arabic on August 19, with the loss of 40 passengers (3 Americans); and the liner Hesperian on September 9. So violent was the reaction in the United States (U-boat crews make war “like savages drunk with blood” declared The New York Times), that in early September 1915 the Kaiser called off the blockade of Great Britain and sent many more U-boats to the Mediterranean Sea, where the hunting was less controversial and no less lucrative and there were few Americans.

With victory no closer for the Central Powers, at the beginning of 1916 the chief of the German naval staff, Admiral Henning von Holzendorff, and his Army counterpart urged the Kaiser to authorize a renewal of the British blockade. The Navy now had almost twice as many U-boats in commission (fifty-four versus twenty-nine in 1915) and ever more U-boats were coming off the slipways. The Kaiser was tempted, but the Chancellor and Foreign Minister objected, fearful of another Lusitania, which would almost certainly bring America into the war. After days of vacillation, the Kaiser sided with the Navy, but he imposed complicated restrictions. No passenger liners of any nationality were to be attacked anywhere. No cargo ships or tankers except those unmistakably armed could be attacked outside the war zone.

The renewed blockade commenced in February 1916. Notwithstanding the restrictions and complexity of the rules, all went well for the U-boats for two months: 117,000 tons sunk in February, 167,000 tons in March. Then came another costly error. On March 24 a U-boat mistook the 1,350-ton English Channel passenger ferry Sussex for a troopship and torpedoed it. The Sussex did not sink, but about eighty people were killed in the explosion, including twenty-five Americans. In response to the renewed cries of indignation and a blistering note from Washington threatening to sever diplomatic relations, the Kaiser backed down once more and, on April 24, ordered U-boats in waters of the British Isles again to adhere strictly to the prize rules. As a result, merchant ship tonnage sunk by U-boats in British waters fell sharply for the next four months.

The German submarine force had grown to substantial size by September 1916: a total of 120 boats of all types, many with larger 105mm (4.1”) deck guns. Again the military staffs urged the Kaiser to exploit this force to the fullest. Again the Kaiser vacillated, and finally yielded, but with yet a new set of rules. Skippers were to conduct only restricted submarine warfare (by prize rules) in waters of the British Isles, where there were numerous American and other neutral ships, but they were permitted to wage unrestricted submarine warfare in the Mediterranean. This third and most intense phase of the restricted U-boat war, October 6, 1916, to February 1, 1917, was highly productive for the Germans. The U-boats sank about 500 British merchant vessels for about 1.1 million tons, raising the total bag for 1916 to about 2.3 million tons, most of that of British registry.

By early 1917 the ground war had become a brutal and fruitless bloodletting for the Central Powers and there was deep and widespread unrest at home. The German military staffs urged the Kaiser to authorize unrestricted submarine warfare in all oceans and seas. Using the results achieved in the fall of 1916, the larger number of U-boats available, plus nearly ninety new boats that were to be commissioned in 1917, the naval staff calculated that with an unrestricted U-boat campaign, nearly half of Britain’s still large merchant fleet could be wiped out within five or six months, rendering her not only incapable of prosecuting the war on the continent but also leaving her population in a condition of starvation and rebellion. America be damned, the naval staff said. If she came into the war, Germany would have enough U-boats (about seventy ready for operations in the British Isles alone) to sink all her troop and supply ships before they reached Europe. By that time, too, there was no shortage of German submarine torpedoes; U-boat skippers did not have to rely so heavily on deck guns.

Turning aside peace feelers from President Wilson and others, the Kaiser approved this proposal. He announced to the world that commencing February 1, 1917, U-boats would sink on sight every merchant ship found in British territorial waters. At the same time, he assured the German military staffs that there would be no more pussyfooting or backing down, and he promulgated a radical role reversal for the surface ships of the Imperial Navy: Henceforth they were to support U-boats, rather than the other way around. “To us,” he said, “every U-boat is of such importance that it is worth using the whole available fleet to afford it assistance and support.”

Germany launched this all-out submarine guerre de course in the British Isles with multiple attacks conducted simultaneously with “utmost energy” by about sixty U-boats. To minimize detection by Allied aircraft and submarines, and counterfire from merchant ships, and to take advantage of higher speed for escape, U-boat skippers attacked at night while on the surface. The results were spectacular: 540,000 tons sunk in February, 594,000 tons in March, and an appalling 881,000 tons in April. During April alone—the grimmest month of the U-boat war—the Germans sank 423 merchant ships, of which 350 were British.* Moreover, as anticipated, the campaign scared off most of the many neutral ships trading with Great Britain.

Reflecting the growing anger and outrage in America, President Wilson reacted firmly and militantly to this all-out U-boat campaign. On the third day, February 3, 1917, he broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. At his request, on April 6 the Congress declared war on the Central Powers.

At the beginning of the war the Royal Navy possessed no special countermeasures to fight submarines. Naval tacticians wrongly assumed that since submarines would of necessity spend most of the time on the surface, they would be easy prey for gunfire and ramming. This wrong view was reinforced when the British cruiser Birmingham rammed and sank U-15, the first U-boat to be lost. But in the five months of warfare in 1914, the Royal Navy positively sank only one other U-boat, U-18. Three other U-boats were lost in 1914 (for a total of five) to unknown causes, probably mines.




Mid-Western American Civil War I

Shiloh was an unexpected battle in an unforeseen place, to which Grant’s army was drawn down the Tennessee River by his victories at Forts Henry and Donelson. Its effect was to open up a new front in the centre of nineteenth-century America, in Tennessee, a crucial state for both Union and Confederacy, since it borders Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, and, across the Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri. To the north it gives on to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, all solid and important Union territory, which was to be raided by Morgan’s cavalry in July 1862; eastward it also offered a route into South Carolina. Eastern Tennessee itself, covered by the tail of the Appalachians, was solidly pro-Union, the largest pocket of Unionist loyalty inside the Confederacy; being mountainous and relatively infertile, it was a region of subsistence farming almost without slaves.

At the beginning of the war, Tennessee was spared an outbreak of fighting because the state government, while not seceding, concluded an alliance with the Confederacy. This transparently evasive measure did not stick. Washington continued to regard Tennessee as a state of the Union and its elected representatives continued to sit in both houses of Congress. While the Confederacy also deemed Tennessee a member state, its political leaders formed at best a government in exile. The eastern counties had voted strongly against secession when a convention was held. Richmond was determined to fight to keep Tennessee out of the Union camp, but at first there were almost no opposing forces inside the state until Grant and Halleck appeared to organise the Army of the Tennessee, which was eventually confronted by Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Thus a new front was opened, or a “line” as fronts were called in the Civil War. The term “front” did not come into use until the First World War, when it was borrowed from the vocabulary of meteorology, on the analogy with weather fronts of low and high pressure. There was an obvious front in Virginia in the region of high pressure between Washington and Richmond. Not so in the West, where troop density was low and there were few cities of importance. Yet gradually central Tennessee would become what a later generation would recognise as a distinctive front, whose crucial features were rivers and railroads. The key to organising the war in the region was to concentrate the scattered forces of the two sides and form campaigning armies. The main components were with Halleck at St. Louis and Beauregard’s Confederate survivors of Shiloh. Other Confederate troops were reaching Tennessee from the Atlantic coast and also from Arkansas. During April 1862, Halleck succeeded, by summoning Pope from the Mississippi front at New Madrid and Island No. 10 and Grant from near Shiloh, in forming an army of 100,000 men. Its generals included many of the Union’s future leaders, including not only Grant, but also Sherman and Sheridan, Don Carlos Buell, Rosecrans, and George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga.” The Union army in the West was organised by Halleck; its three armies were named after the region’s major rivers, the Army of the Tennessee under Grant, the Army of the Ohio under Buell, and the Army of the Mississippi under Pope. Laymen may misunderstand the use of the term “Army.” It was entirely organisational and hierarchic. Battalions made regiments (two), regiments made brigades (three), brigades made divisions (three or more), divisions made corps (two or more), corps made armies (two or more). On the Union side armies were called after the river near which they operated (for example, the Potomac). In the Confederacy, armies were called after the region in which they operated (e.g., Northern Virginia). Armies also tended to be regional in composition, so that the Armies of the Tennessee and the Ohio, having been raised in the Midwest, were largely recruited from midwesterners.

Halleck opened his campaign against Beauregard by advancing on Corinth, a small railroad town in northern Mississippi which the Confederates had fortified. Intimidated by news of Halleck’s approach, Beauregard abandoned Corinth in late May and retreated southward. His army was much depleted by sickness and desertion. He nevertheless initiated a threat to middle Tennessee and Kentucky, and Halleck, rather than engage him, devoted his energies to fortifying Corinth further, thereby converting it into one of the strongest places anywhere in the zone of war. Halleck apparently expected the Southern troops to offer him an advantage by attacking his fortifications, but they did no such thing, instead attacking the Union railroads and threatening advances towards the lower Southern states. Halleck distributed his forces widely in an attempt to safeguard his new area of responsibility, choosing only an advance on Chattanooga as an active measure. In Washington, Lincoln was tiring of Halleck’s lethargy. He respected, however, his powers as an organiser and on July 11 summoned him to the capital to assume the post of general in chief, in McClellan’s place. As Lincoln would soon find, however, and Grant had already painfully learnt, Halleck was as temperamentally averse to offensive action as the young Napoleon. He was also equally dedicated to detail and to faultfinding with subordinates. Command in Tennessee passed to Grant, but the opportunity to strike during the interregnum was lost by the Confederates, since Beauregard, displeasing Jefferson Davis by taking sick leave at that inconvenient time, was also relieved of command, to be replaced by Braxton Bragg. Bragg, though a fighter, was also bad-tempered and alienated most of his subordinates by insulting them. Unlike both Halleck and McClellan, he had an offensive outlook and did not adhere to the Jominian idea that the purpose of a campaign was to manoeuvre an opponent out of position without actually fighting him. As soon as he succeeded Beauregard, Bragg set about confronting Grant in his headquarters at Corinth. His first plan was to march directly against him. He then reconsidered and decided on a roundabout approach through central Mississippi from the west. Grant, conscious of his threat, responded by getting up the forces, but Halleck, with his obsession about defending everywhere, had second thoughts about Tennessee and Kentucky.

While he was absent deploying his troops, Bragg left large detachments in northern Mississippi under Generals Price and Van Dorn, while he transferred to Kentucky, from which he appeared to threaten Louisville and Cincinnati. In early September 1862, he summoned Price and his 16,000 men. Grant, feeling understandable alarm, concluded correctly that the most likely place Price would strike was Iuka, a railroad village near Corinth which was a depot for a large supply of food and warlike stores. He selected a Wisconsin brigade, known after its mascot as the Eagle Brigade, to defend Iuka. Rosecrans led the advance while Grant, with General Edward Ord under command, waited in reserve. Rosecrans advanced to combat behind a cloud of skirmishers, with an accompanying battery. A tremendous firefight ensued. The ground was covered with dense thickets of scrub between which Blue and Gray dodged as the fight raged. By the end of the afternoon two Northern and two Southern brigades had suffered 790 and 525 casualties, respectively, out of strengths of 3,100 and 2,800. Despite the disparity, the Union got the better of the battle, forcing the Confederates to withdraw.

Grant was waiting in reserve only a few miles from the battlefield, but because of the direction of the wind and other factors was prevented by “acoustic shadow” from hearing any sound of the firing at all. He learnt that the battle had taken place from a despatch from Rosecrans only when it was over. He at once joined Rosecrans in a pursuit of Price and the defeated Confederates, but to Grant’s intense displeasure, Rosecrans abandoned the pursuit after Grant left him and Price made good his escape. He and Van Dorn then joined forces. Together they numbered about 22,000 men, whom Price led into southern Tennessee to threaten Corinth, Grant’s railroad base and centre of supply, the linchpin for his outposts at Jackson, Memphis, and Bolivar. By early October Grant detected that the rebel army, now commanded by Van Dorn, had repositioned itself to attack Corinth from the north. By October 3 the rebels were ready to attack. The Union troops, under the command of Rosecrans, were less well prepared, Rosecrans having been dilatory in concentrating his men. They were stationed in the old Confederate earthworks defending Corinth, behind which was a second and better position on College Hill. All day during October 3, the Confederates pressed hard against Rosecrans’s line, losing heavily but refusing to disengage. Instead they pressed onward, mounting one attack after another, pushing the Union troops back into the streets of Corinth. One formation that withdrew was the so-called Union Brigade, composed of regiments disorganised at Shiloh. Once among the houses of the town, however, they rallied and after meeting other units, resumed resistance and held the attackers at bay. General Rosecrans rode about what was left of his lines at this stage of the battle, shouting at his men to hold fast. Aided by Union artillery fire they did so, repelling one attack after another. Eventually the fighting concentrated round a Union earthwork, Battery Robinet, where the Union inflicted heavy casualties. Fifty-four Confederate dead were later found in the battery ditch, among them the colonel of the 2nd Texas, who had been hit thirteen times. At the culmination of the struggle for the battery, the Confederates turned in retreat. They had suffered 4,000 casualties, the Union 2,500. Moreover, the Confederates’ line of retreat was blocked by the Hatchie River, across which Van Dorn sought a crossing. Bridges were hard to find but Rosecrans did not press his pursuit. He was another example of a Union general who lacked the will and insight to exploit a victory when won. Rosecrans halted his army’s advance to the Hatchie for two successive nights, making its pace snaillike. His soldiers were frustrated and many pushed ahead without orders. When the flat bottom land of the Hatchie was reached, the Union troops found several Confederate batteries in place to defend the crossing places, and a murderous fight broke out, reinforced from both sides. Eventually it relapsed into stalemate, as Grant was able to recognise even from a distance. He sent orders to Rosecrans to back off, but as Van Dorn made good his escape, Rosecrans all too typically insisted that he was on the brink of a great victory and that Grant was cheating him of a golden opportunity. Van Dorn found sanctuary behind strong defences at Holly Springs in northern Mississippi, a position too strong to attack without lengthy preparation, as Grant also recognised. Rosecrans was to continue to complain of missed opportunity, but Grant knew better. He was already determined to close down the campaign in central Tennessee and to transfer his effort to a direct thrust on Vicksburg.

The campaign in central Tennessee had not, however, been without benefit to the Union. At its end, western Tennessee was largely swept clear of regular Confederate troops, though not of guerrillas, and northern Mississippi was in Union hands; loyal eastern Tennessee had not been liberated but was under threat of Union invasion. The great Union advantage in the region was that it lay adjacent to the Middle West, where troops could be raised in larger numbers.

The summer of 1862 was otherwise a time of troubles for the Union. The abandonment of the Peninsula Campaign and the humiliation of the withdrawal from Richmond was followed by the South’s assumption of the offensive in the East and its advances into northern Virginia again and then into Maryland. Defeat in the second battle of Bull Run was swiftly succeeded by the costly stalemate of Antietam. And it was not only in the eastern theatre that the war seemed to be going badly for the Union. In the West, Grant was failing to make progress in his campaign around Vicksburg to open up the valley of the Mississippi to Union traffic. There had been large-scale cavalry raids into the dubiously secure Union territories of Tennessee and the liberation of Arkansas underwent setbacks. Worst of all, in July, Braxton Bragg, the Confederate commander in Mississippi, embarked on a full-scale invasion of Kentucky. Kentucky was probably the most borderline of all the border states, counted by both sides as part of their governed territory and with regiments and large numbers of young men in both their orders of battle. The real danger for the Union in Kentucky, however, was not political but geographical. Its northern border was formed by the Ohio River, just across which lay the great city of Cincinnati, still more important than Chicago as an industrial and railroad centre, with a strong Union population acutely sensitive to the danger of military advances by the Confederacy. The way to Cincinnati, moreover, lay across easily marchable territory. If the Confederacy could drive a corridor across its central section, the territory of the Union would be bisected, in exactly the same way as the developing Union campaign in the valley of the Mississippi threatened to bisect the South. It was vital, therefore, that Bragg’s invasion should be defeated.

The difficulty was to organise a counter-offensive. The two Confederate cavalry leaders who had ridden so cavalierly through the region, Nathan Bedford Forrest and John H. Morgan, were still active, while a subsidiary army to Bragg’s, commanded by Edmund Kirby Smith, was advancing from Knoxville towards the Cumberland Gap, historic gateway into trans-Appalachia, from which he rapidly arrived at Richmond, Kentucky, only seventy-five miles south of Cincinnati. There he was confronted by a Union division, but all its troops were newly enlisted and it was swiftly dispersed at heavy loss of killed, wounded, and captured. Braxton Bragg had little enthusiasm for offensive war-making, but he was, at this stage and this place, a better bet than his opponent, Don Carlos Buell.

From Washington, however, Halleck so harassed Buell with directions to advance, to put pressure on Bragg, and to fight that eventually Buell had no alternative. He could not plead lack of strength, since he had by mid-September received the reinforcement of two divisions from Grant, while in Louisville and Cincinnati 60,000 recruits, raised locally, were being put through their training. During September, while Buell prudently retired towards Louisville, Bragg attempted to set the stage for a major battle to settle the balance of power in Kentucky. From his position near Louisville, he sent a request to Kirby Smith, who was then in the area of Lexington and Frankfort, the state capital, to meet him with his 20,000 men at Bardstown, south of Louisville. With their combined strength, Bragg believed he could defeat Buell and so settle matters in the borderlands. He also felt that fighting a major battle would pull the Kentuckians off the fence and bring them conclusively to the Confederacy.


Mid-Western American Civil War II

Buell was at last conforming to Washington’s wishes and during early October appeared in the vicinity of Bragg’s army at Bardstown. He concentrated 60,000 men, to the Confederates’ 40,000. They were now, in Bragg’s temporary absence, under the orders of Bishop Leonidas Polk, who led his men to the small town of Perryville, south of Louisville. What drew him there was a need for water, the Southern summer having dried up the streams. A prolonged drought had left the Chaplin River a string of stagnant pools. As that was the only water available, both sides wanted it. Polk got to it first but was soon attacked by the advance guard of Buell’s army, commanded by the up-and-coming Philip Sheridan. Sheridan was aggressive and directed his division’s efforts to such effect that it defeated Polk’s army and advanced into the streets of Perryville, driving its remnants before them. At this stage, Buell should have completed what was turning into the victory of Perryville and destroyed, with reinforcements, what remained of Bragg’s army. By the meteorological accident of acoustic shadow, however, no sound of the battle raging in Perryville reached the ears of anyone else under Buell’s command. He therefore failed to march to Sheridan’s assistance, though as darkness fell the Confederate line was defended by only a single brigade which would have dispersed if attacked aggressively. Next morning, when Buell positioned his army for a general advance, the ground was empty. Bragg had during the night decided he was beaten and had led his army away.

Perryville was an all-too-typical Civil War battle in its lack of decision, despite high casualties on both sides. The indecisiveness of battles is one of the great mysteries of the war. In the East, particularly from 1864 onwards, it was largely explained by the recourse to digging, which produced earthworks from which it was almost impossible to expel the enemy. In the West, by contrast, particularly in the earlier years, earthworks were less commonly constructed. The explanation therefore seems to lie in two unconnected factors: the lack of a military means, such as large cavalry forces or mobile horse artillery, that could deliver a pulverising blow, and the remarkable ability of infantry on both sides to accept casualties. Casualties at Perryville—4,200 Union and 3,400 Confederate—were certainly high, but neither side seemed shaken. An eyewitness, Major J. Montgomery Wright of Buell’s army, describes the strange phenomenon of the acoustic shadow. Riding as a staff officer on a detached mission, he “suddenly turned into a road and therefore before me, within a few hundred yards, the battle of Perryville burst into view, and the roar of the artillery and the continuous rattle of the musketry first broke upon my ear…. It was wholly unexpected, and it fixed me with astonishment. It was like tearing away a curtain from the front of a great picture…. At one bound my horse carried me from stillness into the uproar of battle. One turn from a lonely bridlepath through the woods brought me face to face with the bloody struggle of thousands of men.” Major Wright witnessed the effect of the struggle on one group, which suggests that the battle was having a decisive effect upon them: “I saw young Forman with the remnant of his company of the 15th Kentucky regiment, withdrawn to make way for the reinforcements, and as they silently passed me they seemed to stagger and reel like men who had been battling against a great storm. Forman had the colours in his hand, and he and several of his little group of men had their hands upon their chests and their lips apart as though they had difficulty in breathing. They filed into a field and without thought of shot or shell they lay down on the ground apparently in a state of exhaustion.”1 Yet despite such efforts the Union line did not break, nor did the equally punished Confederate. Bragg, who rightly recognised he was outnumbered, swiftly decided to withdraw during the night of October 8 and fell back to Knoxville and Chattanooga, abandoning his invasion of Kentucky altogether. The Southern press, and several of his generals, seethed with dissatisfaction; Bragg was called to Richmond to account for his failure, but he had a friend in Jefferson Davis, who accepted his explanations and allowed him to continue in command.

Bragg’s abandonment of the attempt on Kentucky completed a general Confederate failure on the central front in the West. Just before Perryville, Generals Price and Van Dorn had been defeated by the Union general Rosecrans at Corinth in Mississippi. It followed another Confederate defeat at nearby Iuka. Grant, who was engaged in the campaign at a distance, had hoped to trap the Confederates either at Corinth or Iuka and was disappointed not to do so. He blamed Rosecrans, for a movement of his troops he thought dilatory, though the recurrence of acoustic shadow may have played a part. For whatever reason, however, the Confederates had failed in their efforts to reverse the balance of power both in Kentucky and Tennessee, in what proved to be the last unforced Confederate offensive west of the Appalachians. As the fighting died down, Grant gathered his forces to renew his campaign against Vicksburg. The citizens of Cincinnati and Louisville relapsed into calm, after what had been some disturbing weeks. Though it was not realised in Richmond, the failure in the West was a grave blow to the Confederacy, reducing their range of strategic options to the well-worn pattern of keeping alive Union fears of an advance against Washington or feints at Pennsylvania and Maryland, theatres where the North enjoyed permanent advantages. The drive into Kentucky and threats against Tennessee were the only imaginative moves made by the Confederacy throughout the war; their failure and the failure to repeat them confirmed to objective observers that the South could now only await defeat. It might be long in coming, but after the end of 1862 it was foreordained and inevitable.

There were objective observers. Two were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, then in exile in England, where in March 1862 they composed an analysis of the progress of the Civil War of quite remarkable prescience. Marx and Engels’s interest in the Civil War was not political. As revolutionaries they hoped for nothing from the United States. It was simply that as men with a professional interest in warfare and the management of armies they could not prevent themselves from studying military events, and prognosticating based on their lessons. Marx concluded that, following the capture of Fort Donelson, Grant, for whom he had formed an admiration, had achieved a major success against Secessia, as he called the Confederacy. His reason for so thinking was that he identified Tennessee and Kentucky as vital ground for the Confederacy. If they were lost, the cohesion of the rebel states would be destroyed. To demonstrate his point, he asked, “Does there exist a military centre of gravity whose capture would break the backbone of the Confederacy resistance, or are they, as Russia still was in 1812 [at the time of Napoleon’s invasion], unconquerable without, in a word, occupying every village and every patch of ground along the whole periphery.”

His answer was that Georgia was the centre of gravity. “Georgia,” he wrote, “is the key to Secessia.” “With the loss of Georgia, the Confederacy would be cut into two sections which would have lost all connection with each other.” It would not be necessary to conquer the whole of Georgia to achieve that result, but only the railroads through the state.

Marx had foreseen, with uncanny insight, exactly how the decisive stage of the Civil War would be fought. He was scathingly dismissive of the Anaconda Plan, and he also minimised the importance of capturing Richmond. To that extent, his foresight was defective. The blockade, a major element of the Anaconda strategy, was crucial to the defeat of the Confederacy, and it was indeed the capture of Richmond that brought the war to an end. In almost all other respects, however, Marx’s analysis was eerily accurate, testimony to his grisly interest in the use of violence for political ends. The analysis was published in German, in Vienna, in the review Die Presse. It may not have been noticed in the United States.

Marx, who had the keenest eye for strategic geography, did not discuss the importance of Tennessee and Kentucky as a weak spot in the defences of the Union. Materialist as he was, he had already assured himself that the vastly preponderant industrial and financial power of the North guaranteed its victory. He made insufficient allowances, however, for the necessity of fighting for that outcome and for how relentless the struggle would be.



The deteriorating situation throughout 1619 at least encouraged Ferdinand’s potential supporters to accept his appeals as serious. The Habsburg monarchy was at breaking point. Ferdinand found himself with 20 million florins of debts on his accession. Crown revenue was only 2.4 million, but much of this was now controlled by the rebel Estates whose taxes, worth 3 million fl. annually, he was also denied. The imperial army consumed 5 million fl. in pay, provisions and munitions in the ten months to June 1619, whereas revenue, forced loans and Spanish and papal subsidies provided just 3 million. When pay arrears and other liabilities were included, the military deficit reached 4.3 million fl., in addition to the monarchy’s existing debt.

Ferdinand might struggle on with further expedients, while the Poles might yet eliminate Bethlen, but he could never defeat all his opponents without substantial additional help. From his imperial coronation he launched a concerted effort to secure this. Spain, France and the papacy were approached for cash and diplomatic assistance in deterring the Protestant Union from intervening, while Bavaria and Saxony were asked to provide direct military support.


Duke Maximilian saw his chance to achieve his long-cherished ambitions. He ignored Habsburg appeals for help throughout 1618 while quietly preparing to re-establish the Liga they had forced him to disband. Frightened by the Bohemian crisis, the former members welcomed the chance to strengthen their security. Maximilian was careful not to show his hand, allowing Mainz to take the lead in reviving the organization that was essentially active again from August 1619. Ferdinand’s visit to Munich in October on his way back from Frankfurt and his election enabled Maximilian to move to stage two, seeking not merely confirmation for the Liga but the promise of concessions at the Palatinate’s expense. The growing crisis at Vienna forced Ferdinand to accept ‘the Bavarian devil to drive out the Bohemian beelzebub’. In the Treaty of Munich of 8 October 1619, Ferdinand recognized the Liga and requested its assistance, thereby establishing the legal basis for all future Bavarian action. As the emperor’s auxiliary assisting to restore the imperial public peace, Maximilian was entitled to proper compensation. Though the entire Liga would assist, only Bavaria’s expenses were covered, in a separate arrangement that promised the duchy part of Austria until Ferdinand could repay Maximilian.

The Liga met in Würzburg in December, its first congress since 1613, and agreed to raise an army of 25,000 funded by members’ contributions. The previous organization was re-established, with south German and Rhenish Directories under Bavaria and Mainz respectively. Membership was exclusively Catholic and predominantly ecclesiastical, as the smaller imperial counties and cities abstained or only participated intermittently. Salzburg learned from Raitenau’s fate in 1611 and cooperated, but still refused formal membership. Maximilian secured exclusive direction of the Liga’s military affairs, underpinned by his efficient bureaucracy and Jean Tserclaes Tilly as an experienced field commander. Mainz declined to replace Bavaria when Maximilian’s term of office expired at the end of 1621, leaving the duke in charge of the general direction of the Liga throughout its remaining existence. Ferdinand of Cologne, Maximilian’s brother, refused to join, but nonetheless cooperated with the Liga and became the real head of the Rhenish members.

For Maximilian, war was a demonstration of power (potestas), not violence (violentia). He had himself painted as a warrior prince in full armour, but had little interest in personal glory. He dutifully accompanied his army in 1620, but left actual command to Tilly in whom he had complete trust. Operations were to be the legally sanctioned, controlled application of force for precise objectives. He refused to move until the emperor took the necessary steps to sanction Bavarian intervention and provide cast-iron guarantees that Maximilian would receive his reward. Ferdinand had already annulled Frederick’s election as Bohemian king on 19 January 1620. At Maximilian’s insistence, he issued an ultimatum to surrender the crown by 1 June or face the imperial ban. This would make Frederick an outlaw, entitling the emperor to confiscate his possessions and reassign them to whoever he chose. Five days after the deadline expired, Ferdinand authorized Maximilian to intervene in Bohemia, which he followed by a similar mandate on 23 July against the Upper Austrian rebels.

With typical caution, Maximilian sought additional confirmation from Spain and the papacy. Frederick’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown finally convinced the pontiff that the situation was serious and he doubled his existing subsidy to the emperor. In all, Pope Paul V sent 380,000 florins between 1618 and 1621, equivalent to a mere single month’s pay for the imperial army. He proved more generous towards Maximilian, because the Liga’s existence allowed him to prove his Catholic credentials without directly assisting the Habsburgs. However, he refrained from digging into his own pockets, imposing instead a special levy on the German and Italian clergy that raised 1.24 million fl. across 1620–4. Contributions from the Liga’s other members in the same period totalled 4.83 million, while Paul spent more than six times as much on building projects and nepotism. For him, this clearly was not a religious war.

The approach to Spain had rather more significant consequences. Maximilian generally opposed Spanish involvement, but needed it now. He could not move against the Austrian and Bohemian Confederates without exposing the Liga territories to potential reprisals from the Protestant Union forces. Spanish intervention on the Rhine would pin these down and free the Liga army under Tilly to turn eastwards. Spain had been slow to respond to the situation after Emperor Matthias’s death because this coincided with a long-planned state visit to Portugal intended to bolster the monarchy. Absent since April 1619, Philip III fell ill on his return in September and never fully recovered. Many still opposed intervention in Germany, but Frederick’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown was considered such an affront to the Casa d’Austria that it could not go unpunished.

The complex nature of Spanish involvement takes some unravelling. Just over 2 million florins were sent in 1619–21 to subsidize the maintenance of the imperial army and help pay the Polish Cossacks. Imperial officers were allowed to recruit new units in Spanish possessions, chiefly 6,000 Walloons raised after January 1619. Some additional help came from Spain’s Italian allies, notably the grand duke of Tuscany who financed Dampierre’s regiment of Germans and Walloons whose arrival in the Hofburg so startled the Lower Austrians. Other units were sent directly under Spanish command and pay, though many of these were newly recruited since the monarchy had only about 58,000 soldiers at this point. Like Bavaria, Spain presented its involvement as upholding the imperial constitution. The first column of 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse under Marradas and Johann VIII von Nassau marched from the Netherlands as ‘Burgundian Kreis troops’, ostensibly fulfilling the region’s obligations under the public peace legislation. They deliberately avoided Union territories as they crossed from Alsace to Passau and thence to join Bucquoy in Upper Austria in July 1619. A second column of 7,000 Italians crossed the St Gotthard pass and moved down the Etsch valley to reach Innsbruck on 15 November 1619. Four thousand continued down the Rhine to bring the Army of Flanders back up to strength, leaving only 3,000 under Verdugo and Spinelli to march north over the Golden Track into Bohemia in January. A third column of 9,000 Spanish and Italians marched north from Italy later in 1620, but were sent along the Chérzery valley to reinforce the Army of Flanders. This was the last use of the western stretch of the Spanish Road that had become too exposed through Savoy’s defection to France. It was part of a wider strategy to rebuild Spain’s offensive capacity as the Twelve Year Truce with the Dutch neared its end, and by June 1620 the Army of Flanders mustered 44,200 foot and 7,000 horse.

The Final Pieces

Failure of Saxon mediation forced Johann Georg to change tack and join Ferdinand in the hope his participation would keep the crisis contained to Bohemia. He used his influence in the Upper and Lower Saxon Kreise to frustrate efforts by Union activists to recruit troops, though he was unable to prevent his Ernestine relations in Thuringia from sending several units to Bohemia. The elector of Mainz and Maximilian refused to drop demands that the Protestants return church land taken since 1552, but they did compromise with Saxony and Hessen-Darmstadt at a meeting in Mühlhausen in March 1620. Johann Georg accepted Bavaria’s interpretation that Frederick had broken the public peace. In return, Bavaria and Mainz promised not to use force to recover the former bishoprics, provided their current Lutheran administrators remained loyal to the emperor.

Maximilian pressed Ferdinand to complete the process and place Frederick under the imperial ban in March, but backed away once he realized this was blatantly exposing his ambitions to supplant his cousin as elector. It was agreed to wait until a clear victory established a more suitable opportunity. Ferdinand also addressed Johann Georg’s concerns over the legitimacy of Saxon intervention by specifically commissioning him in April 1620 to restore order in Lusatia. The commission was revised in June at his request to include special safeguards for the Lutheran inhabitants, while a month later Ferdinand agreed Saxony could retain both parts of Lusatia until he could refund its expenses.

Neutralization of the Union removed the final obstacle to action. Another Union congress in June 1619 had authorized the mobilization of 11,000 men for home defence. The activists agreed privately to raise more but had still only mustered 13,000 under the margrave of Ansbach at Ulm in May 1620, having failed to intercept the Spanish reinforcements. They had been completely out-recruited by the Liga, now massing 30,000 troops opposite them at Lauingen and Günzburg. Nonetheless, Maximilian wanted to be sure the Union would not attack once Tilly headed east into Bohemia. Talks opened on 18 June with the intention of avoiding violence altogether in Germany, and France finally intervened as Louis XIII sent the duc d’Angoulême to mediate. Ferdinand had sought French support, claiming that, like the Huguenots, the Bohemians represented a religious and political threat to Catholic monarchy; however, Louis rejected the call for solidarity in favour of asserting what he regarded as his country’s proper role as European arbiter. With Angoulême’s assistance, the Liga and Union agreed a truce on 3 July, promising not to fight each other in Germany but leaving Maximilian free to intervene in Bohemia, while the Union activists could oppose Spain if they wished. Angoulême hoped to extend this into a general peace, but Ferdinand seized the opportunity to attack.



BRITANNIA Official Clip “Battlefield” (HD) David Morrissey Amazon Series

Dio Cassius reported Verica’s appeal to Claudius but gave the name of Berikos. Whatever the name the situation suited Claudius who had recently been created emperor by the actions of the Praetorian Guard. In describing Claudius’s childhood Suetonius said that he was so troubled by illness that he grew up half-witted and with little physical strength. Unprepossessing and with a club foot he was contemptuously despised by his mother as a man whom Mother Nature had begun to work on and cast aside. This was doing Claudius an injustice. He was certainly not a fool and made some astute choices in selecting his generals. Suetonius dismissed Claudius’s future campaign as being of no great importance but he does state that the emperor saw attacking Britain, an island which no one had attempted to invade since Caesar’s time, as a much needed chance for military glory. Claudius’s argument was that Britain was in turmoil as a result of the driving out of Verica, and its refusal to return fugitives from Gaul was provocative and a diplomatic breach. He might also impress the Romans by crossing Oceanus to bring this isolated island into the Roman Empire.

Claudius did not intend to lead the invasion as Caesar had done. He selected Aulus Plautius, whom Dio describes as a senator of distinction. He had been governor of Pannonia, a province probably not unlike Britain in its mountainous areas. A cousin of Claudius’s ex-wife Urgulanilla, he was well known to the emperor. Other senior men chosen for the invasion included those tried and trusted in warfare. One of the legionary commanders was extremely competent: he was the future emperor Vespasian. Another was the future emperor Sulpicius Galba. This invasion was obviously to be treated as a serious campaign.

Plautius chose 4 legions, probably about 20,000 men, to accompany him – Legion II Augusta, Legion IX Hispana, Legion XIV Gemina and Legion XX. Three had been brought from the Rhineland; Legion IX had been in Pannonia and therefore was well known to him. In addition, a large number of auxiliary regiments were allocated to the invasion, bringing the force up to about 40,000. This would be a major expense but there would be an advantage if Britain were to prove to be a source of mineral wealth. Above all, it would keep the legions and the auxiliaries occupied and in a position where Claudius could control them.

There was again restlessness on the part of the legionaries who were still reluctant to cross Oceanus, but Plautius in a shrewd move sent a freedman Narcissus, who was on Claudius’s staff, to address them. When he started speaking the troops roared ‘Io Saturnalia’, referring to the winter festival when masters and slaves changed places. The troops were either putting Narcissus in his place or may have resented being addressed by a man of lowly rank. They may also have felt that their courage was being impugned. Whatever the reason they lost their obduracy and preparations for the invasion were swiftly resumed.

Plautius probably sailed from Boulogne and, as in the case of Caesar’s invasions, there were problems with the tides and the weather because the ships were driven back on their course. The Romans had yet again failed to understand the tidal system and had miscalculated the winds, as indeed other invading forces were to do in British history. The Romans, with their superstitious nature according to Dio, were encouraged when a flash of light shot across the sky from east to west, pointing in the direction in which they were travelling. This is a curious statement because if they were to land in Kent they would have been travelling north-westwards. The flash of light can be explained as a shooting star. The discrepancy in direction may be explained by the fact that the fleet had been blown very far to the east and therefore was turning back to land in the Richborough area.

Dio said that the fleet had sailed in three divisions, possibly one after the other. It is not certain how many ships were entailed. Frere calculated a fleet of 800 ships. John Peddie in 1977 estimated that 933 ships would be needed to carry the large numbers of troops, cavalry horses, baggage animals, equipments and supplies but if the expedition did sail in three divisions this would mean between 200–300 per group and that not all the fleet might have been driven off course. They could have been strung out along the Channel. The passage might take from ten to twenty hours, implying that they could have been at sea overnight, which the Romans hated to do, especially as the animals would have to be fed and watered.

Dio reported that the landing was unopposed but his comment on three divisions could indicate a dividing of the fleet and that there were several landings. It is uncertain where these might have taken place. Suggestions have ranged from Hampshire to Essex. The time limit would have been feasible to reach any of these areas. One of the complicating factors is that the first tribe that capitulated was named by Dio as the Bodunni. As mentioned, this must be the Dobunni who inhabited the Gloucestershire area and possibly one division landed west of the Solent in the Hampshire region. From there one Roman legion could have moved swiftly north-westwards to secure the submission of the Dobunni.

Modern interpretations, however, have hardened on East Kent with a main landing place either at Dover or in the Wantsum Channel, where the Romans were to establish the fort of Richborough. Excavations there have revealed two parallel ditches dated to the Claudian period, but even more important has been the recent discovery of a shingle harbour buried beneath 1.83 m (6 ft) of soil near Richborough. The fort was situated at the southern end of the Wantsum Channel that separated the Isle of Thanet from the mainland. Over the centuries this channel has silted up but in AD 43 this would have provided a sheltered lagoon and a perfectly safe anchorage for a fleet.

Dio’s account, which is the most detailed though the most problematical, said that the Romans advanced to a river, probably the Medway, where a huge battle took place lasting two days. Eventually the Romans were victorious and crossed the river. They then advanced to the Thames where in another skirmish Togidubnus was killed but this made the Britons even more determined to resist. Dio said that Plautius was worried about the situation, as he was unsure of the numbers of the British tribes and about crossing the Thames. It was more likely that once he realized that the Thames was fordable he hesitated so that he could obey his orders to bring Claudius to Britain and allow him to claim the victory.

Claudius had already sailed from Ostia to Marseilles, almost being shipwrecked by furious north-westerly storms. He marched through Gaul to Boulogne and embarked for Britain, bringing reinforcements and an entourage that included elephants. Their appearance must have startled the Britons. Dio said that Claudius took command although this must have been nominal given the military experience of Plautius. The Romans crossed the Thames – suggestions for the location range along the Thames between the City and Brentford – and advanced to the capital of the Trinovantes at Camulodunum, which was quickly taken.

Claudius stayed only sixteen days in Britain. He returned more leisurely to Rome, probably travelling along the Rhone and crossing the Alps before proceeding south through Italy and taking nearly five months on the journey. During this time no move had been made against his rule and on his return to Rome a compliant Senate granted him the title Britannicus, which was passed to his son, awarded him a triumph and an annual festival to commemorate the event, and ordered the building of two triumphal arches, one in Rome and one in Gaul. All this was what Claudius would have wished. On his triumph he rode in a decorated chariot followed by his wife Messalina and the officers who had ensured his glory. This must imply that some legionary officers had been withdrawn from Britain. In addition, on the Campus Martius he ordered the representation of the storming and sacking of a British town as well as replicating the surrender of British kings.

Suetonius said that Claudius had fought no battles and suffered no casualties, which was probably true as he had left all this to Plautius, but that he had reduced a large part of the island to submission. According to an inscription from the Roman arch dedicated in AD 52, now partly preserved in the courtyard of the Musei Capitolini, Rome, Claudius received the surrender of eleven British kings and ‘was the first to bring the barbarian people across the Ocean under the power of the Roman state’. Caesar’s exploits were conveniently ignored. Three of these kings must have been Togidubnus, Cogidubnus and an ancestor of Prasutagus, King of the Iceni. Others might have been kings in Kent and those ruling the Dobunni and the Coritani and possibly Cartimandua or her predecessor as ruler of the Brigantes, although it is doubtful that Roman intelligence had reached so far north. Suetonius said that Claudius placed a naval crown on the gable of his palace as well as a civic crown as a ‘sign as it were, that he had subdued Oceanus’. Tacitus laconically summed it up: ‘tribes were conquered, kings captured and destiny introduced Vespasian to the world’.

Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus ruled the Chichester area and Tacitus, in the Agricola, said that ‘he had remained totally loyal down to our own times in accordance with the long-standing policy of making kings even their agents to enslave peoples’. As Tacitus was writing in the AD 90s this implies that Cogidubnus had a long reign. On an inscription found in the area, dedicating a temple to Neptune and Minerva by the guild of smiths, he is called Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, which suggests that Tiberius had given Roman citizenship to him. He is also named Rex and Legatus Augusti in Britain, an astonishing title but which may indicate that Cogidubnus had calculatedly decided to throw in his lot with superior forces and become a suppliant client king. He may also have realized that allying with Rome provided protection against an attack by Catuvellaunian power. The kings of the Cantii and the Iceni may also have realized this, which would account for the ease of Roman conquest in the south. The Romans had long experience in wooing individual tribal leaders by a series of inducements, rewards and threats. Client kings could keep their independence and privileges provided they pledged their loyalty to Rome and ensured that of their followers. This tactic was to succeed in the north. It was in the west of Britain, especially in Wales, where the most hostile tribes might be found.

Before he left Britain Claudius had sensibly given command of the army back to Plautius instructing him to subdue the rest of the island. This Plautius proceeded to do, sending the Legion II Augusta along the southern coast under its commander, the future emperor Vespasian. This legion swept through the country, possibly aided by Cogidubnus’s loyalty in providing a base. Suetonius succinctly reports in his life of Vespasian that the future emperor fought thirty battles, subdued two warlike tribes and captured more than twenty oppida as well as the Isle of Wight.

The tribes were possibly the Durotriges and either the Belgae or the Dumnonii. Amongst the oppida were certainly two in Dorset, Hod Hill and Maiden Castle. Others are probably Hembury (Devon), Spettisbury Rings (Dorset) and the Somerset sites of Worlebury, South Cadbury and Ham Hill. Excavations at Hod Hill revealed that one particular hut seemed to have been bombarded by ballistae (weapons for projecting missiles such as bolts). This was assumed to be the chieftain’s hut as it was situated on the main street near the most important gate. A Roman fort was established in one corner of Hod Hill thus securing that area. The Britons at Maiden Castle may have put up equal resistance to the Romans. A vast hoard of sling stones had been prepared to repel any attack and the hillfort’s complicated arrangement of ramparts and ditches could have repelled attacks by neighbouring tribes. These defences, however, were useless against the firepower of Roman catapults and an onslaught by disciplined troops. Telling evidence on the uselessness of resistance was the finding of a body of a British victim, buried quickly in a mass grave, with a ballista bolt cut into his spine. The hillfort was overrun and eventually the inhabitants were moved into the ordered civilization of the Roman town of Dorchester. A mass grave of over forty-five headless bodies dating to the early first century found recently near Weymouth (Dorset) may also have been the burial place of victims of the invading force. Sweeping aside any resistance it continued into Cornwall, establishing a base at Nanstallon. Later it swung north and centred the headquarters of Legion II Augusta at Exeter in about AD 55.

Vespasian also seems to have laid out a series of bases, which could be used by the fleet. Evidence of Roman occupation was found at Fishbourne, Hamworthy in Poole Harbour (Dorset) and Topsham (Devon) on the estuary of the River Exe. Coastal stations giving wide views were situated at Abbotsbury (Dorset), tacked on to a huge Iron Age fort (presumably another of the captured oppida), and High Peak, west of Sidmouth. Military bases were added at Dorchester, Ilchester, Camerton and Sea Mills. These soon attracted people who gathered there for security and thus developed into small towns.

Meanwhile, Plautius proceeded with an advance to the north. The Iceni quickly went over to Rome, possibly as a check to Catuvellaunian advance into their territory and allowing their king to become head of a client state. East Anglia therefore seemed relatively safe. Legion XX established Colchester, a base adjacent to Camulodunum, which was chosen to indicate that Roman power had superseded British power. Colchester could be also be used as a port for landing supplies from the Rhineland and Gaul and shipping them along the eastern coast.

Legion IX was sent north to subdue the Catuvellauni and soon established a fort at Longthorpe on the River Nene. Little resistance seems to have been shown and troops pressed on, eventually siting their main base at Lincoln, probably in the AD 50s. A network of garrisons was linked by roads, the most important of these being Ermine Street leading directly north. Possibly a fleet also moved along the coast establishing supply bases. One seems to have been situated at Kirmington and another at Old Winterington on the River Humber. From here it would have been easy to send supplies along the River Trent to camps as far as Newark and Margidunum (Nottinghamshire). Forts were also sited at Leicester, Broxtowe (Nottinghamshire) and Strutt’s Park near Derby to control the midland area. Plautius’s policy seems to have been to establish camps and forts at important river crossings, on high ground or near to native settlements, so that a watch could be kept to determine opposition. This policy seems to have succeeded and for the next fifteen years there was little sign of trouble.

Legion XIV was sent towards the midland region along a line later developed as Watling Street, although none of the forts on that road date to the early period. It established a base at Alchester (Warwickshire). Detachments moving along the Thames established a fort at Dorchester-on-Thames. The strategy seems to have been a swift movement to convince the Britons that resistance was futile and in this Plautius was successful, for as far as is known there was no considerable show of force.

When Plautius returned to Rome in AD 47 he could faithfully claim that the invasion had created a new province for Rome. For this he was given an ovatio, a lesser honour than a triumph but with the additional honour of the Emperor Claudius going out to meet Plautius when he entered the city and walking with him to the Capitol.


Queen Victoria’s First Wars

The British retreat from Kabul.

When on 20 June 1837 young Queen Victoria ascended the throne the realm was at peace with the world and with itself. But in December of that year there was a rebellion in Canada. William Lyon Mackenzie, a fiery little politician who had been the first mayor of Toronto, labelled his sovereign ‘Victoria Guelph, the bloody queen of England’ and attempted to create a republic in Ontario. The revolt was quickly suppressed, but Mackenzie and a handful of his followers escaped to Navy Island in the St Lawrence River just below Niagara Falls and began to fortify it. The island was Canadian, but the rebels arranged to have supplies brought to them by an American ship, the Caroline. This created an embarrassing situation for both the American and the Canadian authorities. It became an international crisis when on the night of 29 December Captain Andrew Drew and a party of Canadian militia boarded boats and crossed the narrow strip of water that connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and stormed aboard the Caroline. The ship was set on fire; one American was killed and two were captured. This incident, the now almost forgotten ‘Caroline Affair’, nearly started another Anglo-American war. Fortunately, tempers cooled on both sides of the border: there were no further incidents, war was averted, and Mackenzie, after spending a year in an American jail, returned to Canada and eventually became a member of the Canadian parliament, still a radical but no longer a revolutionary.

The Mackenzie revolt, although it provoked the first shots fired in anger in Victoria’s reign, caused hardly a ripple in British imperial history. But less than a year later, at the opposite end of the Empire, there was the beginning of a major event in British history: Lord Auckland, Governor-General of India, issued a ‘Declaration’, which became known as the Simla Manifesto, announcing that British troops would invade Afghanistan. This was the beginning of the First Afghan War, a war which included a most appalling disaster to a British army; a ‘signal catastrophe’, Sir John Keane called it.

Three years earlier, Dost Muhammad, the Amir of Afghanistan, had written to Lord Auckland, saying ‘consider me and my country as yours’. The expression meant no more than ‘your obedient servant’ at the end of a British letter. But Dost Muhammad soon had reason to consider the British a very literal people. He must also have considered them damnable hypocrites, for Lord Auckland had written him: ‘My friend, you are aware that it is not the practice of the British Government to interfere with the affairs of other independent states.’ No statesman ever penned a greater lie.

It is difficult for anyone to understand the reasoning behind the extraordinary attitude of the British towards Afghanistan; the Afghans must have found it impossible. While always protesting friendship, the British repeatedly invaded the country and shot at its inhabitants. Although unable to subdue the proud, fiercely independent Afghans, they always feared that Russia or Persia would, and this frequently served as an excuse for meddling in Afghan affairs.

Consider the case of Eldred Pottinger (1811–43) whose actions were so perplexing to the Afghans but so typically British. Pottinger was tall and handsome and possessed all the admired Anglo-Saxon virtues: he was brave, clever, virtuous, adventurous, and he was extremely energetic. When he was commissioned in the Bombay Horse Artillery in 1827 he founded a family tradition of service to India which has continued to the present day. In 1838, disguised as a horse trader, he entered Afghanistan as a spy. On reaching Herat he found that the city was about to be besieged by a Persian army guided by Russian advisers. He at once threw off his disguise, stopped spying on the Afghans and instead became their military adviser. The young man became, at least by all British accounts, the saviour of the city. Lord Auckland praised him as one who had ‘by his fortitude, ability, and judgment honourably sustained the reputation and interests of his country’. Although only a subaltern, Pottinger was created a Companion of the Order of the Bath and given a brevet majority.

Lord Auckland, having concluded that the British should not allow ‘Russian and Persian intrigue upon our frontiers’, decided that he should ‘attempt to save Afghanistan’ by invading the country with British, Indian and Sikh troops and overthrow its ruler. The plan was to replace Dost Muhammad with a man named Shah Shuja, a more docile Afghan noble who, although unpopular with his own people, had pretensions to the amirship. The British had been keeping him on a dole in India for just such an occasion. The plan sounds fantastic today, and so it sounded to many in London when it was explained: the Afghans were to be persuaded that the British would save them from the clutches of the Persians and Russians by invading their country with Anglo-Indian and Sikh armies – the Sikhs being the most hated enemies of the Afghans – and deposing their ruler, replacing him with a man whom they distrusted and detested!

Acting on this plan, the grandly named Army of the Indus was formed late in 1838 under the command of Sir John Keane and lumbered off into Afghanistan with Shah Shuja. All Indian armies on the march carried in their wake large numbers of transport animals and swarms of servants and camp followers, but the Army of the Indus appears to have had an exceptionally swollen baggage train. Sir John Kaye, first historian of the war and himself a Victorian soldier, justified the excess of camels, tents and luggage: The British officer, he said, ‘should not be entirely forgetful of the pleasures of the mess table, or regardless of the less social delights of the pleasant volume and the solacing pipe. Clean linen, too, is a luxury which a civilized man, without any imputation upon his soldierly qualities, may in moderation desire to enjoy.’ The fact of the matter was that while the army knew it would be marching through wild and uncivilized country, it did not expect to do much fighting. The officers had been led to believe that Shah Shuja would be welcomed back in Afghanistan and that British bayonets would intimidate his enemies. ‘There was no hint’, complained General Keane of the country, ‘that it was full of robbers, plunderers and murderers, brought up to it from their youth.’ The Army of the Indus had to fight its way to Kabul through swarms of outraged Afghans.

The first major obstacle in the path of the army was the great fortress of Ghazni. Here, in July 1839, a technique was developed which was to be repeated many times on other Afghan forts: a gate was blown in with gunpowder and the explosion was quickly followed up with an assault through the breach. It required a great deal of courage and dash, but these were qualities which the British had in abundance.

Less than a month after the fall of Ghazni the Army of the Indus reached Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. It entered the city without a fight, but also without a welcome from the glum inhabitants; Shah Shuja, fat and vain, was installed as Amir of Afghanistan.

The British spent the next few months marching about the country, knocking out pockets of organized resistance and blowing up Afghan forts. Dost Muhammad sought asylum with Nasrullah Khan, the Amir of Bokhara, who welcomed him warmly and threw him in prison. Nasrullah at this time had a collection of prisoners so interesting that he must have been the envy of all his neighbours. Included were several Russians and an Englishman, Colonel Charles Stoddart, military aide to the ambassador to Persia, who had been sent to try to secure the release of the Russians. Although they were the feared rivals, the Russians were, after all, civilized people and, like the British, were playing the same empire game in Central Asia. Then, too, there was the fear that the Russians might use the prisoners as an excuse to capture Bokhara and thus move closer to Afghanistan and India.

The British, of course, now had the best of reasons for attacking Bokhara themselves, for they could possibly release the prisoners, thwart the Russians and capture Dost Muhammad. This was discussed in high circles, but unfortunately Afghanistan was still quite unsettled and the army there had its hands full; for soldiers and politicians an attack on Bokhara was inconvenient. So instead of an army the British sent another officer, Captain Arthur Conolly, to plead with Nasrullah. When Conolly, too, was imprisoned, the Russians again tried their luck and sent a delegation to Bokhara. But Nasrullah must have tired of the game, for he sent the Russian delegation packing, beheaded his British prisoners, and allowed Dost Muhammad to escape.

The unfortunate Captain Conolly was a nephew of Sir William Macnaghten, formerly Chief Secretary in India and now Envoy to Afghanistan. It was an unlucky family. Within a three-year period, Arthur Conolly was executed in Bokhara, a brother died of fever while a prisoner of the Afghans, another brother was killed by a sniper’s bullet in Kohistan, and Macnaghten was murdered in Kabul.

It was Macnaghten who had perhaps done the most to foster the war in the first place. Now that Kabul was captured and Shah Shuja was on the throne with a British army standing by to see that he stayed there, Macnaghten the envoy was the most influential man in Afghanistan, at least as far as the law of Shah Shuja reached, which was not, in truth, very far. In the mountains and in the all-important mountain passes that led to India it was the Ghilzais who ruled. For centuries rulers of the country had always wisely bribed these wild lawless tribesmen to keep them from attacking those travelling through the passes. But Macnaghten decided to stop these payments, and the next caravan from India was promptly plundered. The routes through the passes, which constituted the British lifeline to India, were effectively closed. The envoy found it all ‘very provoking’.

The Afghans openly expressed their contempt for their new rulers, even in Kabul: British officers were insulted by shopkeepers, sentries were killed in the night, lone soldiers had their throats cut, and once an Afghan coolly walked into a tent in the British camp and shot a sleeping soldier. Yet, in spite of repeated warnings of trouble, the British were completely unprepared for the open revolt which broke out in 1841. The British forces at Kabul found themselves besieged in their ill-placed cantonments north-east of the city and in the Bala Hissar, the fort on the eastern edge of town. There were British forces at Kandahar and Ghazni, but they were shut up in their forts as well. The British leaders in Kabul, military and civil, were indecisive and quarrelled among themselves; the commanding general was old and sick. This was particularly unfortunate since only through superior discipline and leadership could the British maintain their tenuous hold on the country, for the Afghans, superb warriors and bred to their trade, were better armed: they used long-barrelled rifles, called jezails, which had a longer range and were more accurate than the soldiers’ smooth-bore muskets. Also, as Lieutenant (later General) Vincent Eyre remarked, the Afghans were ‘perhaps the best marksmen in the world’.

There were several skirmishes and small battles around the army’s indefensible cantonments; an amateurish attempt by the British to play at Afghan intrigue; a parley in which Macnaghten was murdered; and then, at last, the reluctant decision was made to retreat to India. On 6 January 1842 the British force of 4,500 troops, about 700 of whom were Britons, together with several officers’ wives and their children and about 10,000 camp followers, left their warm huts and hot breakfasts and marched out of their cantonments towards Jellalabad, about sixty miles east in a straight line, where a British force had established a strong outpost. The weather was cold in the mountain passes, below freezing, the ground covered with snow – and the Ghilzais with their long jezails were waiting for them.

Seven days later, officers of the 13th Regiment on the walls of the fort at Jellalabad saw a solitary horseman riding slowly towards them from the direction of Kabul. Horse and rider were obviously exhausted, but someone made a signal and the rider replied by waving a soldier’s forage cap. The gate was thrown open and several officers rushed out to greet Surgeon William Brydon – the sole Briton to complete the march from Kabul. Henry Havelock, one of the officers who ran out to meet him, wrote: ‘His first few sentences extinguished all hope in the hearts of listeners regarding the future of the Kabul force. It was evident that it was annihilated.’

A handful of sepoys straggled in later; there were a few other survivors, including a number of the wives and children, who had been given as hostages or were taken prisoner; but most of the army had been slaughtered in the passes by the jezails and swords of the Ghilzais. Kaye said: ‘There is nothing more remarkable in the history of the world than the awful completeness, the sublime unity of this Caubul tragedy.’ Two months later, when two of her ministers set before the young queen ‘the disastrous intelligence from Afghanistan’, she was appalled.

Jellalabad was now an isolated post perched on the edge of the enemy’s country. It was commanded by General Sir Robert Sale (1782–1845), a man who was personally very brave and who in his forty-seven years of service had seen a great deal of action in India, Burma and Mauritius. But ‘Fighting Bob’ Sale was now stout, double-chinned and cautious. He was not a strategist and he was uncomfortable when faced with important decisions and heavy responsibilities. Sale had received word of the outbreak at Kabul on 10 November 1841 when he was ordered to take his force there. He had found excuses, many of them excellent – he was encumbered with many sick and wounded – for not going to Kabul. Personal feelings certainly did not influence him, for his wife, daughter and son-in-law were there. Instead he went to Jellalabad, pursued by hostile Afghans, arriving there on 12 November with about 2,000 men: the 13th Light Infantry (about 700 men, nearly half of whom were recruits), some native troops and a few guns.

Jellalabad was a walled town, but when Sale arrived the walls were crumbling and the town’s defences were in miserable condition. Sale’s men at once began to strengthen the walls, but just as they had them in reasonably good repair, an earthquake shook many of them down again. A week after Dr Brydon’s arrival, Sale received orders to retreat to India. He was indecisive and did not know what to do. Knowledge that his son-in-law had been killed and that his wife and daughter were prisoners of the Afghans must certainly have weighed heavily on him. Like many an irresolute commander, he called a council of war. Most of the officers present were in favour of negotiating with the Afghans, who were now all around them, and attempting a retreat to India. There were, however, two strong-minded, determined and able officers, Captain Henry Havelock of the 13th Regiment, and Major George Broadfoot of the Royal Engineers, who argued strongly in favour of holding out at Jellalabad.

In the end they did stay and ‘Fighting Bob’ Sale won fame as the ‘defender of Jellalabad’. Repeated attacks by the Afghans were beaten off, several successful sorties were made and, thanks to the exertions of Broadfoot, the defences were made secure. Food supplies were running low when, on 1 April, a sortie resulted in the capture of 500 sheep. Equal distribution was made among the troops, but the 35th Native Infantry decided that their European comrades needed the meat more than they did and gave up their share to the 13th Light Infantry. Urged on by his fiery subordinates, Sale was persuaded to make an attack on the Afghan army at his gates. It was a complete success and Sale captured the enemy’s camp, baggage, guns, ammunition and horses. The remains of the Afghan army fled towards Kabul.

General George Pollock: Battle of Kabul 1842 in the First Afghan War.

As soon as the news of the disaster to the Kabul force reached India, an army of retribution was formed and it set out for Afghanistan. It was commanded by Major-General George Pollock (1786–1872), an East India Company artillery officer who had not seen active service since the Burma War of 1824 but who was sound, stolid, unflappable, and the best general available. In the event he proved to be a very good general indeed, although he was inadequately rewarded by his government and history has almost forgotten him.

Pollock began his campaign with a nearly incredible achievement: his army forced the Khyber Pass. It was the first army in history to do so. Tamberlaine had bribed the fierce Afridis who controlled the pass to allow his army to go through; Akbar the Great lost 40,000 men unsuccessfully attempting to force his way through. But Pollock did it. In September 1842 he reached and recaptured Kabul; the British prisoners were freed; General Pollock, under orders to leave in Afghanistan ‘some lasting mark of the just retribution of an outraged nation’, burned down the Great Bazaar of Kabul, and then marched his army back to India. The uncrushed Ghilzais sniped at him all the way back through the passes, but honour had been restored to British arms and the Afghans were again left to themselves.

Pollock on his victorious march relieved Sale and his men on 16 April and the name of Jellalabad was soon forgotten by most of the world – but not by the 13th Foot (later the Somerset Light Infantry). The name became an inscription on their regimental badge and, until 1959 when the 274-year-old regiment was amalgamated with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, 17 April was celebrated each year in the regiment as Jellalabad Day. Every soldier learned the story of his regiment’s deeds there. Seventy-three years after the 13th left Afghanistan, Arthur Cook, a soldier in the regiment, went over the top during the First Battle of the Somme in an unsuccessful attack on the German positions; most of his comrades were killed or wounded and he came tumbling back into his own trenches alone and feeling, he said, ‘like Dr Brydon at Jellalabad’.


The Basra Pocket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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