“First came the Greycoats to eat all my swine, Next came the Bluecoats to make my sons fight, Next came the Greencoats to make my wife whore, Next came the Browncoats to burn down my home. I have naught but my life, now come the Blackcoats to rob me of that.”
—Anonymous Poem from the Thirty Years War
Although fought by many nations, most of the destruction took place within the Holy Roman Empire, a loose concoction of nearly 1,000 semi-independent, small states, in theory controlled from Vienna by the emperor, Ferdinand II, a Hapsburg. The House of Hapsburg then ruled nearly half of modern-day Europe, including Spain and portions of Italy and the Low Countries, i. e., the Netherlands. Ferdinand’s bailiwick among the family holdings covered today’s Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria and included part of Hungary, Poland, and the central Balkans. His lands stretched north and south from the Baltic to the Adriatic Seas, east and west from the Carpathian Mountains to the Rhine River.
The spark that set off the conflagration was religion. Christianity, since medieval times a source of unity in western Europe, had been transfigured by the 16th century’s Protestant Reformation into a casus belli between emerging nations. Some within the Holy Roman Empire itself, many Scandinavians, even more English and Scots, and most of the Swiss had converted to Lutheranism or Calvinism or some other Protestant sect, while the Italians, the Spanish, and majority of those in the empire-along with the Hapsburg rulers- remained loyal to the pope in Rome. The new schism cut the old diplomatic ties, and traditional allies such as Spain and England were now at odds over theology. Since religious affinities did not follow territorial boundaries, all the major states found themselves dealing with religious minorities whose first loyalties were to creed, not king.
The Holy Roman Empire had from the beginning been based on a delicate balance between individual principalities and their would-be rulers in Vienna. In 1618, when Ferdinand attempted to reassert his imperial authority over apostate Bohemia by debarring Protestants from public office and shutting down their two major churches, the precarious balance was not so much upset as destroyed. In Prague, the Bohemian capital, an anti-imperial revolt broke out, and-like dominos-not only the German states but neighboring European powers fell into the fighting. At first the alliances were mostly based on religious affiliation, Protestant England, Sweden, Denmark, and the Dutch Republic falling in with Bohemia; Catholic Spain, Poland, and the papal state marching along the imperial front. But the intentions of individual belligerents varied, and sometimes changed moment to moment as events unfurled, between the holy and the profane, the aggressive and defensive, self-assertion and self-preservation. First among the more secular issues was the longing of many German princes and dukes and the rising nation-states butting up against the Holy Roman Empire to counteract and contain the multinational power and the imperial ambitions of the Hapsburg clan.
The long struggle fell roughly into two phases. In the first, local issues dominated, the most heartfelt being religious. After 1635, however, politics, naked and raw, took over, and the goal of the warmongers was nothing less than altering the balance of power in Hapsburg-dominated Europe. By the beginning of the second phase, the war had taken on a momentum all its own. On a continent divided into two camps, diplomacy had become nigh unto impossible-no neutral parties existed to mediate disputes, fighting was the only way to resolve issues, no one had the edge to win the fighting, so the war dragged on and on and on. None of this was helped by the fact that early nation-states collected few taxes and had no base to support standing armies, so rulers hired mercenaries. These soldiers of fortune had begun to appear toward the end of the Middle Ages, when the ancient obligations of feudal vassals to fight for their lords was waning under the impact of the Crusades, which gave the mercenaries combat experience. The profession had grown, and by the 17th century, mercenaries were indispensable to the conduct of war in Europe.
Rulers farmed out the task of recruiting and leading the hireling armies to privately paid generals- ambitious adventurers and unscrupulous entrepreneurs, they were men like Count Peter Ernst von Mansfeld. The bastard son of a minor Catholic prince, Mansfeld began his military career in the Hapsburg army. His illegitimate birth blocked his rise through the ranks, so early on he switched allegiance to the Protestants, leading in the course of the first eight years the troops of Savoy, France, England, and the Netherlands. Some of those hired by Mansfeld and his ilk might once have had religious feelings, but most were no better than their bosses. Many were conscripted, kidnapped more or less, while some joined up to escape the gallows or the harsh poverty the war was fast bringing in its wake. Conditions were filthy, pay uncertain, and death-more by disease than in battle-omnipotent. Mutiny and desertion were, necessarily, savagely punished. Since wages came through regimental commanders, the soldiers’ loyalty lay with them rather than a cause or a king, even when-as routinely happened-the officers skimmed the take from the rulers who hired them.
Often the cash dried up entirely. Princes ran out of money, or lost heart, or disliked the job their hirelings were doing. When the duke of Savoy, for example, cut off Mansfeld’s men, Mansfeld complained that “neither they nor their horses can live on air” and turned them loose on the citizens. Mercenary armies frequently extracted such payment from the common folk, sometimes as taxes, sometimes in free board and lodging, often as simple booty, looting being one of the attractions of a soldier’s life. They traveled about, these armies, with a train of servants, wives, children, prostitutes, freebooters, and traders, wreaking havoc and visiting vicious depredations on villagers, who, often driven to extremes, sometimes struck back. Both villager and mercenary mutilated as well as murdered, and civilians and soldiers alike were drawn into a spiral of violence that was proving nearly impossible to stop. The destruction was so great that even the highborn belligerents had been drained of all desires except a longing for peace.
By then Germany’s population as a whole had fallen by 20 percent, higher in the areas of heaviest fighting. There, up to three-quarters of the people had disappeared from the land as a result of disease, the war, and a mass migration to the cities, where walls and payoffs kept most armies at bay. In Württemberg, a southern duchy much visited by the war, the 450,000 inhabitants living there in 1620 had dwindled to 100,000 by 1639. Germany was not the only country devastated by the three decades of conflict. In Sweden, for example, wholesale conscription had stripped the land of its adult males.
By the 1640s all Europe was in the mood for peace. Achieving it turned out to be harder than hoped, involving something new and cumbersome-an international conference of nation-states. The meetings dragged on for four years and were held simultaneously in two cities. The French and their Roman Catholic allies met with the Hapsburg emperor at Münster in northwest Germany; the Swedes and their Protestant delegates met him 30 miles away at Osnabrück. In the end, all the delegates stuck to the task at hand and produced on October 24, 1648, the Peace of Westphalia.
Starting as an internal dispute within the Holy Roman Empire, the Thirty Years’ War had swelled to involve most of the nations in Europe. The common folk saw it not so much in terms of battles won or territories gained or theologies defined and protected, but as a long orgy of violence, a glimpse of Hell created by men on Earth. The rulers who began and backed the war imagined it had been a means of establishing the status quo in Europe, a status quo that would last for almost a century. Historians came to view the war more broadly as the failure of the Austrian Hapsburgs to sustain the Counter-Reformation. Under the banner of this Counter-Reformation, said these historians, the Hapsburgs had marched all the way to the Baltic to establish their hegemony over the Holy Roman Empire. But in the end, they were thwarted by the jealousy of Catholic Bavaria and, more important, by the powerful and effective military intervention after 1635 of Lutheran Sweden under its warrior-king Gustavus Adolphus. He in turn was supported by money from a Catholic France then dominated by Cardinal Jean Richelieu. Thus was the Thirty Years’ War-and Europe-secularized, as considerations of power and diplomatic advantage superseded religion when first Sweden, then France, decided to crush Hapsburg Germany.
As a result of the war, the Calvinist, or “Reform” Church, now gained status equal to that of Lutheranism, and by and large various territorial rulers in the Holy Roman Empire could establish public worship as they saw fit. Not only did Westphalia make official Germany’s religious disunity, it confirmed as well its political fragmentation by allowing member states to conclude treaties with foreign powers. It would be two centuries before the diverse German states could be welded into a power sufficiently unified to truly threaten again the Continent’s stability.
Left in peace for the time being to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, the war-weary German people did so with surprising speed. By 1700 much of Germany had returned to its prewar housing and population levels, as the Thirty Years’ War became both a memory and a byword for calamity. Some of the emerging nations in Europe fared better than others. Protestant Sweden gained a commanding post on Germany’s Baltic coast, though it was now in no position economically or militarily to exploit the gain. On the other hand, Catholic France got 10 imperial towns in Alsace and three strategic fortresses at Metz, Toul, and Verdun, all of which laid the basis for the emerging French ascendancy in Europe.
With the Peace of Westphalia, the threat of Hapsburg domination had subsided, and it was the turn of others, notably the French, to kindle territorial longings. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church’s role of universal mediator in international disputes, long in decline, had been forever diminished, and henceforth it would be the new rulers of nations doing the treaty making and deploying the diplomats.
King James I and Count Peter Ernst von Mansfeld
To spearhead his campaign to recapture the Palatinate, James secured the services of the German mercenary Ernst, count von Mansfeld, who had fought for the Elector Frederick in 1620-2 and thereby gained something of a reputation in England as a Protestant hero. Over the summer of 1624 James negotiated an agreement with Louis XIII of France whereby Louis promised to pay half of Mansfeld’s expenses for six months, allow his troops to land either at Calais or Boulogne, and to provide 3,000 cavalry which would be waiting in northern France. The alliance was to be cemented by the marriage of Prince Charles to Louis’s sister Henrietta Maria (whom Charles had met on his way back from Spain the previous year), although Louis held out for religious concessions just as sweeping as those previously demanded by Spain. Under the terms of the marriage treaty, eventually signed at Paris on 10 November 1624 and ratified by James and Charles at Cambridge two days later, Louis was to pay a dowry of £120,000 (in two instalments), while James publicly agreed to allow Henrietta Maria complete freedom of worship, to have twenty-eight religious attendants who would be allowed to wear their habits in public, and also to have the care of the education of any children of the marriage until they reached the age of thirteen. At the same time, James and Charles signed a private engagement-Ecrit Particulier- to release all Catholics imprisoned for their religion and to allow English Catholics to practice their religion in peace. In January 1625 James further agreed to lend Louis XIII seven ships to help put down the rebellion of the prominent Huguenot nobleman the duke of Soubise-a rebellion which initially had been condemned by other French Huguenots.
Mansfeld came to England in early November to raise troops for the joint Anglo-French venture to recapture the Palatinate: 12,000 men were to be recruited in England (mostly by impressment), 10,000 in Scotland, with the earl of Lincoln commanding an additional contingent of cavalry. The venture proved ill-fated from the start. With the parliamentary subsidies yet to come in, there was not enough money to pay or feed the men properly, and the raw recruits-many of whom did not want to serve in the first place-grew disorderly. They `spoyled’ the countryside around Dover `as yf yt had been in an enemie’s countrie’; many tried to desert; others mutinied; while Mansfeld was so concerned that it was said he `durst not shew himself among them’. Furthermore, James and Louis had different war aims. James was desperate to avoid an open breach with Spain, and so wanted the troops sent directly to the Palatinate; in theory, any Spanish forces that occupied any of Frederick’s territories were acting under direction of the Holy Roman Emperor. Louis, by contrast, wanted them to be sent to relieve Breda in the Netherlands, which had been under siege by Spanish forces since August 1624; however, this would involve England intervening on the side of the Dutch in their war of independence against Spain. James objected and instructed Mansfeld to go directly to the Palatinate without passing through any Spanish territory (which would involve a lengthy detour along the French border towards Lorraine, to avoid the Spanish Netherlands); Louis, unhappy at the prospect of having Mansfeld’s untrained and ill-disciplined troops marching through north-eastern France, refused to let Mansfeld’s army land at Calais. So at the end of January, during the heart of what was an extremely cold winter, the transport ships carrying the men headed off towards the coast of Holland and Zeeland, where the Dutch-whom Buckingham had failed to notify in advance-were totally unprepared to feed them. The results were predictable. Thousands of men died of malnutrition, exposure, and disease. Of those who survived, many deserted. Mansfeld decided to head to Breda, although at first his English colonels, reluctant to disobey their sovereign, refused to join him. It was not until the spring, after James had passed away, that Charles gave Mansfeld permission to take his English troops to relieve Breda. Of the original 12,000 enlisted Englishmen, he now had at most 7,000 men left, of whom half were to die in the next couple of months. When Breda finally surrendered to the Spanish in June, perhaps only 600 Englishmen survived.
“WHAT IS THIS?” Nguyen Sinh Tuan said, raising his Leica M3 camera and focusing on Nguyen Duc Cui as he sat on the ground, massaging the leather of the brown oxford shoes that he had carried in his pack since the day he had made the blood-bound promise to his dying friend.
“I thought you had no film,” Cui said, smiling as Tuan released the shutter.
“I had no more film for photographs of darkness,” the photographer said. “They wanted pictures of that battle, and all that my lens could see was blackness and streaks of light. I had no film for that. However, I do have this roll of film to photograph today, Liberation Day!”
“It has not yet ended,” Cui said. “We still have ARVN entrenched here at Hoc Mon.”
“In a few hours,” Tuan said and snapped another photograph, “their President Minh will formally surrender. He has already ordered his forces to lay down their arms.”
“Those gunshots in that village tell me that these ARVN did not hear their president’s orders,” Cui said, still rubbing the leather.
“Then why do you soften your shoes so that you can wear them when we march into Saigon today?” Tuan said, smiling.
“I also heard about the trucks taking us into the city, once our troops have quieted these guns here,” Cui said and smiled back at his friend.
COURTYARD OF THE AMERICAN EMBASSY, SAIGON
“NEIL!” A VOICE from outside the opened American embassy gates shouted.
“Here, over here,” Neil Davis said, raising his hand above the back of the couch where he lay, watching the embassy roof.
“What are you doing lying on that couch in the embassy parking lot when we have ARVN soldiers running in the streets, shedding their uniforms, shooting, looting, burning? Hugh Van Es shot an outstanding still of an Air America Huey on the Pan American building, and a ladder of people climbing up to it. He’ll get the Pulitzer Prize, and you’re out here sleeping,” Al Dawson said, stepping around the leather sofa that the South Vietnamese had dragged from the building after the Marines had locked themselves on the roof.
“We still have Marines on the roof, and I am waiting to see what happens. They’ll no doubt send a helicopter for them, and I will have film of the last bird to leave Saigon,” Davis said, lying back with his camera poised to shoot upward, should anything break.
Dawson sat on the arm of the couch and began watching the roof too.
“How do you know there are Marines up there?” the UPI bureau chief said.
“I had lain here to take a snooze about sunrise,” Davis began. “Then I heard five or six shots. Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow from up there. So I start looking to see who did it. Once in awhile I get a peek of a head or upper body. They’re not oriental, so they must be Americans, still on their own embassy. You know that the diplomats and brass all left first, so these guys must be Marines. Very simple deductive reasoning, my friend.”
“What the heck are they still doing up there?” Dawson said, now captivated.
“You’re the reporter,” Davis said. “Go find the answer to that question. I’ll wait here and film it.”
ROOFTOP OF THE AMERICAN EMBASSY, SAIGON
“QUICK, COME HERE, Top,” Jim Kean called, kneeling behind a stack of sandbags and looking at the street beyond the embassy compound fence.
“Big Minh!” Master Sergeant Valdez said. “Headed to the office to close up, I guess.”
“What is this, six sedans and an armed escort?” Kean said. “They must be headed to the Presidential Palace to wait for the North Vietnamese to come knocking.”
“I hope I don’t see that,” Steven Schuller said, now limping as he walked, suffering increasing pain from the wound in his side.
All the Marines crowded by the boss and watched as President Duong Van Minh and Premier Vu Van Mao drove to the Presidential Palace, where the Republic of Vietnam’s leaders of two days would receive politburo boss Le Duc Tho and formally surrender South Vietnam to the Communists.
“What time you got, Top?” Sergeant Terry Bennington said, cupping his hands above his eyes, searching the distant horizon, as the other ten Marines kept their focus on the motorcade procession below.
“Why?” Valdez said, hopefully. “What do you see?”
“It’s a helicopter!” Sergeant Bennington said, dropping his hands and beaming.
“Yeah, and the people on the ground hear it coming too. Look at them run!” Sergeant Duane Gevers said, now rushing to the steel door with Gunnery Sergeant Bobby Schlager and Corporal Stephen Bauer.
“Get deployed for his landing,” Kean said. “Be ready for any ground fire too.”
Screams and shouts echoed from the concrete stairwell behind the steel door that the Marines had now reinforced to keep shut.
“Go ahead and pop that big canister of riot gas,” Kean said.
“This won’t be pretty,” Bauer said as he pulled the pins on two small CS grenades and dropped them inside the broken window in the center of the door.
Duane Gevers set off the big can of CS riot control agent on the roof, releasing a great white cloud of the irritating fog.
Swift Two-Two came in hot, dropping just over the deck and squatting on its wheels as the eleven Marines ran toward the open rear ramp. Tear gas spiraled and swirled over the roof and drifted toward the ground.
Despite its irritating properties, causing a person’s eyes, nose, and sinuses to flood, the gas did not phase the screaming, anxious South Vietnamese who had waited all night for the helicopter and now saw it come. They rushed up the stairs and poured onto the roof just as Swift Two-Two parted from the deck.
“You getting this?” Al Dawson said to Neil Davis.
“I waited all night for this,” the Australian responded.
NGUYEN GIAP TY RESIDENCE IN SAIGON
THE SUN BURNED Nguyen Giap Ty’s eyes as he looked through the sheer lace curtains that hung over his living-room windows. Outside he saw a group of his neighbors walking toward his door and pointing. Although he could not hear their words clearly, the Viet Cong soldiers that his so-called friends led seemed intense and agitated as they tromped across his courtyard and garden.
The ARVN officer, recipient of America’s Bronze Star Medal, answered the door when the Viet Cong slammed their fists against it, rattling the windows.
“Quiet, children,” Ninh Thi Tran whispered, watching her husband unlatch the entrance to their home.
“May I help you?” Ty tried to say.
“Stand aside!” the first soldier who seemed to have authority over the troop said and pushed Ty away as he led his soldiers into the house.
Nguyen Giap Ty looked at the angry faces of his neighbors who crowded outside his front door.
“Why?” Ty said. “What have I ever done to hurt you? I thought you were my friends.”
“He was an officer!” one of the neighbors shouted to the Viet Cong. “A criminal who lives on the sweat of our people!”
“Please simply take me, and do not harm my family,” Nguyen Giap Ty pled.
“Yes,” the senior Viet Cong said, “you will come with us now. Also, this woman, Ninh Thi Tran!”
“Why, sir?” Ty said, clasping his hands together in a prayerlike fashion, showing respect and subordination. “She has done nothing but secretarial work all of her life and has raised our five children. Please, sir, she has done nothing!”
“Quiet!” the senior soldier snarled and then turned to two of his soldiers who now held Ty. “Take him out of here now. You men take her.”
Two other Viet Cong held Ninh Thi Tran by her shoulders and led her out the door behind her husband through the growing crowd of jeering neighbors. While the people watched, the soldiers tied both Ty’s and Ninh’s hands behind their backs.
Then the Viet Cong leader looked at Ty’s oldest son, Nam, and growled, “You have two minutes to gather what you want of your personal belongings and leave this house. Don’t come back.”
Living as homeless orphans on the streets of Saigon for more than a year, Nam and his sister Bich-Van Nguyen took care of their three siblings. Tuong-Van Nguyen, the eldest daughter of Ty and Ninh, suffered most because of her Down syndrome disabilities. Vanny, the youngest daughter, and Son, the younger son, helped Nam and Bich with Tuong-Van, and together the four of them scavenged for food and shelter.
Eight years of hard labor, so-called re-education, took their toll on Nguyen Giap Ty and his wife, Ninh. Abandonment took its toll on their children.
Somehow, though, a resilient spirit among the Nguyen family kept them going through it all. Their children grew up and finally managed to escape from Vietnam aboard the clandestine boatlifts. They came to America and Australia. So did Nguyen Giap Ty and his wife and their disabled daughter, Tuong-Van, finally.
PRESIDENTIAL PALACE, SAIGON
AT 10:24 A.M., President Duong Van Minh issued a statement, broadcast to the North Vietnamese, offering the surrender of the Republic of Vietnam.
The announcement seemed to represent the latch on the gate because in a matter of minutes parades of victorious Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers, walking, riding in trucks, and sitting on tanks and armored personnel carriers came streaming into Saigon from every direction.
Seeing President Minh’s motorcade driving to the Presidential Palace, Neil Davis and Al Dawson ran to the capitol building after they had witnessed the last American forces leave Saigon. While Dawson found a good perch to watch from a distance, the Australian motion picture news photographer set up his camera on the front steps of Big Minh’s headquarters.
He had his camera rolling when the Soviet-built T-55 tank, with soldiers waving the PRG flag, crashed down the palace gates and rumbled up the wide walkway to the great building’s front steps. The Australian photojournalist stood, waved at the Communists, and kept his camera rolling.
Safely aboard the USS Okinawa, Major Jim Kean accompanied Brigadier General Richard Carey to the captain’s bridge. As the last commander of American forces on the ground in South Vietnam, Kean signed the log beneath the signature of Graham A. Martin, America’s last ambassador to Vietnam.
War was on the minds of officials in Washington, too, but as a disaster to be avoided, not an opportunity to be welcomed. General Albert Coady Wedemeyer warned overseas commands that the United States was “taking a firm stand” in response to Soviet restrictions, and an “incident could result.” When the National Security Council met, Lovett stressed that “we must have a very strong case to show publicly that we took every step possible short of shooting” and “make it clear that the Russians are the ones who are breaking the quadripartite agreement.”
Tension spiked again in the early afternoon of April 5 when a Yak fighter collided with a British European Airways Viking airliner over Berlin. The Yak’s movements reminded one eyewitness of wartime fighter attacks on bombers, as it dived on the Viking from above and behind, then pulled up in a steep left turn until it was directly ahead of it and on a collision course. The Russian pilot tried to swerve below the airliner, but the Yak’s right wing clipped the Viking. Both planes spiraled to the ground a thousand feet below. The Russian pilot, the Viking’s four RAF crew members, and ten passengers all perished.
This was clearly an accident, but the Western powers worried that the Soviets had begun a campaign of aerial harassment to match the one on the ground. Robertson went to Marsal Vasily Danilovic Sokolovsky’s headquarters at Karlshorst to demand a four-power inquiry and assurances that British aircraft would not be molested. He ordered fighter escorts for all passenger flights. General Lucius D. Clay followed suit. Sokolovsky was ill at ease during his meeting with Robertson. He offered regrets and assured his guest that the collision had not been intentional. Having thus tacitly admitted that the Soviet pilot was responsible, he went on to claim that the Viking had rammed the fighter. He insisted that any investigation be bilateral, because only British and Soviet aircraft had been involved, waving aside Robertson’s objection that two Americans were among the dead.
Like Clay, the Soviets saw political advantage and tried to use the crash to restrict Western access. They revived old demands for stricter flying regulations and circulated new ones. On April 17, with Western nerves taut over the April 5 crash, three Soviet fighters made gunnery passes at a C-47 in the southern corridor but did not fire, and the Russians conducted antiaircraft gunnery practice in the corridor. Soviet fighters conducted exercises in the corridors on May 18 without notifying Western controllers in the Berlin Air Safety Center. Later that month, the Soviets announced vague fighter movements in the corridors, an apparent attempt to preempt Western use of them.
Ironically, Western observers drew equally optimistic conclusions from recent events. Two preconceptions guided Western assessments. The first was the shadow of the March war scare, which led analysts to concentrate on whether the Soviets were about to start a war. The CIA thought “devious” maneuvers in Berlin made no sense if the Russians were on the verge of overrunning the Continent. Lovett detected indications that the Kremlin had no desire to push matters to extremes, including “the failure to follow up vigorously” its interference with Western access.
Ironically, now that the end was in sight and the airlift had triumphed, Soviet harassment peaked. With good flying weather returning, the Soviets began their spring maneuvers in March, taking little care to stay out of the way of British and American planes. There were 51 cases of deliberate buzzing or close flying (within 500 feet) in March, compared with 3 in February. In March alone, there were 96 instances of clear intent to interfere with U.S. planes, roughly one-quarter of 360 such incidents during the airlift. Considering the airlift flew more than half a million sorties (over 277,000 round-trips to Berlin), the number is remarkably low. So, too, are the documented cases of sabotage, which totaled only four.
Close students of the airlift may question the claim that there were only 360 instances of Soviet harassment of American planes. For many years, we have relied on a table listing 733 “corridor incidents.” The table summarized a USAFE report, and even a brief perusal of that document makes it clear that pilots were instructed to report anything unusual, not only attempts to interfere with the airlift. Over half the “incidents” involved no hostile intent. A June 1949 report about an unidentified object, for example, referred to a vapor trail twenty to thirty miles away. One crew reported flak in August 1949 about forty miles away. A May 1949 case of deliberate buzzing was by an RAF York. Several reports about searchlights specifically state that the light “did not molest aircraft,” “made no attempt to follow aircraft,” or “extinguished itself immediately” when the beam touched the plane. There were clearly instances of dangerous interference, including at least five cases of Soviet aircraft passing within fifty feet of an airlift plane, but the total is far less than we thought. Someone converted “incidents” into “interference,” and the mistake has been repeated ever since.
Why did the Soviets not do more to interfere? We do not have definitive answers. In the early stages, there must have seemed little point in interfering with something that was certain to fail. It also seems clear that Soviet leaders realized any such efforts ran a serious risk of war. By the spring of 1949, when it dawned on the Kremlin that the airlift might succeed, Berlin was not important enough to Stalin to run such risks. Better to accept a political defeat than risk a military one.
Emergency War Plan 1-49
The Nuclear bomber strike force was far from combat-ready, however. The air force faced three substantial problems. First, atomic weapons were owned by the civilian AEC, not the military: ‘[T]he military services didn’t own a single one’, General Curtis LeMay remarked years later. ‘These bombs were too horrible and too dangerous to entrust to the military. They were under lock and key of the Atomic Energy Commission. I didn’t have them, and that worried me a little bit to start with.’
It was estimated that if it became necessary to launch an attack on invading Soviet forces in Europe, then atomic weapons-capable B-29s of the 509th Composite Group, now part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), would need five to six days to prepare and depart from their base at Roswell, New Mexico, fly to an AEC location to load the weapons, and then fly on to a forward base in readiness to attack. By the time the B-29s had crossed the Atlantic, a war in Europe might already be over, with Soviet territories already well defended against unescorted bombers.
The second problem was the size of the atomic arsenal. The successful Sandstone tests had shown that it would be possible for the stockpile to be built up quite quickly. An estimated stockpile of thirteen bombs in 1947 had grown, and towards the end of 1948 the AEC possessed about 50. SAC had 60 bombers that had been modified to carry them. Many senior military figures believed this was far from sufficient to provide an effective deterrent.
But perhaps the overwhelming problem was not how many bombs America possessed or who owned them. What worried America’s military leaders was the question of whether, in time of war, the bombs could be delivered accurately to their targets. Any atomic bombing mission over Soviet cities would likely involve targeting by radar, at night, from altitudes above 25,000 feet. It was clear that under these circumstances SAC personnel could not guarantee delivery of an atom bomb within one or two miles of the designated target.
Before the Berlin airlift began, the SAC bombing crews were encouraged to improve their navigational and bombing accuracies through an annual competition. Each crew had to drop six bombs from 25,000 feet – three visually and three by radar. The results were greatly disappointing, with circular-error averages ranging from over 1,000 feet to almost 3,000 feet.
The Berlin airlift was a humanitarian operation of massive proportions, and it was successful. American, British and French civilian and military aircraft were used to airlift cargoes ranging from containers of coal to small packets of sweets dropped with tiny, individual parachutes for the children.
By January 1949 Stalin realised that he would be unable to starve and freeze the Berlin population into submission and force the Western powers out of the city. Economic sanctions that had been imposed on Soviet East Germany had reduced imports into the country by almost half, and were starting to take their toll. Secret negotiations to end the crisis began in February. On 12 May the blockade was lifted and rail traffic once more flowed into Berlin.
The airlift nevertheless continued until September to build up supplies in case the Soviets blocked the routes again. By the time the airlift ended, nearly 280,000 flights had been made and over two million tons of coal, food and other essential supplies had been delivered.
In the winter of 1947-1948, the Air Force Directorate of Intelligence gave intensive study to atomic targeting. Since the U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey had concluded that city bombing was ineffective, the target shop plotted industrial systems in the Soviet Union only to find these individual targets clustered in and around seventy Soviet cities. A concept followed that the objective of atomic air strikes would be to destroy government control, industrial capacity, and support potential rather than specific industrial objectives. The concept was called, “To kill a nation.” Thinking on this order appeared in SAC`S Emergency War Plan 1-49 that was added as an atomic annex to the HALFMOON emergency war plan. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff put more reliance on atomic weapons, they requested the Atomic Energy Commission to expand the atomic stockpile, which, as seen already, grew to 250 warheads in 1949.
In the winter of 1947-1948, General Spaatz looked to a specially appointed Heavy Bomber Committee for advice on the plane the Air Force should buy to replace the B-29 and the B-50, an improved version of the B-29. The candidates were the mammoth B-36, conceived in 1939 when it seemed Britain might go under, and two new jet bomber prototypes in development, the B 4 7 and the B-52, neither of which had intercontinental range without aerial refueling. The SAC Commander, General George C. Kenney, disliked the B-36, but the committee received enough information about aerial refueling to believe it would be a feasible way of extending the jet bomber range. In World War II aerial refueling had not been practical for planes that carried iron bombs, but planes that carried atomic arms could feasibly have their ranges so extended. Before retiring on 30 April 1948, General Spaatz accepted the committee’s recommendation to continue B-36 development and to hasten aerial refueling activity. Now, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Spaatz’ successor as Chief of Staff, USAF, inherited the problem of what to do about SAC and also confronted a new problem in that President Truman was imposing an austere $14.4 billion on total requests for national defense for fiscal year 1950.
By January 1949 SAC possessed more than 120 aircraft capable of delivering atomic weapons, consisting of B-29s and B-50s that had been modified for air-to-air refuelling. There were now six bomb-assembly teams, with a further team in training. Flight crews were being drilled relentlessly, and navigation and targeting skills were improving.
At this juncture, Lieutenant Colonel Harry R. Borowski’s inside story is that there was dissatisfaction about how SAC was being run in high places, including stories that General Kenney was essentially a tactical air commander in the Pacific during World War II. According to Borowski, General Norstad, while serving as acting vice chief of staff in mid-1948, advised Vandenberg that Kenney should be replaced by Lieutenant General Curtis E. LeMay, an aggressive and experienced World War II bomber commander.
LeMay took command of SAC on 19 October 1948 and ordered a major shake-up. He organised a combat exercise against an American practice target – Dayton, Ohio – designed to be as realistic as possible. Crews were issued with photographs of the target that were ten years old, on the basis that reconnaissance photographs of Soviet cities were of a similar vintage. Neither the crews nor the aircraft were used to flying at high altitude. The crews were insufficiently trained to target using radar. And the weather was bad. The results were disastrous. Of the 150 crews that flew the mission, none completed it as directed. Few crews even managed to find Dayton, let alone target the city accurately. LeMay called it the ‘darkest night in American military aviation history’.
LeMay drew up his first war plan. The result, the SAC Emergency War Plan 1–49, was delivered in March 1949. It encapsulated all the lessons LeMay had learned from his experience firebombing Japanese cities. These were simply summarised: hit fast, and hit hard. He called on SAC ‘to increase its capability to such an extent that it would be possible to deliver the entire stockpile of atomic bombs, if made available, in a single massive attack’.
At the time this meant striking 70 Soviet cities with 133 atomic bombs, targeting urban industrial centres, government offices, the oil industry, transport networks and power stations. Of course, not all the bombs were of the latest, higher-yield, design. But a conservative assumption that each bomb would yield a Nagasaki-scale 20,000 tons of TNT equivalent implies a plan to hit the Soviet Union with an explosive force totalling three million tons (three megatons) of TNT. It was estimated that there would be nearly three million civilian deaths, and four million casualties.
Such was the calculus of atomic war. To countenance such a plan required a moral compass set spinning by nothing less than one of Lawrence’s giant magnets. But as LeMay later pointed out, before leaping to moral judgements it helped first to establish a proper sense of perspective:
Towards the end of the war, LeMay had ordered the firebombing of 63 Japanese cities, which had resulted in the deaths of two and a half million civilians. As far as LeMay was concerned, all that atomic weapons had done was make the process so much more efficient.
America was not at war, however, and this was still just a plan. Nevertheless, the temptation to launch a pre-emptive strike must have been very real. A noon SAC reconnaissance exercise over Vladivostok was met with no resistance. ‘We practically mapped the place up there with no resistance at all’, LeMay said later. ‘We could have launched bombing attacks, planned and executed just as well, at that time. So I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say we could have delivered the stockpile had we wanted to do it, with practically no losses.’
LeMay’s plan was judged sufficient to precipitate a collapse of the Soviet Union, or at least sufficient to destroy the Soviet capability for offensive operations. As if this was not enough, the AEC confidently predicted that it could make a stockpile of 400 atomic weapons available by the end of 1950.
Throughout this year, and the beginning of 1544, preparations were made for the great invasion of France under the combined leadership of Henry of England and Charles of Spain. The cost of the undertaking was so vast, however, that the general coinage of the realm was debased by introducing a larger amount of alloy into its gold and silver coins. By these means the king’s mint acquired large sums of money, since the face value of the currency was the same despite the smaller amount of precious metal. Prices naturally rose, at a rate of approximately 10 per cent each year, and the economy took twenty years to recover. These were the results of the king’s passion for war.
Other ways of making money were also found. It was decided to exact a ‘benevolence’ from the nation. Those who owned lands worth more than an annual value of 40 shillings were to be requested to contribute to the king’s coffers; it was their duty to the sovereign. Those who refused were punished. One alderman of London was sent as a common soldier to the Scottish border, where his commander was told to subject him to the harshest and most dangerous duties. Another alderman was simply sent to the Tower, where he remained for three months.
The preparation for the invasion had already cost much blood. Scotland had renounced all its promises and agreements with the king, concluded after the disaster at Solway Moss, and once more established the old alliance with France. Henry could not contemplate the prospect of an enemy at his back door, and so he resolved to punish the Scots for what he regarded as their duplicity and faithlessness. At the beginning of May an English fleet sailed up the Firth of Forth and their commander, Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, was ordered to ‘burn Edinburgh town, so razed and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what you can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God’. He was commanded to overthrow the castle and beat down Holyrood House, while at the same time putting to the flame all the towns and villages in the immediate vicinity. The campaign of terror was then to continue to Leith and St Andrews ‘putting man, woman and child to fire and sword, without exception, where any resistance shall be made against you’. Once more the wrath of the king meant death.
Hertford duly obeyed the orders of his sovereign and reported on 9 May that he had made ‘a jolly fire and smoke upon the town’ of Edinburgh. Nine days later he wrote that his mission was accomplished to the effect that ‘we trust your Majesty shall hear that the like devastation hath not been made in Scotland these many years’. A French fleet came to the aid of their allies and landed a considerable force which, with the Scottish army, marched to the border country; their campaign of fire and fury was duly challenged by another invasion by the earl of Hertford who in the autumn of the year destroyed 243 villages, five market towns and seven monasteries. This dance of death between the two nations would continue, at intervals, until the time of Oliver Cromwell.
The army of the English set out for France itself in the summer of 1544. The largest invasion force ever was dispatched abroad: 48,000 men took to the Channel. It needed the combined strength of 6,500 horses to drag the guns and carts of ammunition. The bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, had been appointed somewhat quixotically as Purveyor General; he said that he had been a ‘continual purveyor of cheese, butter, herrings and stockfish’. His enemies now referred to him as ‘Stephen Stockfish’.
The first scheme of war provided that the armies of the king and the emperor should march upon Paris, but Henry detected flaws in the proposal; it would leave his forces dangerously unprotected in the rear. It was first necessary for him to subdue the towns of Boulogne and Montreuil before passing the Somme on his way to the capital. By the end of June the English army had gathered about Boulogne, and on 14 July Henry crossed the Channel. A few days later he rode out from the gates of Calais, then an English garrison town, and came upon the territories of France; across his saddle he placed a great musket with a long iron barrel. He was travelling 25 miles south to join his army at Boulogne. The siege guns were soon blasting at the castle on the eastern side of the hilltop town.
Diplomatic, as well as military, activities were under way. In the summer of 1544 Francis wrote to the two kings, privately urging each of them to come to terms with him and thus hoping to divide their counsels: Henry sent the letter on to his ally, Charles, and replied to the French king that he was suggesting a policy ‘wherein you greatly touch our honour, the which, as you are aware, having always guarded inviolably to this present, I will never consent in my old age that it shall be any way distained’. In the following month he wrote – or rather dictated – a letter to Katherine Parr even as he sustained the siege of Boulogne. He told her that ‘we be so occupied, and have so much to do in foreseeing and caring for everything ourself, as we have almost no manner of rest or leisure to do any other thing’. This is the king at war, energetic and ever busy. He was delighted to be once more in arms, and one of his commanders reported that he was ‘merry and in as good health as I have seen his grace at any time this seven year’. He was in pursuit of glory, which was really the only reason for warfare.
Charles V was detained at the town of Dizier or St Didier for seven weeks, thus losing half the time that had been calculated for the march upon Paris itself. But the emperor then pressed forward, even though in the process his communications were broken and his supplies cut off. The advance surprised Henry, but the king could not have foreseen the duplicity of his ally. Francis and Charles had settled the terms of a separate peace, leaving out Henry, and needed only an excuse to enact it. With Charles’s army in perilous circumstance, the emperor declared himself obliged to make a treaty. The Spaniards and the French once more joined hands in the diplomatic dance.
The siege of Boulogne had been protracted beyond anticipation. The valour of the defenders of the town provoked even the king’s admiration. ‘They fought hand to hand,’ he wrote to the queen, ‘much manfuller than either Burgundians or Flemings would have done . . .’ Yet finally he prevailed, and the people of the town marched out in surrender. Montreuil still held out, however, and it was clear to all that the English army would never reach the gates of Paris. At this juncture Charles sealed the treaty with Francis, leaving Henry the only belligerent. The king’s anger and incredulity at the treachery of his ally are understandable, but the relative failure of the invasion is not in doubt. He had taken Boulogne, but not Paris, at an estimated cost of some £2 million; that was roughly equivalent to ten years of normal spending. The bulk of the crown lands, acquired from the Church, were sold off. This led directly to the frailty of the royal finances in subsequent years, and was one of the contributing factors to the Civil War. Yet this is to move too far forward. In the immediate context of 1544 the treasury was exhausted and Stephen Gardiner was moved to write, in emulation of Colet thirty-three years before, that ‘the worst peace is better than the best war’. On the last day of September Henry sailed back to England.
The threat from France remained, more dangerous than ever after the peace with Spain. It became clear by the spring of the following year that Francis was planning an invasion and was gathering a large fleet of ships for the purpose; galleys were even being brought overland from the Mediterranean to join the flotilla. The fortifications along England’s shores were strengthened further and the trained bands of local fighters were put on alert. In the event the French force got precisely nowhere; inclement winds propelled the ships back to their own coastline, and the supplies of food began to run low. So the French commanders ordered a retreat. An attempt was made at battle near Portsmouth, when some French galleys fired at the English ships, but once more an unfavourable wind forced them back. A French fleet was sighted off Shoreham, but again it turned around; an outbreak of disease had felled the sailors. In the course of this flurry of maritime activity one ship, the Mary Rose, managed to sink itself in Portsmouth harbour. This can be taken as a symbol of the armed struggle between England and France.
The years from 1939 to 1945 may well have seen the most profound and concentrated upheaval of humanity since the Black Death. Not since the fourteenth century had so many people been killed or displaced, disturbed, uprooted, or had their lives completely transformed in such a short space of time. The years at the very end of the war, and immediately following it, once more illustrated the old adage that it is quite possible to win the war and lose the peace.
The areas where the war was actually fought lay in ruins. Northern France, the Low Countries, the great sweep of the North German Plain, and a wide swath running all the way to Moscow and Stalingrad lay devastated. In the countryside it was not so bad; targets had been fewer, and there were substantial areas that had been bypassed by the fighting. The farther back in the country one lived, and the more basic one’s life, the less likelihood there was of its being disrupted. But the cities were heaps of rubble, railways were lines of craters and twisted rails, bridges were down, canals and rivers blocked, dams blown, and electric power grids destroyed. Most of the paraphernalia of modern society was damaged to greater or lesser degree.
Across the world in the Pacific and east Asia it was the same. Inestimable amounts of property damage had been done, huge nations—China and Japan—and the great empires of the colonial powers were all brought low. Millions of starvelings shambled among the ruins, seeking some way to put their lives back in order.
Yet the damage was by no means universal. Those countries of the industrialized world that had fought in the war, but had not experienced any fighting on their own soil, had prospered almost in direct proportion as the combat zones had suffered. If in Europe and Asia it might be hard to tell the winners from the losers, there was absolutely no question that the North Americans were winners.
Some of the tale, if by no means all, is told by the casualty figures. About seventy million men, at one point or another throughout the war, had borne arms. Roughly seventeen million of them were killed by the war, along with at least another twenty million or more civilians who had the misfortune to live in the wrong place at the wrong time.
These casualties were extremely unevenly divided. On the Axis side Germany mustered nearly twenty million soldiers, though her peak strength at any one time was just over ten million. Three and a quarter million died in battle, slightly more than that from nonbattle causes, and seven and a quarter million were wounded. Over another million were “missing”; they simply disappeared. The Homeland was utterly devastated, unlike in World War I when the Germans had fought the war on other people’s soil. The Italians had put just over three million men in the field and suffered casualties of just over 10 percent, about half of which were deaths. The navy and merchant marine were gone, and the country from Salerno to the Po Valley had been fought over. Italian figures ironically had to be entered on both sides of the ledger. By far the greatest portion of her losses were incurred in the Axis’ interests, but she also had 20,000 deaths while fighting on the Allied side after 1943.
Japan had put nearly ten million men in service; her peak strength at any one time was just over six million. Her casualty figures were incredibly distorted by western standards. In European armies it was normal to suffer two or three wounded for every death, especially in this war where battlefield medicine and new drugs came into prominence. But Japan had almost two million military deaths, and only 140,000 wounded. About half a million civilians were killed in the bombing campaign, and more than 600,000 wounded. Additionally, well over a quarter of a million Japanese taken prisoner at the end of the war by the Russians as they moved into Manchuria were not returned to Japan.
In human terms, the price of victory for the winners was as high as that of defeat for the losers. China had lacked the industrial potential to mobilize as many men as her population would otherwise have supported. The greatest number reached by the Chinese armies never exceeded much over five million. Yet her war had gone on ever since 1937, and she had more than two million deaths in battle. With primitive medicine and conditions, many of her soldiers who died would have lived had they been in a European army. Her civilian deaths from bombing and military action, or from the indirect consequences of war and its upheaval such as starvation, were never counted, but must have numbered well over five million and may have been ten million.
Of the European allies, Poland had merely exchanged two conquerors for one of them; in a sense the entire population of Poland could be numbered among the casualty figures. France did better. The French collapse had been mercifully quick, though “merciful” was hardly the term one would have applied at the time. At their peak the French mustered five million men under arms. Roughly a quarter of a million were killed in battle or died from other causes; another half million were wounded or missing. Nearly half a million civilians were either killed or deported to Germany for shorter or longer periods. Thirty thousand French men and women were shot by firing squads. The northern part of the country had been fought over twice, the second time especially destructively as a result of the Allied air interdiction campaign. Industrial France was nearly as devastated as Germany. In spite of the physical destruction though, France was not as badly off after World War II as she had been after the first war. She was not entirely a country of old men and widows. Yet the second battle had sapped her vitality almost more than the first one, and the postwar governments found themselves forced into strenuous efforts just to get Frenchmen to reproduce. Building up families hardly seemed worthwhile to many if they were to be cannon-fodder every generation.
Britain had had her finest hour, and she had paid grievously for it. Her merchant fleet was cut nearly in half in spite of wartime building, many of her cities were extensively damaged, her national debt had risen to the stratosphere, her great financial holdings had disappeared. She had mobilized nearly six million men, and a quarter million of them had died in Europe, in North Africa, and in Burma. Another 400,000 were wounded or missing. As with France, the bill had been far short of that for World War I, but in 1918 the British had at least possessed the satisfaction of being sure they were the winners. In 1945 it looked instead as if they had exhausted themselves only to give way to the United States and Russia.
Of the two new superpowers, Russia had had the deeper wounds. Stalin said that Britain paid for the war in time, the United States in materials, and the Russians in blood. More than six million Soviet soldiers died and more than fourteen million were wounded. Well over ten million, perhaps as many as twenty million, civilians were killed by the war and the callous policies of both their own and their enemy’s governments. Nearly a million square miles of Russian territory lay devastated. More Russian soldiers died in the one great battle for Stalingrad than Americans did in all the battles in the entire war.
The United States too had paid heavily for her part in the war. Her great advantage lay in the two huge oceans that protected her. Except for an attempt by one submarine-launched Japanese seaplane, notable only for its uniqueness, and the ill-fated Aleutian campaign, no bombs had fallen on the American continent. The only enemy soldiers to set foot in the United States were prisoners of war, delighted to be there. More than sixteen million Americans served in the armed forces; 400,000 of them died, and more than half a million were wounded. It was the most costly war in American history up to that point, far more so than World War I, and nearly equaling in deaths the losses on both sides of the American Civil War. For a people who, as late as December 6, 1941, had thought it was not their war, the Americans had made a major contribution to the Allied victory.
They had also made an immense profit from it. One of the great ironies of the American war effort was the way it was borne disproportionately by a relatively few people. In spite of the huge numbers of men in service, second only to Russia among the Allies, only a limited number of them saw combat. Those who did saw probably far too much of it. Infantrymen grumbled about the air force policy of rotating men home after fifty combat missions, but that was much fairer than leaving soldiers in combat units until the war either killed them or ended. For the vast majority of Americans it was a good war, if there can be such a thing. People were more mobile and more prosperous than ever before. The demands of the war brought the United States out of a deep depression, created new cities, new industries, new fortunes, a new way of life. Families and friendships were strained by the disparities of fate, and after the war the government passed a wide range of legislation in what was really an attempt to allow those who had fought for twenty-one dollars a month to catch up with those who had stayed home and made ten times that much.
With the end of the war there began a vast folk wandering. At its most organized it consisted of such incredible organizational feats as “Operation Magic Carpet,” by which the United States brought huge numbers of soldiers back home from the distant battle fronts. Day after day the ships steamed into New York, or Hampton Roads, or San Francisco, and disgorged their hordes of khaki and olive-drab cargoes. The immense processing machine that had turned them into soldiers, sailors, and Marines a world ago now turned them back into civilians, gave them their back pay, papers that said they were entitled to the small bits of ribbon that meant so much to them and so little to others, other papers that said they had served their country honorably and well, and turned them loose to pick up the threads—if they could find them—of their former lives. Most of them made the transition easily; the “trained killers” prophesied by some psychologists quickly turned out to be normal young men, though they told some bizarre stories and were apt to be impatient when reminded by salesmen that prices had risen “because there’s been a war on, y’ know.” The demobilization of the Allied armed forces was by no means the least spectacular of operations carried out in the course of the war, and in most places it was carried out with impressive smoothness. In the United States alone, nine million men were back in civilian life in less than a year.
At the other end of the scale this migration consisted of millions of uprooted Europeans and Asians, trying desperately to get to homes and families that in many cases no longer existed. Long columns of people—ex-prisoners, freed slave laborers, orphans, widows, old people—straggled along the roads of Europe, fleeing the Russians still or trying to get back to Poland or Rumania. In the cities the survivors poked aimlessly among the rubble. The German governmental organization had stood up under the Allied attacks until the very end of the war, but with the collapse of the regime everything else seemed to collapse as well. The conquerors soon found themselves, with good or ill will, organizing a new life for the conquered. “Displaced Person” camps were established, the enemy peoples were screened as to their roles under the former governments, public services were reestablished, war trials were initiated, and the victors, with the help of the vanquished, were soon busily engaged in sorting out the spoils and the debris.
Just as individuals benefited or suffered disproportionately from the war, so did nations. As the European war neared its end, the Allied leaders had turned their attention to postwar problems. There had been assorted ideas of what to do with Germany, the most famous of them probably being the plan by the American Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, that Germany ought to be stripped completely of her industrial capacity and turned into a pastoral country, transformed from industrial giant into operetta-sized states. Such an attempt to turn the clock back a hundred years was doomed to failure, but was typical of at least one end of the spectrum of ideas about the Germans.
Throughout the war substantial numbers of Allied officials had tried to deal with the problems foreseen for the postwar situation; to some extent they succeeded, but to a larger extent, they were outpaced by events. As early as December of 1941 Joseph Stalin had tried to get the British to agree that at the final reckoning, Russia would be left in possession of everything she had held at the start of hostilities—her start of hostilities, which would have given her all the Baltic states and most of eastern Poland—plus major acquisitions at the mouth of the Danube. At that time and through most of 1942, Russia was carrying the major burden of the conflict, and it was obviously in her interest to settle the future while that was still the case. With German soldiers but a few miles from Moscow, Stalin could point to the immense sacrifices his country was making, and demand equally immense rewards. For that very reason the British and the United States preferred to wait before settling anything definitively.
In May of 1943 the Soviet Union dissolved the Comintern, or “Communist International” office, the organization responsible for encouraging the spread of communism abroad. This was designed to reassure Russia’s partners of her increasing respectability, and in October, when the Allied Foreign Ministers met at Moscow, the Americans, British, Chinese, and Russians—the wartime “Big Four”—announced they would not resort to military force in other states for selfish purposes after the end of the war. This Moscow meeting was a preliminary for the Tehran Conference, and at Tehran Stalin agreed he would take part in the United Nations. Problems over who would be admitted and what kind of powers each state should have plagued the early discussions on the organization; at one point the Russians wanted a seat in the assembly for every “republic” of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, whereupon the United States replied that then the Americans must have a seat for every state of the union. This kind of difficulty, and especially the veto question, haunted both the Tehran meeting, and even more the Yalta Conference held in February of 1945. By that time it was obvious that there were to be four major trouble spots.
The most distant of these was Japan. The Americans expected to have to invade Japan and wanted Russian help to do so. The Russian price was higher than the Americans wished to pay—southern Sakhalin, the Kurile Islands, and concessions in Manchuria. The dilemma they faced over Japan made the Americans much more susceptible to Russian demands in Europe than they might otherwise have been. They did not at this time have the atomic bomb. In February they had instead the fanatical resistance on Iwo Jima to deal with.
A second thorny question was the perpetual one of the Balkans. The Western Allies had no wish to see the Russians on the shore of the Mediterranean, but their view was compromised by the fact that the Communists had been the most effective anti-German fighters in the Balkan states. In December of 1943 Stalin had agreed that the Russians would not dominate Czechoslovakia. In October of 1944 he and Churchill met at Moscow and Churchill slipped him the famous piece of scratch paper which said that Russia could dominate Rumania and Bulgaria, Britain would dominate Greece, and they would split the difference in Yugoslavia and Hungary. Actually, the Russians got all but Greece, where the British landed troops in the middle of an incredibly chaotic turmoil, and Yugoslavia, where Tito’s brand of native communism was strong enough for him to stay clear of the Russians’ embrace. The final determinant on the Balkans, as elsewhere, was who had troops on the ground and was strong enough to keep them there.
The major impediment to Allied harmony continued to be Poland. Relations between Stalin and the legitimate Polish government-in-exile in London had gone from bad to worse. From demanding that Russia’s western border be the Nazi-Soviet demarcation line of late 1939, Stalin went to setting up a rival Polish Communist government, to letting the Warsaw Poles destroy themselves in the premature rising against the Germans. There was absolutely nothing the British could do about it. Poland was as far beyond their reach in 1944 and 1945 as it had been in 1939. At Yalta the Big Three—Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill—the latter two reluctantly, agreed that Poland was a Russian sphere of influence. In terms of the reasons for which she had declared hostilities in 1939, at Yalta Britain conceded that she had lost the war. The Western Allies then compounded their defeat over Poland: they agreed to repatriate, often against their will, Poles and other east Europeans who had fought on the Allied side. Many of those who had given so much for Allied victory got their rewards in Russian labor camps.
By the time the loss of Poland was accepted, Germany was collapsing. The Allies had reached some common agreement on the postwar policy to follow: denazification, disarmament, demilitarization, punishment of war criminals, reparations, and dismantling of war industries. Britain had suggested in 1943 that Germany should be occupied this time, and the idea had been refined through 1944. The occupation zones were formalized at Yalta, with the British and Americans taking a lesser zone to give the French a share. Both Berlin and Vienna were to be administered by a quadripartite agreement. The divisions were as much in response to the existing situation as anything; for example, the United States took the southwestern zone because American troops were on the Allies’ right flank. The question of access to Berlin did not seem especially troublesome; they agreed that Russia and the government of the Polish state—whoever should form it—would divide Prussia between them. Since it was their Poland, the Russians got the frontier between Poland and Russia that they wanted, and then obligingly moved Poland’s western frontier that much farther into Germany. The Allies never got to a definitive agreement on reparations or deindustrialization, in spite of having initially agreed they wanted both. In all four of the major areas, as soon as the euphoria of victory wore off, the basic rifts in the Allied views were bound to emerge, and they did so.
Nor were these by any means the only problem areas. Of almost equal complexity were the questions of what to do with the former colonial empires. The British, the French, and the Dutch might all think that they were going to move back into Southeast Asia and the islands and go on as they had before the war. The local inhabitants felt differently. One of the reasons the United States had been reluctant to have British units operating with it in the Pacific was that Americans tended not, even after their wartime cooperation, to be overly sympathetic to British ideas of empire. The Americans had promised independence to the Philippines, and after the war they granted it. The British did not want to see their empire go.
They recognized it could never be quite the same again, but it was one thing to recognize that rationally, and another to slide back into a peace of exhaustion and a third-power status, as if Great Britain were Switzerland or Sweden. They knew the inhabitants of the empire were profoundly stirred by the war. On the one hand there had been the immense contributions of Indian and colonial troops, the great strides made in the modernization of Indian industry. On the other there had been the destruction of the great myth, that some men are inherently superior to others because their skin is white. Without the acceptance by both parties of that myth, colonialism was no longer possible, and Burmese or Indians who had watched long pathetic columns of British and Australian prisoners being prodded along by stolid Japanese could never accept the myth again. There had been great unrest in India during the war; Churchill’s government had sent out Sir Stafford Cripps to talk to the Indian leader, Mohandas Gandhi. Cripps was hardly the man for the mission—Churchill once remarked of him, “There but for the grace of God goes God”—and when he promised Gandhi independence after the war if India helped win it, Gandhi castigated the offer as “a post-dated check on a crashing bank.” India wanted out of the empire, and Britain would no longer be able to hold her in. Burma went too, and eventually so did most of the rest of the nonwhite areas.
If the British ultimately faced colonial realities, the French and Dutch resolutely refused to. Even more than the British, they needed their empires to bolster their sagging self-esteem. The Dutch came back to the Indies to find the British engaged in desultory operations against the Indonesian nationalists. The Dutch took over the fight, which lasted in an on-again off-again fashion until 1950. The French finally got forces back into Indochina to find near-chaos. The old prewar garrisons had held on, under Japanese domination, until 1945. The Japanese had then imprisoned and massacred most of them. The few survivors and escapees made their way to Chinese Nationalist lines, where they were received as allies. Then they were turned over to the arriving Gaullist French, who imprisoned and tried them as Vichyites. Meanwhile, at the Japanese surrender the British moved forces into southern Indochina, and they eventually handed over power to the French. Northern Indochina was occupied by the Nationalist Chinese, and they, instead of waiting for the French, gave over the reins to the Indochinese nationalists, led by a local guerrilla named Ho Chi Minh. Negotiations between the Indochinese and the French broke down, and late in 1946 they started shooting at each other, in a war that went on until 1954. The residual legatees of the fighting were the Americans, and they in turn got involved in a war that in many ways would scar the United States more than World War II had done.
Nor was fighting and confusion confined to Southeast Asia. The Japanese collapse in China was nearly matched by the exhaustion of Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists. As the Russians declared war on Japan and flooded down into Manchuria, the Chinese Communists, who had virtually sat the war out in northeast China, now emerged once again. They and the Nationalists were soon locked in a battle which ended only in 1949, when the remnants of the Nationalists fled to Formosa, and the Communists definitively took over mainland China. By then, the Cold War had already begun; in both Europe and Asia the powers of the West appeared in disarray and on the defensive. How, men asked, could so much have gone wrong so quickly?
For many Europeans or Asians, the answer to that question was simple: it was all the fault of the Americans. They were big, brash, bumbling innocents in the international jungle. All they wanted to do after the war was go home and forget about it. Few of the writers who took this line seemed to carry it to the logical conclusion. It was more soul-satisfying to berate the Americans for being excessively well-behaved internationally than to castigate the Russians for being extremely ill-behaved internationally.
In fact, the United States and its leaders did make a whole series of mistakes and misassessments. The basic one was in assuming that Soviet Russia was very much like themselves. They thoroughly underestimated the paranoia that resulted from a combination of the traditional Russian fear of invasion from Europe and the outcast nature of communism itself. They equally underestimated the degree to which all their other allies were exhausted. They believed that Great Britain and France and Italy all ought to be able to fend for themselves now that the crisis was over. They cut off Lend-Lease to Britain, bringing about a near-collapse of the island’s economy; they turned over a large part of their occupation zone in Germany to the French. President Truman was unpopular, and the American public wanted an immediate end to wartime measures. Few people realized how close to complete collapse western Europe was. The same thing happened in China, where it looked as if the Chinese Nationalists and Chiang Kai-shek ought to be able to put their own house in order at last. In fact they failed miserably, due more to their own inherent weaknesses and shortcomings than anything else, and China went Communist by the end of the decade.
If the Americans made mistakes in their response to the immediate postwar situation—and assuredly they did—they were largely tactical mistakes. On a longer view the picture looked different. The brilliant foreign servant George F. Kennan pointed out in one of his books that much that happened at the end of the war was the result of the line-up of participants during it. The fact was that all the democracies, if they had hung together, were still not strong enough to defeat all the totalitarian states, if they had hung together. In a long fight, and barring the sudden advent of nuclear power on only one side, the United States, Britain, France, and China, could probably not have defeated Germany, Italy, Russia, and Japan. It was Hitler’s falling out with Stalin, and the great Russo-German war, that upset this equation, and only with the aid of one of the two major totalitarian states could the democracies defeat the others. That being the case, and the Stalinist dictatorship remaining the Stalinist dictatorship, the same country that had purged its hundreds of thousands before the war, it was inevitable that at the end of hostilities the Russians would seek to gain as much as they could in as many places as they could. Churchill, who had some growing awareness of the problem, fell from power at the end of the war, and Britain no longer had the strength to stop the Russians even had she possessed the will to do so. Churchill had spoken perhaps more presciently than he realized when he said that if Hitler invaded Hell, Churchill would make favorable reference to the devil. At the end of the war the Soviet “devil” simply called in his bills. Between an exhausted east Asia and west Europe, and a United States which did not realize the true nature of its ally—any more than anyone else had really done—the Communists got a great deal of what they wanted.
One more of the reasons they did so was that the war had created two huge power vacuums. In Europe the always-delicate equilibrium between France, Britain, Germany, and Russia had now been destroyed. This was hardly realized by the Americans, and the result was a flow of the remaining power, Russia, into the vacuum. Only when the Americans recognized that western Europe itself might well be overrun did they reverse their immediate postwar policies and start their own return into that vacuum, by means of increased troop commitments, through NATO and various other regional pacts, and through the Marshall Plan, which helped Europe immeasurably toward recovery. Finally, they found it necessary to rebuild what is now the major power of western Europe, West Germany, and the irony of history and geography came full circle.
Traditional power structures were disrupted in Asia as well. Japan and China had balanced each other off throughout the last century. Now Japan was utterly defeated, occupied by the United States, and China was in a state of near-collapse. The Communists moved into China, with some Russian support, but soon developed an independent Chinese line. And the United States suddenly found itself the heir of Japan’s defense problems. Before 1941 the United States’ military frontier had been somewhere in mid-Pacific. Now it had moved forward to the Asian rim—to Korea, the Formosa Strait, and ultimately, as the colonial powers receded from the area, to Vietnam.
In both Europe and Asia, it would only be as the local powers slowly regained strength that the two superpowers would be able to disengage, the Americans more or less willingly, as they tried to get NATO to take more care of itself, or as they attempted hesitantly and not entirely successfully to withdraw from East Asian adventures, and the Russians unwillingly. In fact, the Russians tried to ease off in the mid-fifties, but found that it was impossible to lessen the pressure a little bit, for fear the whole system would blow up on them. Hence the repression of Hungary in 1956, where they slammed the lid back down, and the later repeat performance in Czechoslovakia in 1968. After such a major dislocation as that of 1939-45, it was inevitable that there should be a long and complicated working out of the new power realities, a working out that has taken much longer than the fighting of the war itself.
What, then, was it all for? Were the old diplomatic deals merely to be repeated with new participants? Were so much suffering and sorrow, so much sacrifice and bravery only of concern to the unwitting pawns in the game? Was the cynicism of the definition of a war crime—that it was something committed by members of the Axis—to triumph after all? Was there in the last analysis no difference between the one side and the other?
In 1784 an innocuous-appearing German professor in Konigsberg published a short article. The professor’s name was Immanuel Kant, and the article had the tortuous and eminently German title of “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent.” In it Professor Kant took issue with the current Enlightenment fiction that if society could only get rid of a few more evils, Utopia was just around the corner. Utopia, he said, will never arrive. Progress there is and undeniably so. But every step forward to a new level of progress, every solution to one generation’s difficulties, brings with it a new set. Each era has to solve its own problems, and in doing so it uncovers or even creates problems for its successors. World War II certainly created as many problems as it solved; in fact, as most wars seem to do, it may have created more. That does not mean it was not worth fighting, or need not have been fought. Evil does exist in the world—it undeniably existed in Hitler’s world of death camps and extermination groups—but without the possibility of evil, there is no true choice and no true freedom. In its basic definition, “Freedom” means the right to choose one’s own way to die. The servants of the dictators left that choice to their masters and fought and died for causes that even they themselves often found odious. The men and women of the free nations who fought World War II chose their own doom. If they could not destroy every evil, they destroyed the most vicious of their day. If it is part of the sadness of the human condition that they could not solve the problems of their children’s generation, it is part of the glory of it that they so resolutely faced their own.
Gustav II Adolf was born in Stockholm on 9 December 1594. He was the oldest son of King Karl IX and Kristina of Holstein-Gottorp, though Karl was not yet king when Gustav was born. The king was Sigismund (crowned in 1593), King Karl’s nephew. Being the son of a royal duke and duchess, Gustav II Adolf had an opulent and sheltered upbringing. There were no indications that he would be a future king, as the Swedish crown was in a different branch of the family when he was born—his father, Karl IX, was not crowned king until 1604. Gustav Adolf had private tutors for every aspect of his education, and he was no idle child, being gifted with a considerable intellect combined with a great eagerness to learn.
It is reported that by the time Gustav was twelve he spoke perfect German—not surprising since his mother was a German princess—and was fluent in Latin, Italian, and Dutch. He also showed early signs of becoming an inspiring orator.
But it was in the study of diplomacy and military affairs that he really excelled. Young Gustav apparently read everything he could lay his hands on dealing with military art and science, and Maurice of Nassau became his hero. He was a strong athlete and became adept at horse riding and the use of various weapons. He displayed an early contempt for physical danger, a trait we find repeated in his later life and which eventually led to his death.
There was a truce in the Dutch War of Independence in 1609 and, according to Colonel Dupuy, many veterans from that war came to Sweden seeking employment in the Baltic wars. Gustav paid great attention to their description of the new method of warfare introduced by Maurice. These conversations and his own readings profoundly affected his life.
Sigismund was deposed by the Riksdag in 1599 and his uncle Karl became de facto king. Sigismund, the rightful heir, refused to accept the parliamentary decision engineered by his uncle, declared war in early 1600, and hostilities soon commenced in Livonia. This war, interrupted occasionally by truces, was to last until 1629.
Karl IX’s formal period as king was relatively short (1604-1611), but he began to have Gustav Adolf participate in the affairs of state at an early date. Gustav often attended meetings of the Council of State and met many foreign diplomats. In 1609, at the age of fifteen, Gustav took over the administration of the duchy of Vestmanland. The following year, he pleaded with his father to be allowed to participate in an expedition to Russia. His father refused.
The Polish-Swedish conflict was suspended after 1605 due to the implosion of the Russian government beginning with the death of Tsar Boris Godunov and ending with the reign of Michael Romanov in 1613—referred to as the Times of Trouble. A succession of pretenders claimed to be Dimitrii, the last Riúrik prince, who had actually died in 1591. Both Poland and Sweden took advantage of the Russian turmoil to grab Russian territory. Sigismund intervened in the Russian power struggle in 1609 by supporting a group of rebellious nobles who had besieged Tsar Vasilii Shuiskii in Moscow. Sigismund’s intent was to make his son Wladyslaw the new tsar.
The besieged tzar requested help from Sweden. In return for the help he promised to cede control of the disputed region on the Gulf of Finland to Sweden. Karl IX agreed and dispatched a corps under Field Marshal Jacob de la Gardie.
De la Gardie’s troops, in cooperation with troops loyal to Tsar Shuiskii, relieved the Russian capital and forced the rebels to retreat. After the success at Moscow, de la Gardie marched with his Russian allies to the rescue of the fortress of Smolensk, which was besieged by a Polish army. However, halfway between Moscow and Smolensk, the Russo-Swedish army was badly defeated at the battle of Klushino on 4 July 1610 by a much smaller Polish force under one of Poland’s greatest commanders, Field Marshal (hetman) Stanis-law Zolkiewski.
Zolkiewski thereupon marched on Moscow, captured the city and deposed Tsar Vasilii (Basil). Having sustained a serious defeat at Klushino and with Russia now under virtual Polish control, King Karl IX decided that the wisest course of action was to withdraw northward. He also decided that with the turmoil going on in Russia, this was the right time to seize some of the properties promised by Vasilii for Swedish help. De la Gardie captured the region around Kexholm as well as the city of Novgorod.
There may also have been a dynastic motive by Karl IX, similar to that of his nephew Sigismund. The Swedish historian Nils Ahnlund (1889–1957) writes that in the early summer of 1611, the Russian national militia assembled in Moscow, despairing of the chances of its native rulers, had chosen Gustav Adolf of Sweden as their tsar and grand duke. When Jacob de la Gardie concluded a treaty with the authorities in the captured city of Novgorod, Karl IX is referred to as the protector of the city and it was indicated that one of his sons would become tsar. It appears that Karl IX, who was trying to cope with the progress of the Poles, was surprised by the Russian offers.
Anhlund maintains there is evidence to show that in the summer of 1612 Gustav Adolf was still considering the Russian offers, possibly for tactical reasons in dealing with his Polish enemy. In the end he decided that it was not a good idea because of Sweden’s and Russia’s conflicting interests.
However, Karl IX had a younger son Karl Filip who might rise to the challenge. Gustav Adolf was not too enamored of this idea either. He realized that the conflicting future interests of Russia and Sweden had the potential to create animosity between himself and his younger brother. He undoubtedly had the Polish situation in mind where he was fighting his cousin.
Nevertheless, the project was apparently favored by Queen Kristina. Considerable time passed, however, before Karl Filip headed to Russia. An event which took place before he reached the Russian frontier, however, destroyed any hope of establishing a junior Vasa line in Moscow. This event was the election of Michael Romanov as tsar in 1613—and he was to rule Russia until 1645. Sweden continued her struggle against Russia until the Peace of Stolbova in 1617.
THE KALMAR WAR (1611–1613)
Kristian IV of Denmark decided to take advantage of Sweden’s deep involvement in Russia and Livonia to settle old scores. It was a crafty move on the part of Kristian since all of Karl IX’s best troops were in the Baltic region and these could not be brought back to Sweden if the powerful Danish fleet could blockade the ports in the eastern Baltic from where it was logical they would embark. Kristian also appears to have known that Karl IX had come down with apoplexy. What we do know is that Gustav Adolf considered the attack treacherous and that he and Kristian IV remained bitter rivals until Gustav died in 1632.
Let us take a quick look at the reasons for this war, which began just forty-one years after the bloody Northern Seven Years War had been settled by the Treaty of Stettin. This treaty was a defeat for Sweden’s King Erik in virtually every area. The Treaty of Stettin only led to bitterness for the losing side and increased ambition on the part of the winning side.
As a result, the leading power in the Baltic at the beginning of the seventeenth century was the kingdom of Denmark-Norway. Even if the distant territories of Iceland and Greenland are left out, the kingdom covered an immense area from northern Germany to the extremity of the European continent. The total length of the coastline was huge, providing easy access to both the Atlantic and the Baltic. To the south, the duchies in Jutland added a considerable German-speaking population. The nearby secularized bishop -rics of northern Germany were attainable objectives for the ambitious Oldenburg dynasty. The entrance to the Baltic was completely in Danish hands, and this not only brought great wealth into the royal coffers but gave the Danes great leverage with the western maritime powers. The islands of Gotland and Ösel, off the southeast coast of Sweden, were controlled by Denmark and posed a threat to Sweden, since they were stepping stones to the eastern Baltic, and locations facilitating naval control of the Baltic.
Norway’s contribution to the union was first and foremost the Norwegian genius for seamanship—their seamen provided the backbone for the navy as well as the merchant marine. The deep-sea fishery and the large export of timber benefited from high demands in an extensive market. Norway’s northern coast made it possible to control trade coming from the White Sea. Meantime, there was only one power that Denmark-Norway needed to reckon with and that was Sweden, including Finland.
Sweden, on the other hand felt surrounded. The area to the west and north was controlled by Norway as well as two provinces east of the Scandinavian watershed. Conflict from there could reach the Baltic and separate the northern part of Sweden from the southern. Norway’s geography also posed problems for Sweden’s hoped-for outlet to the Arctic Ocean. To the east Sweden faced two great powers: Orthodox Russia and Catholic Poland. To the south she had to contend with Denmark, which occupied a large portion of the Swedish mainland, and the German Hansa League across the southern Baltic.
The mining industry had for centuries been one of Sweden’s most important resources, but its full potential was far from being realized. Agriculture was undependable; in some years surpluses were produced while in others the country had to rely on imports. Sweden and Finland were extensively forested but their exploitation was mainly for domestic use and little was left for export. Swedish shipping was in no way comparable with that of Denmark-Norway. Sweden had no outlet to the west except for a sliver of land around the fortress and harbor of Älvsborg.
King Karl IX’s policy of extending Swedish and Finnish territories to the Arctic Ocean as a way to interrupt Russian trade from the White Sea and provide the Swedes with an outlet to the Atlantic raised alarm bells in Den mark. This was at least one reason for Kristian IV’s surprise attack on Sweden in 1611 that led to the two-year conflict known as the Kalmar War. There were many other animosities between the Scandinavian countries that the leaders could use to stir up the masses. The rivalries between the two kingdoms were the single greatest force determining their relations in the seventeenth century.
The surprise Danish invasion from Skåne and Norway found Karl IX in sickbed. He had to gather whatever forces he could locally since most of the Swedish army was fighting in Russia and Livonia. While the king prepared to move to relieve the besieged Kalmar Castle he put his son Gustav Adolf—not yet 17 years old—in command of the forces in East Gotland.
Kristian IV had made good preparations before the attack, even concluding an alliance with Poland and Russia. The heavily fortified city of Kalmar was key to the defense of southeastern Sweden, and in August Kristian sailed into Kalmar. The Danes stormed and captured the town but were not able to take Kalmar Castle.
Gustav Adolf was not content to sit in East Gotland, and on his own initiative he assembled a small militia force and crossed to the island of Öland where the Danes had left only a small force. As a consequence, the Danish garrison, unprepared when the Swedes under Gustav Adolf appeared, withdrew to Borgholm Castle but was soon compelled to surrender.
The Swedish commander of Kalmar Castle surrendered despite the approach of a relieving force under Karl IX. Kristian I V, seeing that the Swedes had been able to assemble a militia army, realized that his earlier hopes of an unopposed march through southeastern Sweden had been frustrated. With winter approaching, Kristian left a garrison to hold Kalmar and withdrew the rest of his army to prepare for the 1612 campaign.
Gustav Adolf had returned from Öland and planned additional offensive action. He led his small force into the Danish province of Skåne—apparently only intending a quick raid. However, the Danish commander of the border fortress of Christianopol became nervous and sent an urgent message to Kristian requesting reinforcement by about 500 cavalry. The message never reached its destination because it was intercepted by the Swedes. Gustav Adolf saw an opportunity and grabbed it. He dressed a force of his militia to look like Danish cavalry and approached the fort after dark. The Danes, believing it was the force they had requested, opened the gates and after a short fight the fortress was captured, ending the war’s first season with a success for the Swedes.
King Karl IX died a few weeks after the 1611 campaign came to a close. Swedish law required that a king had to be 24 years old before taking full control of the government. Gustav Adolf was not yet 17 so that a Regency Council, composed of his mother, Gustav’s first cousin Duke John of East Gotland, and six nobles from the Council of Ministers, was therefore appointed. However, within two months the Riksdag amended the succession law, allowing Gustav to become king at the age of 17. Eight days after his birthday he became king of Sweden.
Gustav’s first act in January 1612 was to appoint Axel Oxenstierna, age 28, as chancellor. It was a wise choice and Oxenstierna remained at Gustav’s side until the king’s death in battle. Thereafter, Axel took over the direction of affairs in Germany while also serving as guardian for Gustav’s underage daughter Kristina. Oxenstierna’s calm demeanor was a perfect match for a king who could be both impetuous and high strung.
Along with the crown, Gustav Adolf inherited three ongoing wars: against Denmark; against Poland; and against Russia. The opponents all enjoyed a considerable superiority over Sweden in power and it was obvious that he had to prioritize his efforts. He decided correctly that the war against Denmark was the most dangerous to Swedish interests and he gave that conflict the highest priority. He was eager to bring that conflict to an acceptable solution as quickly as possible.
THE 1612 CAMPAIGN AGAINST DENMARK AND NORWAY
Denmark began the 1612 campaign with the distinct advantages of having captured the cities of Kalmar and Älvsborg, the latter being Sweden’s only outlet to the west. King Kristian IV may also have thought that he had another advantage: a young and inexperienced king on the Swedish throne. These real or perceived advantages may explain why he declined an offer of mediation by King James I of England.
Gustav, rather than trying to recover the two lost cities in protracted siege operations, decided to take the war into Danish territory. He made his bold decision to invade Skåne against the advice of most of his advisers. His immediate objective was the town of Helsingborg, and here he displayed two weaknesses that were to repeat themselves several times in his campaigns in Poland and Germany: failure to acquire adequate intelligence about enemy movements and to take adequate security measures. Before reaching their objective, the Swedes were surprised by a sudden Danish attack. The result was an obvious Swedish defeat forcing Gustav to make a quick withdrawal. After this sharp setback, Gustav decided to try his luck against Norway.
No significant gains were made there either, but in a pattern that was to repeat itself often, the king’s recklessness in leading from the front almost cost him his life. In a cavalry skirmish on a frozen lake, his horse fell through the ice. Since he was wearing body armor, he was rescued only with great difficulty. Gallantly leading from the front is a great troop motivator and something that Gustav Adolf repeatedly practiced. In so doing, however, he put his whole command in danger of becoming leaderless and thus losing battles—as happened during both the Polish and German campaigns. A leader’s place in battle is where he can best control the action directed at winning and saving lives. Only when all resources have been committed in a set course of action and where the outcome hangs in the balance should a leader become personally involved so as to tip the scale in his favor.
While Gustav was campaigning in Norway, King Kristian IV prepared a bold stroke against Stockholm, the Swedish capital. To deceive Gustav as to his intention he made it appear that he was preparing for action against the fortress of Jönköping near the Norwegian frontier. This was a very believable feint as it would have placed the Danish army on Gustav’s line of communication to Sweden. Kristian was hoping that by moving against Gustav’s rear he could prevent him from interfering with the main operation against Stockholm.
It was a brilliant strategic move on the part of Kristian but its execution was not that spectacular. Gustav, as Kristian had hoped, moved to protect Jön köping while the main Danish force of 8,000 men, loaded on 30 ships, sailed against Stockholm without interference from the badly outnumbered Swedish navy. Kristian disembarked his troops successfully at a location only 19 kilometers from the capital.
When the news of the Danish threat to the capital reached him, Gustav quickly assembled a small force of 1,200 mercenaries and undertook a grueling forced march of circa 400 kilometers to the capital, accomplishing this task in less than a week. When he arrived in Stockholm, Kristian had advanced only 10 kilometers from his landing site and no significant encounters occurred. After Gustav’s arrival, Kristian simply returned to Denmark.
This inconclusive two-year war was coming to an end without either side scoring any spectacular gains. The Swedes had overrun the two Norwegian provinces of Jämtland and Härjedalen but had not crossed the watershed, and most importantly, Gustav’s hopes of driving the Danes out of southern Sweden had not come to fruition; in fact the capture of the two cities of Kalmar and Älvsborg had increased Danish holdings and robbed Sweden of her only outlet to the west. Both sides were therefore ready to call it quits and they accepted an offer by England and Holland, eager to maintain a balance of power in the north, to mediate a peace treaty. This mediation led to the signing of the Treaty of Knärad on 19 January 1613.
The terms of this treaty were more advantageous to Denmark than Sweden. Gustav Adolf had to renounce his father’s policy of seeking an outlet to the sea in northern Norway and even to return the two conquered provinces to Norway. All of Sweden’s attention was devoted to reclaiming the lands around the mouth of the Göta River which provided the only outlet to the west. The treaty returned Kalmar and Älvsborg to Sweden but at a very heavy cost—1,000,000 riks-dollars to be paid in three installments, and the first installment had to take place before a Danish withdrawal. This was a steep price to pay for a relatively poor nation also involved in two other wars, but assurance of financial assistance from Holland cemented the deal. In fact, Holland was so eager to preserve a balance of power in the north that she concluded an alliance with Sweden in 1614. This also demonstrates that both Holland and England considered Denmark-Norway the preeminent power.
The discovery of gold in western Montana in 1862 around Grasshopper Creek brought hundreds of prospectors to the region. Nearly all of these fortune seekers had come up the Platte Road, the northern fork of the old Oregon-California Trail, and moved into Montana from the west. Others worked their way up the Missouri River as far as Fort Benton, then came down into the goldfields from the northeast. In 1863, two entrepreneurs, John Bozeman, a Georgian who had arrived on the frontier only 2 years earlier, and John Jacobs, a veteran mountain man, blazed a trail from the goldfields to link up with the Platte Road west of Fort Laramie. This route cut through Bozeman Pass east of Virginia City, crossed the Yellowstone and Bighorn Rivers, ran south along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains, crossed the Tongue and Powder Rivers, then ran south through the Powder River country to join the Platte Road about 80 miles west of Fort Laramie. It reduced by nearly 400 miles the distance required by other routes to reach the goldfields. However, the trail cut through prized hunting land claimed by the Teton Sioux and their allies along the Powder River. Travelers along the Bozeman Trail soon found themselves under fierce attack by hostile Indians.
In 1865, responding to an Indian attack against the Platte Bridge near modern Casper, Wyoming, and to demands by the emigrants for protection, the US Army sent three converging columns under the command of General Patrick E. Connor into the region. Colonel Nelson Cole commanded the Omaha column that consisted of 1,400 volunteer cavalry. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Walker commanded the second column with 600 volunteer cavalry. Connor commanded the third column. His force consisted of 558 soldiers and another 179 Indian scouts. The strategy called for the three columns to rendezvous in early September on Rosebud Creek.
Connor reached the Upper Powder River by mid-August. He established Fort Connor then continued northwest in pursuit of the Indians. On 29 August he found and attacked the Arapaho village of Black Bear on the Tongue River near modern Ranchester, Wyoming. His attack overran the village and captured the pony herd. However, after completing the destruction of the village, several spirited Indian counterattacks convinced Connor that he should withdraw his outnumbered troops. Then, in the midst of early winter storms, Connor moved north to locate Cole’s and Walker’s columns.
Meanwhile, Cole had marched just north of the Black Hills and headed up the Belle Fourche River where he linked up with Walker’s column on 18 August. Initially, the two columns continued to push deep into Indian lands until they grew dangerously low on supplies and decided to move toward the Tongue River and link up with Conner. On 1 September, a large Cheyenne war party attacked the columns altering Cole’s decision to move toward the Tongue River. Instead, they headed down the Powder River hoping to replenish their supplies with the abundant game known to be in the Yellowstone River valley. The night of 2 September inflicted early winter storms on the columns. More than 200 of Cole’s horses and mules, already weakened by hunger, died from exposure and exhaustion. Again, Cole changed his direction of march and decided to return to Fort Laramie for provisions. On the morning of 5 September, Cole and Walker unknowingly stumbled into the vicinity of a large village near the mouth of the Little Powder River. The village was an unprecedented gathering of Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Southern Cheyenne. More than 1,000 Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors swarmed out of the village to attack the columns. The battle raged for 3 hours before the still undiscovered village moved safely out of the way, and the Indians broke off the fight. Then again on 8 September, the exhausted and starving troops unwittingly threatened the village. The Indian rearguard easily delayed the soldiers and the village escaped a second time.
Over the course of the next 12 days, the columns continued to plod along. Each day dozens of horses and mules died of starvation. The Indians hovered around the columns like vultures and, had it not been for the detachment’s artillery, probably would have been more troublesome to the troops. On 20 September, Cole and Walker’s troops straggled into Fort Connor. Connor’s equally exhausted troops joined them on 24 September. The expedition had failed to subdue the tribes and, instead, had emboldened the Sioux to continue their determined resistance to any white incursion into Powder River country. Nonetheless, the presence of Fort Connor on the Bozeman Trail encouraged increased immigrant travel along the route and further amplified their demands for protection.
The Bozeman Trail Forts, 1866–68
The failure of the Connor Expedition prompted the government to seek a diplomatic solution, and, in June 1866, while a number of the Powder River chiefs were at Fort Laramie negotiating a treaty to allow safe passage through the Powder River country, Colonel Henry B. Carrington led the 2d Battalion, 18th Infantry, toward the Bozeman Trail. His orders required him to garrison Fort Reno, formerly Fort Connor (built the previous year by General Connor), and to establish two new forts along the Bozeman Trail. From those forts, he was to provide protection and escort for emigrant travel into the Montana Territory. Considering the number of chiefs participating in the peace negotiations, the prospect for an early settlement seemed good, and the Army did not expect Carrington’s mission to involve significant combat actions. Consequently, in addition to the 700 troops of the 18th, more than 300 women, children, sutlers, and civilian contractors accompanied Carrington. The column included 226 mule-drawn wagons, the 35-piece regimental band, 1,000 head of cattle to provide fresh meat for the force, and all the tools and equipment necessary to create a community in the wilderness.
Carrington left Fort Laramie fully confident that he would be able to accomplish his mission without difficulty. He seemed to be well suited for his mission based upon his proven merit as a planner and organizer. A graduate of Yale, he was a practicing attorney when the Civil War began in April 1861. He volunteered immediately for service and secured a commission as colonel of the 18th Infantry on its organization in May 1861. He was brevetted brigadier general in November 1862. Although he saw no action with the 18th, he performed numerous staff duties efficiently and retained command of the 18th at the end of the war.
On 28 June 1866, Carrington’s column arrived at Fort Reno. Here, Carrington spent 10 days repairing, provisioning, and garrisoning the fort with a company of infantry. On 9 July, the remainder of the 2d Battalion left Fort Reno with all its impedimenta. Four days later, Carrington selected a site for the construction of his headquarters post.
Carrington’s chosen site lay just south of the point where the Bozeman Trail crossed Big Piney Creek. The large valley in which the fort sat was surrounded on three sides by high terrain. To both the north and south, the Bozeman Trail passed over ridges out of sight of the fort. To the west, the valley stretched 5 or 6 miles along Little Piney Creek before giving way to the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. It was up this valley that the woodcutters and log teams would have to travel to provide the all-important building materials and fuel for the post’s cooking and heating fires. Carrington’s selection of this position has long been questioned. One weakness of the site was that the Sioux and Cheyenne continuously dominated the high ground and observed all movement into and around the fort.
Construction of Fort Phil Kearny began as soon as Carrington’s column arrived and continued almost until it was abandoned. The main post was an 800-foot by 600-foot stockade made by butting together 11-foot-high side-hewn pine logs in a trench 3 feet deep. The stockade enclosed barracks and living quarters for the troops, officers, and most of their families; mess and hospital facilities; the magazine; and a variety of other structures. An unstockaded area encompassing shops, stables, and the hay corral extended another 700 feet from the south palisade to Little Piney Creek, the primary water source for the fort. Two primary entrances provided access for wagons to the post, the main gate on the east wall and a sally port on the west side of the unstockaded area.
In July, Carrington detached two companies under Captain Nathaniel C. Kenney to move even farther up the Bozeman Trail to build a third fort, Fort C. F. Smith, 91 miles north of Fort Phil Kearny near present-day Yellowtail, Montana. The Army also established two additional forts along the trail in 1867: Fort Fetterman near the trail’s starting point and Fort Ellis on the west side of Bozeman Pass.
Fort Phil Kearny Besieged
Red Cloud, an influential Oglala Sioux chief, was strongly opposed to the US Army’s efforts to build forts along the Bozeman Trail. He had become convinced by episodes such as the Grattan Affair and Brigadier Harney’s retaliation that his Oglala Sioux could no longer live in the Platte River Region near Fort Laramie. Therefore, in the late 1850’s, the Oglala Sioux pushed west into the Powder River country hoping to stay away from the continuing US migration. He saw the Powder River country as his people’s last refuge from the encroaching whites.
Almost as soon as Carrington began construction on his Bozeman Trail forts, hostilities commenced between the Army and the Sioux. Carrington concentrated all his limited resources on building Fort Phil Kearny. He applied little emphasis on training or offensive operations and only reacted to Indian raids with ineffectual pursuits. On the other hand, Red Cloud concentrated most of his efforts on sporadic harassments against Fort Phil Kearny and traffic along the Bozeman Trail. His warriors became very adept at stealing livestock and threatening the woodcutting parties. The Sioux avoided all unnecessary risk and easily avoided most Army attempts at pursuit, which demoralized the soldiers because of their inability to bring the Indians to battle. Red Cloud’s warriors also presented a constant threat of attack along the Bozeman Trail. The forts’ garrisons barely had the resources to protect themselves, so emigrant travel along the trail all but ceased. In essence, the trail became a military road, and most of the traffic was limited to military traffic bringing in supplies. Red Cloud’s strategy of a distant siege had negated the shortcut to the Montana gold fields.
In November, Carrington received a small number of reinforcements. They included: Captain (Brevet Lieutenant Colonel) William J. Fetterman and Captain (Brevet Major) James Powell-both experienced combat veterans of the Civil War. The very aggressive Fetterman quickly joined with other frustrated officers to push Carrington for offensive action against the Indians. Unfortunately, like most of his fellow officers at the fort, he had no experience in Indian warfare.
In December 1866, the Indians were encouraged by their success in harassing the forts and decided to attempt to lure an Army detachment into an ambush. During that same time period, having completed essential work on the fort, Carrington decided to initiate offensive operations. Carrington planned to counter the next raid with his own two-pronged attack. He instructed Captain Fetterman to pursue the raiders and push them down Peno Creek. Carrington would then take a second group of soldiers over Lodge Trail Ridge and cut off the withdrawing warriors. On 6 December 1866, the Indians attacked the wood train and Carrington executed his planned counterattack. In the fight, Lieutenants Bingham and Grummond disobeyed orders and pursued Indian decoy parties into an ambush that resulted in the death of Bingham and one noncommissioned officer. Only stern discipline and timely action taken by Captain Fetterman who advanced toward the sounds of the guns prevented a larger tragedy on that day.
The 6 December skirmish influenced Carrington to suspend his plans for offensive actions and to concentrate on training instead. Conversely, the Sioux were encouraged by their success and continued to refine their ambush strategy. On 19 December, they made another attempt to lure an Army detachment into an ambush with an attack on the wood train. Captain Powell led the relief force and prudently declined to pursue the raiders. The Sioux quickly planned their next attack for 21 December.
The Fetterman Fight: The Approach
Friday morning, 21 December 1866, dawned cold and gray around Fort Phil Kearny. The temperature hovered below freezing, and snow blanketed the valleys, pine woods, and ridges in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. At about 1000, Colonel Carrington ordered the wood train to proceed to the pinery for the daily woodcutting detail. Knowing that an attack on the wood train was likely, he sent an especially strong escort with the wagons. Within an hour, the lookout on Pilot Knob signaled that the wood train was under attack, and firing could be heard at the fort. As he had done on similar occasions, Carrington immediately ordered a column to relieve the besieged detail. Captain Powell had successfully carried out a similar mission just 2 days earlier. But that morning, Captain Fetterman insisted on commanding the relief column.
There is considerable controversy about Carrington’s orders to Fetterman. Most secondary sources agree that Carrington told him to relieve the wood train and then return to the fort. Under no circumstances was he to go beyond Lodge Trail Ridge. On the other hand, there is no contemporary evidence that Carrington ever gave the controversial order not to go beyond Lodge Trail Ridge. It is possible that Carrington’s consent to Fetterman’s request to lead the large relief force was another preplanned offensive movement designed to catch the wood train raiders as they withdrew into the Peno Creek drainage. The story of the order may be a post–battle fabrication intended to focus the blame for the tragedy on disobedience of orders instead of the failure of a planned offensive movement against the Indians.
At 1115, Fetterman moved out of the southwestern sally port of the fort with 49 handpicked men from 4 companies of the 18th Infantry Regiment armed with muzzleloading Springfields (A Company: 21, C Company: 9, E Company: 6, and H Company: 13). A small number of the infantry, possibly the 13 men with H Company, may have been mounted. A few minutes later, Lieutenant George Grummond followed Fetterman with 27 mounted troops from the 2d Cavalry Regiment, mostly armed with Spencer repeating rifles taken from the regimental band. Captain Frederick Brown, a close friend of Fetterman, volunteered to join the column. James Wheatley and Isaac Fisher, two civilians armed with repeating rifles, also volunteered to go. Although Fetterman probably never uttered the phrase attached to his legacy, “With 80 men I could ride through the entire Sioux nation,” he was, like most other Army officers, contemptuous of his Indian foes. Nevertheless, Fetterman did embark with 80 men.
Fetterman’s route is also controversial. However, it is probable that he led his force directly north, passing to the east of Sullivant Hill before crossing the creek and ascending Lodge Trail Ridge. Fetterman’s infantry most likely paralleled the road with the cavalry along the slopes on each side as flankers. Whether or not the order not to cross the ridge was factual, it was clear to all those watching from the fort that Fetterman’s movement would take him over Lodge Trail Ridge.
Although the details of the fight are uncertain, it appears that the mounted troops and the foot infantry became separated. Whether Fetterman gave the order or Grummond was acting on his own will never be known, but the cavalry, along with a small detachment of mounted infantry and two civilians, moved ahead of the infantry soon after passing over Lodge Trail Ridge. Indian decoys demonstrated tauntingly before the relief column and lured them toward Peno Creek. Based on his past tendency for impetuous action, Grummond was probably anxious to come to grips with the foe.
At the foot of the slope, however, hundreds of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians sprang their trap. Indian accounts indicate that the Cheyenne were hiding to the west of the ridge in the trees, scrub, and depressions around Peno Creek and that the Sioux and Arapaho were in hiding to the north along Peno Creek and to the east of the road behind the next ridge.
Grummond’s mounted detachment retreated back up the hill. Wheatley and Fisher, the two civilians, along with several veterans, dismounted and defended a small outcrop of rocks. These experienced frontiersmen understood that it was fatal to attempt a mounted retreat from attacking Indian horsemen. Wheatley and Fisher apparently used their repeating rifles to good effect before succumbing. Carrington later claimed in his report that there were 60 pools of blood surrounding the position. Nevertheless, the two civilians bought with their lives the time Grummond needed to rally his mounted troops at the top of the hill.
The Fetterman Fight: The Cavalry Fight and Fetterman’s Last Stand
The mounted troops retreated southward up the ridge to take cover behind a small hill. It appears that Grummond fought a dismounted delaying action here. Their skirmish line fired to the north and down the ridge to both sides. At some point, Grummond attempted to fall back to the south along the road toward the infantry. Nevertheless, the retreat disintegrated into a rout, and most of the mounted soldiers were chased down by the Indians before they could rejoin the Infantry (see map B). Grummond’s body and several others were found scattered along the road between the cavalry skirmish line and the final infantry position. Indian accounts speak of a “ponysoldier chief” who was killed on the road and whose men then gave way and fled up the ridge. Other Indian accounts speak of a soldier chief on a white horse that fought a brave delaying action, cutting off an Indian’s head with a single stroke of his saber. One of the last soldiers to die along the cavalry skirmish line was Adolph Metzger, a German-born bugler and Army veteran since 1855. Metzger fended off his assailants with his bugle until the instrument was a battered, shapeless mass of metal and his body was bleeding from a dozen wounds.
Fetterman, Brown, and 47 other soldiers, mostly infantry armed with Civil War era muzzle-loading rifle muskets, rallied at a cluster of large rocks further up the ridge. American Horse and Brave Eagle, both Oglala Sioux warriors, claimed that the soldiers fought hard and resisted several attempts to overrun their positions. However, Fetterman’s infantry were hopelessly outnumbered and had little chance of holding out. Eventually, they were overwhelmed, and all were killed. At the fort, Carrington heard the heavy firing beyond the ridge. Fearing the worst, Carrington ordered Captain Tenador Ten Eyck to take what men could be spared from the remaining garrison to assist Fetterman. By the time Ten Eyck reached the hills overlooking the fight, it was too late to save Fetterman’s doomed command.
After the battle, Carrington displayed remarkable determination in recovering the bodies of Fetterman’s men even though he feared that the Indians would attack and overrun the drastically undermanned fort. He asked for and received a volunteer to carry news of the disaster to Fort Laramie. Arriving at Fort Laramie during a Christmas night ball, the volunteer, John “Portugee” Phillips, had ridden 235 miles in 4 days to report the disaster. On 26 December, General Phillip St. George Cooke, Carrington’s commanding officer, ordered Lieutenant Colonel Henry W. Wessells, Carrington’s subordinate at Fort Reno, to take command of the relieve expedition and assume overall responsibility for all three forts on the Bozeman Trail. The new commander diligently applied himself to improving morale at Fort Phil Kearny, but the garrison suffered greatly from the lack of supplies and the intense cold. The Indians also suspended their operations against the fort because of the extreme winter conditions. Both sides waited for spring to resume the contest for control of the Bozeman Trail.
The Hayfield Fight, 1 August 1867
In the spring and summer of 1867, the Indians resumed their harassment against Forts C. F. Smith and Phil Kearny. None of the attacks had been seriously pressed, and neither side had sustained significant casualties. In July 1867, Red Cloud gathered his coalition of Indian tribes in the Rosebud Valley for the sacred Sun Dance and to discuss the next move against the Bozeman Trail forts. The tribal leaders probably fielded as many as 1,000 warriors, but the loose confederation of tribes could not agree on which fort to attack and ended up splitting their forces. The majority of the Cheyenne, with some Sioux, moved against Fort C. F. Smith while the rest of the Sioux and some Cheyenne decided to attack a woodcutting party near Fort Phil Kearny.
Probably because action against the forts had been sporadic, the Indians were unaware that, early in July, a shipment of new M-1866, Springfield-Allin, .50-70- caliber, breech-loading rifles had arrived at the forts. The Springfield-Allin was a modification of the .58-caliber Springfield muzzle-loader, the standard shoulder arm of the Civil War. Although single shot, the new weapon, which used the Martin bar-anvil, center-fire-primed, all-metallic .50-caliber cartridge, was highly reliable and could be fired accurately and rapidly. Along with the rifles came more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition.
Both forts, C. F. Smith and Phil Kearny, were sufficiently strong, having no fear of a direct attack against their bastions. However, the forts did have exposed outposts. At Fort C. F. Smith, it was the hayfield camp located 2.5 miles to the northeast of the fort. At the hayfield camp, the contract workers had erected an improvised corral out of logs and brush as a protected storage area for their equipment and animals and as a defensive position, if needed. Nineteen soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant Sigismund Sternberg, guarded the six haycutters in the hayfield.
On the morning of 1 August 1867, the Indians attacked the detail working the hayfield. The combined Army and civilian force quickly took refuge in the corral and, except for the lieutenant, took cover behind the logs that lined the perimeter of the corral. Lieutenant Sternberg, with formal European military training and experience in both the Prussian and Union armies, did not consider it proper military protocol for officers to fight from the prone position and so decided to fight standing up. The 29-year-old lieutenant had only been at Fort C. F. Smith for 7 days and had no prior experience fighting Indians.
Though the actual Indian strength is unknown, it probably approached 500. The initial attack occurred sometime around noon. The Indians made several dashes at the corral hoping to lure the soldiers into chasing them. After that tactic failed, they conducted a mass charge on the corral. The warriors expected a volley of fire from the soldiers followed by a pause for the soldiers to reload their clumsy muzzle-loaders. During that pause, the attackers planned to rush in and overrun the corral. However, the pause never occurred, because the soldiers were able to quickly reload their new rifles. Even though the soldiers had not become thoroughly accustomed to their new weapons, their mass firepower threw back the attack. During the attack, Indian fire killed Lieutenant Sternberg with a shot to the head. Indian fire also seriously wounded Sternberg’s senior NCO in the shoulder. Therefore, command was assumed by Don A. Colvin, one of the hayfield civilians who had been an officer during the Civil War.
With the failure of the first attack, many of the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors took cover on the bluffs 300 yards south of the corral and, from that position, kept the corral under fire until late into the day. The second attack came from the bluffs and was again repelled by the soldiers’ massed fire. Twice more that afternoon the Indians launched mounted assaults from the high ground hoping to overrun the defenders. Each sweeping charge was stalled by the defenders’ continuous fire forcing the Indians to retreat. The Indians commenced their final attack against the south wall of the corral on foot. The attackers managed to wade the shallow creek but were unable to force their way up to the corral wall.
Back at the fort, Colonel Luther P. Bradley, with 5 companies of available Infantry (10 officers and 250 soldiers), could neither see nor hear the fighting at the corral. News of the attack came sometime after lunch when the wood train, which had been working southwest of the fort, reported that they could see a large number of Indians attacking the hay detail. At first, the colonel was reluctant to send help. Perhaps he feared a Fettermanlike ambush was awaiting the relief party. However, he did send out a mounted reconnaissance at about 1530 which quickly returned to the post and reported the seriousness of the situation. The reconnaissance report, along with a desperate plea for help from a courier who had managed to break out of the hayfield corral and make a dash for the fort, prompted the colonel to organize a two-company relief force to send to the aid of the hayfield fighters. The appearance of reinforcements, at about 1600, and especially the exploding case shot of their accompanying howitzer, convinced the attackers to give up the assault and withdraw. Colvin and his outnumbered defenders had held their position for more than 6 hours. The combined Army/civilian force had sustained three killed and three wounded. Although the Army estimated 18 to 23 warriors killed, the Indians only acknowledged 8 killed and several wounded.
The Wagon Box Fight, 2 August 1867
The exposed outpost at Fort Phil Kearny was the pinery located 6 miles to the west of the fort. Captain James Powell’s C Company, 27th Infantry provided the guard for the civilian woodcutters at the pinery. The soldiers guarding the wood camps operated out of a corral located on a plateau between Big and Little Piney Creeks. The corral was made by removing the boxes from atop the running gear (wheels and axles) of wagons. The running gear would then be used to haul logs from the pinery to the fort. The boxes, approximately 10 feet long, 4½ feet wide, and 2½ feet high, were then placed in a rectangular formation approximately 60 feet by 30 feet. Two wagon boxes, with canvas still attached, held the rations for both soldiers and civilians and sat outside the corral.
The Indians, their martial ardor stirred by the recent religious ceremony, attacked the soldiers at the corral on the morning of 2 August 1867. Powell had already sent out the working parties when the Indians attacked. A small number of warriors crossed the hills to the west of the corral and attacked the woodcutter camps on the Big and Little Piney Creeks. The warriors then raced onto the plateau and captured the mule herd. The war chiefs had hoped the soldiers at the corral would rush out from their improvised wagon box fortress to be ambushed in the open. Instead, Captain Powell kept his men under control and by 9 o’clock had 26 soldiers and 6 civilians gathered into the corral. At this point, the war chiefs had no choice other than to attempt a mass attack against the soldiers. While Indian spectators gathered on the surrounding hills, mounted warriors made the first attack charging the corral from the southwest. The warriors expected the soldiers to send one volley of fire followed by a pause to reload their muzzle-loaders, allowing plenty of time for the Indians to overwhelm the defense. However, the soldiers were able to reload their new rifles quickly, and their continuous fire blunted the attack. The Indians, instead of closing in, circled around the corral using their horses as shields and then quickly withdrew behind the ridge to the north.
After the mounted charge failed, the war chiefs organized their warriors for an assault on foot. The second attack came from behind the ridge to the north. This time the warriors charged on foot while mounted warriors demonstrated to the south. The foot charge surged to within a few feet of the corral before it stalled under the continuous fire of the soldiers and fell back to take cover. At the same time, snipers hidden behind a rim of land fired into the corral. It was these snipers who inflicted most of the casualties suffered by the soldiers in the day-long fight. One of those casualties was Lieutenant John C. Jenness who had been repeatedly told to keep his head down. His reply that he knew how to fight Indians echoed just moments before he fell dead with a head wound. The third attack came up and over the rim of land just to the northeast of the corral. In this attack, the Indians’ charge almost reached the wagon boxes before the soldiers’ heavy fire forced them back again. The fourth and final attack came from the southeast. In this attack, the warriors attempted another mounted charge, but again failed to close with the soldiers.
The fight lasted into the early afternoon. The garrison at Fort Phil Kearny could hear the firing, but fearing an ambush, was reluctant to send support. Major Benjamin Smith did finally leave the fort with a relief column of 102 men and a mountain howitzer. Nearing the wagon box battleground, Smith fired his howitzer which resulted in the dispersal of the Indian attack. At a cost of three soldiers killed and two wounded in the wagon box perimeter, the soldiers had held off hundreds of Indian braves. Powell modestly credited his successful defense to the rapid fire of the breech-loading rifles, the coolness of his men, and the effectiveness of his position. The Indians also claimed victory in the fight. Their warriors had successfully destroyed the woodcutter camps and burned several wagons. They had also captured a large mule herd and killed several soldiers. Precise Indian casualties are unknown; Powell estimated 60 dead and 120 wounded. The actual casualties were probably much less.
In spite of the Army’s small victories at the wagon box corral and the hayfield fight, the days of the Bozeman Trail were numbered. After 8 months of negotiations, the majority of the Indian chiefs finally agreed to the terms of a new treaty, but it was not until November 1868 that Red Cloud signed the document at Fort Laramie. The 1868 treaty met almost all of the Sioux demands, including the abandonment of the three forts in the contested area and the closing of the Bozeman Trail. In August 1868, the last US Army units departed Forts Phil Kearny and C. F. Smith. Even before the Army columns were out of sight, the Sioux and Cheyenne set fire to the remaining buildings and stockades and burned them to the ground.