The Battle of Towton

29 March 1461 was Palm Sunday, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a week before Easter Sunday. It was bitterly cold, and sleety snow was driven by swirling winds. It was also to see a cataclysmic event in English history. Although often overlooked, that bleak day saw the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. For over a decade, pressure had built until an explosive release became inevitable.

King Henry, along with his wife, son and allies, withdrew all the way up to York after their victory at St Albans. Perhaps more decisive action in the opposite direction would have served their cause better, but they chose instead not to poke the frightened beast that was London, for fear of its rage. In the north they could regroup, gather more men and refresh the cold, tired soldiers who had done them sterling service at St Albans.

With London left open, Warwick met up with his cousin Edward outside Oxford and the two were welcomed into the capital in triumph. Edward, along with Warwick, set about engineering a repeat of recent history, but the duke stage-managed the affair far better than his father had. Gregory recalled the city’s anger toward King Henry, with chants in the street of ‘He that had London forsake; Would no more to them take’. In contrast, Edward was being hailed in the same streets. He retired to Baynards Castle and waited patiently. On 1 March, George Neville addressed a large gathering to extol Edward’s claim to the throne. It was so warmly received that by 3 March, a council gathered at Baynards to ask Edward to take the throne in Henry’s place. The king had violated the Act of Accord by attacking York and his family, an act expressly marked as treason. His unpopularity and ineffectualness had plumbed new depths and there was no end to the conflict in sight under Henry’s kingship. A new direction was needed.

On 4 March Edward attended Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral where he was publically proclaimed King of England. He would not consent to be crowned, though, as long as Henry was at large with an army at his back. He resolved to break his opponent before even attempting to enjoy his new position. Edward left London just over a week later on 13 March with a large army, swollen by men unhappy with King Henry and keen to see the Duke of York’s death avenged. Between London and York, Edward, Warwick and Fauconberg recruited heavily, increasing the horde that followed them.

The armies of York (white) and Lancaster (red) move towards Towton.

As news reached the Lancastrian forces of the Yorkist approach they broke several bridges to slow their enemy’s progress. The River Aire crossed the Yorkist route and Fauconberg, who was ahead of the remainder of the army, sent his scouts in front to examine the road ahead and to find signs of the enemy. Led by Lord Fitzwater, the scouting party began to repair the bridge for the rest of the approaching army. The use of scouts and outriders was the only way for any force in the field to secure solid information about the strength, position and setup of the enemy. Only with this information could commanders decide upon their own tactics for a forthcoming battle.

As Lord Fitzwater and his men began their repairs, a Lancastrian force, sent out from York to scout the enemy and to harass them if possible, watched on. Lord Clifford, who had taken his own vengeance at Wakefield, led his 500-strong crack cavalry force, known as the Flower of Craven. Dark was falling as they set up camp, their Yorkist counterparts doing the same, the light guard they set suggesting that they were unaware of Clifford’s force on the other side of the river. At the crack of dawn, Fitzwater’s camp was rudely awoken by Clifford’s mounted force thundering over the repaired bridge. Lord Fitzwater emerged from his tent to be struck down by a blow that would later see him dead. His men were caught unawares and slaughtered. As those lucky enough to escape fled back to the safety of their main force, Clifford’s squad crossed back over the river, pleased with their morning’s work.

When those stragglers reached the Yorkist army the news of the attack caused panic. There is a legend that Warwick took his men to clear the bridge but found that Lord Clifford had set himself up perfectly to defend the narrow bottleneck. Warwick was struck in the leg by an arrow as his assault failed and returned to the main army, trying to quell the growing concerns of the men there by dismounting and promptly killing his horse, swearing that he would fight and live or die beside the rest of them now.

The main body of the Yorkist army now pressed on to the crossing. Clifford still held firm as the huge bulk of men tried to repair the bridge and cross the river. Eventually Lord Fauconberg took a detachment of cavalry to ride down to the next bridge and drive Clifford’s men away. The Flower of Craven and their leader saw the threat, fending off the Yorkist army for as long as they could. Dusk was closing in as they began their ride back, with Fauconberg in hot pursuit, toward their base at York. Clifford’s men and their horses were tired after almost a full day of fighting. Jean de Waurin claimed that 3,000 of the Yorkist men lay dead in the river and on its banks, so Clifford’s 500 had done their work well, buying the Lancastrian forces, led by Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, another twenty-four hours to prepare.

Just south of his target Clifford was ambushed, possibly by a Yorkist scouting force. The delay they caused allowed Fauconberg to catch up and in the fighting Clifford was killed by an arrow to the face after taking off his helmet. The rest of his crack force was crushed and the Flower of Craven were utterly destroyed. It has been suggested that Somerset left Clifford to this fate because he was jealous of a rival’s success and close relationship to the king, though it seems more likely that the ambush took place out of sight and beyond earshot of Somerset’s position. The trouble that was brewing had claimed its first high-profile victim and Edward had seen his younger brother avenged.

As night fell on the 28 March Edward’s army set up camp a few miles away from Somerset’s position, near the village of Towton. They must have struggled to get any rest, tired from a long march and the melee at Ferrybridge, exposed to the biting cold and icy winds. They rose early the next morning, Palm Sunday. Polydore Vergil, writing at the beginning of the next century, claimed that Henry tried to do all that he could to avoid any fighting on that day, wishing to spend it in prayer instead. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility for a pious man averse to violence, but Vergil was writing for King Henry VII, who actively sought to have Henry VI beatified so had an interest in presenting his religious devotion. Pleading for a delay in the unavoidable violence that would decide the fate of the crown of England to make room for prayer is, though, a fitting summary of Henry’s rule.

Warwick’s uncle Lord Fauconberg, by far the most experienced commander on the Yorkist side of the field, and probably on either side, led the main body of Edward’s army. The night had been harsh but the dawn showed the benefits of the position they had taken up. The armies lined up opposite each other in the swirling snow, wind whipping their faces, unable to see their enemies clearly. Fauconberg had one huge advantage and he meant to make the most of it. The wind was behind the Yorkist force, extending the range of their huge longbows. They opened fire upon the enemy, causing chaos in the Lancastrian ranks as an arrow storm fell out of the white sky, unseen until it was too late. The Lancastrians returned the barrage but Fauconberg had judged his distances perfectly in the difficult conditions. Their arrows fell short. The Yorkists continued to shoot, wreaking havoc as men screamed and fell in the snow on the other side of the field. When they had spent all of their arrows, Fauconberg had his men step forward, pull up the Lancastrian arrows that had fallen harmlessly into the mud and fire them back at their owners.

Somerset realised that he could not keep this up and ordered his men to advance against the Yorkists. Sir Andrew Trollope led the assault with 7,000 men, joined also by Richard Woodville, Lord Rivers, and his son Anthony, who had received the dressing-down from Edward, Warwick and Salisbury in Calais the previous year. The Duke of Somerset took another 7,000 men, according to Waurin, and together they charged the Yorkist lines. They thundered into the Yorkist cavalry with such force that Edward’s mounted men fell back and began to flee. Waurin says that the Lancastrians chased the Yorkists for eleven miles, believing that the battle was won. Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland, was meant to charge at the same time. If he had it is likely that the strike would have resulted in a swift victory for the Lancastrians. The delay allowed the battle to become even again.

Fighting persisted for hours; Polydore Virgil later stated that there were ten full hours of slaughter. With the advantage passing to and fro and the outcome impossible to predict, the turning point arrived late in the day, when the Duke of Norfolk arrived to reinforce the Yorkists. Fresh soldiers were too much for the exhausted Lancastrians to face and they began to flee, mercilessly chased and cut down by Edward’s army. The white snow was stained red and innumerable corpses littered the field.

Estimates of the numbers on the field that day vary but around 100,000 men probably came together there, with a light advantage in numbers on the Lancastrian side. Edward’s heralds, a letter he wrote to his mother and a report sent by George Neville to Bishop Coppini all place the number of dead at around 29,000 men, with more injured who would never recover. Waurin placed the final number at 36,000 dead. With so many dead in wintery conditions it was not feasible to individually bury all of the bodies. Great pits were dug to act as mass graves. These have since been discovered and excavated, some of the skulls exhumed displaying savage wounds. Facial reconstruction has been carried out on one soldier, who was in his late thirties or early forties and displayed healed wounds from previous battles. Obviously a veteran, the man would have borne deep scars when he took to the field at Towton. It was to be the last in his experiences of battles. Gregory lamented that ‘many a lady lost her best beloved in that battle’. Waurin coined a phrase that came to sum up the period of bitter fighting in his account of Towton, complaining that ‘father did not spare son nor son his father’.

As well as Lord Clifford, the Earl of Northumberland lay among the dead. The sons of St Albans had obtained their revenge but had in turn been slain by the sons of Wakefield. Lord Neville, who had supposedly contributed to the tricking of the Duke of York at Wakefield, perished on the Lancastrian side and Sir Andrew Trollope, perhaps one of the most accomplished soldiers of his day and whose star had risen so high in service to King Henry and Queen Margaret, had also fallen. Somerset, Henry, Margaret and Prince Edward along with any other nobles able to escape the field rode north and rode hard, heading to Scotland.

Edward tarried in the north a while to try and see the region settled. The Lancastrians were only in Scotland and his departure might be all that was needed to bring them back south into a region traditionally sympathetic to them. There was more to concern the new king now, though. The rest of his kingdom held its breath, and upheaval, though raw and open in the far north, was not restricted to that region alone. Wales was destabilised, with Jasper Tudor resiliently holding on to his castles and showing no sign of leaving nor of bowing to the new king. Edward needed to get back to the capital, arrange his coronation and summon a Parliament that would recognise and legitimise his title.

Finally, on 12 June, Edward could wait no longer and marched south. He was again received in triumph by London. Writs had been issued the previous month summoning Parliament, which opened but was adjourned immediately until November. The first item of business was naturally the declaration of Edward’s right to the throne. The change in tone is striking but perhaps not surprising. Gone was the deference to Henry VI and careful laying out of the Yorkist lineage. The Commons requested that Edward take the throne because during the ‘usurped reign of your said adversary Henry, late called King Henry VI, extortion, murder, rape, the shedding of innocent blood, riot and unrighteousness were commonly practised in your said realm without punishment’. The right of the House of York to the crown was rehearsed as it had been in 1460, though now Henry IV’s seizing of the throne was an illegal act offensive to God for which England had been punished ever since. The House of Lancaster had persecuted the House of York but now Edward had acted decisively to save the country from God’s ongoing wrath. Parliament was quite clear that Edward had only resorted to arms after Henry had breached the Act of Accord, thereby excusing Edward from his oaths under its provisions.

Parliament undid many of Henry VI’s grants, bringing valuable lands and income back to a crown that had haemorrhaged money for decades. From the outset, though, Edward was clearly utterly realistic about what had gone before. Many had flitted from one side to the other but plenty had remained resolutely loyal to one party or the other throughout. If Edward was to be king of a united England he knew that he would have to deal with the situation that he found and he elected to seek an end to the circular conflicts of the last decade. The new regime welcomed any who would reconcile themselves to Edward now, whatever their previous allegiances. Among those keen to take advantage of the king’s offer were Lord Rivers and his son, who had received short shrift at Calais and fought for Henry at Towton. Warkwoth wrote that Edward aimed by the provisions of his Parliament to ‘have the more good will and love in his lands’.

Henry, however, was attainted for high treason but treated by the Act as though he had never been king. His treason lay in leading an armed force against King Edward and his punishment was forfeiture of his lands and titles as Duke of Lancaster. The remainder of the royal estate was Edward’s now anyway. Parliament had jettisoned the country’s king of thirty-nine years as though he had been an imposter all along. Henry had been a weak and ineffectual ruler who had watched as his country had careered headlong into civil war. Residual affection for him, his father’s memory and the royal authority that he held had been stretched thinner and thinner until it had become transparent and men could see through it to another option.

Richard, Duke of York, had been a stark contrast to Henry. He was a man experienced and proven in government, who understood what the country wanted and needed. His family was large, his children growing strong. His wife was a model of a medieval noble woman, happy to live in her husband’s shadow. Henry had not acquitted himself well as a governor. He had only one son and showed no sign of producing more. His wife had disrupted the political fabric of the country, stretching it further still. At six foot four inches, Edward IV is the tallest king ever to rule England, taller than Edward I, known as Longshanks, and taller even than his grandson Henry VIII, who bore a striking resemblance in looks and personality to Edward. Described universally as incredibly good looking, athletic, a fierce warrior and committed womaniser, he was also prone to laziness and happy to allow others to deal with issues that did not grasp his attention.

The new king took the opportunity now presented to him to reward his closest allies and his family. His remaining brothers George and Richard were retrieved from their exile in Burgundy and created dukes. George was made Duke of Clarence, a title that had belonged to the second sons of Edward III and Henry IV, and Richard was created Duke of Gloucester, a title granted to the youngest sons of Edward III and Henry IV. Warwick’s uncle William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, was created Earl of Kent in recognition of his invaluable contribution. Edward’s close friend William Hastings became Lord Hastings and William Herbert was given Jasper Tudor’s title of Earl of Pembroke, the incentive of winning his lands serving to meet Edward’s need to be rid of Henry’s half-brother. John Howard was created Lord Howard and Sir Thomas Blount became Lord Mountjoy. Finally the Yorkist party was reaping the rewards of its commitment to the House of York.

Prominent Lancastrian nobles who refused to be reconciled were charged with treason. Notable among their number was John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford. In his mid-fifties, he appears to have initially been excused attendance before Parliament in 1461, perhaps on grounds of ill health, but he was arrested in February 1462 along with his oldest son, Aubrey de Vere. John had been slow to declare his hand in the previous troubles, sitting on York’s Council during Henry VI’s illness but arriving too late to participate in the First Battle of St Albans, meaning it was left unclear which side he might have taken. By 1460 it was clear that he had thrown his lot in with the Lancastrian camp. His son Aubrey married Anne Stafford, daughter of Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham, and the family were now firmly Lancastrian. Tried and convicted before John Tiptoft, Constable of England, Aubrey was executed on 20 February and John followed him to the block at Tower Hill six days later. John’s second son and namesake became his heir and in 1464 Edward allowed him to succeed to his father’s lands and titles as 13th Earl of Oxford.

Edward was afforded little time to enjoy his new status. Towton had been a crushing victory but it had not eradicated the Lancastrian threat, nor would Margaret rest while another took what belonged to her husband and son. She had visited the widowed queen of the Scots, Mary of Guelders, to ask for more assistance. With the Scottish coffers habitually empty, Mary had no money to offer, but she was not short of men willing to cross the border on a mission to kill Englishmen. Margaret and her allies drove hard into Northumberland and swiftly captured Alnwick Castle, the ancestral seat of the Earls of Northumberland, Bamburgh Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle and Walworth Castle.

Edward sent commissions into the southern and western counties, raising men and money to head back up north. The king laid siege to all of the castles and much of 1462 was spent in renewed conflict. Towton is often understood to be a watershed, an end to the conflict that had divided England, but Towton ended nothing other than Henry’s rule. War, faction and fracture continued. As King Edward besieged the castles in which the Lancastrians had embedded themselves, another force from Scotland set off to reinforce Margaret, Somerset, Exeter and their allies. An anonymous report dated December 1462 described the state of the sieges far in the north. Warwick and the lords Cromwell, Grey of Codnor and Wenlock were at Walworth. Fauconberg, now Earl of Kent, was at the siege of Alnwick Castle with the new Lord Scales and ‘many other knights and squires’. Dunstanburgh Castle sat under the watchful pressure of the Lords Fitzhugh, Scrope, Greystock and Powis. John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, Warwick’s brother-in-law, oversaw the siege of Bamburgh Castle aided by Warwick’s other brother John, Lord Montague, and Lords Strange, Say, Grey of Wilton, Lumley and Ogle. It was at Bamburgh that Somerset had installed himself. According to the writer, Edward’s forces in the north were estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000 ‘without the King and his host’.

A French knight named Sir Peris le Brasylle was in Scotland at the time, possibly to assist Margaret, though Scotland and France were old allies anyway. Warkworth, in his Chronicle, described le Brasylle as ‘the best warrior of all that time’ and reports that when news of the French legend’s approach, heading toward Alnwick and the other castles with a force of 20,000 men, reached Edward’s forces ‘they removed from the siege and were afraid’. The Scots apparently feared that this was some trick on the part of the king’s forces and hung back. Warkworth also believed that the Scottish forces were not keen to venture too close to the stoutly defended castles for fear of being perceived to be attackers rather than a relief force. Those within the castles took the opportunity of the stand-off to slip away, clearly unconvinced that they could prevail in the confusion.

Edward achieved something of a coup at this point. Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, surrendered Bamburgh Castle and went before the king. The two men made their peace, with Edward agreeing to pay Somerset a pension of 1,000 marks per year. Somerset was, without doubt, the military leader of the Lancastrian party, having commanded at the victories of Wakefield and St Albans and overseen the close battle (but ultimately, crushing defeat) at Towton. Somerset had also spearheaded this new Lancastrian drive into northern England, allowing Edward no time in which to enjoy his new throne. To have welcomed the enemy’s foremost general into the fold not only continued Edward’s efforts to reconcile the country to his rule but was a huge victory against Henry and Margaret, a blow to their frantic efforts without swords even being drawn. Six months later, though, his pension unpaid, finding himself impoverished and outside the halls of power, Somerset fled back into Scotland to be re-united with the Lancastrian royal family. Edward had failed to maintain his upper hand and capitalise on great opportunities and it would not be the last time.

The Battle of Towton was apocalyptic for all involved and for the country. It was a watershed moment in history, yet it changed almost nothing. The balance of power swung to the Yorkists as it had done before. Edward was king, proclaimed, crowned and confirmed by Parliament, yet recent experiences would have left most unconvinced of the finality of his victory while such strong enemies watched from just across the border, their menacing presence like the bright eyes of hungry wolves glinting in the dark forest of an uncertain future. King Edward IV is remembered fondly by history, a jovial giant with an eye for the ladies. That was a man yet to emerge, softer than the visceral, angry youth who had snatched the throne. In one hand he held out an olive branch to those willing to take it. For those who would not, his other hand held the sharp, swift sword of cruel, uncompromising justice. England was still divided but now had a king willing to act against his enemies. Peace was not won yet, and some of Edward’s decisive actions merely left him more time to rue them later. Towton did not end the strife; it merely closed one chapter, only for another to follow.

The Transformation of Military Society in the Italian Wars

The military society of Italy had been transformed by the wars. The careers open to those who made war their profession were greatly changed, and a much higher proportion of Italian men would be expected to spend some time undergoing formal military training in militia companies.

In the fifteenth century, Italian professional soldiers had predominantly been cavalrymen, although maintaining their companies was a problem for condottieri when they were between contracts. Infantry constables might be given retainers in peacetime by condottieri or by states, but only limited numbers of their men would be kept on. After the early years of the wars, the French and Spanish kings did not want to hire  condottieri and their companies in the manner usual in Italy; if they were to hire Italian troops they preferred to have them fit into the existing structure of their own armies. Individuals given commands might be able to recruit at least some of their men themselves, or they might be given charge of an existing unit.

These changes applied to Italian condottieri princes as well as other captains. They might still be given military commands, but the system by which the maintenance of a military company was part of the patronage network binding subjects to their prince, and condotte were an integral element in the structure of relations between the Italian powers, weakened and lost much of its significance. Princes such as the d’Este of Ferrara or the Gonzaga of Mantua might be given commands or alliances in time of war, and might hope these would become permanent, but they could also find themselves expected to provide additional troops, artillery and munitions, food supplies and financial loans, as a gesture of loyalty to their patron or ally. Foreign monarchs were generally disappointed by the results in arrangements made with Italian princes. Often they did not get the commitment of the prince and the resources of his territory to the war that they expected. Italian princes, accustomed to regarding the primary purpose of troops paid for by condotte as the defence of their own states, could be reluctant to move far from home. In the later stages of the wars, Henry II, looking for friends and allies to help him keep a foothold in central Italy, placed great reliance on subsidies to Italian princes. The king could have all of Italy, if he would pay a million écus a year, his paymaster there, Dominique du Gabre, warned in 1556, but the trouble was that once such payments began they could not be stopped and seemed `an hereditary contribution’.

Italians looking for a military career would have found fewer opportunities to serve in units of men-at-arms, as these were no longer the dominant element in armies. (At the beginning of the wars, the strength of armies tended to be defined in terms of the numbers of men-at-arms; by the end, principally in terms of the number of infantry.) Those who did become men-at-arms would find themselves last in line for pay, with their French and Spanish counterparts. The expectation was that men-at-arms would have means of their own, and could support themselves unsubsidized for long periods. Many nobles still preferred to serve as men-at-arms, because of the social prestige attached to it – serving as infantry commanders was one thing, serving as rank and file infantrymen quite another – and their employment was to some degree a political as much as a military choice. By the mid-sixteenth century, the Venetians, for example, had `accepted the fact that the retention of heavy cavalry was primarily an exercise in maintaining good relations with powerful Terraferma families and a diversion of their chivalrous pretensions into a form of public service’. Italians did make a reputation for themselves during the war as light cavalrymen. But units of light horse tended to be hired or raised for specific campaigns, so many would be dismissed in peacetime. Mercenary infantry companies of the size and professionalism of the landsknechts and the Swiss pike companies did not develop in Italy. The arquebus rather than the pike became the weapon of Italian specialist infantry. Companies of Italian infantry could be raised for a campaign, but were generally less valued than other infantry units in field armies. Usually paid less, they were the first to be turned off when funds ran down. They were more valued as garrison troops, and it was acknowledged they could perform better under siege than the Swiss or Spanish.

As elsewhere in Europe, by the second half of the sixteenth century, some kind of military service in a militia was becoming a much more common experience for Italian men. It has been estimated that in the early seventeenth century one in fifteen Italian men was enrolled in a militia. In Venice in the mid-sixteenth century, of the 200,000 men on the Terraferma believed to be fit for active service, one in seven was a militiaman. Militias had fought in some of the campaigns of the Italian Wars – the Venetian militia in the War of the League of Cambrai, for example, and the Florentine during the last stages of the Pisan War, the siege of Florence and the War of Siena. Cosimo de’ Medici was proud of his Florentine forces, 23,000 strong, `a very fine band, all armed, some with corselets and pikes’, he told the Venetian ambassador around 1560; another 7,000 were raised in his new Sienese lands: `Sienese territory always produces good soldiers’. For him, as for Emanuele Filiberto, whose military reforms in Savoy and Piedmont in the 1560s attracted the interest of other rulers, a strong militia, well trained and well-armed, was an important element in the image of the strong and independent prince that they wished to project.

All the militias, theirs included, were intended to be primarily defence forces. For those in states with coastlines exposed to attacks from the Turks and Barbary corsairs, defence against raiders from the sea was their primary role. Venice had a separate galley militia, distinct from the forces in the Terraferma. The need to defend a long coastline was the primary reason for the formation of the militia in the kingdom of Naples in the 1560s; no permanent militia forces were raised in landlocked Lombardy until the seventeenth century. Service in the militia gave many civilians training in the use of military weapons, generally the arquebus and the pike. Permission to keep and carry arms was one of its main attractions. The cavalry unit formed in Naples in 1577 – initially 1,200, increased to 3,000 in 1520, alongside the 20,000-24,000 foot – seems to have been an exception to the general rule that militias tended to be infantry. Those selected for cavalry service were to serve at their own cost, and were to be expert horsemen already. The many barons of the kingdom provided an ample pool from which they could be recruited. The cavalry units Emanuele Filiberto aimed to raise alongside his infantry militia were to be provided by fief-holders, in accordance with longstanding obligations of the landed nobility of Savoy and Piedmont.

Mastering the skills of horsemanship necessary to fight on horseback was becoming part of a fashionable education for members of the urban nobilities who had no intention of ever going to fight in a war. Learning the art of handling a sword and a rapier was also an essential skill for those who affected a sense of personal honour to be defended and maintained by duelling, if need be, following a formal code of practice that developed among the military nobility and professional soldiers. Such social trends were evident in other parts of Europe too, but the adoption by many members of the civic nobilities of Italy of the ethos of the military nobility was a notable development. Although the military nobility had often had close ties to towns and close association with members of civic elites, there had been acute awareness of a social and cultural distinction between them, on both sides, and sometimes a measure of mutual disdain. Contact with the nobles and soldiers of other nations during and after the wars spurred on members of the civic elites to assert their right not only to be considered as nobles, but as gentlemen with personal honour to be respected and defended. For a member of a civic nobility, becoming a professional soldier – serving in the cavalry or as an infantry commander – could be seen as conferring or confirming aristocratic status. The old landed nobility, on the other hand, became less military in character. Their ability to raise large numbers of fighting men among their tenants and partisans and their possession of fortresses, which had been the foundation of their political power before and during the wars, counted for much less in the new, more pacific political system.

After the wars ended, there was much less scope in Italy for those who wanted to have a military career, or to spend some time soldiering to enhance their credentials as a gentleman. There was ample scope for military service elsewhere in Europe, in the Netherlands, for example, or in campaigns against the Ottomans on land and sea, and many Italians went to serve abroad. Most spent some time in the service of Spain. For many Roman barons, serving the king of Spain or France was preferable to service in the papal army – just as serving the pope had often not been the first choice of earlier generations of the military nobility of the Papal States. Neapolitan and Lombard nobles, who sought to win the favour of the king by military service, had to leave Italy to do so, even though Naples and Lombardy had a significant military function within the Spanish empire as bases and training-grounds for troops. Three of the tercios, the permanent infantry corps who formed the backbone of the Spanish army were based in Italy, in Naples, Lombardy and Sicily. Charles V had ordered that each tercio should be formed of men from one nation only, to pro- mote cohesion, but they were recruited in Spain, not Italy. Neapolitans could serve only in the militia, or abroad. In Lombardy, Italians were not supposed to serve even as garrison troops; fortresses were supposed to be manned by Spanish soldiers. In practice, some Italians could be found among the garrisons, if they pretended to be Spanish.

As the presence of foreign soldiers became a permanent fact of life for the people of Lombardy and Naples, and as a greater proportion of Italian men had undergone some form of military training as militiamen or as part of the education of gentlemen, so in many areas fortifications became a more dominant element of the landscapes and townscapes of Italy. Castles and fortified villages, walled towns and cities had been iconic elements of the medieval Italian landscapes portrayed in countless works of art, but the new principles of military engineering demanded radical changes to the appearance of the towns and cities provided with modern fortifications. These demanded broad swathes of cleared ground around fortifications and outside the lower, thicker city walls to provide clear sight and firing lines, and clear access to the walls inside the city, and the facility for defenders to move rapidly from one point to another. Older town walls were often integrated into the urban fabric, with buildings right up against them on the inside, and busy suburbs on the outside; often certain trades and industrial activities had become concentrated in the suburbs, where there was more space and less potential for annoying the neighbours. Building new fortifications could result in the levelling of many homes, business premises and religious buildings, and thriving communities would be swept away. It was easier for people to understand and tolerate such destruction in time of war; it was much more difficult to accept when there was no immediate threat.

Extensive programmes of fortifications, designed to be a coherent defensive system, were undertaken in several states. Some, like the fortresses and watchtowers built to defend the coasts of the kingdom of Naples, might well have been built even if the Italian Wars had never happened. But many were designed to strengthen defences whose weaknesses had been revealed during the course of the wars. In the duchy of Milan, the cities on the western frontier received particular attention, but other places such as Cremona and Milan itself, where Ferrante Gonzaga began the construction of new city walls when he was governor, were also given new defences. The Genoese initiated the building of a new circuit of walls and defences around their city after they came under threat from the French in 1536. In the city of Naples, the construction of a new fortress, Sant’ Elmo, in the form of a six-pointed star, on the hill of San Martino was intended by the viceroy Pedro de Toledo to dominate the city as well as strengthen its defences (and an entire quarter of the city was given over to be lodgings for Spanish troops). A new fortress at L’Aquila was intended to assert control over an area of rooted Angevin sympathies.

The Venetians had begun modernizing their fortifications in the Terraferma in the late fifteenth century, but the programme was extended and accelerated after the shock of the defeat at Agnadello in 1509. Two of their commanders, Bartolomeo d’Alviano and Francesco Maria della Rovere, had great influence over the planning and design of these works. As well as providing protection for the population and Venetian armies, the fortifications were intended to discourage invasion. `Fortifications and their garrisons provided the essential base from which to carry out Venice’s on-the-whole successful policy of armed neutrality’ – the policy adopted by Venice from the 1530s. A programme of fortifications was an integral part of Cosimo de’ Medici’s presentation of his new duchy as a strong state. Apart from the fortress in Florence itself, his major works were the fortified naval base he created on the island of Elba at Portoferraio, which he named Cosmopolis, and fortresses constructed to control routes through the Sienese, as at Grosseto, and the city of Siena itself, where near the ruins of the fortress begun by the Spanish, a huge quadrilateral fortress, with great angle bastions at each corner, was begun in 1560.

The famous city walls and ramparts of Lucca, begun in the 1540s and finally completed a century later, still convey an idea of how impressive and striking the appearance of cities enclosed by the new style of fortifications could be. Even with the ramparts planted with trees, and turned into a park running the length of the walls, they still sharply divide the city from its environs, and magnificent as they are, can still give an impression of constraining the city, although Lucca has now expanded beyond the walls, albeit at a respectful distance from them. When the new fortifications first went up around the towns and cities of Italy during and after the wars, their impact on the lives of the population was considerable. Apart from the destruction they entailed, these projects typically took decades to complete, with hundreds, even thousands, of (often conscripted) labourers toiling away. Often there would be fewer gates through the new walls, familiar routes would be cut, the sense of difference between the world inside and outside the walls greater than before. Many of these elaborate fortifications were never tested in war, and people must often have become more aware of how they inhibited urban expansion, rather than of their defensive purpose. For many Italians, the new fortifications remained the most tangible legacy of the Italian Wars.

Battle of Fatshan Creek 1857

A Royal Navy force defeated a flotilla of Chinese war junks during the Battle of Fatshan Creek, before the Second Opium War.

Sir Henry Keppel, (1809-1904) British admiral. Born in Kensington on 14 June 1809, son of the Fourth Earl of Albemarle, Henry Keppel joined the Royal Navy in 1822. He was educated at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. He held a number of assignments, most of them in Asia and the Pacific. Keppel fought in the First Opium War against China (1839-1842). As commander of the HMS Dido in the mid-1840s he sailed to Singapore, Borneo, and other parts of East Asia, subduing local pirates. He was so revered in Singapore that its harbor was named for him. In the early 1850s Keppel again battled pirates in Borneo and Sumatra. He then fought in the Baltic and Black Seas in the war against Russia, 1853- 1856, especially around the Sevastopol in 1854. In 1856 Keppel returned to the Far East as commodore of the China Station. He commanded British forces in the Battle of Fatshan Creek, in which 70 Chinese junks were destroyed. During 1867- 1869 he commanded a seven-nation force that finally ended piracy in Chinese coastal waters and throughout most of East Asia and the Pacific.

A British force consisting of four gunboats and two hired steamers towed the flotilla’s boats 5km (3 miles) upstream, to where a large fleet of Chinese junks was moored on Fatshan Creek. The British commander, Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, took the fort on the southern bank with a detail of infantry, while Commodore Henry Keppel steamed ahead. The Chinese vessels stood their ground, moored across the stream. During a heated exchange, the gunboats grounded on mudbanks, but the ships’ boats were sent forward and boarded the junks before the Chinese could reload to repel the attack. Keppel ordered the junks burned, then continued upstream. The British boats grounded again 366m (1200ft) from another body of junks, forcing them to retreat and attack again when the tide was higher. Faced with further British attacks, the surviving Chinese vessels fled upriver towards the village of Fatshan.


In the midst of the domestic turmoil that accompanied the Taiping Rebellion, piracy increased dramatically; often, whether true or not, these pirates claimed political allegiance with the Taipings. In January 1856, the British instituted a scheduled north–south convoy system, sending a well-armed man-of-war with the British merchant ships. Chinese-owned ships registered in Hong Kong were also allowed to join the convoy and fly the British flag. By doing so, these Chinese-owned ships tacitly gained the same extraterritorial rights and protections from Manchu intervention as other British ships along the China coast. This decision soon led to conflict with Manchu authorities, who insisted that all Chinese-owned ships remain under the administrative authority of China.

On 8 October 1856, Guangzhou police boarded a Chinese-owned, but Hong Kong-registered, ship called the Arrow. This ship had a British captain but a Chinese crew. Hauling down the British flag, the police arrested twelve crew members. Immediately, Harry Parkes, the British Consul, demanded that Ye Mingchen, the Imperial Commissioner in Guangzhou, apologize for this “insult” to the flag. Commissioner Ye offered to release nine of the arrested sailors but refused to apologize, thereby disputing the British practice of registering Chinese ships and allowing them to fly British flags.

This incident gave Governor of Hong Kong, John Bowring a long-sought for opportunity to demand treaty revisions from China. After consulting with Admiral Michael Seymour, commander of the British fleet, it was decided to send Commodore George Elliot to Guangzhou with the Sybille, the Barracouta, and the Coromandel, and later the steam frigates Encounter and Sampson were added to this number. Under the threat of naval shelling, Commissioner Ye proved willing to return all twelve arrested sailors, but would not apologize for violating the British flag. The resulting British action has been described in detail by Gerald Graham:

Admiral Seymour proceeded to assault the four barrier forts, some five miles below the city. Carrying Royal Marines and the boats’ crews of the Calcutta, Winchester, and Bittern, the Sampson and the Barracouta, accompanied by the boats of the Sybille under Commodore Elliot, set out from Whampoa. Arriving at Blenheim Reach on 23 October, the two steam sloops, Sampson and Barracouta, ascended the Macao Passage in order to block the alternative backwater channel. Blenheim Fort capitulated quickly, as did Macao Fort, a well-sited bastion on an island in mid-river, mounting 86 guns. This later stronghold, Seymour prepared to hold and garrison.

By 25 October 1856, more than 150 Chinese cannon had been taken and spiked, while marines took control of the foreign factories and defended them successfully against a Chinese attack. Casualties during this three-day engagement were extremely light, with the British avoiding even a single death and the Chinese reportedly suffering only five troops injured.

With a strong military advantage on his side, Governor Bowring unexpectedly “upped the ante” by bringing in a new issue for discussion. Even though the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing gave British officials the right to enter Guangzhou’s city walls, this stipulation had never come into effect. Now, Bowring insisted that Commissioner Ye agree to allow British representatives free access both to the authorities and the city of Guangzhou. When Ye refused, the British breached the city wall on 28 October. On the following day, they entered and looted the Commissioner’s yamen. Although the British continued to solidify their position in the following days—sustaining one dead and a dozen injured—the Chinese Commissioner refused to back down.

China could not realistically hope to challenge the British fleet, but Commissioner Ye’s forces inside Guangzhou were estimated at 20,000 while the British had fewer than 1,000 marines and seamen. With this superiority of numbers, Ye felt confident that he could repel any attempt to take Guangzhou by force. The British retained their hold over the foreign factories along the Whampoa—at one point stationing about 300 troops in entrenchments dug in the factory gardens—but, by the end of January 1857, were forced to withdraw everywhere except for Macao Fort on Honam Island. The Chinese interpreted this retreat as a victory, and triumphal arches were raised throughout Guangzhou in Ye’s honor.

The war was far from over. During May and June 1857, the British succeeded in wiping out the majority of the Chinese Navy protecting Guangzhou; seventy to eighty Chinese war junks were captured and burned. This task was not an easy one, since the Chinese sailors had learned from their earlier mistakes and made great progress in maneuvering their fleet and concentrating their fire, and the British casualties numbered eighty-four killed or badly wounded. According to Admiral Seymour, the British victory was precarious, and during an engagement on 1 June 1857 the Chinese fleet “opened a new era in Chinese naval warfare” by showing greater judgment in disposing their fleet, as well as defending their ships with “skill, courage and effect.”

During spring 1857, the Palmerston government appointed James Bruce, the eighth Earl of Elgin, to be H.M.’s High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary to China. His task was to lead a naval and military expedition to the mouth of the Bei He River near Beijing to demand reparations for past injuries, diplomatic representation in Beijing, and treaty revisions that would grant Britain greater access to China’s river trade. Action was delayed by mutiny in India, but the arrival of the Sans Pareil, the newest screw-operated battleship, allowed Admiral Seymour to blockade Guangzhou on 3 August 1857.

The French joined the advance on Guangzhou, and by early December 1857 thirty ships and more than 5,000 troops had been assembled. Elgin issued a final ultimatum on 12 December to Ye, who refused it. Beginning on 15 December 1857, British troops took Honam Point while the British ships Nimrod, Hornet, Bittern, Actaeon, and Acorn moved within shelling range of Guangzhou. Shelling commenced on 28 December, and on the following day the combined British and French forces scaled Guangzhou’s southeastern walls. The British casualties numbered ninety-six and the French thirty-four.

Finally in full control of Guangzhou, the next goal was to find and capture Commissioner Ye. Although the best thing would have been to move into the “hinterland to carry on the campaign,” Qing law stated that “any official who lost his city should lose his head.” Unable to flee, Commissioner Ye was captured on 5 January 1858. With Ye’s subsequent removal on the Inflexible for a life of imprisonment in a British-owned villa outside Calcutta, the remaining Chinese troops in Guangzhou were soon disarmed.

With Guangzhou safely in British and French hands, the next goal became Beijing. This Franco-British “Northern Expedition” was delayed until mid- April 1858, when Elgin sailed aboard the Furious northward to the Bei He. During the next eleven weeks the expedition remained inactive while negotiations with Beijing were attempted; during this delay, the size of the British forces increased gradually as they were joined by stragglers. By 20 May 1858, all was in order, and at 10:00 a.m.—following Beijing’s decision to ignore an order to surrender—the siege of the forts at Dagu began. Opposition was light, and after an hour-and-a-half the fighting was over. British casualties were five killed, seventeen wounded, while the unexpected explosion of a Chinese magazine killed six and wounded sixty-one Frenchmen. With the taking of the Dagu forts, the riverine path to Beijing was now open; foreign ships docked for the first time at Tianjin on 26 May 1858.

Rather than fighting this foreign force, the Manchu Emperor quickly relented and sent Imperial Commissioners to Tianjin. On 26 June 1858, the fifty-six-article Treaty of Tianjin was signed with Great Britain. At almost the same time a separate treaty was signed with France, and several non-belligerents— Russia and the United States—gained similar advantages in their own bilateral treaties. By means of the Treaty of Tianjin, Britain received a more than £1 million indemnity for its losses in Guangzhou, tariff revisions, and the opening of five new treaty ports, including along the Yangzi River as far inland as Hankou. Most importantly, Beijing was now open to a British representative who would be treated as an equal by the Chinese officials. However, Elgin later agreed to modify this clause by stationing the British residence outside Beijing proper. This change gave “face” to Beijing and helped prop up the Qing Dynasty’s embattled “Mandate of Heaven” in its domestic quarrel with the Taipings.

Frederick Invades Austria a Second Time; Siege of Olmütz I

On March 15, 1758, the king marched from his winter quarters in Breslau. He started on the third campaign of this conflict, waiting until the frosts were gone and the cold winter winds had subsided. The headquarters was moved to Kloster-Grüssau and the army was encamped between there and Landshut. Frederick’s job was to keep the whitecoats quiet in Bohemia while his army descended on Schweidnitz to reclaim that fortress from its enemy garrison. This he meant to accomplish before the time of normal campaigning, and before the cautious Daun could interfere with his maneuver.

This was a bold plan, and very risky as the king’s plan placed great reliance on Daun being slow and methodical. The Prussian magazines at Jauernick and Sabischdorf were prepped to supply the needs of the forces preparing to besiege Schweidnitz. The bluecoats had been loosely investing the fortress during the winter layover. The storming of Schweidnitz was an essential preliminary to another invasion of the Austrian Empire. The king had already decided to carry the fight into the very heart of his greatest enemy for the second time in as many campaigns.

In any case, the elimination of the last major body of Austrian troops in central Silesia would give Frederick’s largely new troops the confidence they needed to face the enemy massing to their front. During the winter, Maria Theresa had been engaged in strengthening both the number and preparedness of the Austrian army. In addition to the effort to refine the command structure of the army, the numbers of men needed replenishment.

The garrison of Schweidnitz had utilized the time given to build up the fortifications there to make any Prussian attempt to retake it into a major task. Yet, the men could not help but be affected by their isolation from the main Austrian lines. Of the original 8,000 men, only 5,500, some of those of questionable quality, remained available, and even most of these men were somewhat demoralized from the degree of the Prussian successes, most notably Leuthen, the previous year. These latter were under Lt.-Gen. Franz Ludwig Thürheim and Major-General von Gröttendorf.

In the final days of March, Frederick reached the vicinity of Schweidnitz and began deploying his army for the siege. The fall of the place seemed imminent. Rossbach had shaken the French, so much so the king felt he may not have to deal with them until perhaps mid-summer. The Austrians, still smarting and shaky from Leuthen—in spite of Maria Theresa’s best efforts—would not be able to launch any offensive operations on a major scale for most of the year. As for the Imperialists, they were still hungover from Rossbach. Neither the Swedes nor the Russians were as yet ready for marching. It was, in many ways, now or never for this second invasion of Austria. As per the old axiom, “First things first.” General Tresckow was given charge of the siege forces around Schweidnitz. He had nearly 10,000 men, 4,600 of whom were cavalry. This was by no means an overwhelming force.

Nonetheless, the Prussians made steady progress towards the siege. The siege guns were brought up, and, in the first two days of April under a soaking front of rain, the first parallel of the siege lines were completed. The whitecoats, under the miserable conditions, did not discover the Prussian effort until it was a done deal. The bluecoats made sure of having sufficient artillery in place to do the job. Forty-eight pieces of ordnance were employed by the Prussians altogether, including eight 24-pounders.

The weather was not very cooperative. Since the Austrians failed to detect the line until it was completed, by then nothing could be done about it. April 8, with Marshal Daun still deep in Bohemia, the first shots of the siege batteries opened on the fortifications. Galgen, as the main fortress, was heavily cannonaded day after day, and gradual progress was made, despite miserable weather conditions. The whole structure was intrinsically affected by its location. Schweidnitz was designed by “placing the main weight of the defence on a girdle of detached forts and lunettes.” This could only increase the suffering of the besiegers and the besieged alike. All of these factors made Frederick, who never favored siege operations under any conditions, want to wrap things up even more quickly.

In the meantime, operations elsewhere had begun. On the eve of the march towards Schweidnitz, the king detached two strong columns from the main army: (1) One, under Ziethen, was to take up post near Troppau; and, (2) The second, Fouquet to Glatz. Both of these detachments had the duty of sweeping away the remnants of the Austrian forces in southern Silesia and, more importantly, keep it clear. There had been no word of any activity from the vicinity of Marshal Daun and his still reforming army.

The irascible Laudon spent much time urging on the reluctant Daun to relieve Schweidnitz (a viewpoint which he shared with Chancellor Kaunitz), and he was kept busy with his light troopers engaged in isolated actions with detached bodies of bluecoats. Laudon here can certainly be commended for seeking bold action, but Marshal Daun was fully aware that his army was not ready to take on the very confident Frederick just yet. Especially after such a crushing defeat as had been inflicted on them at Leuthen.

Nevertheless, Daun left his winter quarters on March 13. He promptly moved on to Königgrätz. The marshal and his army were posted there even now, digging in with his vaunted defensive skills, as well as training troops and having even more equipment brought forward for the army. The agitated marshal still had the advantage, if nothing else, of superior numbers: 100,000 Austrians against the maximum of 70,000 Prussians he faced. If it had been his desire, Daun could certainly have proven to be a problem for Frederick’s plans. But the latter suspected his adversary’s slow, calculating character, and took a reasonable risk that nearly paid off. In the campaigns to come, Frederick would take many more risks with Daun as his chief enemy.

The Austrian commander had guessed (correctly) that the king meant an invasion of the Austrian Empire again this year. Daun was mistaken, though, in the route that invasion would take. The Austrians had spent the winter preparing the passageways into Bohemia for the Prussian intruders. Impressive defensive posts had been prepared—posts that would not be needed. This was especially ironic since the Austrians did a much better job of preparing for a possible Prussian invasion of Bohemia in 1758, when it did not occur, than they had done in 1757, when it did.

The Austrian army itself had been steadily reinforced during the winter layover by new blood, and at his impressive camp at Skalitz (occupied on April 19), Daun had carried forward heavy training exercises until the men were becoming proficient in their trade. Unfortunately for them, the Prussian king had decided to bypass Bohemia this time around, where Prague alone was still the lone Austrian vital point, and instead proceed directly into Moravia. Daun cooperated by not taking his army past Königgrätz and interfering with the Prussian siege of Schweidnitz. Rising star Laudon did his best, to no avail, to persuade the marshal to move to try to thwart the Prussian effort to retake Schweidnitz which would enable them to drive away the last Austrian toehold in Silesia.

The king considered it too risky to make further moves while Schweidnitz remained in Austrian hands. The fact Daun refused to help the garrison presaged what was to come. But there was some basis for this attitude. There were still many in the army who could not look past 1757. While Daun waited at Königgrätz, the impressive fortifications of Schweidnitz fell. After a week of steady progress, Tresckow and Colonel Johann Friedrich von Balbi, the chief engineer, both suggested that the place was ripe for the storming. Balbi saw to it that the besieging troops, which were hardly more numerous than the defenders, were kept supplied with meat and beer. As for the cost, he begged the king “not to look at the expense.” There was also some urgency to wrap the business up. With this thought in mind and purpose, the king summoned Marshal Keith to take over the direction of the besiegers. Accordingly, evening of April 15, the bluecoats made ready and, that night, assailed the Austrian lines.

Meanwhile, though, Thürheim’s batteries had been positioned in order to enfilade the enemy’s siege lines, beyond the town walls. On April 13–14, the Austrian ordnance was pulled back to the town walls, under the increasing Prussian pressure mounting against the works. About 0200 hours on April 16, bluecoat grenadiers, of Grenadier Battalion 21/27 (Colonel Bernhard Alexander von Diringshofen), Kreytzen’s 28/32 Grenadiers, and 41/44 (Beneckendorf), stormed forward. Galgen was taken, and so swiftly that the assaulting column lost 85 men. This was the crisis of the siege. With his best post gone, the Austrian commander, General Thürheim, surrendered before dawn (April 16), forestalling a general assault. The loss to the Austrians was again great: 51 brand-new guns, considerable monies and the garrison. The loss of the latter was approximately 4,841. The Prussians lost 102 men killed, and 261 wounded. Fortfeiting so many veterans in the garrison was a serious blow for Austrian fortunes, especially when we realize the hemorrhaging among both the rank-and-file and the officers going on just then.

This enterprise now out of the way, Frederick proceeded at once with the planned invasion of the enemy’s territory. For this new incursion, the army was to be divided into two columns: one, under Prince Henry, who was given charge in Saxony. Henry’s task was to move in the manner of a support rôle. The rest of the army, that section remaining with the king, was to perform the actual invasion. Henry was to threaten the left of Daun’s army in northern Bohemia while Frederick’s men were to march southeast across the front of the enemy force to Neisse and Jägerndorf. They were probing for Moravia, and the real destination, the city of Olmütz. The latter lay about 100 miles from the nearest Prussian frontier. Austrian Croats, Tolpatches, and Pandours were thick in the intervening country.

Daun had a large body of men put into position at Trautenau, under General Buccow, while Arenberg hitched into Nachod. The irregulars of Laudon (some 5,000 strong) stayed in close touch at Lewin, but there was certainly nothing special about the Austrian dispositions. Daun was clearly interested in covering the Austrian realm against Prussian invasion. Incidently, by the beginning of the new campaign, General Lacy was no longer in the field. He was back in Vienna, busy organizing and refining the very first office of an Austrian Chief of Staff. Lacy displayed an immediate bent towards meticulous planning, and careful consideration, although we should be careful not to use the term “bean counter,” which Lacy indubitably was not. Lacy’s contemporary on the staff, General Johann Anton Baron Tillier, helped in this build-up. The contributions of a well-run general staff would reap rich benefits for the whitecoats for the rest of the war and beyond. It is worth mentioning that Lacy was also personally involved in parts of the campaign in the field.

Meanwhile, Frederick’s intentions were plain; to his generals. He planned, once Olmütz was in Prussian hands, to press southward upon Vienna. Once there, he could threaten the very heart of the Austrian Empire. An outright occupation or siege of the Austrian capital might serve to induce one or more of the allies to seek peace. All being prepared, Frederick moved out on April 19. His march was confused deliberately, for the benefit of Daun, and the Prussians proceeded on Neisse and Jägerndorf. A six-day march (April 19–25) brought them to the frontier of Moravia. To make his intentions less clear, Frederick marched his army in two distinct columns.

In this way, the Prussians were able to slip past the formidable Austrian lines at Königgrätz with relative ease. At Troppau, the bluecoats turned southward, causing Daun to suspect Frederick might be heading into Bohemia from the east. The marshal kept his men idle until April 27, while Frederick took his men on their journey. The Prussians paused at Märisch Neustadt. General DeVille had thrown roving patrols out in the area. When the Prussians put in their sudden appearance, DeVille pulled up stakes and withdrew with some haste to Prossnitz. Without further ado, the king moved towards Prossnitz in a manner which threatened to bring DeVille to battle. Simultaneously, he detached Commander Werner—with two full regiments of hussars—to go occupy an enemy magazine at Olschan. The king’s move towards DeVille was interpreted by the latter (with some exaggeration) as a serious threat. The Austrian commander decided once again that discretion was the better part of valor, and promptly fell back upon Prödlitz. He withdrew, leaving behind 300 hussars at Olschan. The Prussians nabbed 40 as prisoners (May 5), and pressed on to Tafelberg, where the Austrians had a small garrison.

With Prossnitz vacated, Prince Eugene of Württemberg took a large command (about 8,000 men), and took up quarters there. With the arrival of General Fouquet at Krenau (May 16), Frederick rose from Littau and marched with some 10,000 men to link up with Eugene thereabouts. The latter had gradually moved from Prossnitz towards his new post, under close observation of Austrian reconnaissance patrols. At Prossnitz, the bluecoats encamped, with their headquarters at Schmirsitz. Fouquet held command of the Prussian center in this new post. The Prussian guns were placed on some of the local high ground; just in case the Austrians tried something daring. Such was not the case, and the foe did not bother the Prussian camp.

With nothing stirring on Daun’s side of things, Frederick decided to step into the rôle of aggressor again. He took a force of cavalry and rode through Prossnitz headed for another confrontation with DeVille, then ensconced at Prödlitz. DeVille one more time had no intention of staying put. He fled to Wischau. A Prussian effort at pursuit was effectively thwarted by Count St. Ignon. The latter repelled the pursuers at Driffitz, rather decisively. Locals rapidly carried the word to Vienna that DeVille’s men had scattered and that the enemy were now astride the road to the capital. This intelligence was incorrect. Still, it must have been patently obvious Frederick’s intentions were not directed at all towards Bohemia this time around.27 With all doubt thus removed, the king went to work out in the open. The various detachments of Prussians were immediately set in motion, with a siege of Olmütz as a short-term goal. The main force straddled the rises between Prossnitz and the Morave. General Fouquet threw a force into Glatz to stiffen the troops already there.

As for the second formation, Keith followed at a day’s distance behind. This separation was necessary because of the lousy road conditions as well as the quartering of the troops, which otherwise could have been a serious problem. Across the Morawa and Oder rivers and the little passes through the mountains, the invaders moved. Ziethen, with some 8,000 men, had been sent ahead, and detailed to keep the marching men screened from the enemy’s swarms of irregulars. Fouquet, who had charge of the provision trains and another 8,000-man force, staggered his convoys, under heavy escort, through the passes. The main army moved via Littau, Aschermitz, to Prossnitz—within 15 miles of Olmütz.

The Prussians were in Prossnitz by May 2–3. The news from other war fronts was encouraging and gave the king confidence that he would have the time he needed for his new mission. Ferdinand was preparing to carry the fight across the Rhine into France itself. There was no need to look for interference from that side this year at all for Frederick’s designs. General Dubislav Friedrich von Platen with a detachment was busy watching Fermor. January 16, the latter’s Russians had crossed the border into East Prussia, then, sweeping aside the feeble Prussian resistance, occupied Königsberg, forcing the inhabitants to swear a loyalty oath to Empress Elizabeth. However, there was little fear of a Russian movement against Prussia’s vitals until summer at least, given the state of their army’s supply problems and other difficulties.

As for Henry, his army of 32,000 men was even then in southern Saxony watching the Imperialists.30 Until he received word that Olmütz was in Frederick’s hands his primary purpose would be the defense of Saxony. Prince Henry was engaged in sending raiding parties deep into Bohemia and trying to keep Daun’s attention diverted to that province, and thus away from Moravia.

From the Northern Front, the news for the Prussians was still good. Although they remained some 15,000 strong, the Swedes had been held back from advancing by the muddy roads of Pomerania and the capable defense of Dohna. The latter held the shoreline against them, except at Stralsund. Now the spring thaw had come, but there was no effort to advance by the Swedish army. The latter’s chronic problems included the aged commander, Field Marshal Gustav Friedrich Graf von Rosen.

Back at the Southern Front, Daun had felled almost a whole forest to fortify and strengthen his post at Königgrätz, his defenses being so elaborate that it is no exaggeration to say Frederick might have found his task of invading Bohemia that year was impossible, had that been his design. Daun, nothing daunted, “refused to play the rôle assigned to him in Frederick’s plans.” When word arrived of the king’s advance into Moravia, the Austrians rose and sped out of Königgrätz eastwards to blunt his advance and save an important magazine—at Leutomischl—from the enemy’s clutches. Daun wasted no time, performing a direct march, as the Prussians had finally made their intentions clear. Frederick had a distance of some 150 miles, Daun only a little more than half that far. But the Austrians would not reach Leutomischl until May 5. Once there, Daun intended to take post, shielded by ever present thick bodies of Croats and Pandours.

Port of London: The Second World War

Following the declaration of war against Germany and its allies, on 3 September 1939 all UK ports were put under the control of Port Emergency Committees, responsible to the Ministry of Transport. The committee for the Port of London was headed by J.D. (later Sir Douglas) Ritchie, who had succeeded David Owen as general manager of the Port London Authority [PLA] in 1938. The Admiralty also created a Naval base for the Port of London, with its flag officer and staff based at the PLA headquarters, the control centre for the Port throughout the war.

Adolf Hitler was well aware that to cripple the Port of London was to weaken Britain’s ability to survive and, as it was an entrepôt port, would furthermore affect the entire British Empire. Prior to the war, the Luftwaffe had been flying reconnaissance flights over London, taking aerial photographs, and had marked key points along the river as targets. For centuries the winding river and dangerous estuary shoals had long protected the Port. It was clear from contemporary conflicts in Spain, China and Abyssinia, however, that aerial attack would be inevitable if war occurred. Distinctive from the air both during the day and by moonlight it was an easy target for airborne bombers. Spread along sixty-nine miles of tideway, the Port was extremely difficult to defend. The following years were to become some of the most dramatic and challenging in the long history of the Port of London.

The PLA had some time earlier developed a defensive plan at the government’s request that was adopted for all ports. A River Emergency Service had been formed, able to aid and advise the Navy with local expertise. Thames lightermen and barge-owners formed the Lighterage Emergency Executive (later superseded by the London Tug & Barge Control), making themselves available to the Port Emergency Committee. Shelters were provided for workers, pillboxes constructed, first-aid stations established and some buildings strengthened. Steel pylons were erected as lookout posts. A wartime nerve centre was created at the PLA headquarters although aspects of its work moved to a safer location at Thames Ditton. Naval ships were stationed at the sea entry to the Thames. From September 1941 they were replaced by Maunsell Sea Forts, constructed in the Surrey Docks and towed downriver from there. Gun batteries were installed on each bank of the lower river. Locks and other key points were guarded by military police. The Navy requisitioned a number of Thames tugs to act as guardships, forming the Thames & Medway Examination Service, with several based at the Naval Control Centre at Southend. Conscription into the forces began in April 1939 but Port workers were included on the Schedule of Reserved Occupations and were thus exempt.

There was an initial period known as the ‘phony war’ when the British people prepared themselves for the worst. Women and children were evacuated to the countryside, leaving Port workers separated from their families. Yet during the first year there was no significant harm done to London and some of those evacuated drifted back to their homes. During that period more than 6,000 port workers were trained in various aspects of defence.

By the end of 1939 magnetic mines were being dropped into the Thames Estuary by German aircraft, sinking a number of merchant vessels. Each morning thereafter minesweepers left Gravesend and Sheerness to clear the shipping channels. It took several months for the Navy to introduce the ‘degaussing’ method that neutralized a ship’s magnetism and thus made them resistant to the devices. In the meantime, the PLA’s jurisdiction for the salvaging of ships was extended to a greater area. Groups of dockers were formed into units of the Royal Engineers, of which there were twelve by the end of the war, and they assisted in the British Expeditionary Force mission in September 1939 and their retreat in 1940. Operations took place in coastal areas as far as the Arctic Circle, North Africa and Burma.

From the summer of 1940 Germany took occupation of the Netherlands, Belgium and France and for the following four years their forces were only a short distance from shipping entering and leaving the Estuary. Allied troops were suddenly forced to depart for the Continent and ‘Operation Dynamo’ was launched to undertake the evacuation. A bizarre fleet of small vessels of all shapes and sizes, some having not been designed to go out to sea, were assembled to rescue troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, including thirty Thames tugs. Much of the fleet was assembled, provisioned and crewed at Tilbury Docks. Some, including at least eight Thames sailing barges, failed to return. At that time a German invasion seemed inevitable and two booms were laid across the Estuary, the outer one from Shoeburyness in Essex to Minster in Kent and the inner boom from Canvey Island to St Mary’s Bay. Gaps were kept open during the day, guarded by the Navy, but they were closed at night. Merchant ships began sailing in convoys, which assembled at the Naval Control Service station at Southend Pier. Shipmasters received their orders in the pier’s dance hall.

Scattered German air raids started to take place along the east coast. For London, the phony war ended in late August 1940 with a raid on north and east London followed by another on the City the next day. In the following year air-raid sirens were a familiar sound to Londoners and gave warning to take shelter. A bomb partially destroyed a boatyard at Tilbury on 1 September. The Estuary fuel depot of Thameshaven was targeted by German bomber planes on 5 September, creating a conflagration that burnt for several days and could be seen far out to sea. Then, at around 5pm on the sunny Saturday afternoon of 7 September 1940, 348 bombers, supported by 617 fighter planes, flew in perfect formation along the Thames, with the Port as the main target. Warehouses, docks, factories and homes between Woolwich and Tower Bridge were immediately destroyed by high explosives or set alight by incendiary bombs. Most areas of the Port suffered, as well as Woolwich Arsenal and Beckton Gasworks. Timber at the Surrey Commercial Docks began to burn, as it did at the West India and Royal Victoria Docks. A bomb hit the entrance lock of the King George V Dock as a ship was passing through. Fires burnt at the great flour mills at the Royal Victoria Docks. Several ships took hits in the West India and Royal Victoria Docks. Firefighters were so occupied with major blazes that smaller ones had to be left to burn themselves out. Damage throughout the Port was so great that some buildings were subsequently demolished and left as open ground for decades. Huge clouds blackened the sky as warehouses full of inflammable goods and nearby houses were set alight. Sixty craft were sunk or destroyed and blazing barges set adrift floated down the river.

Incendiaries were perhaps a bigger threat to the Port than high explosive bombs. Fires were still burning from the afternoon raid when, shortly after sunset, the next wave of bombers arrived, with enemy aircraft guided by the light of the flames. The Surrey Commercial Docks, still lit by burning timber from the earlier raids, suffered most severely during the first weekend. Fortytwo major fires took place, spread over 250 acres, along three miles of the south bank of the river. They were tackled by firefighters from as far as Bristol and Rugby. Containers of fuel oil, dropped from aircraft, as well as delayedaction bombs and years of accumulated woodchips, ensured the continuation of the conflagration for several days. Daylight revealed a landscape of gutted warehouses, sunken ships and human bodies. Rum barrels exploded in the Royal Docks; and paint, pepper and flour burned in various docks and wharves. Burning rubber was particularly difficult to tackle. The heat was so intense that paint blistered and peeled on vessels moored some distance away. The Woolwich ferry worked all night to evacuate residents of Silvertown and their belongings. In the first night alone 430 civilians died in London including a number of dock workers. In the first 12 hours 120 major incidents were reported in the Port, with over 60 craft sunk or destroyed.

Bombs inevitably failed to hit their intended targets and hit others. For example, on that first afternoon many of the residences in Stebondale Street in Cubitt Town, at the southern end of the Isle of Dogs, were destroyed. Yet the bombers failed to put out of action the anti-aircraft battery at nearby Mudchute and almost all the nearby wharves were left untouched. The residential area north of Mudchute, between Manchester Road and the Millwall Inner Dock, was devastated during the course of the war, whereas the adjacent Millwall Docks were left relatively unscathed.

One hundred and seventy one bombers returned for nine and a half hours the following night, leaving 400 dead and more destruction. The basins of the St Katharine Docks became a cauldron of flames when a fire in E Warehouse spread to others filled with flammable goods. Burning coconut oil and paraffin wax spread out across the water, blazing for several days and laying waste to some of the warehouses. The Rum Quay at Millwall docks burned out, destroying one and a quarter million gallons of the spirit. The dockmaster and his assistants worked continuously for forty-eight hours to move imperilled barges as blazing rum flowed across the water, puncheons exploded and fiery rivers of glutinous sugar crept from burning warehouses. The PLA headquarters on Tower Hill took a direct hit that night, completely destroying the central rotunda and causing extensive damage to other parts of the building. Incredibly there were no major injuries and staff within the building continued their work. The bombers returned again and again, every night for seventy-six nights, except on one when there was bad weather, until mid-May 1941 when a final 500-bomber onslaught was unleashed on the capital.

In the first few days, Anti-Aircraft Command were ill prepared. Guns had mainly been located at downriver sites. Within a week warning systems, communications, searchlights and anti-aircraft guns were relocated to suitable places, as well as mobile guns mounted onto lorries. Those measures ensured that bombers had to fly at greater altitudes with subsequent lack of accuracy. Barrage balloons could be raised to a height of almost a mile and their steel mounting cables acted as a deterrent to enemy pilots. On Sunday, 15 September alone, fifty-six Luftwaffe bombers were brought down by RAF fighters. As well as high explosive bombs, incendiaries and oil bombs, the enemy also dropped time bombs that unexpectedly exploded later, plus parachute bombs that detonated above roof level and thus caused a wider area of destruction.

As damage occurred to roads and bridges, some riverside communities around the docks became cut off from neighbouring districts. After the first week the Isle of Dogs was looking quite derelict and many residents had moved away. By mid-September the dock bridges had been withdrawn for protection and the foot tunnel to Greenwich closed due to bomb damage, making it very difficult to leave the Island. Residents of Wapping were evacuated on a flotilla of boats and a similar evacuation took place at the LCC Hospital at Rotherhithe. Some brave souls remained even after being bombed out of their homes several times. Despite the destruction around them, and in some cases the loss of their homes, workers continued to keep the Port operating.

There were many tragic stories. One took place at Bullivant’s Wharf rope and wire factory at Millwall on the Isle of Dogs in March 1941. With specially reinforced concrete floors to support heavy machinery, it appeared to be particularly safe and was thus used as a public night-shelter during bombing raids. Sadly, when the building was hit, the heavy floors collapsed, killing around 40 and injuring a further 40 people sheltering below.

The coming and going of vessels still had to continue according to the tides, despite the bombing raids. A blackout was imposed at night so navigation and dockside work was required to be undertaken in darkness. Many regular tasks, such as pulling a tail of laden barges under Thames bridges or passing a ship through a lock, became extremely difficult and dangerous when undertaken in complete darkness. Despite the great damage being inflicted, a diminished staff and the need to continue its normal operations, PLA staff also took on the civil defence of the docks and river. That included the provision of firstaid stations, firefighting, salvage and wreck-raising. Along the length of the tidal river volunteers kept watch each night, reporting anything falling into the water to the Flag Officer In Charge at the PLA headquarters, from where mine-sweeping and clearance activities were coordinated. Ordinary dock workers extinguished incendiary bombs, which often fell in awkward places such as on roofs, in order to protect the contents of warehouses. Fires that took hold in private wharves, often in cramped conditions and with limited staff, were particularly difficult to extinguish. Tugs and lighters continued their journeys during raids, their crews often kicking incendiary bombs overboard. Most Thames tugs, operating as the River Tug Fire Patrol, were equipped with powerful pumps that could be used for firefighting. Between 1940 and 1950 the PLA had to deal with eight shipwrecks caused by the conflict and raise 35 ships and 600 small craft from the river. Staff kept the port operational despite the difficult and dangerous conditions, although trade had been reduced to a quarter of its pre-war levels.

From early 1941 the enemy began dropping parachute magnetic bombs as far upstream as Hammersmith. These could lie dormant on the bed of the river or dock until triggered by a passing vessel. A dramatic example occurred in April 1941 when the oil tanker Lunula, having arrived at Thameshaven from Halifax in Canada, detonated a mine dropped the previous night. The resulting fire blazed for ninety-seven hours.

As the war progressed the authorities became more prepared, with air-raid early-warning and anti-aircraft guns in place and better defence provided by the Royal Air Force. Despite the constant destruction, the Port somehow managed to continue operating, although at a reduced level. The river had to be closed on some occasions to sweep for mines. With diminishing returns, and other fronts on which to fight, the Germans had largely given up their efforts to destroy the Port by the middle of 1941. From the second half of April the Luftwaffe instead concentrated on other British ports such as Belfast, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Merseyside, Tyneside and Glasgow. Despite the respite from bombing, the Port remained under a state of siege as the enemy continued dropping mines and maintaining U-Boat operations in the approaches. In June 1941 Winston Churchill reported in a secret session of the House of Commons: ‘The Port of London has now been reduced to one-quarter … and the English Channel, like the North Sea, is under close air attack of the enemy.’

Patterns within the Port dramatically changed. Some ships familiar in London were requisitioned by the Navy. Others that worked particular trades became general carriers and berthed in different docks than previously. Unfamiliar ships arrived in London. Most long-distance trade was diverted to less vulnerable ports such as the Clyde, to where some London port staff, sea-pilots, equipment such as cranes, locomotives, tugs, lighters and a floating crane, had been transferred. From there London’s imported food supplies arrived by rail or coaster into storage facilities at the Royal and West India Docks. Reserve buffer depots were organized in safe places around the country. An exception was flour, which had to be kept within easy reach but in safe places. The solution was to store it on barges that were dispersed along the river between Teddington and the Pool. Most cargo was carried by smaller coasters, which were less vulnerable to attack than larger vessels. During the course of the war a million tons of rubble from demolished homes and factories was sent around the coast, much of it on sailing barges, to be used as hardcore for the construction of airfields on the east coast. There was an acute shortage of young workers as they were diverted to other ports or into the services. Those who remained were nearly all over fifty years of age.

It remained necessary for colliers to continue supplying London’s Thamesside power and bunkering stations with coal. During the course of the conflict there were many losses as they travelled back and forth around the coast. They were constantly threatened by submarines, E-boats and mines. Although immune from magnetic mines, wooden-hulled Thames sailing barges, which were unable to travel in convoy, were a sitting duck for enemy aircraft and only a small number survived the conflict.

At the outset, twenty Thames ship-repair yards came under Naval control in order that priorities could be set. For several years London once again became Britain’s main ship-repair port, handling over 23,000 vessels. Yards installed armaments, adapted craft for wartime duties and repaired damaged vessels. Work continued uninterrupted throughout the war, despite a number of direct hits on the yards.

W.S. Morrison, Minister of Food, pointed out that the transportation of food by ship was putting the lives of seamen at unnecessary risk. Lessons had been learnt from the Great War and the navy organized escorted convoys from the start of the conflict. Nevertheless, there was a great loss of shipping and lives from enemy action, particularly from German and Italian submarines. Over 2,700 British merchant navy ships, or the equivalent of over fifty per cent of British merchant navy tonnage at the start of the war, was sunk during the course of the conflict, with the loss of over 30,000 lives. Many of the total of over 1,350 Royal Navy ships that were sunk were on escort duty.

With food being rationed, and in some cases homes obliterated Lord Woolton, who took over as Minister for Food in April 1940 commented: ‘With my right honourable friend Mr Bevin, I entered some months ago into a joint campaign to increase the provision of works canteens. We took very seriously the old idea that you should feed your troops well.’ Most dockers ate and drank in pubs close to where they worked but establishments had been damaged, or simply shut up shop during the Blitz. The government passed the Docks (Provision of Canteens) Act that compelled the PLA, along with other ports, to provide canteens for all the workers. The first works canteens were vans, donated by well-wishers from British colonies and operated by the Women’s Legion, but they were later supplemented with twenty-seven permanent premises. ‘With regard to dockside canteens,’ said the Minister, ‘I take a very special interest in this problem, because I was well acquainted with the docks in Liverpool … We have now erected a large number of new canteens … They are capable of feeding people by day and by night. I have seen the canteens, and I have been among the dock labourers, and men whom I know have told me of the very great advantage that they are getting as a result of the excellent meals which are being served to them at what are really very low prices.’ The provision of canteens continued after the war and at the end of the decade were providing 6,000 meals each day in the Port.

By 1942, after the end of the first wave of bombing, there was a different rhythm in the Port and some shipping returned. American-built ‘Liberty’ ships – low-cost, mass-produced cargo vessels – were arriving. The British war emphasis moved from defence to attack. Up and down the river, craft were being built or modified at existing yards and other suitable sites ready for a future offensive or for mine-sweeping duties. Many were constructed of wood due to the dangers of magnetic mines.

In retaliation for Allied air raids on Germany, in January 1943 Luftwaffe bombers returned to the London skies in what was named the ‘Baby Blitz’. By then British defences were far more effective than in earlier years and considerably less damage occurred. One casualty however was the Tilbury Hotel that was burnt to the ground by incendiary bombs. It had stood on the riverside since 1882 and had been until then a landmark for passengers and crews passing along the river.

As the bombs rained down on their homes during the Second World War, casual workers, who were not obligated to work set hours or days, were able to take time off to clear damaged properties. This absenteeism occasionally left the Port undermanned and distribution of food and military supplies disrupted at a crucial time for the nation. As wartime Minister of Labour, it was Ernest Bevin’s responsibility to solve this problem. The National Dock Labour Corporation was created as a statutory body in March 1942 to oversee the availability of workers in British ports and ensure there was the correct amount of manpower available wherever and whenever it was required. Workers were incentivized to arrive each morning for the call-on, with an ‘attendance pay’ for those who came, even if work was not available, and provided with paid holidays. Rather than the previous chaotic situation of men crowding outside London’s dock gates, new meeting halls were erected where they assembled until assigned their tasks. In November 1944 the stevedores at Surrey Commercial Docks walked out in protest at the necessity to meet in their hall. As the backlog of unloaded ships grew, the dock management were forced to acquiesce and allow the men to continue gathering at the dock gates for the selection. The same occurred when meeting halls were erected at the Royal Docks in early 1945, with a mass walkout organized by the stevedores and the Transport & General Workers Union. When the government this time refused to give way, the strike spread to Tilbury and only ended after a week when the government promised an enquiry.

During the spring of 1944 large quantities of supplies were being stockpiled in the Port in readiness for ‘Operation Overlord’, the military return to the Continent. Troop and supply ships moored in the Tilbury, Royal and West India Docks. The American 14th Army Transportation Corps based themselves at the Royal Albert Dock. From the Royal Victoria Dock, General Montgomery addressed an audience of over 16,000 London dock workers throughout the Port, relayed by telephone wires and speakers, telling them that their efforts in the following months would help determine the outcome of the war. To ensure that everything ran smoothly there was a general overhaul of lock gates, cranes and other equipment, and new bridges were constructed. Temporary huts and facilities were put in place to accommodate the large number of awaiting military personnel. All this activity took place while the Port continued with its normal business.

Marshalling of vessels for the D-Day Landings took place in London on 27 May 1944 and the following day at Tilbury Docks. The next week the armada gathered in the Thames Estuary off Southend and departed on 6 June. Three hundred and seven ships sailed from the Port, carrying 50,000 soldiers, 9,000 vehicles and 80,000 tons of supplies. London’s pilots worked around the clock, often in darkness, and commercial work at Tilbury ceased for a period in order to accommodate the British Liberation Army.

The forces that arrived on those beaches were immediately followed from Tilbury by six 30-foot-diameter, 250-ton floating ‘ HMS Conundrum’ bobbins. Around each drum was wound seventy miles of ‘Pluto’ pipeline that was unrolled to lie on the bed of the English Channel, supplying the advancing troops with fuel pumped from England. The system had originally been devised and tested two years earlier, with pipes from a Thames-based submarine cable manufacturer. Over eight miles of concrete caissons, weighing up to 6,000 tons, were then floated across the Channel and sunk on the Continental coast to form prefabricated ‘Mulberry’ harbours. Two-thirds of these caissons had been constructed in the Port of London during the winter of 1943–44 from the rubble of destroyed buildings. Some were made in dry docks. To create other manufacturing sites, the East India Import Dock and parts of the Surrey Commercial Docks had been drained and later refilled in order to float the completed caissons.

After the initial landings, London continued to operate as the principle supply base for the British Army of Liberation as it moved across the Continent. Special arrangements were put in place for the rapid turnaround of supply ships. During the year between D-Day and the end of the war in Europe 2,760,000 tons of military stores, including over 200,000 tanks and vehicles, left the Port.

D-Day was not the end of the war for London and its Port however. Just a few weeks later, in June 1944, the enemy began launching ‘Vergeltungswaffen’ or ‘retaliatory weapons’, unmanned flying rockets. Fired at London from occupied Europe they simply fell when their fuel supply was exhausted, hitting random targets. They had a very distinctive sound when in the air and became known as ‘doodlebugs’. On 30 June 1944 the Millwall Docks river entrance lock took hits from two rockets, having already been damaged by high explosive bombs early in the Blitz. After the war it was decided that repair could not be justified due to the high cost and the lock was permanently dammed with concrete in 1955. The only entrance thereafter was via the West India Docks.

Despite flying at about 400 miles per hour the rockets eventually became vulnerable to air defences. In September 1944 Germany began launching a more effective ballistic missile known as the Vergeltungswaffe 2. Carrying a one-ton warhead, V-2s were fired high into the earth’s atmosphere before turning and descending on their targets at 2,000 miles per hour, a speed that was too fast to be hit by a human-operated anti-aircraft gun. Poplar and West Ham, around the docks, were particularly badly hit. The only serious harm to the Port itself was at the important Exchange railway sidings of the Royal Victoria Dock and on the bascule bridge over the entrance to the King George V Dock, the latter temporarily closing the dock entrance. The last V2 to land in London fell in Stepney, killing 131 people in March 1945.

During the course of the war London had come under bombardment for almost 2,400 hours. Approximately 1,500 high-explosive bombs, 800 Vergeltungswaffen rockets and 350 parachute mines had fallen on the Port’s riverside boroughs, as well as countless thousands of incendiary bombs. The many casualties among port workers and seamen included sixteen London ships’ pilots who lost their lives.

“one of the most heroic instances of pluck and endurance on record”

British & Native Officers of Hodson’s Horse, 1858 by Felix Beato

The popular image of an East India Company army officer is of a gentleman, the younger son of a small country squire or vicar who could not afford to set him up at home. Often as not he had Scots or Irish blood and was ‘well-educated, hardy and ambitious’. He tended to be a man of firm religious convictions, and went out to India not only to make his fame and fortune but because he believed it to be his Christian duty.

There were men like this: John Nicholson, of well-born Ulster Protestant stock, who made his name as a political officer on the North-West Frontier before becoming, at thirty-four, the youngest brigadier-general in the Bengal Army; William Hodson, the Cambridge-educated younger son of the Archdeacon of Stafford, who developed into a first-rate intelligence officer and commanded the finest irregular cavalry in India; and ‘Joe’ Lumsden, the scion of a Scottish artillery officer, who pacified the unruly Hazara region with Sikh troops at the age of twenty-five, shortly before founding the Corps of Guides. But these men were exceptional. By the mid nineteenth century the typical Indian Army officer was of modest social origins, ill-educated and only interested in India as a means of bettering himself. ‘People do not come here to live, to enjoy life,’ commented one French traveller in 1830. ‘They come — and this is true of all classes of society — in order to earn the wherewithal to enjoy themselves elsewhere.’

The road north of Delhi was far from secure. On 16 August, 1857 having discovered that a body of mutineers had left the city and were heading north-west towards Rohtak, Archdale Wilson sent Hodson to keep an eye on them. He took with him 100 of the Guides Cavalry, 25 Jhind horsemen and 230 of his own newly raised corps of irregular horse. Smartly dressed in their khaki tunics offset by scarlet sashes and turbans, the Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims of Hodson’s Horse certainly looked the part. But Henry Daly, the commander of the Guides who was recovering from a serious wound, was not fooled. He wrote: ‘Many of the men, hastily collected, caught at the plough’s tail, cut a ludicrous figure mounted on the big, obstinate stud horses with English saddles, bumbling through the Delhi camp.’ Even Hodson was prepared to admit their deficiencies, telling one correspondent that the corps ‘is merely an aggregation of untutored horsemen, ill-equipped, half-clothed, badly provided with everything, quite unfit for service in the usual sense of the term, and only forced into the field because I have willed that it shall be so’. In battle, however, they would prove their worth.

By the end of the first day, defying muddy roads and swollen rivers, Hodson’s column had routed a couple of small bodies of rebel horse and reached the outskirts of Rohtak. But the rebels were holding the town in far larger numbers than Hodson had expected, and, with a direct attack out of the question, he decided to draw the enemy into the open. Next morning, having repulsed one attack by rebel foot and horse, he gave the order to retire. The stratagem worked perfectly:

The enemy moved out the instant we withdrew [he recalled], following us in great numbers, yelling and shouting and keeping up a heavy fire of matchlocks. Their horsemen were principally on their right, and a party galloping up the main road threatened our left flank. I continued to retire until we got into open and comparatively dry ground, and then turned and charged the mass who had come to within from one hundred and fifty to two hundred yards of us. The Guides, who were nearest to them, were upon them in an instant, closely followed by and soon intermixed with my own men.

The enemy stood for a few seconds, turned, and then were driven back in utter confusion to the very walls of the town, it being with some difficulty that the officers could prevent their men entering the town with the fugitives. Fifty of the enemy, all horsemen, were killed on the ground, and many must have been wounded.

With just thirteen casualties, Hodson returned to camp a hero. But his victory was slightly tarnished when word leaked out that, en route to Rohtak, he had executed a ressaldar named Bisharat Ali who had absconded from the 1st Punjab Cavalry. As Ali was caught leading a party of deserters from his regiment, Hodson had a good excuse to kill him. Nicholson and others would have done the same. Unfortunately for Hodson, Neville Chamberlain was an old friend of Ali and not convinced of his guilt. It quickly became camp gossip that Hodson had shot Ali for reasons of personal animosity, rather than summary justice. Nothing came of it, but the mud stuck, leaving Hodson open to more serious allegations of impropriety.

John Nicholson

A week after Hodson’s return, Nicholson left camp with a much larger column of 1,600 infantry, 450 cavalry and 16 horse artillery guns. His orders were to pursue and bring to action a superior force of 6,000 mutineers* and 15 guns which, led by the rebel Commander-in-Chief Bakht Khan, was attempting to intercept the siege-train as it crawled down the Grand Trunk Road towards Delhi. The rebel force had departed a day earlier and, acting on intelligence that it was heading for the canal bridge at Najafgarh, 20 miles west of Delhi, Nicholson moved in the same direction. It was a torturous march: heavy rain had turned the road into a quagmire; in places it was lost in swamps and floods through which the guns had to be dragged by hand. The sun was beginning to set when the advance guard reached a swollen branch of the Najafgarh Canal and got its first sight of the enemy position. It extended from the bridge over the canal proper to the town of Najafgarh, a distance of almost two miles. Expecting an attack across the bridge, the rebels had concentrated their batteries between the bridge on the right of their line and an old serai, a stone enclosure, on their left centre: three guns were on the bridge, four in the serai and three each in two villages in between; all the batteries were protected by entrenchments, parapets and embrasures.

* Composed mainly of the Nimach and Bareilly Brigades.

Nicholson led his troops to a significant victory over the sepoy army at the Battle of Najafgarh.

As the strongest point in the enemy position was the serai, Nicholson chose to attack it first before rolling up the line of rebel guns to the bridge. But first his men had to struggle across the flooded tributary, waist deep in water, under heavy fire from the serai’s battery. Once over, Nicholson led his assault troops — the 61st Foot, the 1st Bengal Fusiliers and the 2nd Punjab Infantry — to a point 300 yards from the serai, where they were ordered to lie down. Then, rising in his stirrups, he reminded them of the words Sir Colin Campbell had spoken at the battles of Chillianwalla and Alma: ‘Hold your fire till you are within twenty or thirty yards of the enemy, then pour your volleys into them, give them a bayonet-charge, and the serai is yours.’ Soon after, the battery of horse artillery galloped up, unlimbered and opened fire with roundshot on the serai. ‘The order was then given to the attacking column to stand up,’ recalled ‘Butcher’ Vibart, who was with the 1st Bengals, ‘and having fixed bayonets, the three regiments, led by General Nicholson in person, steadily advanced in an almost unbroken line to within one hundred yards of the enclosure, when the word of command rang out from . . . Major Jacob, “Prepare to charge!” “Charge!”’

On they ran through a storm of musket-balls and grape. Nicholson’s horse was hit, forcing him to continue on foot; Vibart had a narrow escape when a bullet deflected off the blade of his sword. ‘Thank you, sir,’ cried a soldier in the ranks behind him, ‘that saved me.’ The first officer to cross the stone wall was Lieutenant Gabbett of the 61st. As he made for the nearest gun he slipped on the wet ground and was bayoneted by a ‘gigantic pandy’; but Captain Trench, Nicholson’s ADC, ‘quickly avenged his death by bringing down the rebel with his revolver’. Within minutes the assault troops had ‘scaled the walls, carried the serai, and captured all the guns’. Vibart recalled: ‘Only a few of the rebels fought with any pluck, and these were seen standing on the walls, loading and firing with the greatest deliberation until we were close upon them. But few of these escaped, as they were nearly all bayoneted within the enclosure.’

Now, changing front, the British column swept along the entrenchment to the bridge, capturing thirteen guns and driving the enemy before it. Lieutenant Griffiths of the 61st Foot recalled:

Our Horse Artillery, under Major Tombs, mowed down the fugitives in hundreds, and continued following and firing on them till darkness set in. The cavalry also — a squadron of the gallant 9th Lancers, with the Guides and Punjabees — did their share of work, while the European infantry were nobly supported by the corps of the Punjab Rifles, who cleared the town of the sepoys. The battle had lasted a very short time, and after dark we bivouacked in the pouring rain, completely exhausted from our long march and subsequent fighting, and faint from want of food, none of which passed our lips for more than sixteen hours.

But one village to the rear still held out. ‘I immediately sent orders to Lieutenant Lumsden [of the 1st Punjab Rifles] . . . to drive them out,’ wrote Nicholson, ‘but though few in number, they had remained so long that our troops were on all sides of them, and seeing no line of retreat they fought with extreme desperation.’ The initial assault was repulsed and Lumsden killed. So the 61st joined in, but they ‘met with only partial success . . . the enemy evacuating the place during the night’. That apart, the action had been the most decisive since Badli-ki-Serai: all but two of the rebel guns had been captured; the vaunted Nimach Brigade, the victor of Sasia, had been comprehensively defeated; and the only bridge by which the mutineers could get to the British rear had been captured and destroyed. But Nicholson had been lucky: he had caught the Nimach Brigade alone because its commander had refused to cooperate with the Rohilkhand Brigade of Bakht Khan, his nominal superior, which was four miles further on and ‘unable or unwilling to come up’. The rebel casualties, according to Munshi Jiwan Lal, were ‘a thousand killed and wounded’.

On hearing of the Nimach Brigade’s defeat, Bakht Khan made straight for Delhi, where the King accused him of being ‘false to his salt’ for ‘turning away from the field of battle’. The King did not relieve him of the Supreme Command because there was no obvious alternative. Yet Bakht Khan’s failure to engage the British at Najafgarh had destroyed his credibility in the eyes of many mutineers. They were, in any case, still unhappy about their pay.* On 1 September five hundred officers and nobles attended a royal durbar to discuss the issue. According to Munshi Jiwan Lal, a number of those present ‘were loud in their complaints that Mirza Mogul and Mirza Kizr had taken several lakhs of rupees from the people in the city, and had given nothing to the Army, and prayed the King to insist on them disgorging some of the money, threatening to arrest and imprison them’. The upshot of this stormy meeting was that the rebel officers were promised the first instalment of their pay in a day’s time and the balance within two weeks. This seemed to satisfy them and they re-joined their regiments.

Nicholson, meanwhile, had returned to Delhi a hero. In under two days his men had marched 40 miles, won a battle against a superior force, captured thirteen guns and demolished a key bridge. ‘Considering that the country was nearly impassable from swamps,’ wrote an admiring Wilson to his wife, ‘I look upon it as one of the most heroic instances of pluck and endurance on record, and [it] does credit as well to Nicholson as the gallant fellows under him.’ Sir John Lawrence was just as impressed. ‘I wish I had the power of knighting you on the spot,’ he wrote to Nicholson from Lahore. ‘It should be done.’


The ‘Arab’ invasion army which defeated the Visigoths at the Transductine Promontories in 711 numbered 12,000 men including only 300 Arab cavalry, the remainder being Berber infantry. However these were reinforced in 712 by another 10-18,000 Arabs and Syrians. In 741 they were further reinforced by the 10,000 survivors (out of27,000) of the Syrian Junds of Homs, Damascus, Jordan, Palestine and Qinnasrin, which had been severely manhandled by Berber rebels in North Africa. Their leader, with the Jordan contingent, settled in Cordoba, the Horns contingent settled in Seville, that of Damascus in Elvira, Qinnasrin in Jaen, and Palestine in Algeciras and Medina Sidonia. It was through these Junds, staunch supporters of his dynasty, that an Umayyad exile, ‘Abd ar-Rabman, became Amir of Cordoba in 756. These Spanish Umayyads assumed the title of Caliph under ‘Abd ar-Rabman III (912-961) and lasted down to 1031, after which the Caliphate disintegrated into a number of minor amirates (the Taifa kingdoms) which were steadily absorbed by the Spaniards until conquered by Murabit Berbers in I 090.

‘Abd ar-Rahman I (756-788) established an army of 40,000 mercenary Berbers imported from North Africa (he distrusted the Junds), as well as a Black Guard- the first recorded regular Negro unit in a Moslem army. The later at least was organised on a decimal basis, consisting of2 units of 1,000 men, each divided into 10 companies of 100.

Thereafter Andalusian Umayyad armies comprised 5 principal elements, these being: (1) the native regulars from those districts owing military service, i. e. the old Junds whose obligations were hereditary; (2) temporary volunteers called hashid or ‘recruits’ who were enlisted for a single expedition; (3) religious volunteers called mujahids or al-murabitun who lived in fortified frontier communities called ribats, to whom fighting the Christians was a religious duty; (4) permanent units of foreign mercenaries, the murtaziqa, paid regular salaries; and (5) irregular foreign mercenaries called muttawi’a whose only pay, like that of the mujahids, came at the end of the campaign in the form of booty and other gratuities. In addition ‘Abd ar-Rabman II, who ruled in the mid-9th century, made military service compulsory for all Andalusians, but they do not seem to have often been called on to fulfil this obligation.

Under al-Hakam I (796-822) the army was comprised chiefly of Berbers and Negroes but also included Christians (the commanding officer of his bodyguard bearing the title of comes) both from Northern Spain and even beyond the Pyrenees. His famous Guard, established c. 807, consisted of 2,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry and was called al-Khurs (‘The Mutes’ or ‘The Silent Ones’), since none of its members could speak Arabic! In total the standing army at his disposal numbered 50,000 men, a mixture of mercenaries and ghulams. 2,000 of them were permanently posted ai<.ng the banks of the River Guadalquivir on the frontier with the Christians, this force being divided into 20 units of 100 horsemen each under an officer called an ‘arif.

Masudi, writing c. 940, records the total strength of Caliph ‘Abd ar-Rabman rii’s standing army as an unlikely 100,000, which required one-third of Andalusia’s total revenue for its maintenance. An alternative source records the higher figure of 150,000, adding that his bodyguard numbered 12,000 men of whom 8,000 were cavalry. lr was he who introduced formal unit organisation into the Andalusian army, based on a corps of 5,000 men under an amir; within this were 5 units of 1,000, each under a qa’id, subdivided into 5 units of200 men under naqibs, in turn comprised of 5 units of 40 men each under an ‘arif. The smallest unit consisted of8 men under a nazir.

By the mid-10th century the royal bodyguard of ghulams is recorded as 3,750 men, all ‘Slavs’, though in Spain the term was by this time used for Franks, Lombards and Spaniards as well as true Slavs. This Slav guard was disbanded c. 978 by the vizier Ibn Abi Amir(better known as al-Mansur, 976-1002) who distrusted its members, but Slav ghulams continued to be employed down to 1031. Nor did al-Mansur trust the native Arab aristocracy, and he resolved to totally reorganise the army by abolishing the tribal units, the Junds, on which it was still based. Many of these were thereafter exempted from military service in return for a cash payment, the money being used to hire large numbers of Berbers from North Africa plus considerably smaller numbers of Christian cavalry from Leon, Castile and Navarre. All these plus Arabs and Negroes be intermixed in regular regiments without regard for family or patron so as to eliminate tribal jealousies. Al-Mansur allegedly increased Andalusia’s armed forces to as many as 600,000 men (probably 60,000), the large Berber element transforming the army into a practically all-cavalry force.

The name Andalusia derives from the Arabic ai-Andalus, ‘The Land of the Vandals’.


In the early period after the Moslem conquest Visigothic organisation appears to have persisted virtually unchanged in those corners of Spain that remained in Christian hands. However, as territory was steadily regained from the Moslems military organisation underwent steady change.

A system of landholding, originally instituted by the Frankish marcher lords (who had been established in Northern Spain by Charlemagne), evolved in the 9th century in the granting of tracts of wasteland in exchange for their cultivation. These grants were called aprisiones, which tended to become allodial possessions. Never· the less many of the landed nobility thus created were obliged to perform mounted military service for either the king or their own overlords, though others served in exchange for cash payments and yet others served simply as an obligation of their social status. The king’s own vassals, irrespective of which category they individually belonged to, were the fideles or milites regis. The bands of retainers such nobles led were usually maintained at their own expense.

Up to the close of the 10th century some of the Christian states acknowledged the overlordship of the Umayyad Amir, later Caliph, of Cordoba, which gave them the opportunity to expand steadily at the expense of their Moslem neighbours, securing their gains by the construction of forts. These were garrisoned from the 10th century onwards by regular troops paid for by taxes levied from the surrounding lands. Few of these soldiers held land of their own so they were not feudal troops, particularly since the majority were non-noble. As the frontiers expanded similar non-noble mounted soldiers called caballeros vi llanos, freemen of sufficient income and property to own a horse, came to owe service in exchange for non-hereditable grants of conquered land called caballerias, infantry similarly owing military service for smaller grants of land called peonias; both of these types began to appear in the middle to late 10th century.

As in Andalusia military service was technically owed by all able-bodied freemen but was likewise rarely called upon, warfare being largely a matter of raids and counter-raids launched by the nobles’ mounted bands, these sometimes penetrating as far south as Lisbon and Cordoba itself. However, when required infantry could be raised by a levy of one man out of every 3 by the 10th century, the other 2 of the trio paying for his rations and supplying an animal for his transport, presumably a donkey or mule since all men with horses were automatically obliged to serve as cavalry.

In addition Moslem mercenaries can often be found in Christian employ, though their numbers were smaller than in succeeding centuries. At the very end of this era we also find multi-national armies fighting alongside the Spaniards in the role of proto-crusaders; Frenchmen, Normans, Aquitanians and Burgundians arc encountered in this guise in 1064, and Papal and Italo-Norman contingents are also claimed by some authorities. Two sources even claim that French knights had been regularly crossing the Pyrenees to assist in the Reconquista since Sancho the Great of Navarre’s reign (1000-1035).

The Iraq War (2003–2011)

The Iraq War (2003-2011) has its roots in the 1991 Persian Gulf War (also known as Operation Desert Storm) in which the United States, in conjunction with a coalition of forces from 35 countries, worked to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United Nations (UN) imposed sanctions on Iraq, calling for Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to destroy the country’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Over the next decade, however, Hussein repeatedly evaded attempts by UN weapons inspectors to ensure that the sanctions were enforced. Upon assuming the U. S. presidency in January 2001, George W. Bush and his administration immediately began calling for renewed efforts toward ridding Iraq of WMD-an endeavor that greatly intensified after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

In Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address, he castigated Iraq for continuing to “flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror” and called the Middle Eastern nation part of “an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” In the months that followed, the U. S. president increasingly spoke of taking military action in Iraq. Bush found an ally in British prime minister Tony Blair, but pressure from citizens of both countries pushed the two leaders to take the issue before the UN Security Council in the form of UN Resolution 1441, which called for UN weapons inspectors, led by Hans Blix, to return to Iraq and issue a report on their findings.

On November 8, 2002, the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously passed the resolution, and weapons inspectors began work on November 27. On December 7, Iraq delivered a 12,000-page declaration of its weapons program, an insufficient accounting according to Blix, and a month later Bush stated that “If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.” Bush and Blair actively sought the support of the international community, but their announcement that they would circumvent the UN if necessary ruffled many nations’ feathers, most notably drawing the ire of France, Germany, and Russia, all of which pushed for further inspections. Spain joined with the United Kingdom and the United States to propose a second UN resolution declaring Iraq to be in “material breach” of Resolution 1441. Although a small number of other nations pledged their support for military action in Iraq, only Australia initially pledged to commit troops to fight alongside British and U. S. forces.

Opting for a preemptive strategy instead of risking a potential repeat of the September 11 terror attacks-with the added specter of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons- Bush and his advisers (principally Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz) decided to act, unilaterally if necessary. Armed with a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report regarding Iraq’s possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (the accuracy of which has since been called into question), Bush obtained a legal justification for invading Iraq when in October 2002 the Senate approved the joint resolution “Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution of 2002.” In February 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council with information based largely on the same flawed CIA report, but action was blocked by France, Germany, and Russia. Although Britain and 75 other countries joined Bush’s “coalition of the willing” (contributing troops, matériel, or services to the U. S.-led effort beginning in 2003), the absence of France and Germany left his administration open to strong criticism for stubbornly proceeding without broad-based European support.

Bush’s proactive rather than reactive strategy was viewed as a sea-change departure from that of his predecessor Bill Clinton, exposing him to further criticism. Condemnation was heaped on the president for attempting to conduct simultaneous operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with a force stretched thin by military drawdowns con- ducted during the Bill Clinton presidency. On the eve of the Iraq invasion U. S. Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that an occupation of that country would require “several hundred thousand” troops, an estimate that, in hindsight, seemed prescient, but was sharply criticized in 2003 by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz as “wildly off the mark.”

Facing the disapproval of the British public, Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed for a compromise that would give weapons inspectors a little more time to inspect Iraq. However, with two permanent members of the Security Council-France and Russia- threatening to veto the resolution, the proposal was withdrawn. Undeterred by that set of events, or the Turkish government’s refusal to allow coalition troops to use Turkey as a platform for a northern invasion of Iraq, Bush issued an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein on March 17 to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face military action. Hours before the dead- line was to expire, Bush received intelligence information that Hussein and several top officials in the Iraqi government were sleep- ing in an underground facility in southern Baghdad called Dora Farms. Bush ordered a decapitation strike aimed at killing Hussein, which took place in the early morning of March 20. Dozens of Tomahawk missiles with 1,000-pound warheads were launched from U. S. warships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. They hit their targets in Baghdad and were followed immediately by 2,000- pound bunker-buster bombs dropped from F-117 stealth fighters. The war had begun.

That same day (March 20, 2003) U. S.-led coalition troops (which included British forces plus smaller contingents from Australia and Poland) crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq. The 297,000-strong force faced an Iraqi Army numbering approximately 375,000, plus an unknown number of citizens’ militias. Armed with technology that included stealth bombers and precision-guided (smart) bombs, the coalition commenced its shock- and-awe campaign, designed to stun and demoralize the Iraqi Army into a quick sur- render. Within a matter of days, the coalition had overtaken Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, as well as the port city of Umm Qasr and the city of Nasiriyah straddling the Euphrates River. While Iraqi soldiers did not surrender with the same celerity as they had in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, nearly 10,000 Iraqi troops surrendered to coalition forces during those first days. Still, the coalition troops were caught unprepared by some of the Iraqis’ guerrilla tactics, including faking surrenders and ambushing troops from the rear.

As the war began, two ground prongs struck north from Kuwait, while special forces and airborne forces worked with the Kurds in the north in a limited second front. The ground advance north was rapid. After securing southern Iraq and its oil fields, coalition soldiers began moving toward Bagh- dad; they secured an airfield in western Iraq and Hussein International Airport (immediately renamed Baghdad International Air- port) with little difficulty. On April 5 and 7 coalition forces entered Baghdad where they destroyed many of Hussein’s government buildings and palaces on the Tigris River. Six days later the United States declared the end of Hussein’s regime. The vanquished Iraqi dictator was in hiding. One last hurdle remained, and by April 14 coalition forces accomplished it by capturing Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. Formal military action ceased, with fewer than 200 confirmed coalition deaths.

It is important to note the speed and success of this first month of Operation Iraqi Freedom-the Iraqi military was destroyed, and the Iraqi government was toppled in less than a month. The U. S.-led coalition captured a country the size of California faster than any land force in history.

In the weeks after the Battle of Tikrit, coalition forces began searching for WMD as well as Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi officials. Although numerous caches of WMD were uncovered, the troops were unable to find an active WMD program. The lack of an active weapons program combined with the looting of historic treasures from Iraqi museums (which the coalition failed to protect) drew sharp criticism from those who opposed the coalition’s presence in Iraq. Support for the war was further compromised by the fact that the search for Saddam Hussein took longer than anticipated. He was eventually captured in December 2003, brought to trial, found guilty, and executed on December 30, 2006. Although many Iraqi citizens and neighboring countries were very happy to see Hussein’s regime toppled, many others protested the continued presence of coalition forces and the influence they had in the new Iraqi government.

Bush appointed L. Paul Bremer to govern Iraq through the Coalition Provisional Authority, whose stated aim was to reconstruct Iraq as a pluralistic democratic state. The ensuing occupation was plagued by violent resistance, which greatly hampered the economic and political reconstruction of the country, preventing international aid organizations from working in Iraq and discouraging badly needed capital investment. An interim constitution was signed in March 2004, and on June 28, 2004, sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqi people. On January 30, 2005, Iraq held its first open election in half a century, selecting a 275-member transitional National Assembly. Despite the withdrawal of several Sunni parties from the poll and threats of election day violence from insurgents, turnout was high. After two months of deadlock, on April 6 the new legislature elected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president and Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister. In April 2006 Talabani was reelected, and Nuri al-Maliki was selected to succeed al-Jaafari as prime minister. Maliki governed until September 2014, at which time a potent new insurgency, driven largely by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), forced him to resign. The country continues to struggle with sectarian issues and associated violence.

Although Bush famously declared the end of major combat operations while aboard the U. S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, this declaration proved to be premature. Deadly guerrilla attacks against U. S. troops continued and increased. Although only 139 U. S. personnel and 33 British soldiers died during the invasion, nearly 4,500 Americans died thereafter in the insurgency that accompanied the occupation. In addition to the attacks conducted against coalition forces following the invasion, major violence broke out between Shiite and Sunni insurgents, causing many observers to begin calling the conflict a civil war.

In many ways, what is called Operation Iraqi Freedom or the Iraq War was two wars. The first was the war against the government and military of Saddam Hussein and lasted slightly more than three weeks. The second war was a fight against a variety of resistance and insurgent groups and lasted for more than eight years. The technological prowess of the West was clearly on display in that first war, and the regional and cultural ignorance of the West was on display in the second war.

The fighting in Iraq was supposed to change from combat operations to a short occupation and handover to a new Iraqi government. Actions with respect to the conduct of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) impeded the possibility of such a transition if that possibility really existed at all. The transition turned into a prolonged occupation of a country that evolved into sectarian civil war. There are several reasons for the failure of the rapid transition plan.

First, the Iraqi governing councils, and later their elected representatives, had little control over the resources and organs of a state. The infrastructure of Iraq was in shambles. This was in part a result of combat action in the spring of 2003 and in part left over from the combat actions of 1991. Economic sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1991 until 2003 also played a role in the disarray and chaos of the Iraqi state. Saddam used what money he obtained during the sanctions to maintain his security and intelligence apparatus and make sure those most essential or loyal to him received the benefits of modernity-electricity, clean water, etc. Meanwhile, the Iraqi people, in general, suffered as their infrastructure degraded.

Second, those initially designated to be in the interim governing body were not respected by the Iraqi people as they were either seen as outsiders (exiles given power by the invaders) or as lackeys to the invading forces. To gain credibility it was almost necessary to be seen as opposing the Coalition Provisional Authority or at least not kowtowing to them in every action. Thus, nothing moved as quickly as expected. “Everything in Iraq is hard” became one of the most often repeated phrases by coalition soldiers and officials. It was said because it was true.

Third, there were several relatively rapid elections. No one governed for any significant length of time in Iraq until well into this period. This almost continuous hand over of authority from one to the next fostered a sense of corruption as a means of survival. Thus, little was really accomplished with the resources provided because those resources were often squandered or horded and then sent to out-of-country estates and banks for later use and benefit.

Fourth and most important, were the Bush administration decisions to dismiss Baath Party officials (essentially, Iraq’s only trained administrators) and disband the Iraqi Army (which at one stroke dumped nearly 400,000 trained soldiers and potential insurgent recruits into the Iraqi general population). The orders, known as Coalition Provisional Orders (CPA) 1 and 2, flooded Iraq with disgruntled, unemployed people and left the country rudderless. No one remained with the expertise or know-how to run the government and meet the basic needs of the people. In addition, lots of young, military trained people and nearly all those who were trained to organize and lead were suddenly without meaningful employment for themselves or their families. Their world was destroyed.

Following the departure of the CPA, the early governing officials experienced longer, though still short opportunities to govern. There was something of a sovereign government in Iraq. However, there was also growing violence. The violence coalesced and transformed. It began as simple banditry but became more ideological in nature with the bombing of the al-Askari shrine and mosque in Samarra and the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

One of the biggest problems was the growing disconnect between the coalition’s perception of what was happening and what was actually happening. It took time for the United States and other members of the coalition to comprehend the rise of a sectarian ideological struggle in Iraq. The U. S.-led coalition began to fall apart in 2004 with nine countries withdrawing their forces. The most famous of the withdrawals was the Spanish contingent who departed after the Madrid bombings in 2004. Two more countries departed each in 2005 and 2006.

General George Casey was tasked to get the Iraqi Army sufficiently ready to transition responsibility and depart within 18 months- or by January 2006. That did not happen as the violence only increased. General Casey believed that limited American participation and visibility would both encourage Iraqis to step forward and discourage attacks on U. S. forces.

Many in the Bush administration and Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) hesitated to call what was happening in Iraq a civil war, as if the term alone had power. Throughout the war in Iraq there were challenges with regard to labeling what was happening. Were the opposition “dead-enders” or “Ba’athists,” or were they “opposition” or “insurgents”? No term was fully embraced until long after the term had become obvious. Many of the terms and labels had political overtones either in Iraq, the Middle East, or Washington, DC. Insurgents brought to mind Vietnam and the failures associated with that war. Opposition was reminiscent of Palestinians opposing the occupation of their territories by Israeli forces. For these reasons and others, word choice was challenging.

In 2007 the Bush administration implemented a troop surge in Iraq, increasing the troops present in Iraq by as many as 40,000. The additional forces temporarily reduced the potency of the insurgency. Nevertheless, by late 2008 the U. S. public’s support for the Iraq War had plummeted. A status of forces agreement was subsequently negotiated between the U. S. and Iraqi governments that required U. S. combat troops to leave Iraqi urban areas by the end of June 2009 and leave the country entirely by the end of 2011. Soon after taking office in early 2009, President Barack Obama announced that most U. S. troops would exit from Iraq by the end of August 2010, with a smaller transitional force remaining until the end of 2011. The war was declared officially over by the U. S. military on December 15, 2011; by that time, more than 1 million members of the armed forces had served in Iraq, nearly 4,500 Americans had died in the conflict, and some 34,000  others were wounded in action.

Unfortunately, sectarian violence and radical Sunni Islamic extremism in Iraq increased after the U. S. military withdrawal. These developments were aided by the policies of Maliki, whose government brutally repressed Iraq’s Sunni population and shut it out of national governance. By January 2014, rebels associated with ISIS demonstrated significant influence in virtually all of Anbar Province, including Fallujah, where U. S. forces had fought two bloody battles to save the city during the Iraq War. Within days, the Sunni rebels displayed control of the city of Ramadi, also in Anbar Province. The most significant event was the capture of the city of Mosul in June 2014 and the declaration of the caliphate by Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. The situation underscored the inability of the Maliki administration to gov- ern the country effectively. As the security situation worsened throughout much of 2014, calls for Maliki’s removal from office intensified-both in Iraq and abroad. Finally, in September 2014 he reluctantly resigned and was replaced by the more level- headed Haider al-Abadi.

At that point, the Islamic State, or ISIS, had seized control of large portions of Iraq. By late summer of 2014 the United States was conducting airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq, and in the fall of that same year U. S. forces returned to Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. Their purpose was to train, advise, and equip the Iraqi Army in its fight against ISIS. Gradually over the next three years the territory claimed by the Islamic State was regained by the Iraqi military, and in December 2017 the government of Iraq announced the defeat of ISIS. That said, more than 10,000 American military personnel and security-related contractors remain in Iraq at the time.

Also of note with regard to the current U. S. role in Iraq is the change in perspective between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, which took over in January 2017. The Obama administration had as its goal the defeat of ISIS. The Trump administration has upped the ante by declaring a desire not only to defeat but to annihilate ISIS. In support of this aim, the Trump administration has indicated a need for continuing U. S. presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future with the goal being to provide stability and support in a post-ISIS environment.