Scorched Earth in the East III

This was shown both by the enemy thrust toward Kovel at the southwestern edge of the Pripet Marshes and by a drive westward from Yampol at the boundary of the Fourth and First Panzer Armies. If successful, this latter thrust would not only shatter the northern wing of Army Group South but also cut the vital rail line running from Lvov to Odessa, thus opening the way through the Carpathians to Hungary and, most worrisome, the oil fields of Rumania. The continuous fighting over the previous months had left the Fourth Panzer Army in an extraordinarily critical situation. On 5 March 1944, after losing the units on its right flank to the First Panzer Army, it had a strength well below 100,000 men, with only thirty AFVs. Convinced that the Russians had to stop attacking eventually, Hitler refused any shortening of the line in order to gather sufficient forces to contest effectively the decisive points on the front. Contrary to the Führer’s expectations, however, the Soviets steadily pressed their advantage. The attack from Yampol on 4 March by the First Ukrainian Front had the immediate consequence of ripping a gap between the two panzer armies, although Manstein’s determined effort to hold the flanks kept the damage somewhat limited. Nonetheless, by the twenty-third, yet another German force had been encircled in a Kessel, this time at Tarnopol.

Although the force trapped at Tarnopol was much smaller than that at Cherkassy-Korsun, the episode illustrates clearly the direction of Hitler’s thinking. On 8 March, in Führer Order No. 11, he declared a new policy of festen Plätze (fortified places), the object of which was to deny the enemy key cities and junctions, tie down his forces, and blunt the momentum of his offensive, but which in reality merely preordained encirclements. As at Kovel, on 10 March, Tarnopol was declared a “festen Platz that was to be held to the last man” even though it had no fortifications or airfield, not to mention insufficient troops and supplies to defend against an aggressive Soviet attack. Although the city was not surrounded until the twenty-third, the Germans made few preparations for its supply. Not until the twenty-fifth was a relief attack mounted to bring a convoy of supplies into the besieged city, and even this quickly degenerated into a farce. Despite the fact that the supply trucks never arrived from Lvov and the roughly forty-six hundred men inside the city had not been given permission to break out, the battle group was, nonetheless, ordered to launch its attack. It encountered heavily mined roads, fierce antitank defenses, flank attacks from Soviet tanks, and aerial assaults that forced the Germans to give up the attempt. Since Tarnopol had no airfield, the Luftwaffe tried supplying the pocket by air drops, with the result that most of the supplies fell into enemy hands. The next relief attempt was not made until 11 April, when the Ninth SS Panzer set out in a driving rain and deep mud. Hitler at first refused to allow the besieged men to break out, then relented the next day. By this time, however, the Kessel had been reduced to a few thousand yards, with the German defenders fighting desperately from room to room under massive Soviet artillery fire. Although the remaining troops, some fifteen hundred, attempted a breakout on the fifteenth, it was too late: only fifty-five men were able to make it successfully out of the pocket.

Despite the human tragedy at Tarnopol, a larger drama was playing out at the same time just to the south, where the Soviet breakthrough at Yampol had left the First Panzer Army in a potentially disastrous position, threatened with encirclement and destruction. Even as elements of the Fourth Panzer Army were trapped at Tarnopol, the main Soviet thrust was directed against its neighbor to the south. Here, both the First and the Second Ukrainian Fronts aimed at nothing less than a double envelopment of the most powerful formation in Army Group South that, if successful, would shatter the entire southern wing of the eastern front. The Stavka had assembled overwhelming power to strike the decisive blow: 1.5 million men, over two thousand AFVs, and more than one thousand combat aircraft against a force a fraction of this size. Although Hube’s army had a preponderance of the armored strength of Army Group South, he could muster only ninety-six battle tanks and sixty-four assault guns to bolster his 211,000 troops. Nor could this smaller force respond more nimbly to an enemy attack, for the demotorization of the army meant that horses had to fill the role of trucks, effectively limiting its mobility.

Since the Eighth Army to the south was still reeling from the ordeal at Cherkassy-Korsun and had only 152,000 men and virtually no tanks, it could not be expected to provide its neighbor any help in an emergency. In any case, Konev’s offensive pushed it back through Uman to the Bug River, effectively eliminating the Eighth Army as an anchor for the First Panzer Army’s right wing. The chronic German lack of strength had by now reached alarming proportions, with the result that, even though a large proportion of the enemy infantry was composed of so-called booty Ukrainians, poorly trained recruits scooped up as the Red Army advanced westward, the sheer weight of numbers was too much for the overstrained German divisions. Manstein complained, to no avail, that, although his army group had lost over 405,000 men between July 1943 and January 1944, it had received barely more than half that number in replacements and that even these were primarily young, hastily trained boys rushed to the front. Given the growing reality of a multifront war, however, there was little Manstein could do but chafe as his replacements went increasingly to Western Europe while the Red Army was steadily bolstered with Lend-Lease deliveries from its Western allies. With the hand he was dealt, then, Manstein had little chance to prevent the enemy from encircling areas of its choosing.

The powerful Soviet attack on 4 March thus succeeded in opening a gap between the beleaguered First and Fourth Panzer Armies that, despite their frantic efforts, could merely be contained, not closed. The dam finally broke on the twenty-first, when the three tank armies of Zhukov’s First Ukrainian Front burst through the left flank of the First Panzer Army and began racing to the south, pushing the remnants of the German line in front of them. By the twenty-fourth, they had crossed the Dniester into Rumania and five days later reached Cernovicy (Chernovtsy) on the Prut. In the meantime, the Soviet Fourth Tank Army turned eastward and, on the twenty-seventh, met spearheads of the Thirty-eighth Army at Kamenets-Podolsky, thus closing the pincers around the First Panzer Army at Kamenets-Podolsky. Soviet losses had been noticeably high—the Third Guards Tank Army lost 70 percent of its tanks, while the Fourth Tank Army had only sixty remaining—but, despite their skill at shooting up enemy tanks, the Germans could not prevent their own encirclement. On the last day of the month, the situation grew even grimmer as units from both the First and the Second Ukrainian Fronts, the latter having shattered the Eighth Army’s defenses, joined at Chotin. The First Panzer Army and elements of the Fourth Panzer Army (Group Mauss, consisting of the Seventh Panzer Division, the First SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, and the Sixty-eighth Infantry Division) were now enveloped both north and south of the Dniester. Worse, within this double envelopment, Hube’s forces were initially split into at least three separate pockets. In all, the Soviets had bagged 220,000 troops, lacking artillery, munitions, and fuel, and possessing fewer than one hundred AFVs. In preparation for a breakout, Hube directed his troops to begin destroying nonessential vehicles and requisitioning every panje wagon they could seize. As always, however, Hitler’s initial instinct ran in a different direction: he was determined to hold fast and, despite the lessons of Stalingrad and Cherkassy-Korsun, supply the Kessel from the air.

Manstein, realizing a catastrophe that would eclipse even Stalingrad was facing his army group, resolved on decisive action. Already on the twenty-third, even before the First Panzer Army had been fully encircled, he had demanded permission to order a breakout. In addition, he proposed that powerful forces be transferred from the west to plug the gap between the First and the Fourth Panzer Armies. At noon the next day, he went a step further, effectively presenting Hitler with an ultimatum: unless instructed otherwise, he would give the order to break out at 3:00 P.M. The answer from Führer Headquarters was both cryptic and cynical. Manstein received permission to allow the First Panzer Army to fight its way westward but was told that it was also to hold its present position. How to do this, given its lack of strength, was left unclear.

On the twenty-fifth, Manstein was summoned to meet Hitler at Berchtesgaden, although before he left the field marshal gave orders to prepare plans for a breakout. That afternoon at the Berghof, Hitler and Manstein engaged in a stormy discussion. Challenging Hitler directly, the field marshal insisted that the First Panzer Army had to break out immediately and demanded that he be given fresh troops to open a path from the west. Hitler brusquely rejected any idea of retreat while ridiculing notions of operational maneuver as merely a ruse for withdrawal. Manstein, he said, had squandered all the troops he had been given and wanted always to go back but never hold anywhere. For his part, Manstein then openly confronted the Führer with a litany of his failed decisions over the previous weeks, which caused a furious Hitler abruptly to break off the discussion. Disgusted, Manstein demanded that Hitler’s adjutant, Schmundt, tell the Führer that he saw no purpose to continuing to lead the army group if Hitler did not approve his demands. Much to his surprise, however, when discussions resumed at the evening conference, not only was Manstein treated with outward friendliness by Hitler, but he was also given permission for a breakout. More astonishing, the Führer also agreed that the Second SS Panzer Corps was to be transferred immediately from France, along with two infantry divisions from Hungary. This latter decision must have been especially painful for Hitler since it not only flew in the face of Führer Directive No. 51 to give priority to the west but also jeopardized this strategy just when the Anglo-American invasion appeared imminent. Manstein, apparently, had triumphed across the board, but at a personal price that would soon be apparent.

The field marshal now hurried back to his headquarters to prepare an operation that would not only save the First Panzer Army but also deal his old adversary, Zhukov, one final surprise. Believing that the fate of the First Panzer Army had already been decided, the Stavka on 22 March had changed its operational plans, ordering the bulk of the Second Ukrainian Front to turn southeast in order to destroy Army Group A north of the Black Sea. At the same time, Zhukov, assuming that German forces would attempt to break out to the south, had placed the bulk of his forces in that direction. Manstein, however, realized that any breakout to the south would have to cross a double line of enemy forces and, even if successful, would result in the First Panzer Army being pushed to the south against the Carpathians, thus opening a gigantic breach between itself and the Fourth Panzer Army. Instead, the field marshal proposed a breakout to the west that would be the shortest route to the German front, cut across enemy supply lines, and, perhaps most importantly, take the Russians completely by surprise. Against Hube’s vehement opposition, but armed with intelligence information that confirmed his suspicions about enemy dispositions, Manstein ordered the breakout to the west to begin on 28 March. As the operation began that morning in a blinding snowstorm that provided cover, it soon became apparent that the Germans had achieved complete surprise. Not only were enemy positions quickly overrun, but the next day Zhukov also continued dispatching units to the south, evidently unaware of Manstein’s intention. Not until 1 April did he recognize his mistake, but by then it was too late. On the second, as he belatedly tried to turn his units around and send them north, his frustration showed in a futile attempt to persuade the escaping Germans to surrender by threatening all who did not with death. That his offer was rejected was no surprise. The true shock that day, the announcement that Manstein was relinquishing his command, was the result of a decision hundreds of miles to the west.

On the thirtieth, Manstein, along with Kleist, the commander of Army Group A, who had also requested permission for his forces to pull back from the Black Sea to the Bug, had once more been summoned to the Berghof. Having on a number of occasions since January openly challenged Hitler’s military leadership in front of too many people, the field marshal had few doubts as to what was likely to transpire. Hitler had been fuming since the twenty-third, stung by Manstein’s criticisms, and resentful that concessions had been wrung from him. On his arrival, Manstein was told by Zeitzler that Goering, Himmler, and Keitel had been conspiring against him and that Zeitzler’s own offer to resign had been rejected. That evening, having indicated his desire to go in another direction, the Führer relieved Manstein and Kleist of their commands, replacing them with Model and Schörner, both tough generals and favorites of Hitler’s known for their tenacity and defensive prowess. They were not desk-bound leaders, what Goebbels scornfully termed “hemorrhoid generals,” but men who led from the front. Just as importantly, both were politically loyal. The time of operations, which he contemptuously regarded as a euphemism for retreat, Hitler clearly indicated, had come to an end. It was now time for rigorous measures to be taken and for the National Socialist fighting spirit to be instilled in the troops. More than just a change in operational styles was evident, for Hitler had never lost his aversion to the old military aristocracy, of whom Manstein and Kleist were prominent representatives. By contrast, Schörner, a convinced Nazi since the early 1930s, and Model, “a man with a National Socialist heart,” both had middle-class roots and were attuned to Nazi ideals. They, at least, could be trusted to do the Führer’s will, thus overcoming the crisis in confidence between Hitler and his army group commanders. The dismissal of Manstein and Kleist thus illustrated Hitler’s continuing makeover of the army into a National Socialist instrument.

Since Model’s arrival at Army Group South headquarters in Lvov was delayed by a snowstorm, the actual handover of power did not take place until 2 April. By then, Zhukov had responded with furious assaults in a futile attempt to stop the “wandering pocket” from moving westward toward German lines. His action, however, was too late. On the third, the Germans had thrown back the Soviet attacks, and, on the night of the fourth, ammunition and gasoline had been flown into the pocket, fortifying Hube’s forces. The next morning, the Ninth and Tenth SS Panzer Divisions of the Second SS Panzer Corps, which had been hurriedly dispatched from France, launched a powerful attack, supported by the two infantry divisions sent from Hungary, that resulted, the next day, in a linkup with the Sixth Panzer Division, the spearhead of the First Panzer Army. Not only was the enemy encirclement broken, but the First Panzer Army had also been able to bring out virtually all its tanks, artillery, heavy equipment, and wounded. Just as surprising, despite the hard fighting, its losses were not particularly high, with fewer than six thousand reported dead or missing. More importantly, it remained intact as an operational fighting formation. Indeed, in contrast with the units that emerged from the Cherkassy-Korsun pocket, the men of the First Panzer Army were sent immediately after their rescue back into the attack

Although Hitler had issued an operational order that same 2 April hopefully declaring that the Russian offensive was spent and that the front would soon be stabilized, the reality was different as fighting continued through April into early May. Hitler’s determination to hold the Crimea had also yielded to reality. On 10 April, Odessa, the great port on the Black Sea vital to supplying the Crimea, had fallen, with the entire peninsula lost by early May. Although furious at events in the Crimea and threatening courts-martial of the “defeatist” generals involved, Hitler was, nevertheless, forced, in another painful humiliation, to authorize the evacuation of Sevastopol by sea on the night of 8–9 May. The brilliant triumphs of two years earlier were now nothing but a distant memory. By the time the Soviet offensive against Army Group South—the longest and bloodiest of the war, lasting from late December 1943 to early May 1944—had come to an end, the Germans had been pushed back, in places, some six hundred miles, with the physical and materiel strength of the troops exhausted. Soviet success, however, had been bought at an astounding price. Over half the 2,230,000 Soviet troops thrown into the offensive, some 1,192,900, had been lost as casualties, of whom 288,600 were dead or missing. The actual toll was almost certainly higher, however, since, as it moved through Ukraine, the Red Army typically pressed men of the liberated areas into immediate service. Hastily trained, and regarded as little more than cannon fodder, these unfortunate men died in great numbers without being reported. Soviet materiel losses were also extraordinarily heavy, with 4,666 AFVs and 676 aircraft lost. By contrast, German losses were relatively light, with “only” 250,956 men reported as casualties (of whom 41,907 were reported dead and 51,161 missing). Given the virtually complete lack of German reserves, however, these losses were crippling, a situation obvious to all but the Führer, who even now, with the eastern front finally restored to some semblance of stability, was again planning new offensives after the repelling of the Allied invasion of France.

For the Germans, the grim test of an all-out two-front war had been inevitable since their failure at Stalingrad, a threat that increasingly influenced all major decisions. Indeed, the second front existed before it became a reality, for the very threat of an assault somewhere along the broad coast of Fortress Europe had compelled the Germans to split their forces, perhaps more severely than necessary, and divide their command to await an invasion that seemingly never came. The strain had taken its toll within the higher levels of the military and political command. Hitler increasingly demanded absolute loyalty from his generals, while a mood of resignation and nervous exhaustion had set in at the OKH. Speer thought that a shakeup in the command structure was necessary to revitalize the military leadership, while Guderian, convinced that, if used properly, his tanks could still turn the situation around, characterized Zeitzler and the OKH as a bunch of defeatists. By the spring of 1944, the tensions between the OKH and the OKW over the division of the armed forces had boiled over. “Fifty-three percent of the Army is fighting in Russia for the existence of the German people,” claimed one bitter witticism making the rounds at the OKH, “and the other forty-seven percent is sitting in Western Europe waiting for an invasion that doesn’t come.” Even more subversive, with its comparison to 1918, was the suggestion of decisive resources squandered, that “Germany had lost World War I because of the Navy in being and will lose this one because of the Army in being.” The sniping between the OKH and OKW reached such levels, in fact, that Hitler ordered Jodl to do a strategic survey to justify the dispositions based on the overall German situation.

The assessment, when completed, generally supported the OKW’s position, noting that, of the 341 operational units of the army and Waffen-SS, only 131 (or just 38 percent) were deployed outside the east or the home front. Of these, just forty-one divisions had the arms and equipment suitable for employment on the eastern front, but thirty-two of them were already engaged in fighting (in Italy, in Finland, or against the partisans) or were defending the most-threatened coastal areas (Normandy). With specific reference to infantry and armored divisions, the distribution was even more favorable to the Ostfront, with only 46 of 162 of the former (28 percent) and 11 of 34 of the latter (32 percent) not detailed to the east. Moreover, Jodl warned, an Allied landing in the west that was not immediately defeated would, because of the lack of available reserves, result in the rapid loss of the war.

Although these observations were true enough, they certainly must have been of scant comfort to those on the eastern front who, since Stalingrad, had been fighting a noticeably lopsided battle of men and materiel. A mere recitation of numbers of divisions did little to convey the reality facing the fought-out, understrength units of the Ostheer, whose thinning ranks led to a growing disparity with their Soviet counterparts. By late May 1944, German strength stood at nearly 2,243,000 men, while the Red Army numbered almost 6,100,000, meaning that the Soviet surplus of 3,857,000 troops was 1.7 times greater than the total number of Germans. Despite the threat of a second front, in the spring of 1944 the eastern front remained the most important European theater of war. While the Soviets deployed 383 large units in the east (not including reserves), the Western allies had a total of only 120 divisions, over 70 percent of which were either in England (54), in Iceland (2), or in Africa and the Middle East (30) and, thus, not involved in active fighting. Only the introduction of the Panther and Tiger tanks, with their superior striking power, had allowed the Germans to stabilize the front, although their impact was not as great as had been hoped since only about 30 percent were operational at any one time.

Still, with the apparent stabilization of the southern sector of the eastern front, ramshackle though it was, German leaders could breathe a bit more easily. Their forces in the center and north appeared to be holding fast, while the Red Army, at the closest, was almost six hundred miles from Berlin. Moreover, the Soviets themselves gave no indication of further imminent action, evidently contenting themselves with consolidating their gains and preparing their next step. As a result, despite the near disaster of the previous months, in the spring of 1944 the Ostfront lay in the shadow of anticipated events in the west. The invasion would come, Hitler expected, in May or June, but the atmosphere at the Berghof betrayed a deceptive calm, indeed, at times almost a strange euphoria. Hitler seemed fully confident that the invasion would be repulsed and anticipated with eagerness a mass assault on London with his new V-1 pilotless flying bombs, an onslaught that he believed would finish the English plutocracy. Even Rommel had, evidently, overcome his early doubts and professed his assurances. Not a few of Hitler’s military advisers asserted that, with the defeat of the invasion, the war would be won, while Goebbels talked confidently of a “second Dunkirk.” Even the German public, perhaps influenced by the propaganda minister’s latest efforts, invested great expectations in the impending invasion, seeing in it, not merely the resolution of a period of tension and uncertainty, but the possibility for a “quick decision of the war.”

For Hitler, as well, a defeat of the invasion was the great chance, the last opportunity to achieve a decisive turning point in the war. Germany, he believed (given the example of World War I), had no hope if it remained on the defensive. In order to win time and break the “unnatural alliance” of his enemies, itself an uneasy association of capitalists and Communists, Germany needed to break out of this “unfruitful defensive” and regain the initiative. This, above all, was a matter of fanatic will. Germany, Hitler asserted, needed to achieve a great victory in order to demonstrate to its enemies that they could not win the war. Just as the iron will of Stalin had saved Russia from collapse in the autumn of 1941, he argued, so now his will would transform the bleak situation. It was, he thought, reminiscent of the period of struggle in the 1920s, when a few determined individuals with a powerful belief in an idea created a movement with its own revolutionary dynamic that accomplished the seemingly impossible. Just as the street agitator had swept to power and achieved undreamed-of triumphs, so now, in the spring of 1944, a few key victories would tip the balance and unleash an unstoppable momentum. The Germans had lost World War I, Hitler believed, because the imperial leadership had given up too soon, a mistake he would not repeat. Always willing to stake everything on an all-or-nothing gamble, he conjured visions of a new “miracle of 1940,” of a decisive triumph in the west that would free Germany from the nightmare of a two-front war.

To dismiss Hitler’s vision as irrational or unrealistic would miss the mark. Typically, it was a curious mixture of clear-sighted realism and gross self-delusion, of a cogent understanding of Germany’s predicament and little sense of its limitations. In truth, at least for a flickering moment, the prospects for victory in the west, after all, appeared not unfavorable. Industrial output was rising, which meant that enough tanks and weapons were being produced to equip new divisions for the west and replace some of the losses in the east. Synthetic oil production had peaked, with stocks of aviation fuel at their highest since 1941. Under Speer’s guidance, fighter plane production rose spectacularly, with the result that the Luftwaffe strength in January 1944 of 5,585 planes was over 1,600 more than the year before. Moreover, in the autumn and winter of 1943–1944, the American strategic bombing campaign had been suspended as a result of unacceptable losses. Under Rommel’s energetic guidance, defensive preparations in the west along the Normandy coast had also accelerated. Hitler had high hopes for the technologically advanced V weapons as well as a new type of submarine that would enable the American supply line to Great Britain to be cut. In addition, Soviet manpower reserves were not inexhaustible, and the May pause seemed to indicate that the Red Army had passed its culmination point. Finally, the Allied invasion of France was a complicated operation that required months of preparation. If defeated, as Jodl noted, it could not simply be repeated any time soon, and a failure, Hitler anticipated, would result in a severe political crisis in Great Britain and provide Germany an opportunity again to seize the initiative.

These hopes, however, proved illusory. As far back as the autumn of 1943, Hitler had planned to stabilize the eastern front in order to transfer troops west to defeat the Allied invasion of France. Then, once that had been accomplished, he would transfer units back to the east in order to reconquer the vital Ukraine. With Führer Directive No. 51 of November 1943, he had even attempted to enact the first part of this scenario, which was, perhaps, the only strategic option he had left. The Soviets, however, had refused to cooperate and play their assigned role. Instead of sitting passively through the winter, the Red Army had launched a series of continuous offensives that had drained German resources and brought the Ostheer to the breaking point. Although the Second SS Panzer Corps, reluctantly dispatched from France back to the east, had finally brought a halt to the Soviet offensive, its absence in June was to play a key role in the success of the Normandy landing, a circumstance that Hitler complained of bitterly after the fact. Just as crucially, the provision of long-range fighter support allowed a resumption of the American strategic bombing campaign, with devastating consequences. As Allied bombers targeted oil production and synthetic fuel facilities, aircraft engine plants, and key rail yards, any hope the Nazis had of winning the aerial war over Germany was crushed. By mid-May, Speer later conceded, “a new era in the air war” had begun, one that meant “the end of German armaments production.” The technological war had been decided; new miracle weapons could no longer save Germany.

In any case, Hitler himself bore considerable responsibility for the failure of his strategy. In his unwillingness to sacrifice land for time, to allow his armies in the east to retreat to more defensible positions and preserve manpower, he had lost the former and gained none of the latter. Worse, in anticipating the decisive blow in the west, he had stripped the Ostheer of its reserves, leaving it exposed and vulnerable to Soviet attack. It would, its commanders realized, have to bear the brunt of the Red storm alone while hoping for a quick decision in the west that would free forces to be sent back to the Ostfront. Manstein’s feat in extricating the First Panzer Army and stabilizing the eastern front had averted catastrophe, but the bleak reality of a multifront war now awaited. Within two months, all Hitler’s remaining illusions would be shattered and Germany plunged into the abyss. His strategy of striking in the west and holding in the east would fail for the simple reason that the Ostheer was too weak to hold the line. From June 1944 to the end of the war, however, some 3 million Germans would lose their lives, while Germany would suffer its worst devastation since the Thirty Years’ War. Hitler’s determination not to preside over another November 1918 would, in fact, result in the very thing he had warned was the goal of the Jewish conspiracy: the extinction of Germany.

The Dessau Bridge

Dessau 1626 by Warlord156

The battle for the Dessau bridge in 1626, from the Theatrum Europaeum The legend to the small letters on the plan reads: A. Imperialist fortifications; B. Elbe bridge; C. Imperialist redoubts; D. Mansfeld’s camp; E. Mansfeld’s fortifications; F. Mansfeld’s approach trenches; G. Imperialist approach trenches and redoubts; H. Aldringer’s approach trenches; I. Position held against Mansfeld; K. Imperialist artillery; L. Mansfeld driven off; M. Imperialist sally; N. Friedland’s cavalry on the near side of the river; O. Mansfeld’s cavalry; P. Friedland’s cavalry; Q. Mansfeld’s flight; R. Friedland commences pursuit; S. Schlick’s and Aldringer’s infantry; Y. The village of Rosslau.

Albrecht von Wallenstein’s appointment as Imperial general had come too late for matters to be concluded in 1625, when a conjunction of his and Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly’s forces might have driven the isolated Christian IV back to Denmark and out of the war. Instead they united in time only for the armies to spend the winter skirmishing, looting the countryside, and eating the peasantry out of house and home, rather than achieving anything of military significance. Meanwhile Christian was involved in two contradictory negotiations, one taking place in Brunswick, where peace with the emperor was discussed, and the other in The Hague, where attempts were made to widen the anti-Habsburg coalition in order to continue the war. The peace conference was the first of many occasions upon which Wallenstein favoured a realistic approach in order to achieve a peace settlement, but the hardline Imperialist position was determined in Vienna and Munich, and no progress was made. Matters stood little better for Christian in The Hague as most of his prospective allies did not participate, even though they realised that Wallenstein’s new army completely altered the balance, and that if as a result Christian were defeated or withdrew from the war their interests would be seriously threatened. However England and the Dutch Republic agreed to provide him with money, Ernst von Mansfeld’s army was despatched to Lower Saxony, and contacts were re-established with Bethlen Gabor. The other Christian the Younger of Brunswick, the `mad Halberstädter’, also reappeared on the scene, albeit with a makeshift army of limited military value, while another German prince, Duke Johann Ernst of Weimar, contributed troops to the revived coalition.

There were predictable tensions between the leaders of these diverse forces, at least partly as a result of which their grand plan was based on independent rather than united action. Although this was making a virtue of necessity it was nevertheless a sound strategy, as by separating they prevented Tilly and Wallenstein from combining against them. Mansfeld’s task was to draw Wallenstein away by heading east into Silesia, forcing him – so the plan went – to follow because of the threat this would pose to Bohemia, Moravia and ultimately Austria itself. As in 1623 the intention was that this force from the west would join up with Bethlen Gabor invading from the east, when together they would be strong enough to face and defeat Wallenstein. Meanwhile Christian of Brunswick was to bypass Tilly and move south, before turning and threatening his rear while Christian of Denmark confronted him from the north.

It was not a bad plan, and it also exploited the equally predictable ten- sions between Tilly and Wallenstein, the old, experienced and successful general and the younger unproven leader of a new and unproven army. Rivalry over winter quarters had been the start, but Wallenstein had come off better by moving quickly into the rich lands of the Protestant- held secularised bishoprics centred on Magdeburg and Halberstadt. With Wallenstein thus ensconced by the Elbe, Tilly remained 80 miles to the west on the River Weser, a disposition which determined their respective roles in the campaigns of 1626. There were also differences over strategy. Wallenstein wanted their forces to join up for a decisive attack on Christian early in the year, whereas Tilly preferred to play a waiting game, hoping to trap the Danes between them later in the spring. Wallenstein, closer to Christian’s main army, was thus left at risk should the king move first and attack him in strength. The result was that while the generals were arguing the relative importance of possible lines of attack or defence, each seeking support and troops from the other, they lost the initiative and were forced instead to respond to the opening moves of their enemies. Tilly was soon under pressure, and when the `mad Halberstädter’ threatened the city of Goslar Wallenstein was obliged to assist by leading a large force against him, only to find that the enemy quickly disappeared. He then had to turn back to counter an advance south by a Danish division under General Hans Fuchs, which he chased off after a sharp skirmish but without being able to force a battle. Meanwhile Mansfeld was already across the Elbe.

Rivers were of great strategic importance, not only as the easiest line of advance or retreat using the relatively good roads alongside them, but also as supply lines for bringing up heavy guns, provisions and other necessities by water. However major rivers were also potentially dangerous obstacles, particularly to a retreating army, as bridges were few and far between as well as easily fortified or broken down. Hence over the winter Wallenstein had substantial defences constructed on both sides of the Elbe bridge at Dessau, 30 miles south-east of Magdeburg, and he placed Aldringer there with a garrison to defend it. Magdeburg and its bridge were in Protestant hands, while south of Dessau all the way to the Bohemian border the Elbe flowed through Protestant Saxony, so that securing the bridge was a prudent precaution as well as preventing the river being used as a supply line by the enemy. Nevertheless it was a surprise when in April 1626, after taking the town of Zerbst nine miles to the north-west, Mansfeld mounted an attack on the defences around the northern end of the bridge.

Despite the confident accounts given in many histories it is very difficult to describe accurately what happened at battles in the early modern period. Numbers are the first problem. Contemporary reports give large, round and probably exaggerated figures, and for want of anything better these often pass from one history to the next, eventually becoming accepted as though they were established fact. The starting point in the Thirty Years War was to list the units involved, which were known by the names of their commanders and were usually well recorded, and to tot up their nominal strength, 3000 for an infantry regiment, 300 for a company, and 1000 and 100 for the equivalent cavalry formations. The result was the maximum figure, although the one often reported, but units were rarely at full strength even in total, while after deducting the sick, wounded, missing and dead the numbers available and fit to fight could be very much lower, sometimes half or less. This may not matter, as the same applied on both sides, so that the relative strengths quoted may be somewhere near right even if the absolute numbers are wrong, but it helps to explain the frequent discrepancies between different reports of the same event. Numbers of casualties were even more arbitrary, as the dead were mostly buried in mass graves and perhaps not even counted, while those who failed to return for roll-call and were not known to be prisoners were simply struck off the company lists, so that there was no distinction between casualties and deserters. Prisoners were no better accounted for, usually simply being enrolled by the winning side, and here too the numbers represent the loosest of estimates or perhaps simply guesswork. The most accurate figures after a battle seem to have been the number of enemy standards taken – a particular point of military pride – and perhaps the number of cannon captured.

The course of a battle is often as unclear as the numbers involved. Two hundred years later the duke of Wellington noted `how little reliance can be placed even on what are supposed to be the best accounts of a battle. . It is impossible to say when each important occurrence took place, or in what order.’ There are good reasons for this. Battles were frequently confused affairs, and the participants themselves rarely had a full picture of events, so that subsequent accounts involve piecing together partial, impressionistic and often inconsistent reports to work out what might have happened. The term `battlefield’ is itself misleading, suggesting a conveniently open and something like level discrete area, whereas in fact troops, particularly cavalry, might range widely over territory broken up by streams, ditches, hills, woods, villages and other obstructions to both movement and vision; 10,000 infantry could well be spread out over two miles or more, so that a commander would often not have had a clear view of their disposition. Worse still, once action commenced the guns of the period quickly created `such an awful smoke. that we could scarcely see a pistol-shot in front of us’, as a Bavarian officer recorded after one such engagement.

The battle for the Dessau bridge is a good example of the numbers problem. Mann, in his biography of Wallenstein, puts Mansfeld’s army at 10,000 men, whereas Guthrie calculates less than 7000 in his study of the battles of the Thirty Years War. Of these Mann states that 3000 to 4000 were killed, against Guthrie’s estimate of somewhere over 1000. Conversely Mann reports 1500 taken prisoner against Guthrie’s 3000, so that according to Mann Mansfeld escaped with 5000 survivors while Guthrie says that it was only about 2000. Neither gives figures for Wallenstein’s forces, although Guthrie contends that he had at least twice as many men as Mansfeld, that is upwards of 14,000 by his calculation, whereas Diwald, in his Wallenstein biography, puts his strength at 21,000 infantry and six regiments of cavalry.

The Theatrum Europaeum, a major contemporary chronicle, made a speciality of elaborate copperplate illustrations, including detailed plans of battles commissioned from experienced military officers, and these give very helpful pictures of the terrain as it then was, together with such features as earthworks and other defences. A drawing in the Theatrum shows that the Dessau bridge, which was some distance north of the town, spanned both the Elbe and its wide flood plain. It is depicted as a narrow structure built on piers, with small Imperialist forts on the south side and a substantial defensive enclosure around the bridgehead on the north, and with protective wings and trenches securing a strip of land along the riverbank in both directions. The whole area to the south was heavily wooded, so that the road along which the Imperialist troops approached was well screened from Mansfeld on the opposite side. The fortifications would have largely hidden the bridge itself from him, and Aldringer had also covered it with tree branches, so that troops crossing could not be seen. The land north of the river where Mansfeld made his camp and positioned his forces was much more open, but he had thrown up temporary earthworks opposite and parallel to the Imperialist defences. To the east a belt of woodland started from the river close to the Imperialist right wing, extending northwards and then westwards so that it effectively bounded the whole of Mansfeld’s left flank.

Mansfeld’s initial probes in early April and a more substantial attack a week later showed that although Aldringer had only a small garrison the position had been too well prepared to be easily taken. Mansfeld accordingly brought up guns and set his men to digging approach trenching for a full-scale storm of the bridgehead. His reasons are not well established, but if his plan was to draw Wallenstein after him into Silesia he would have needed a head start so that he could reach Bethlen Gabor before Wallenstein caught up with him. Taking the bridge and leaving a rearguard to defend it would have helped to pre- vent the Imperial army following too hard on his heels. Christian of Denmark was also worried that Mansfeld’s departure would weaken his own position, so that he wanted him first to hamper Wallenstein by cutting his supply line along the river and opening up a potential threat to his rear. Fuchs was charged with supporting the action, but he was still recovering from his own clash with Wallenstein, so that he did not appear on the scene. Hence Mansfeld launched the attack on his own, perhaps tempted by the opportunity of an easy victory over the heavily outnumbered Aldringer. His career had been remarkable more for his ability to recover from setbacks and survive disasters than for any achievements in the field, and he may have wanted a triumph to register with Christian. Successive failed attacks seem only to have made him the more determined to persevere, and to have made him oblivious to the changing balance of forces around the bridge.

Mansfeld’s perversity was Wallenstein’s opportunity. It had been a frustrating winter, and he was well aware that critics in Vienna were saying that in the six months since the novice general set out with his new army nothing of consequence had been achieved. Now there was a chance of action. He could not move too early in case the attack on the bridge was a diversion as part of some larger plan, but once Mansfeld brought in artillery and his main army Wallenstein was ready to respond. The first step was to move up enough reinforcements to prevent Mansfeld gaining a quick success, and Colonel Heinrich Schlick was swiftly despatched with the necessary troops. Schlick managed to get his men over the bridge and into the northern defences either unobserved or with their numbers sufficiently hidden by the screening, so that when Mansfeld attacked on 23 April he encountered much stronger resistance than he had expected and he was obliged to withdraw. Meanwhile Wallenstein moved up his own artillery and a large force of both infantry and cavalry.

The key point in his plan was the wood on Mansfeld’s eastern flank, where the latter had not placed troops either for lack of men or because he did not think it important. On 24 April Wallenstein moved more units over the bridge, including heavy cavalry. Then under covering fire from an artillery battery south of the river, and assisted by a diversionary sally from the west side of the bridgehead defences, his men occupied the wood. Presumably Mansfeld again underestimated their number and strength, as he pressed on regardless, launching a heavy frontal attack on the fortifications early the following morning. Reports indicate that he made several unsuccessful assaults over the next three hours before Wallenstein ordered a counterattack, which was followed by heavy and evenly balanced fighting on the open ground. At the critical stage Wallenstein sent infantry reinforcements over the bridge, and the issue was then decided by a flanking cavalry attack from the wood. To add to the confusion of Mansfeld’s men some of their gunpowder wagons exploded in the rear, so that retreat quickly turned to flight. Mansfeld managed to escape back to Zerbst with many of his cavalry, but most of his surviving infantry were captured.

Wallenstein’s battle plan was well conceived and well executed, following a central principle of military strategy by concentrating superior forces before engaging the enemy. Nevertheless it was a bold undertaking, as getting large numbers of men and horses over a narrow bridge and into a small defended area in the face of the enemy had its own risks, while fighting with their backs to the river left little scope for an orderly retreat had Mansfeld proved the stronger. Wallenstein’s own report was brief and to the point:

Mansfeld and his entire army moved up to the fortifications at the Elbe bridge near Dessau, besieging and bombarding them, to counter which I led the majority of the Imperial army entrusted to me out to meet him, advancing against him from the aforementioned fortifications. Yesterday God gave us the good fortune to defeat him, cutting through his forces and putting them to flight.

He sent an officer to provide a fuller account to the emperor, who was delighted with these `impressive and knightly deeds’, as he enthusiastically wrote in congratulatory letters to Wallenstein and his principal officers.

Ernst von Mansfeld


Communist forces’ campaigns during November 1948 up to January 1949, the northern one being the Ping-Jin campaign, and the southern one being the Huai-Hai campaign.

Map showing the Huaihai campaign as one of the three campaigns during Chinese Civil War.

7 November 1948–10 January 1949

Forces Engaged

Communist: 500,000 men. Commander: General Chen Yi.

Nationalist: 500,000 men. Commander: General Pai Chung-hsi.


A Communist victory sealed the fate of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, who was forced to resign as president. This led to destruction of the Nationalist army and government in China, establishing Communist rule on the mainland and Nationalist rule on Formosa (Taiwan).

Historical Setting

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formally established in 1921 as the Chinese government was recovering from Japanese domination during World War I. In the mid-1920s, the CCP cooperated with the ruling Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, but in 1927 started a civil war that raged until 1937. In that year, the Japanese invaded out of Manchuria and drove deep into China down the coast toward Hong Kong. This external threat convinced Communist leader Mao Tse-tung to conclude a wary alliance with Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. Mao’s forces operated in the northern part of China, whereas Chiang’s armies, aided by the Americans, fought in the southern and western parts. Mao’s forces, never well equipped, did their best to harass and pin down Japanese troops while Chiang held the south and cooperated with U.S. and British activities in Burma.

When the Japanese were defeated in August 1945, Communist-Nationalist cooperation evaporated. Both parties proclaimed their desire for peace, but neither did anything to accomplish it. Instead, they both scrambled to grab land and materiel owned by the Japanese during the war. From late August to early October 1945, Mao and Chiang met in Chung-king for discussions that were overseen by U.S. ambassador Patrick Hurley and resulted in a statement of mutual peaceful goals. However, both Chinese leaders continued to struggle for control of the resource-rich province of Manchuria. Later that year, U.S. President Harry Truman sent General George Marshall to broker talks between the Communists and Nationalists, resulting in a temporary cease-fire. An agreement on an updated version of the 1936 constitution was also announced after 3 weeks of talks, but both sides soon showed their unwillingness to exhibit any true cooperation. Unsuccessful, Marshall left in January 1947.

Fighting continued in Manchuria, where the cease-fire agreement did not apply, and soon was general throughout the country. Since late 1946, the Nationalists had been seizing key cities and towns from the Communists; in March 1947, they pushed the Communists out of their stronghold in the city of Yenan, some 400 miles southwest of the capital of Peking (Beijing). The Communists did the most to make political capital out of these aggressive actions, both to motivate support in China as well as to lessen U.S. support for Chiang. Communist-inspired demonstrations wore down the morale of the Kuomintang troops and probably hastened the withdrawal of U.S. troops from China in early 1947. U.S. military aid to Chiang dried up as well. With growing mass support, the Communists on 10 October 1947 issued a call for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek’s administration. They also promised a number of personal freedoms, an easing of land taxes, and a democratic government.

Mao Tse-tung’s forces gathered growing support, not only through their propaganda but through their actions. Where Kuomintang troops had looted the cities they occupied, Communist troops were under strict orders to behave themselves. The peaceful nature of the Communist takeover of cities, with very little retribution, had the same effect on the population that similar strategies have done through the ages: Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great of Macedon, and Genghis Khan all were magnanimous to cities that did not resist, thus encouraging the others.

On the battlefields, the Communists were enjoying similar successes. In April 1948, they recaptured Yenan, reestablishing Mao’s headquarters. By May, Communist forces had isolated much of the Kuomintang army by capturing Hopei and Shansi provinces. This placed their forces in two masses: Manchuria was almost completely under their control, with the second area stretching from the coast to the Yellow River. Only a strip of Nationalist-controlled railway running east-west from Tientsin through Peking to Paotow separated the Communist armies. Meanwhile, in the south, large Communist partisan groups operated inland from Hong Kong, Canton, and Indochina. In east-central China, Chiang’s army controlled a cross-shaped area of land along two railroad lines: east-west from Kaifeng through Suchow to the coast, and north-south from Nanking to Tsinan. It was at Kaifeng and Suchow that the Communists would launch their largest offensives in 1948 and where they would find success.

The Battle

Until the summer of 1948, the Communists had depended on guerrilla tactics, using harassment of supply and railroad lines, attacks on isolated outposts, and localized numerical superiority to establish the widespread control they had attained. They now felt strong enough to engage in traditional warfare, and the battle for the city of Kaifeng was their first attempt. They were aided in their effort by Nationalist political actions. During the elections for president in April, Chiang Kai-shek’s choice for vice-president was rejected by the National Assembly. This rejection was an indication of Chiang’s weakening political power. He was able to fill military positions, however, and Generals Ku Chu-tung and Yu Han-mou became chief of the supreme staff and commander in chief, respectively. They were notable both for their strong loyalty to Chiang and their lack of strong military ability.

Kaifeng, capital of Honan province and situated at a key railroad junction, was defended by 250,000 regular Kuomintang forces and about 50,000 auxiliaries. The Communists attacked with about 200,000 regular troops supported by guerrillas. After 2 weeks of maneuvering beginning in late May 1949, Communist General Chen Yi received intelligence that the garrison defending the city had been weakened in response to the maneuvers. He thus launched an immediate attack on the city on 17 June. Communist forces quickly captured the city’s two airfields, and then the city itself fell on 19 June. This was a major defeat that Chiang could not afford, so he took personal command of the operations to respond. Ordering attacks from east and west down the railroad lines, he force Chen Yi to abandon Kaifeng, retreating southward, where the Kuomintang pincers inflicted a defeat on the Communists. Chen Yi, after inflicting 90,000 casualties on the Nationalists, ordered his troops to disperse. The Nationalists regained Kaifeng, but their success was primarily the result of superior numbers rather than tactical ability, in which they proved lacking. Again, the behavior of Communist troops during their occupation of Kaifeng was exemplary, and the Communists had time to plant saboteurs and party organizers throughout the city.

Through the summer of 1948, realization of the growing power of Mao’s forces became apparent even to the Nationalists. The defense minister openly criticized generals who enriched themselves in the midst of the crisis, and many generals openly criticized the defense ministry for meddling in operations, giving conflicting orders, and disseminating unchecked intelligence reports. It was also reported that the forces of the two enemies were now almost equal, each with about a million soldiers under arms and with almost equal artillery; 2 years earlier, the Kuomintang forces had outnumbered the Communists under arms by almost five to one. Almost half the Communists were in central China, showing a shift in emphasis from Manchuria to the southern region. The battle at Kaifeng illustrated both the strength and the shift in strategy that the Communists now employed.

The autumn of 1948 was disastrous for the Nationalists. They were forced to surrender Tsinan, their final city on the Shantung Peninsula, strengthening the Communist hold on the northeast coast. The few remaining Kuomintang garrisons besieged in Manchurian cities also were defeated. By early November, all of Manchuria was under Communist control, and almost half the Nationalist army was captured or killed. The Nationalists also ceded to the Communists vast amounts of weapons and materiel. With no threat to their rear, the Communists could now face southward and carry on the war against a greatly reduced enemy force. Their next target was the major Kuomintang force in the south based at Suchow, near the Huai Hai (River).

Communist General Chen Yi teamed with General Liu Po-cheng to field a force of almost 600,000 men. Kuomintang command fell to General Liu Chih, who also commanded about 600,000 men in four army groups: 2nd, 7th, 13th, and 16th. The 13th was based in Suchow, the 7th to the east at the junction of the Lunghai railroad and the Grand Canal, the 2nd to the west on the railroad to Kaifeng, and the 16th to the south along the railroad to Peng-pu on the Huai. The battle opened on 5 November when Chen Yi attacked from the east at the 7th Army Group while Liu Po-cheng drove the 2nd Army Group in the west back into Suchow and then swung south to drive back the 16th into the city. Chen Yi’s attack was facilitated by the defection of two Kuomintang generals and 23,000 men. The 7th Army Group was quickly encircled 30 miles east of Suchow, their retreat hampered by even more defections as well as the rapidity of Chen Yi’s attack.

Chiang ordered fifteen divisions from the 2nd and 16th Army Groups to relieve the surrounded 7th, but they moved too slowly and lost too many men, only to learn of the 7th’s defeat and surrender on 22 November; only 3,000 of its original 90,000 men escaped. In spite of the fact that the Nationalists had complete air superiority and flew as many as 500 sorties per day, the air forces failed to work cooperatively with the ground forces and were therefore rarely effective. A relief column comprised of the Nationalist Eighth Army and 12th Army Group was also ineffective; poor coordination kept them from linking up before being attacked by Chen Yi’s forces from the east and Liu Po-cheng’s from the northwest. The 12th Army Group, 125,000 strong, found itself surrounded at Shwangchiaochi on 26 November.

At this point, Chiang decided to abandon Suchow. He hoped that the troops remaining in the city could march to the rescue of the 12th Army Group and then escape southward. The 13th Army Group marched out of the city on 1 December, but, because of poor leadership, poor morale, or both, they found themselves outmaneuvered, pushed westward, and surrounded at Yungcheng on 6 December. Inside that encirclement were the remnants of the 2nd, 13th, and 16th Army Groups, numbering about 200,000 men, with all their artillery and tanks. Although nine infantry divisions remained free to act along the Huai Hai, they were too small and uncoordinated to relieve either of the surrounded forces. The isolated embattled forces were living off what food could be scrounged from local farms or dropped by parachute, but low morale soon hit rock bottom. Huge numbers of troops, sometimes entire divisions at once, defected to the Communists.

Chiang’s last hope was to commit his Sixth Army from Peng-pu, but 15 days of fighting netted them only 17 miles against fierce guerrilla attacks. By 15 December, the Communist noose closed on the 12th Army Group. At Yungcheng, the remains of the three army groups had been reduced by half from combat and defections. Bombarded by propaganda as much as artillery, the Kuomintang troops had almost no fight left in them. After 3 weeks of only light skirmishing, the Communists launched their final assault on 6 January 1949; by 10 January the battle was over.


Virtually the entire Nationalist force of 600,000 men around Suchow ceased to exist. Approximately 327,000 men had either been captured or had voluntarily given themselves up to the Communists. Every Kuomintang general in the battle had been captured or killed. The military disaster merely reflected the condition of the Nationalist government. Inflation was so rampant that the currency was worthless. Black marketeers operated openly and with the support of the population. Attempted currency reform failed. The countryside was filled with bandits and looters while food supplies rapidly diminished. U.S. aid came under close government scrutiny in Washington, with George Marshall (now secretary of state) stating that the only way to save the Chinese administration from Communist takeover was to have Americans completely take over, an option he did not relish: “The present regime has lost the confidence of the people, reflected in the refusal of soldiers to fight and the refusal of the people to cooperate in economic reforms” (Chassin, The Communist Conquest of China, p. 202). All aid was suspended on 20 December 1948.

Faced with nothing but disaster all around him, Chiang Kai-shek on 21 January 1949 resigned the presidency. The next day, Peking surrendered to the Communists and Mao transferred his capital to that city. When new Nationalist President Li Tsung-jen sent representatives to Mao on 1 April to discuss peace terms, “unconditional surrender” was the response. Unable to comply, the Nationalists continued to try to wage war, but with decreasing positive results. Communist forces crossed the Yangtze River on 20 April, followed by the rapid capture of most of south China’s major cities: Nanking on 22 April, Nanchang on 23 May, and Shanghai on 27 May. The Nationalists kept shifting their capital city, from Nanking to Canton to Chungking to Chengtu, and finally to Formosa, completely off the mainland of China.

The victory at Suchow broke the Nationalists’ back, which had long been bending. When Chiang, the heart and soul of the Nationalist cause since the 1920s, gave up power in the wake of the battle, no clearer sign of their demise could have been given. He was able to reorganize a government in exile on the island of Formosa, naming it Taiwan, on 7 December 1949; he also retained control of three small islands between Formosa and the mainland. More importantly, Chiang kept international recognition of his position as leader of the Chinese people. Although Mao Tse-tung established a de facto government that was recognized by Communist regimes around the world, the Nationalists kept western recognition and assistance, as well as a seat on the Security Council in the United Nations. That seat, as well as the question of sovereignty in general, led to Sino-U.S. tensions for the following two decades, not eased until the administration of Richard Nixon. Mao’s accession to power gave him control over the largest Communist population in the world, but differences in philosophical and political matters kept him from being solidly in Moscow’s camp. The Moscow-Beijing rivalry probably went a long way toward keeping the Cold War relatively cold, for neither China nor the Soviet Union could focus on the United States with a suspicious neighbor at its back.


Chassin, Lionel Max. The Communist Conquest of China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965; Fairbank, John K., and Albert Feuerwerker, eds. The Cambridge History of China, vol. 13. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986; Houn, Franklin W. A Short History of Chinese Communism. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967; Morwood, William. Duel for the Middle Kingdom. New York: Everest House, 1980.

Iranian Offensives 1987 Part I

Iran-Iraq front in 1987

In the late fall of 1986 the Iranians prepared another offensive intended to bring Saddam Hussein to his knees. Since Baghdad remained out of range, the Iranian army targeted Basra. Its leaders were convinced that the Ba’athist regime could not survive losing Iraq’s second biggest city. They hoped that the fall of Basra would set off a Shiite insurrection in southern Iraq. They had massed 360,000 soldiers nearby, which were di- vided into thirteen divisions (ten infantry, one commando, one armored, and one artillery), in addition to the 40,000 troops deployed in the al- Faw pocket. The offensive was postponed several times while the regular army and the Pasdaran argued over the method of operations. General Shirazi had proposed a large-scale envelopment maneuver, which he deemed safer and less costly, though it would undoubtedly take longer. Mohsen Rezaee, acting as the spokesman for the Pasdaran, argued for a frontal assault on Basra, which would be more expensive but faster.

The time factor was particularly crucial because the Ayatollah Khomeini had recently decreed a fatwa asking the armed forces to defeat Iraq before March 21, 1987, the next Nowruz, or Persian New Year. This unusual step on the Supreme Leader’s part was obviously aimed at motivating the troops, but also at increasing pressure on Rafsanjani to win or negotiate. The war had lasted too long. Extending it was becoming counterproductive. The mullahs’ power was now firmly established over a fragmented society that no longer had the means to contest the clergy’s stranglehold on public affairs. The opposition parties had been wiped out or muzzled and the Kurdish, Azeri, and Baloch separatist movements put down. Now the authorities needed money to satisfy the people and guarantee social peace. The continuing hostilities were impoverishing Iran. It was urgent to oust Saddam.

The Assault on Basra

Following a heated meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, Rafsanjani imposed the idea of a frontal attack on Basra. The attack would be in two phases: troops would cross the Shatt al- Arab at Khorramshahr to attack the city from the rear, coming from the south, while the main assault would come from Shalamcheh and Hosseinieh, along the river’s eastern bank. During the night of December 24 to 25, 1986, Rafsanjani set off Operation Karbala 4. The 21st Infantry Division, which had been renamed “Prophet Muhammad,” crossed the Shatt al-Arab and landed on Umm al-Rassas Island and the three islets of Bouarim, Tawila, and Fayaz. The division commander, General Ahmad Kossari, was supported by the 41st Engineering Division. His infantrymen immediately ran up against Iraqi troops and  were mowed down by their machine guns and mortars. By dawn the Iranians had barely advanced. General Kossari, conscious of his mission’s importance, ordered additional reinforcements deployed. Over thirty-six hours more than 30,000 Pasdaran disembarked on the bridge- head. The Iraqi military high command lost no time in responding, ordering its air force to bomb the floating bridges installed across the Shatt al-Arab. It entrusted the counterattack to the 7th Corps, which was currently assigned to defending the al-Faw peninsula. General Ma’ahir Abdul Rashid, now an ally of Saddam’s family, was in the heart of the action. Heading the 6th Armored Division, he launched a vast outflanking maneuver that wiped out the Iranian soldiers scattered along the river, while some of the 7th Corps’ divisions left their trenches twelve miles (twenty kilometers) away to storm the Iranian bridgehead.

Fierce combat raged for forty-eight hours. Knowing that Basra’s fate was in their hands, the Iraqis seemed unstoppable. On December 27 General Rashid still had full control of the area. His combatants wiped out the remaining pockets of resistance after regaining control of Umm al- Rassas Island and the three neighboring islets. In seventy- two hours they had slaughtered more than 8,000 Iranian fighters, taking only 200 prisoners. The rest had scrambled back across the river. By comparison, the Iraqis’ losses  were minor: 800 dead and 2,000 wounded. Glowingly proud of this stunning victory, General Rashid swaggered before his rivals, who often criticized him for bypassing high command and directly obtaining support from Saddam. The dictator was in no position to complain: Ma’ahir Abdul Rashid had just handed him a memorable victory, which he promptly began referring to as the “Battle of the Great Day.”

In Tehran, on the other hand, criticism of Rafsanjani streamed forth from all quarters, including from Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Montazeri, and General Nejad, the former chief of staff of the armed forces. The Aya- tollah Khomeini even considered removing Rafsanjani as commander in chief of the armed forces, then thought better of it. In ill health, Khomeini needed to rely on the man whom he saw as the only mullah able to stay the course through thick and thin-at least so long as the war lasted. He also knew that the Pasdaran would not understand if he sidelined Rafsanjani- and the Pasdaran  were now the country’s most powerful force. The speaker of Parliament was therefore able to pursue his initial plan to attack Basra. Alone against the rest of the regime, he staked his all on committing every available combatant to the battle. He knew his political future depended on it. The fight would be all-out and merci- less. A single catchphrase prevailed: defeat the enemy at any cost. While the Battle of Khorramshahr in 1982 has often been compared to the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Basra in early 1987 can easily be likened to Verdun: for several months, the belligerents would wear each other down through a hellish confrontation in which they drove their countries’ best and brightest into muddy trenches.

The “Mother of All Battles”

On January 8, 1987, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani launched the Karbala 5 offensive in the sector east of Basra, across from Fish Lake and the artificial channel. Beginning in 1984 the Iraqis had significantly expanded the military layout there. Aside from a succession of minefields, antitank ditches, barbed wire, ramparts, bunkers, and trenches, the sappers had erected a curving embankment around the bridges connecting Basra to the Shatt al- Arab’s eastern bank from the town of Tanuma. The system was supplemented by an electronic early warning system able to detect approaching assailants. General Tala al-Duri, commander of the Iraqi 3rd Corps, had three divisions in the sector: the 8th Infantry to the north of Fish Lake; the 11th Infantry between the lake’s southern tip and the Shatt al- Arab; and the 5th Mechanized, further back near Tanuma. His four other infantry divisions and 3rd Armored Division  were deployed a little further north, on the other side of the artificial channel. The city of Basra and the western bank of the Basra-Umm Qasr channel  were guarded by several Republican Guard special forces divisions and Popular Army brigades.

At dusk the Iranian 92nd Armored Division engaged with the 8th Iraqi Division, aiming to pin it in place along the border. As soon as night fell the 58th and 77th Pasdaran divisions crossed Fish Lake aboard flat- bottomed boats and disembarked on the other bank, in the middle of the marshes, in order to attack the 8th Division from the rear. They then continued to the artificial channel. Once this maneuver was accomplished, a Pasdaran brigade crossed the canal aboard rubber dinghies and established a half- mile- wide (one- kilometer- wide) bridgehead on the opposite bank, north of Tamura. Concurrently, the 23rd Special Forces Division crossed Fish Lake to establish a second bridgehead facing Tanuma. It was counterattacked by the 5th Mechanized Division.

Meanwhile, further south, three Pasdaran divisions rushed to attack a small quadrangle covering about five square miles (twelve square kilometers) wedged between the Shatt al- Arab, the area south of Fish Lake, and the Jassem Canal, twelve miles (twenty kilometers) east of Basra. Though the Iraqis had expected and prepared for the offensive, they were surprised by the mass of enemy troops: 40,000 combatants, a majority of whom were teenagers, crushed their defenses. At dawn the 11th Division’s infantrymen retreated to a second line of defense erected 1.8 miles (three kilometers) back, near the village of Du’aiji. General Abd al- Wahed Shannan, the division commander, had rallied his troops there and deployed his last brigade.

For forty-eight hours the Iraqis counterattacked with the limited means at their disposal. Cloudy skies forced their air force to fly at low altitude, making it more vulnerable to Iranian anti- aircraft defense: five of its fighters were shot down, while a Tu-16 was destroyed over Shalamcheh by a Hawk missile. The Pasdaran advanced on every front. In the north the 8th Division was surrounded and collapsed. Its general, Abrahim Ismael, was taken prisoner. In the south the Iranians overran the Iraqi second line of defense and seized the village of Du’aiji.

Battle of Basra (December 25, 1986–April 11, 1987)

On January 11 General al-Duri authorized the 11th Division to with- draw behind the Jassem Canal, which connected the artificial channel to the Shatt al- Arab. The waterway formed a natural line of defense, which brought the Basijis to a stop. The Iranian vanguard was now only ten miles (sixteen kilometers) from Basra, within cannon range. Furious that General al-Duri had ordered a withdrawal without his authorization, Saddam Hussein stripped him of his command. Though the dictator had always forgiven al-Duri’s past mistakes, he now needed a genuinely competent individual to supervise the defense of Basra. He appointed Diah ul- Din Jamal as his replacement, a Shiite general who had won his confidence by swearing that he would sooner die than let his native city fall into Iranian hands. Without conferring with General Dhannoun, Saddam Hussein gave General Jamal his operational orders. Dhannoun was offended. The situation grew tense, and Saddam dismissed his chief of staff of the armed forces, asking his entourage who could replace him. Given the circumstances, no one was eager for the job. None of the generals in the high command volunteered. Saddam eventually chose by default, appointing Saladin Aziz, a retired general whose name had been given to him by his advisors. Aziz was an intellectual trained by the British. He had proven himself against the Kurds in the early 1970s and left active duty a few months before the outbreak of war with Iran. Having been summoned out of retirement, he was immediately received by the president, who promoted him to his new appointment. The next day Saddam Hussein, Adnan Khairallah, and General Aziz traveled to Basra to personally assess the situation. The Iraqi dictator authorized the use of chemical weapons and decided to commit the Republican Guard’s “Medina Munawara” armored division to the battle. Realizing that Basra could fall, he ordered its inhabitants to evacuate and asked his generals to prepare a second line of defense along the Euphrates to prevent the Iranians from advancing to Baghdad.

In addition, on January 12 the Iraqi president reignited the “War of the Cities” in a knee-jerk effort to punish the Iranian government and dis- courage it from continuing its offensive on Basra. The Iraqi air force was directed to abandon its fire support missions on the battlefield and its attacks on oil traffic in the Gulf to bomb thirty Iranian cities, including Tehran, Qom, and Esfahan. Though located far from the front, these three cities were raided over several weeks by the ten MiG-25s modified for this type of mission. One MiG-25 was shot down near Esfahan on February 15, 1987. The Iraqis also fired several salvos of Scud missiles at Dezful, Ahwaz, and Kermanshah. The Iranians promptly retaliated by firing Oghab missiles at the Iraqi cities near the front and Scud missiles at Baghdad. North Korea had recently delivered twenty Scuds to Iran and was preparing to ship eighty by the fall. The Iranians retaliated with their artillery, their long-range cannons pounding Basra, Mandali, Khanaqin, and Sulaymaniah. As with previous episodes in the War of the Cities, the latest urban bombing campaign did nothing to shake the belligerents’ resolve.

During the night of January 13 to 14, 1987, the Iranians launched the Karbala 6 offensive in the sector of Sumer. Their goal was to seize the strategic barrier of Mandali, which controlled the road to Baghdad, but especially to force the Iraqis to deploy their reinforcements in this direction, making Basra more vulnerable. General Shirazi personally headed the operation, committing 100,000 men and 600 tanks divided over seven divisions (the 11th Artillery, 25th and 35th Infantry, 40th and 84th Mechanized, and 81st and 88th Armored) to this diversionary battle. For the first time, his general staff also used small drones to fly over the enemy layout, which allowed the Iranians to preserve their precious reconnaissance planes.

The Iraqis had only three infantry divisions facing their opponent. The general in charge of the sector also had three more divisions staggered along the border, but these could not move from their positions without leaving a wide opening in the Iraqi layout. His only operational reserves were the 10th Tank Division and the Republican Guard’s “Hammurabi” Armored Division. In five days the Iranians overran the Iraqi defenses and captured several hills overlooking the abandoned town of Mandali, but failed to break through. The Iraqis counterattacked with their two armored divisions. For the first time in four years the belligerents engaged in a real tank battle. The Iraqis got the upper hand over their adversaries; the Iranian T-59s and T-69s were no match for the Iraqi T-72s, particularly since the former’s tank crews painfully lacked training and motivation. Some had never even fired a shell before, due to Iranian rationing of what had become rare commodities. Yet the Iraqi tank crews were unable to follow through on their success and were beaten back by salvos of TOW antitank missiles. In the final tally each side lost 200 tanks.

On January 17 Saddam Hussein convened his main generals in Baghdad to organize the counteroffensive, which began the next day in the region of Basra. The 3rd Armored Division headed for the marshlands to regain control of the eastern bank of the artificial channel and isolate the Iranian infantrymen entrenched on the other bank, across from Basra. Meanwhile, the 5th Mechanized Division, the 12th Armored Division, and the “Medina Munawara” tank division reduced the two enemy bridgeheads established on each side of Tanuma and pushed the Iranian combatants back into the water. Many did not know how to swim and drowned.

Iranian Offensives 1987 Part II

On January 21, with the front appearing to have stabilized, the Iraqi president addressed the Iranian people in a solemn radio broadcast in which he renounced his territorial claims and proposed a comprehensive peace plan for Iran and Iraq. The plan was based on four principles: the total and reciprocal withdrawal of armed forces to the internationally recognized borders, the exchange of all prisoners of war, the rapid signing of a nonaggression treaty, and noninterference in each country’s interior affairs. Tariq Aziz traveled to Moscow, while Taha Yassin Ramadan traveled to Beijing to ask the Soviet and Chinese authorities, respectively, to pressure Tehran to accept the peace plan. At this stage only the Soviet Union and China seemed able to influence the Iranian regime. Yet, once again, the Iranians proved inflexible. Parallel negotiations conducted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the nonaligned countries were equally fruitless.

On January 23 Ali Khamenei declared that Iran would refuse to negotiate as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power. Rafsanjani went one step further and stated he was prepared to purchase weapons from the United States, hoping to drive a wedge into the complex relations between Baghdad and Washington. While he was at it, he visited the southern front to inspect his troops and galvanize them for the resumption of combat, asking them for a final push. In a burst of lyricism, he qualified the offensive as “the mother of all battles.” He called in four additional Pasdaran divisions. The Iranians now had 150,000 combatants standing by to cross the Jassem Canal and the artificial channel and press on to Basra. General Jamal had only 40,000 men to fend them off, but they were supported by 600 tanks and 400 cannons. On January 29, 1987, the frenzied Iranians crossed the Jassem Canal and rushed the enemy positions. Their commander, Mohsen Rezaee, ran from one end of his layout to the other to encourage his troops. For seventy- two hours the human waves succeeded each other without interruption to submerge the enemy defenses. The losses were tremendous, but the Iranians did not seem to be deterred. Iraqi soldiers watched the bodies pile up in front of their machine guns. Iranian combatants could even weave their way to the foot of the Iraqi trenches by taking cover behind walls of mangled bodies, then throw their grenades. Next the Iranians made their way over these macabre obstacles and emptied their magazines at their adversaries, gradually pushing them back.

On February 1 the Pasdaran broke through the Jassem Canal, forcing the Iraqis to withdraw to their next- to- last line of defense. The Iranians were now only seven miles (twelve kilometers) from Basra and could see its outlying areas and some of its buildings. In Tehran, Rafsanjani reveled in his success and pressed his generals to commit all their reserves to the battle. Yet now that the troops were not as tightly locked in battle, combat ground to a halt because the Iraqi artillery could carry out devastating barrage fire without worrying about striking its own soldiers. Iraqi firepower was so intense that the shell-battered landscape was lastingly altered. Twenty-five years later, aerial views of the sector still revealed an area riddled with craters. To further disrupt the Iranian attack, the Iraqis massively resorted to battle gas and called in their heavy Ilyushin 76 four- engine jets, which flew high above the battlefield and dropped pallets of napalm canisters, horribly burning Iranian soldiers. On the Iranian side, with logistics flagging and a limited stockpile of shells, the Pasdaran could only count on their numbers to bear them to victory.

At the Gates of Basra

On February 11, 1987, on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeini broke his silence and made a public speech in which he compared the war to “a holy crusade that must continue until the final victory and the departure of the tyrant of Baghdad.” He invited young Iranians to join the army and go to the front without delay, for the Iraqis were repelling one assault after another. Mohsen Rezaee was granted additional reinforcements to make up for losses. On the other side, General Jamal was given two new infantry divisions from the 6th and 7th Corps to relieve his exhausted infantrymen.

On February 19 the Pasdaran’s commander, eager to take action, committed all his forces to another assault. Once again, the clash was infernal. Iraqi firepower initially succeeded in holding back the enemy, but the Pasdaran and Basijis were so driven that they managed to breach the Iraqi layout at several points. To avoid being surrounded, Iraqi troops were forced to withdraw to the last line of defense protecting Basra, five miles (eight kilometers) from the city. In Baghdad, General Aziz hesitated regarding the approach to follow. Overwhelmed by how events were developing, he proved incapable of adapting to the new realities of the war he was discovering. On the field General Jamal traveled to the front lines, adjusting his layout with the assistance of Adnan Khairallah. He lifted the soldiers’ spirits and accelerated the evacuation of civilians. Jamal’s ammunition depots were well stocked and he considered his defensive layout flawless.

On February 23 Mohsen Rezaee launched his troops at the last Iraqi line of defense. The frenetic Iraqis beat back the human waves one after another. Their tanks were all put to work tearing apart the infantrymen assaulting their positions in tight ranks. On February 26 the Iranians, exhausted and running out of ammunition, decreed the end of Karbala 5. Tehran let its troops catch their breath for a few weeks, long enough to reorganize and reinforce. This operational break led to the end of urban bombings, which had killed 3,000 in Iran and 1,000 in Iraq over the course of six weeks. Saddam Hussein took advantage of the lull to replace General Aziz with General Nizar al-Khazraji, who had previously been the commander of the 1st Corps. This brilliant, charismatic, humble, and highly professional officer could also be utterly ruthless when required. Adnan Khairallah, who had pushed for his appointment, appreciated his uprightness and talent. Khairallah was convinced that al-Khazraji’s presence at the head of the armed forces would allow Iraq to reverse the trend and regain the initiative.

On March 3 Iran mounted the Karbala 7 offensive in Iraqi Kurdistan to maintain pressure on Iraq. Concurrently, the Turkish army launched a large-scale operation against the PKK on Turkish territory. The Turkish government immediately notified the Iranian regime that it would not allow it to seize Kirkuk or Mosul. Rafsanjani played for time, fully aware that the force ratio was unfavorable to him both on the military and the economic planes. He knew that Turkey was turning a blind eye to the weapon shipments Libya and Syria were still sending to Iran via its territory. Determined to ease tensions, he traveled to Ankara and invited President Evren to visit Tehran as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Iranian 28th and 46th divisions had advanced about ten miles (fifteen kilo- meters) across a snowy landscape in the direction of Rawanduz with the support of KDP peshmergas. On March 9 with the city within their sight, they were ordered to stop their advance. The Iranian regime did not want to vainly provoke the Turkish government. The two nations had taken great care to avoid clashing since the late seventeenth century, including during the two world wars. It would have been foolish to challenge this policy in pursuit of highly debatable advantages.

During the month of March Iranian troops maintained the siege of Basra and prepared a last- ditch offensive. Their inadequate logistics chain was struggling to keep combatants supplied with food, drinking water, and ammunition. For their part, the Iraqis pounded enemy lines with their artillery and reinforced their own defenses. Saddam Hussein lucidly imagined the worst and reassured his generals: “As the supreme leader of the Iraqi state, I can tell you very clearly that even if Basra were to fall it would not be the end of the world. . ..  We would continue to fight, and even if they reached the doors of the Palace of the Republic in Baghdad, we would still fight them until we pushed them back across the border. They are exhausted. We are strong. We will win.”

During the night of April 6 to 7 Iranian command finally attacked (Operation Karbala 8): 40,000 Pasdaran attempted to breach the last line of defense protecting access to Basra. Despite their courage and determination, they failed. The Iraqis had mastered defensive combat and had terrifying firepower at their disposal. Their Katyusha rocket launchers and ultramodern cannons relentlessly hammered the assailants. Each time their infantrymen had to give a little ground, their tank crews counterattacked and regained the territory lost. This bloodbath lasted four days. On April 9 and 12 the Iranian regime went against its principles and tried to win the battle by using chemical weapons for the first time. At nightfall Iranian artillery poured phosgene gas in the Iraqi 3rd Army Corps’ sector. These bombings caused only minimal Iraqi losses (twenty dead and 200 wounded) and did not suffice to break the defensive layout around Basra. They did, however, alert the Iraqi intelligence services, who informed Saddam Hussein that Iran was developing a tabun production plant in Marvdasht, near Shiraz, with the help of North Korean technicians. Iraq retaliated by spraying the assailants with mustard gas.

Meanwhile, Tehran had launched another diversionary attack (Karbala 9) in the sector of Qasr-e-Shirin. For four days the Iranian 25th and 84th Divisions battled the Iraqi 21st Division and took control of four strategic hills dominating the road to Baghdad. Yet the Iraqis did not fall into the trap and merely reorganized their defenses with what was on hand, without deploying additional reinforcements.

In mid-April the worn- out and demoralized Iranians ended the assault and put a stop to the Battle of Basra, which had lasted a little over three months and cost them terrible losses: at least 40,000 fatalities and twice as many wounded. The Pasdaran had been hit particularly hard. A quarter of their most hardened officers were killed in the battle, including General Hossein Kharrazi, cut down by the explosion of an Iraqi shell. Rattled, they retreated to their positions and kept up the siege of Basra. The Iranian government tried to tone down this frightening toll by publicizing the 1,750 prisoners (including two generals and ten colonels) and twenty- seven square miles (seventy square kilometers) they had captured and by emphasizing the extent of Iraqi losses: 10,000 dead, not to mention the 150 tanks destroyed and the ten aircraft brought down by their anti-aircraft defense (principally attack helicopters). Despite the losses incurred, Saddam Hussein was delighted: Basra, which had been on the verge of falling, was saved. He congratulated his generals for this “superb victory” and named it “the Great Harvest” for the impressive number of Iranians killed.

Hungry for revenge, the Iranians launched the Karbala 10 offensive in Kurdistan on April 14. They wanted to show the Iraqis that their army could still shake them up. But their heart was no longer in it. For two weeks three of their divisions, supported by a few thousand PUK peshmergas, gained a few square miles (a few square kilometers) in the sec- tors of Sulaymaniah and Halabja, without succeeding in taking either of these cities. The facts were unavoidable: the exhausted Iranian army no longer had the necessary resources to maintain these costly all-out offensives. The Iraqi army was probably not ready to go back on the offensive, but it was strong enough to durably resist Iranian military pressure. The stalemate on the terrestrial front was total. This was a setback for Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had publicly committed to defeating Iraq by the end of March 1987. Bitter and frustrated, the Iranian speaker of Parliament was forced to come up with a new strategy.

The Santiago Campaign

Gen. Toral’s surrender to Gen. Shafter, July 13, 1898

“We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run!”

‑Gen. “Fightin’ Joe” Wheeler, USA (for­merly CSA) overheard at Las Guasmas

The U. S. army had been mobilizing volunteers at five major and several smaller camps. All were created out of wil­derness, and the construction of facilities could not keep pace with the new arrivals. Conditions were atrocious, and a major scandal resulted from the number of men who died of diseases contracted in the camps. Of 5,462 service deaths in 1898, only 379 resulted from combat. Meanwhile, the regular army was sent to Tampa, the US port closest to Cuba that had rail connec­tions. Tampa, too, had primitive facilities, poor water, and was located on swampy ground. Its railroad connections were totally inadequate; its port facilities were crude. There was little time to correct any of these deficiencies.

The War Department wanted the expe­dition to begin loading on May 30th, but the chaos on land extended to the docks. Load­ing did not begin until June 8th. For the voy­age to Cuba, the Army had to provide its own transports. Prohibited from chartering ships until the outbreak of war, it found all suitable transports already hired by the Navy. The Army eventually collected 32 old coastal steamers and paddle‑wheelers in time for the expedition and a few more later. These made for an utterly miserable voy­age to Cuba.

The invasion flotilla finally got underway on June 14th. Loaded aboard was the Fifth Corps, Maj. Gen. Win. R. Shafter com­manding. It comprised 16,873 officers and men along with 498 civilians and 11 foreign attaches. The Corps was short of equipment but high in spirit. The force was organized into two infantry divisions (Gens. Lawton and Kent) of three infantry brigades; a cav­alry division (Gen. Wheeler, also second in command of the Corps) of two brigades; an independent brigade (Gen. Bates); and attached corps units. On the voyage to Santi­ago they were escorted by fourteen war­ships ‑ protection from Spanish torpedo gunboats thought to be lurking along the Cuban coast. Fortunately, no gunboats appeared and, also fortunately, there was no storm. The invasion flotilla was slow, not maneuverable, and not seaworthy.

On the way to Santiago, Gen. Shafter studied invasion plans. In the 1700s the British had tried both storming the Morro and making a long approach march from Guantanamo Bay.

Both had failed. Rugged hills covered the immediate harbor area and extended both to the west and inland to the east. Shafter’s most pressing problem was getting ashore safely. He decided upon Dai­quiri; it was lightly defended, had a good beach, and was recommended by the rebels.

In the early morning on June 22, the invasion began. The fleet bombarded coastal blockhouses while the soldiers clambered into small boats that would carry them ashore. The Army made directly for the single pier, encountering no opposition. The Spanish troops, numbering only 300, had fled. As Wheeler’s cavalry raised the first US flag it discovered that the bombard­ment had not hit any of the blockhouses. Had the American landing been opposed, it could have been a bloodbath. Six thousand men landed that day. Lawton’s Division, in the lead, pushed on to Siboney, where it established a new base and awaited the rest of the army (mostly Wheeler’s Div.).

Early the next day, Wheeler’s Division set off from Siboney along the road to Santiago. One column took the main road, while the second, including the Rough Riders, moved along a jungle trail that closely paral­leled it. Three miles ahead, the trail and road merged at Las Guasmas where 1,500 Spanish awaited with two Krupp guns. The battle began when Spanish sniper fire hit and pinned down the Rough Riders. Soon, the Americans returned fire and scrambled forward. The Spanish readily gave ground; by 10 A.M. this first skirmish was over. Although the US lost 16 dead and 52 wounded while Spain lost only 35, the Americans had proven themselves.

From the hills around Las Guasmas, the rooftops of Santiago could be seen. The intervening ground seemed deserted, yet the Army did not move. It could not. Only the troops had been landed, their supplies were not yet ashore. Apparently, the chaos of Tampa had not been left behind. The sup­ply problem was fast becoming a crisis.

Meanwhile, the Spanish were busy for­tifying the San Juan Heights, which covered Santiago from the east. In Santiago prov­ince, General Arsenio Linares commanded over 36,000 men. The Americans had been ashore three days, but Linares deployed as though he faced only the rebels. While the road net in Santiago province was not good, a more daring commander could neverthe­less have concentrated some 12,000 troops directly against the American landings. But Linares refused to thin his garrisons. Rein­forcements did depart from Manzanilla, but this was 140 miles to the west. Would they arrive in time? Since Cervera did not expect to leave soon, about 1,000 sailors could be deployed as riflemen but this was a stopgap measure. At Santiago, 10,429 men were spread in a broad circle around the city. Linares was defending everywhere, and nowhere in strength. He probably feared the rebels would cut off the city’s food and water supplies.

At 6:35 A.M., July 1st, American artil­lery opened fire on the Spanish regiment of 520 men entrenched at EL Caney. The infan­try of Lawton’s Division (5,400 men) expected to attack shortly. Simultaneously, the remainder of US Fifth Corps was to advance westwards and attack San Juan Heights. Splitting the US army was poten­tially disastrous. Had the Spanish concen­trated against either wing, the US would have been defeated.

Shafter approved the plan because Lawton estimated his division could take E1 Caney in three hours and would rejoin the main force in time for a combined assault. Furthermore, Lawton reasoned, a fortified enemy base should not be left in the army’s rear ‑ the simultane­ous attack on San Juan Heights would block Spanish reinforcement of El Caney.

Lawton’s men had expected to surge forward immediately after the bombard­ment, but every rush was pinned down by a deadly fusillade. At noon, the battle for El Caney still raged. The 2nd Massachusetts Volunteers had to be pulled out of the line; smoke from their Springfields kept giving away their positions. Bates’ brigade was sent to assist them but accomplished little. Finally, in mid‑afternoon, after nearly ten hours, El Caney fell.

The Spanish had nearly run out of ammunition and had suf­fered over 400 casualties. Spanish survi­vors seemed astonished that they were not immediately executed.

The assault on San Juan Heights also began with an artillery barrage. The night before, the army had moved forward, but at daybreak still had some distance to cover. As at Las Guasmas, sniper fire hit first, though aimed high, but now the Krupp artil­lery struck with deadly accuracy. Kent’s Division was deployed to the left, Wheel­er’s (Sumner now commanding) to the right. Immediately in front of the Spanish positions lay the San Juan River (only a small stream here and more often called the Aguadores River). The Rough Riders had little trouble approaching the river, but found sharp fighting immediately after crossing. Kent’s troops took casualties all the way. Over 400 men were killed or wounded along the trail and approaches.

Covering the foot of the San Juan Heights was a barbed wire entanglement. Here Spanish fire was heaviest. All the US regiments were pinned, but slowly the Americans hacked their way through. Then the Gatling guns arrived. This battery deliv­ered 3,600 rounds a minute, quickly putting the Spanish to flight. Now at last the advance was renewed, with many little columns winding single file up the hills. The confusion and delay at the wire and river caused the intermingling of adjacent regi­ments, but the effect was to make the American force more fearsome as they blended into a single mass. Noteworthy in this advance was Roosevelt, now in com­mand of his regiment since Col. Wood assumed command of the brigade. Roosevelt led from front on horseback and was himself the second man on top of the hill. Actually, the Rough Riders advanced (not charged) up Kettle Hill, a spur of San Juan Hill and only later that day assisted in the capture of San Juan Hill proper.

Sundown found the US troops shaken and exhausted but in firm possession of the San Juan Heights. The day had cost the US 205 dead, 1180 wounded; while Spain lost 215 dead, 376 wounded. Among the Span­ish wounded was Linares, so Gen. Jose Toral assumed command. Some US com­manders, thinking the day’s casualties had been too hard on an army that must soon face rains, disease, hunger and Spanish reinforcements, requested a withdrawal. Wheeler would not hear of it. To him, the day’s fighting was hardly more than a skir­mish compared to the Civil War battles he had experienced, although he did veto the idea of an assault on the Morro as being potentially too costly.

So there the Ameri­can Army stood, having proven itself in bat­tle and the fortitude of its fighting men, if not all their commanders.


The U.S. Navy smashes Admiral Pascual Cervera’s Spanish fleet.

In Santiago, the Spanish viewed the situation with gloom. The Americans were moving to surround the city. Insurgents in the rear were delaying the arrival of Esca­rio’s relief column. Food and ammunition were running low and Cervera’s squadron had orders to leave.

On 2 July Havana issued new orders to Cervera: “In view of the exhausted and serious condition of Santiago… go out immediately.” During prior weeks the admi­ral and his captains had discussed various ways to exit the harbor. American ships formed a rough semi‑circle outside the har­bor mouth with light units close in and the battleships farther out. During the day they were six miles from the harbor entrance and at night they closed to about three miles and lit the entrance with searchlights when there was no moon.

One captain proposed that the Squad­ron sortie on a moonless night with destroyers in the lead. These would tor­pedo the battleships while Colon would head straight for Brooklyn and perhaps ram her. The remaining ships would then escape to the southeast. Another captain argued that escape should be attempted only if one of the US armored cruisers left. The others did not favor any attempt. It was agreed, however, that a night sortie carried too great a risk that a ship might go aground or strike a mine, thereby blocking the channel for the remaining ships. It was further agreed to risk the Squadron in battle rather than surrender or scuttle.

Sunday morning July 3, 1898, at about 9:30 the Spanish squadron emerged. As luck would have it, this was one of the few days that Sampson was not present. He, his flagship, two cruisers, and a battleship had left at 9:00 for Guantanamo Bay to recoal, leaving Schley in charge. Schley later recalled sitting in his desk chair on the Brooklyn and remarking about the smoke rising from Santiago Harbor. Suddenly the Spanish ships emerged, one at a time, at intervals of 10 minutes and 600 yards: Teresa leading, followed by Vizcaya, Colon, Oquendo and the two destroyers Pluton and Furor. They began steaming west, hugging the shore. Up every signal mast of the US fleet went the flaghoist meaning, “Enemy’s ships are coming out.”

As naval battles go, there was little doubt who would win. The only question was whether any of the Spanish ships would escape. Teresa got off the first shot; her main battery fire falling short of Iowa. Then Brooklyn opened up against Teresa. Being too close, Schley turned to open the range and now Texas joined in. Broadsides from both fleets volleyed with mechanical rapid­ity but the torrent of Spanish shells flew overhead while US fire struck home. The Iowa pounded Teresa at 2,500 yards, then­ Vizcaya, then Oquendo. The latter were also engaged by Indiana and Oregon. The two Spanish destroyers attempted to run at an American battleship and launch torpe­does, but the US armed yacht Gloucester stood in their way. Her fire was deadly. Plu­ton took a critical hit, exploded, and sank within minutes. Furor suffered an early steering hit and was beached with difficulty.

The Brooklyn’s turn made Cervera gave up the idea of ramming her with Teresa. Instead, Cervera tried to pull away, his ships outpacing the Indiana and Iowa. But he could not outrun Oregon and Brook­lyn, and the damage he was taking contin­ued to mount. Teresa, suffering from an earlier serious hit, had to flood magazines and beach. Oquendo had been taking con­centrated fire from nearly the entire US fleet; at 10:30 she, too, was beached. Now Vizcaya took the concentrated US fire. The closest, Brooklyn, opened fire at 950 yards, near enough for every gun type to hit, and hit they did. Vizcaya staggered out to 1,200 yards, but the heavy American fire crippled her and she, too, made for the beach. This left only Colon, the fastest of all.

While the US navy concentrated against her slower sisters, Colon built up a six‑mile lead. The only pursuers with a chance of success were Oregon, Brooklyn, and Texas. Their best chance of catching up would come when Colon would swing out from shore to round Cape Cruz. American luck still held. At 12:30 Colon’s supply of good coal ran out.

The Oregon tried a bow shot. When the sixth round found the range, Colon struck her colors, opened her seacocks, and made for shore. It was 1:15. Spain had lost her fleet and the 2000 sailors who manned it (including 323 dead). The US suffered the incredible total of one dead, six wounded, and suffered virtually no damage to her ships.

With the slaughter of Cervera’s Squadron, morale in Santiago plummeted. Esca­rio’s relief column arrived the next day, but there was little reason to defend the city. The column was just that many more mouths to feed. Santiago was nearly out of food and the US demanding the city’s sur­render. On July 5th, the civilian population was allowed to evacuate; on July 6th, Toral asked that his force be allowed to evacuate to the interior under “conditions honorable to Spanish arms:” Shafter relayed this pro­posal to Washington, but the War Depart­ment demanded unconditional surrender. On the 14th, this was accepted and the city and province were surrendered on July 17th. The Santiago campaign had ended.

Though Cervera’s squadron was sunk and Santiago captured, the war was not quite over. During June a new armada had been assembled in Spain centered on Pelayo and Carlos V and commanded by Admiral Manuel de la Camara. Some 17 ships were eventually collected, but the fleet was dispatched to the Philippines instead of to Cuba. On 1 July the new fleet arrived at Port Said, Egypt, and sailed through the Suez Canal. However, unable to purchase coal and learning of Cervera’s disaster, the fleet began its return to Spain on July 8th. Had this squadron arrived at Manila, which was about 40 days distant, Dewey would have been outclassed.

With the surrender of Santiago, the US Army was free to pursue other objectives. On July 25th US troops landed at Guanica on the south coast of Puerto Rico. Over the next three weeks they encountered only light resistance as they swept north towards San Juan. About half the island was cleared before the end of the war.

Spain first sought peace on July 22nd with a letter requesting terms. Madrid was ready to trade Cuba for peace and hoped to retain everything else. However, McKin­ley’s terms were the independence of Cuba and the cession of Puerto Rico and Guam. In the Philippines, Manila was to be held pend­ing a peace treaty. Interestingly, the question of annexing the Philippines saw vigorous debate across the country. When at length McKinley decided in favor of doing so, he (and many protestant ministers) explained that God had imposed a national duty to Christianize the Filipinos; indeed, McKinley had a personal mission to do as divinely revealed to him one night during his prayers.

The protocols of peace were signed August 12th and the war formally ended by treaty signed at Paris on December 10, 1898.


The Spanish American War was A product of its times. In many ways it repre­sents the end of the 19th century. American foreign policy in the 1800s had been quite successful. The Mississippi Valley was freed; the Union reforged in the crucible of the Civil War. But for the last, these were triumphs at small cost. American success ultimately flowed from the national goals. These were limited and tangible.

Contributing in no small way to the American success was its proximity to these lands, whereas the Europeans were far away. Further, the European “balance of power” system protected the US; no single European nation could become powerful enough to menace her without gravely threatening the rest of Europe. This pro­tected the US during the war with Spain.

“Manifest destiny” had guided US expansion across the continent and its leg­acy was the belief that America was des­tined to be a great Pacific power. The US looked west across the Pacific for new mar­kets, especially in China; and likewise south across the Caribbean ‑ though soon fasci­nated by the idea of building a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Such a canal was considered by the influential naval theorist Alfred T. Mahan to be of vital importance to a nation that spanned the continent. If America was to be a great power, she must have the unrestricted capability to easily transfer naval forces from ocean to ocean.

These themes of expansion culminated in the Spanish‑American War. The United States would now be recognized as a major force in world affairs. She was territorially and commercially ready for the twentieth century, a century which in many respects can be called the “American Century.”

Algeria 1954-62

The Battle on the Frontiers

French decrees issued in the spring of 1956 divided Algeria into three zones: a zone of operation, a pacification zone, and a forbidden zone. The allocation of counterinsurgency forces logically followed this division. The zone of operations was the killing ground where elite mobile French forces relentlessly pursued guerrilla bands with the objective of eliminating them. In the pacification zones, which embraced the most populous and fertile areas, French conscript and reserve formations tried to protect the civilian population, European and Muslim alike, from terrorist attacks. Here security was accompanied by major economic reforms, education, and propaganda indoctrination. French strategists designated sparsely populated areas that were adjacent to the pacification zones as forbidden zones (zones interdites). The strategic intent was to separate the rebels from their sources of supplies and recruits while providing security for the pacification zones. They were beyond the pale, a region from where the population was evacuated and relocated in settlement camps controlled by the army. Thereafter, the army was permitted to fire on anyone seen moving in the forbidden zones.

Having established the parameters by which it would operate, the French military went to work. It employed overwhelming force to drive the FLN’s military organization, the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN), out of Algeria. Most ALN fighters took refuge in the neighboring countries of Morocco and Tunisia. Those who continued the fight inside Algeria became dependent on external supply sources. The French recognized this vulnerability and concentrated on isolating Algeria. Nourished by good intelligence, the French navy intercepted ships carrying arms to Algeria. They also blocked aerial resupply of the guerrillas. Outside of Algeria, French secret agents waged a successful intimidation campaign, including targeted assassinations, against international arms dealers. Because of these measures, the insurgents remained starved for effective firearms and munitions.

Inside Algeria, the French organized harki units of “loyal” Algerians. A farsighted settler, Jean Servier, had overcome official resistance to organize light companies from FLN defectors. Servier insisted that these harki units serve near their homes so they could protect their own families from FLN retaliation. Armed with shotguns, intimately familiar with the local environment, Servier’s harkis soon demonstrated their worth by eliminating local insurgents. News about the opportunity for regular employment spread rapidly and French-loyal village elders began organizing their own harki units. They were essentially miniature tribal armies. Over a two-year period beginning in 1957, the number of these lightly armed native forces serving as village militia rose to involve some 60,000 Algerians. When associated with skilled French SAS [civil affairs officers called Specialized Administrative Sections] leaders the harkis proved to be very effective in denying the insurgents access to rural people.

However, the Algerian borders were open to infiltration from guerrilla sanctuaries in Morocco and Tunisia. The recent memory of Indochina, where Communist guerrillas enjoyed free passage across international borders, persuaded the French to tackle this challenge decisively. The French utilized a classic counterinsurgency approach that the Romans who constructed Hadrian’s Wall would have admired. The French built extensive fortified barriers along 500 miles of the Moroccan border in the west. But it was in the east along the Tunisian border where they erected a state-of-the-art defensive barrier. This was the famous Morice Line, named after the French defense minister, a 200-mile-long line extending from the sea to the Sahara desert. An eight-foot-high electrified wire barrier carrying 5,000 volts ran through the middle of a wide minefield overlooked by regularly spaced watchtowers. When the guerrillas tried to break through the fence, detection devices triggered an alarm system. Of critical importance, the Morice Line, like Hadrian’s Wall, was not simply a passive defense system. Rather, both worked in association with mobile combat formations who met insurgent breakthroughs wherever they occurred. Precalibrated artillery fire rained down wherever automatic devices detected a breach, while mobile combat patrols rushed along a purpose built highway that ran along most of the Algerian side of the barrier to deal with the penetration. If a breach occurred in the roadless, remote southern sector, helicopters flew the reaction force to the scene of the incident. The entire system involved 80,000 soldiers, watching and waiting for any FLN attempt to reinforce their beleaguered fighters in Algeria.

The challenge came soon. Raiders probed the Morice Line looking for weaknesses. They employed high-tension wire cutters purchased in Germany, insulated ramps, tunnels, and blasting charges. After opening a breach the raiders tried to hold the nearby terrain to permit the passage of reinforcements and supplies before the French resealed the border. Nothing worked. Infiltration parties attempting to outflank the line at its southern end found themselves exposed to French air power in the open Sahara and were slaughtered. So the armed wing of the FLN, the ALN regulars, tried a series of escalating conventional attacks against the Morice Line.

A large ALN force fought through the Morice Line in May 1958 only to encounter the reconnaissance group of the First Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment. Colonel Pierre Jeanpierre, one of Massu’s paratroop leaders during the Battle of Algiers, died while leading his Legionnaires in a decisive counterattack that resealed the line. In another climactic action, waves of ALN fighters managed to breach the Morice Line only to be pinned down by the French mechanized and helicopter-delivered reaction forces. A total of 620 of the 820 men who penetrated the line were killed or captured. The series of efforts to breach the French fortified barriers cost the ALN upward of 6,000 men, a devastating setback that compelled the FLN to cease trying to breach the French fortifications.

While the French navy prevented the guerrillas from smuggling arms and men into Algeria, the Morice Line and the Moroccan barrier effectively blocked infiltration by land and thereby “established a kind of closed hunting preserve” where the French security forces could relentlessly conduct a battle of attrition. Only some 8,000 ALN fighters remained inside Algeria. With the veterans gone, most of the remnants were young, inexperienced recruits who predictably suffered heavily whenever drawn into combat with the French.

Because the ALN dispersed and went into hiding, increasing numbers of Algerian civilians withdrew support for the rebels. In June 1960 an FLN political leader reported to his government in exile, “It becomes increasingly impossible to penetrate the barriers in order to nurture the revolution in the interior . . . unless directed, supplied with fresh troops, effective weaponry, and money in great amounts, the underground forces will not be able to live for a long time let alone achieve victory . . . The organic infrastructure has been dismantled in the urban centers, and it is increasingly nonexistent in the countryside.”

The Return of Charles de Gaulle

Just when it appeared that the FLN was on the verge of defeat the entire political climate in France changed. In Algeria, the pieds-noirs had greeted various proposals for reform as betrayal. On April 26, 1958, some 8,000 Europeans marched through Algiers and made a public oath: “Against whatever odds, on our tombs and on our cradles, taking our dead on the field of honor as our witnesses, we swear to live and die as Frenchmen in the land of Algiers, forever French.” In France, press investigations of abuses in the resettlement program and new revelations about the practice of torture demoralized the public. The war’s unpopularity combined with numerous economic and social gripes to reduce domestic support for the French government. A cabinet crisis fractured the weakened government and presented an opportunity for right-wing activists to strike.

On the day a new cabinet was scheduled to present its program to the National Assembly, pied-noir activist groups in Algiers began widespread demonstrations in an effort to influence the vote. They feared that the new French government would abandon them and denounced the government for plotting “a diplomatic Dien Bien Phu.” By the evening of May 13, 1958, they controlled Algiers and had established an emergency government. The French army in Algeria realized that it held enormous political clout and supported this new government. France teetered on the edge of revolution.

Into the ensuing leadership void stepped Charles de Gaulle. The settlers’ revolt found the sixty-seven-year-old war hero in rural retirement working on his war memoirs. But he had been closely following political developments and was far from displeased when a new opportunity presented itself. In a memorable speech on May 19, 1958, de Gaulle deployed his brilliant rhetoric to reassure the nation. Alluding to events in Algeria, de Gaulle said that France confronted “an extremely grave national crisis.” But he also told the nation that it could “prove to be the beginning of a kind of resurrection.” The National Assembly voted de Gaulle full powers for six months, thereby ending the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle, in turn, judged Algeria a “millstone round France’s neck.” In his view the era of European colonialism was coming to an end and there was no longer any alternative for Algeria except self-determination. But it was of crucial importance that France grant Algeria this right. It could not be forced upon any self-respecting French government at the point of a gun or the detonation a terrorist bomb. As the new leader phrased it, prior to negotiations the insurgents had to check “the knives in the cloakroom.”

De Gaulle knew that to arrive at an acceptable solution he had to appeal to diverse political constituents and consequently had to handle the situation with extreme circumspection. Thus, he moved slowly and cautiously, and with calculated vagueness. By so doing he failed to capitalize on the opportunity created by military success in Algeria.

FLN leaders would later say that the weeks following de Gaulle’s rise to power marked a low ebb for their cause. Their military forces had hurled themselves against the Morice Line and been badly defeated. Their troops were demoralized and when de Gaulle spoke about true equality for all Algerians within the French republic the great mass of Algerians appeared receptive to compromise. FLN leaders knew that they had to do something before de Gaulle’s government could consolidate power. They responded brilliantly with a diplomatic offensive designed to take advantage of Cold War rivalry between the East and West by proclaiming a revolutionary Provisional Government of the Republic of Algeria. Arab nations hastened to recognize the new government. The Communist bloc, except for the USSR, followed. FLN spokesmen hinted at a new flexibility regarding a negotiated settlement and the international press enthusiastically endorsed this notion. Yet even as they won an important victory on the international front, military events in Algeria again threatened to defeat the FLN.

The Challe Plan

When de Gaulle assumed power he began to replace the command team in Algeria with his own loyalists. He chose General Maurice Challe to command the military. It proved an inspired choice. Still vigorous at age fifty-three, Challe had served with distinction in the Resistance during World War II. He had provided the British with valuable intelligence on the eve of the Normandy Invasion and earned both a British medal and a personal citation from Winston Churchill. Although trained as an airman, Challe possessed a keen appreciation for land tactics. Unlike his predecessor, he did not dabble in politics but rather was an open and honest leader with a surpassing ability to forge an interservice, team approach to problem solving. De Gaulle ordered Challe to deliver a crushing blow to the already reeling insurgent cause by a series of offensives designed to reduce the rebel pockets one after another. In de Gaulle’s mind this offensive was like a pre-assault strategic bombardment designed to create a receptive environment for what ever he decided to do next.

Challe, in turn, believed that too many French soldiers, about 380,000 by his count, had been assigned passive roles guarding the Morice Line, securing the country’s infrastructure, and protecting its villages. Only 15,000 remained in the General Reserve to conduct active operations. The result was that the French military had designated vast swaths of Algeria as “no-go zones,” which effectively ceded these areas to the FLN. Indeed, the French had ruefully labeled one such zone the “FLN republic.” Unwilling to remain passive and reactive, Challe planned to concentrate overwhelming force against each traditional insurgent stronghold. After eliminating the rebels and inserting pacification teams to take control of the population and prevent the insurgents from re-forming, Challe intended to move against another stronghold. He introduced his strategy to the army in Algeria with a simple catch phrase that everyone could understand: “Neither the djebel [hill] nor the night must be left to the FLN.” He made sure that he had the right sort of tactical commanders to realize his vision by sacking nearly half the sector commanders and replacing them with more aggressive colonels.

The first offensive took place in the rolling country southeast of Oran. Although this area had long been controlled by the FLN, it presented less daunting terrain than the traditional insurgent strongholds in the Aurès mountains and the Kabylie. The elite paratroopers spearheaded the ensuing Operation Oranie, followed by mechanized columns issuing out of Oran to flood the countryside. It was essentially a giant search-and-destroy operation conducted with more technical sophistication than ever before. Using an integrated communications net that permitted command coordination between ground and air units, officers in airborne command posts managed a fast-paced series of moves for which the insurgent foot soldiers had no answer. American-supplied giant helicopters, the famous Piasecki H-21 “flying bananas,” provided the capacity to land two entire battalions in five minutes. Three hundred slow, propeller-driven training aircraft were converted to ground attack roles. At first, pilots who had trained to fly modern supersonic jets complained bitterly. The former airman Challe ignored them and the complaints ceased when the pilots discovered, as would a future general of American airmen flying A-10s in Iraq, that slow was good for ground support missions. French mechanized columns cornered the guerrillas and the converted trainers allowed pilots to deliver bombs and rockets with pinpoint lethality.

During Operation Oranie, Challe also inserted into action numerous newly recruited harki units. The expansion had required de Gaulle’s authorization. During a face-to-face encounter, Challe had insisted and de Gaulle had replied with characteristic haughtiness, “One does not impose conditions on de Gaulle!” Challe refused to be overmastered and told de Gaulle to either give him the men or he would resign. Thereafter Challe had select harki [village militia] units form specially trained “hunter-killer” teams complete with experienced trackers to search the interior for enemy presence. They marched light, living off the land, and tracked small guerrilla bands through remote regions that heretofore had been inaccessible to the French. They carried radios, so if they contacted a large insurgent band they could summon reinforcements. Helicopters rapidly delivered elite fighters from Challe’s General Reserve to surround and trap the enemy. Moreover, the French benefited from accurate intelligence, much of it extracted by torture, but also numerous useful windfalls obtained from a very successful radio-interception service.

The two-month-long Operation Oranie proved an outstanding success. The French claimed to have killed more than 1,600 guerrillas while capturing another 460 along with large quantities of weapons and ammunition. Challe estimated that the campaign had eliminated fully half the ALN manpower in the area. While the casualty claims may have been inflated, there was no doubt that the French had delivered a staggering blow.

Proof of success came when pacification teams, left behind after the mobile forces departed, were able to work without significant interference from the insurgents. Army engineers built roads to link formerly isolated villages with the outside economy and the insurgents seldom were able to thwart them by laying mines or blowing up culverts and bridges. SAS teams moved into villages, raised self-defense forces, built more schools and clinics than at any time since 1954, and worked hard to show the people the benefits of remaining French.

Encouraged by these results, and having built up his mobile reserve to 35,000 crack troops, in mid-April Challe shifted his forces east to the mountains behind Algiers to begin a new offensive. Here the terrain was more rugged and results less outstanding. The ALN fighters dispersed quickly when the French appeared and thereafter successfully evaded contact. Challe tinkered with his tactics and pressed on through November 1959. The climactic offensive of the so-called Challe Plan was Operation Jumelles, directed against the Kabylie, where the FLN had first raised the banner of rebellion. From his command helicopter, Challe personally directed 25,000 men in a multiprong assault against the guerrilla stronghold. Marines conducted amphibious attacks along the coast, mechanized columns penetrated remote valleys, harki hunter-killer teams searched the forests while the paratrooper reaction forces waited on the airfields to board their helicopters when called. Overhead, the ground attack aircraft loitered, waiting to swoop down against any target.

Even in Challe’s opinion the results were disappointing. The ALN had learned from Challe’s first campaign and again dispersed rapidly and gone to ground. Although the French claimed to have killed, wounded, or captured 3,746 Kabyle insurgents, how many of these people were merely civilians caught in the war’s crossfire is unknowable. On the positive side of the ledger, the FLN acknowledged heavy losses. The French had lost several hundred killed, but compared to the insurgents the ratio was a very impressive one to ten. Particularly encouraging from a French standpoint was the fact that more insurgents surrendered than ever before and many of them volunteered to serve in harki units. To the French soldiers on the ground it appeared that the insurgency was in its death throes.

An experienced war correspondent toured Algeria and wrote, “From a purely military point of view, it could be said that the FLN has been beaten. Its last hundred-man katybas [organized combat companies] have taken refuge in the impregnable rocky highlands where they are contained. In other places . . . local fellagha [guerrillas] stay in the brush and the katybas, broken up into little groups of a dozen fighters each . . . change their hideouts every night. The only purpose of their operations is to maintain a feeling of insecurity.” Along the fortified frontier barriers, all the larger ALN units were reduced to harassing the barrier guards from their sanctuaries in Tunisia and Morocco. They could neither breach nor outflank the high-tension wires, barbed-wire entanglements, and floodlit minefields. Citing his campaign maxim to deny the guerrillas sanctuary in the hills, Challe proclaimed, “The rebel is no longer king of the djebel, he is trapped there . . . The military phase of the rebellion is terminated in the interior.”

How true was this assertion? If statistics cited by Challe were accurate, namely that half the FLN fighters in the operational areas had been eliminated, obviously the other half remained. If Challe’s claim that the insurgents’ logistical base had shrunk by 20 percent in the past year was correct, a substantial base was still present. Challe’s assessment also overlooked the fact that by this time a new ALN chief of staff, Houari Boumedienne, had made the decision to cease supporting the katybas inside Algeria and instead rest, refit, and recruit a powerful new force in Tunisia. There they would be in a position to return to Algeria when the time was favorable.

Moreover, Challe’s large-scale search and destroy operations did not occur in a political vacuum. The question remained: to what extent had these “victories” persuaded the Muslim population to support the French and turn against the insurgents?

The Three Balkan Wars (1912/1913 to 1914/1918)

The Balkan Wars 1912/1913

Following the dynastic change in Serbia in 1903, tensions with Austria-Hungary began to rise slowly, not the least because of Russia’s growing influence in the Balkans. Emperor Franz Joseph was convinced that he could still curb Belgrade’s foreign policy ambitions even if it was no longer possible to control them. But the situation reached a turning point in 1912.

In March of that year, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro, orchestrated by Russia, formed the Balkan League, a system of bilateral, mutual assistance treaties that aimed to deprive the sultan of his remaining European possessions. From Vienna’s point of view, the patronage of the Russian czar toward these Christian states expanded his sphere of influence to a dangerous degree. Serbia turned itself into the gravitational center of South Slavic national movements by demanding outright the separation of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since Russia was also searching for allies in Galicia, Bohemia, and Bukovina, Austria-Hungary felt itself surrounded by hostile forces.

On 8 October 1912, Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Ten days later, the other members of the Balkan League joined it. Their troops moved quickly to the southern Balkan region in the direction of Kosovo and Macedonia. That winter the Montenegrin army reached Shkodër, and the Serbs advanced down the Albanian coast to Durrës. However, Serbia’s grab for Kosovo and Macedonia was not only criticized by Bulgaria and Greece, which also harbored territorial claims to this region, it was also condemned, especially by the Albanian national movement. Founded in 1878, the League for the Defense of the Rights of the Albanian Nation, commonly known as the League of Prizren, had demanded autonomy within the Ottoman Empire for years without success and had even assumed power in Kosovo for a short spell in 1881. In 1911, unrest erupted there, and in the spring of 1912, a revolt. Now the creation of an Albanian nation state was even being discussed.

The Balkan armies committed unfathomable atrocities against the civilian population as they conquered the Ottoman areas. They expelled, persecuted, and sometimes even annihilated unwanted minorities to usurp territory to which there were no legitimate claims. Such “ethnic cleansing,” a euphemistic term for mass atrocities, had occurred since the beginning of the nineteenth century during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of modern nation-state building. Since the Serb uprisings in the early nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of people had been uprooted, and violent policies of homogenization continued thereafter when ethnic homogeneity became the mantra of a strong and effective nation-state in Europe. In a nationalist age, the makeup of a population served to justify one group’s territorial claims over those of another. Leon Trotsky reported how “the Serbs in Old Serbia … are engaged quite simply in systematic extermination of the Muslim population” so as to correct the ethnographical statistics to their favor. The armed forces of the other countries also undertook “ethnic cleansing” in order to destroy any resistance. “Houses and whole villages reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred … with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians,” documented an independent commission of inquiry. Throughout the twentieth century, such acts of violence would reoccur whenever conquests brought regime change or empires and states fell apart, particularly during the Second World War and the Yugoslav wars of succession in the 1990s.

The Great Powers worked feverishly to come up with a containment strategy. However, by December 1912 it had become clear that the status quo could not be reinstated in the Balkans. Instead, a dangerous crisis developed in Austro–Russian relations. Ultimately, Vienna succeeded in blocking Serbia from gaining any access to the Adriatic and, for this purpose, recognized the independence of the new state of Albania, declared by the Albanian National Congress in November 1912 in Vlorë. On the basis of these developments, the warring sides signed the Treaty of London on 30 May 1913, through which the sultan lost most of his European possessions.

Serbia refused to accept the situation and demanded parts of Macedonia as compensation for the loss of territorial claims in Albania, thereby destroying the Balkan League. King Ferdinand of Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece on 29 June 1913, was defeated, and had to accept painful territorial losses in the Treaty of Bucharest, signed on 10 August 1913. Albania was given the status of a sovereign principality under the control of the Great Powers and their governor, German Prince Wilhelm zu Wied. Still, about 50 percent of the Albanian population lived outside the boundaries of this new state.

In light of Serbia’s successful expansion in the Balkan wars, encouraged by Russia, the view of the “hawk” faction at the Viennese court persevered: now Serbia was said to pose an existential threat to the dual monarchy that could only be eliminated by force. From this point on, the Serbian danger, supposedly initiated by Russia, became the leitmotif of Austro-Hungarian politics in the Balkans. For Serbia, however, the wars had established it as a regional hegemonic power, which thus immensely boosted its national self-confidence. Its territory had expanded by 81 percent with the annexation of Vardar-Macedonia, Kosovo, and Sandžak, its population by nearly 50 percent to about 4.3 million. Belgrade had achieved a grandiose military triumph and reconquered the historic and emotionally significant “Old Serbia” with Kosovo and parts of Macedonia, where once the heart of the medieval Serbian empire lay. However, the victory had come at a high price. In both wars the country lost 14,000 combatants in battle. An additional 22,000 soldiers died from injuries and disease, and 54,000 were wounded. The costs equaled a sum three times greater than the national budget.8 Serbia was exhausted, financially drained, and confronted with new domestic problems caused by a half million new Albanian and Turkish citizens. Authorities settled about 12,000 Serb families in the new territories, and thousands of Muslims fled. The Serbs ruthlessly combated the active resistance put up by Albanian rebels, the Kachaks, starting in 1913. In addition, guerrilla warfare with the Macedonian irregular troops of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization started in 1914. War and uprising left the population destitute.

Among the Serbs and Croats still living under Habsburg rule, the Balkan wars had an enormous mobilizing impact. “Not only in Serbia itself, but also in the Austro-Hungarian regions inhabited by South Slavs did people believe that the collapse of Austria-Hungary was imminent and that Yugoslavia could be created only from Belgrade with the help of the Serbian army and its allies,” concluded Alexander Hoyos, then the chef de cabinet at the Austrian Foreign Ministry. In March 1913, a confidential report submitted to the emperor and his government stated: “The South Slavic idea, meaning the idea of the Serbo-Croatian fraternization … has now reached the highest leadership and … is not only the solution for all segments of the population in political matters, but also in cultural and economic ones as well. This is true not only for Croatia and Slavonia, but also for Bosnia and Herzegovina and particularly for Dalmatia, where a revolutionary, antimonarchical spirit has promptly gained ground.”

Serbia’s national agitation and its drive for expansion endangered both the domestic stability and the foreign security of Austria-Hungary. In April 1913, negotiations commenced between the Serbian and Montenegrin governments on unification, which would have given Belgrade its long-sought access to the sea. Furthermore, Serbia took possession of Macedonia and hence acquired parts of the Oriental Railway in 1912/1913. Since the Habsburgs owned 51 percent of the railway, they suffered highly aggravating financial losses. However, what troubled them the most was Russia’s political patronage in the region, because this affected the power and alliances of the Habsburg Empire and curtailed its military discretion in handling defiant Balkan states. For Austria-Hungary, relations with Serbia were increasingly becoming a question of survival, and each success enjoyed by Serbia further reinforced this view.

The Balkan wars accelerated the militarization of Austria-Hungary’s Balkan policy. It was becoming increasingly clear that a military offensive was being taken into consideration as part of its strategy to prevent the further expansion of Serbia’s influence in the region. Vienna issued ultimatums both in the spring and fall of 1913 that forced Montenegrin and Serbian troops to retreat from Albanian territory, which then reconfirmed the Austrians’ view that force was the only language Belgrade understood. When control over the annexed provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina threatened to slip from its grasp in the summer of 1914, Vienna resorted to the means of “surgical intervention against the pathogenic agent” Serbia. What was at stake seemed to be nothing less than the domestic stability of Austria-Hungary, if not the survival of the monarchy itself. In a memorandum dated 24 June 1914, the Foreign Ministry, encouraged by Germany, urged the emperor to take an aggressive foreign policy course. This memorandum shows that, even before Austria-Hungary faced the crisis that would unfold in July, the leadership had decided to use the aggressive strategy worked out back in 1906 by General Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf.

Vienna’s policy was developed in the context of pressing considerations and concerns involving the Balkans and foreign alliances, the foremost of these being its troubled relations with Romania, a rivalry with Italy over Albania, the danger that the Balkan League would be revived to counter Austria-Hungary, a possible unification of Serbia and Montenegro, and the growing influence of Russia in the region. Several factors paved the way for a “great war”: the division of Europe into two hostile blocs; the arms race and imperial expansion in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; growing social and domestic conflicts; and finally, aggressive war plans, inaccurate military speculations, and diplomatic mismanagement. War would offer the chance to neutralize Serbia. All that was needed was the appropriate opportunity to spark a conflict, and that occurred on 28 June 1914 with the assassination of Austrian crown prince Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Assassination and the July Crisis

Shortly after 1:00 p.m. on 28 July 1914, the Serbian prime minister, Nikola Pašić, was eating lunch at the Café Evropa in Niš when a gendarme handed him a simple telegram containing Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war. Tensions had been great and preparations for war had intensified in the weeks since the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip had shot the Austrian crown prince, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo. That spring, members of the Young Bosnia movement had felt deeply provoked by the announcement that the royal couple would visit the occupied provinces to observe military maneuver exercises precisely on the anniversary of the symbolic and emotionally charged Battle of Kosovo. On the morning of 28 June, seven young conspirators armed with bombs and weapons positioned themselves along the Appel Quay. It was due to pure coincidence and especially the bungling security measures of the police that this amateurish tyrannicide was successful.

The assassins and their instigators were seized shortly afterward and later tried along with about 180 other sympathizers. Princip and his codefendants repeatedly asserted that they had planned the assassination all by themselves and had only been handed the weapons in Serbia. Yet apparently they had very different political and private motives. Princip confessed that he had been determined since 1912 to carry out an assassination of some person of high standing who represented power in Austria. “I am not a criminal, because I just eliminated an evildoer,” he claimed on 12 October 1914. He and his accomplices further stated that Franz Ferdinand was an “enemy of the South Slavs,” that the archduke was responsible for the state of emergency and all trials of high treason, and that poor people were becoming even poorer with every passing day. They all sought to free Bosnia from the Habsburg monarchy and unify all South Slavs into a single state, so that Yugoslavs would live together as one nation.

The Austrian prosecutors refused to accept that the anti-Slavic politics of Austria-Hungary had motivated these members of the Young Bosnians to carry out the assassination. They attempted to prove that the Serbian government had planned and assisted the assassination of the heir to the Habsburg monarchy because the crown prince allegedly wanted to reform the empire in a way that would have taken the wind out of the sails of Serb nationalism. But nowhere in their testimonies do the assassins ever say that they murdered Franz Ferdinand because of his (actually nonexistent) plans to establish trialism. To date no evidence has been found to prove either that the assassination was the work of the Serbian government or that Russia was the real force behind Serbia’s politics. On the contrary, two weeks before the assassination, Prime Minister Nikola Pašić had pushed to halt the illegal smuggling of weapons to Bosnia-Herzegovina and to scrutinize the activities of the Black Hand.

On 28 October 1914, the Austrian court sentenced the three main perpetrators to twenty years in a maximum security prison camp located in the Bohemian city of Theresienstadt. Their punishment was to be intensified by a day of fasting each month and by confinement in a bare-bones, completely dark cell every 28 June. All three died in prison as a result of the inhuman conditions there.

The Serbian government in Belgrade attempted to de-escalate the situation since it had long been concerned that Vienna was looking for a pretext to attack. It expressed its deep regrets and condolences and assured Vienna that Serbia would immediately investigate the circumstances of the assassination. At the same time, it stated unequivocally that the Serbian government had nothing to do with the murder. The Russian envoy Strandtmann reported on 23 July 1914 from Belgrade that an aggravation of Austrian-Serbian relations “was viewed in Belgrade as being not only unwanted, but also as dangerous for the survival of the kingdom itself.”

Diplomats at Vienna’s Foreign Ministry on Ballhausplatz were indeed pondering “what demands could be made that would be thoroughly impossible for Serbia to accept.” On 7 July, the Ministerrat für Gemeinsame Angelegenheiten (Council of Ministers for Common Affairs) urged the stipulation of unfulfillable conditions, “so that a radical solution in the direction of military intervention could be initiated.” Twelve days later, it decided to prune Serbia to a rump state dependent economically on Austria-Hungary by partitioning as much of Serbian territory as possible with Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. Even though it is accurate to say that the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne on 28 June 1914 was but the trigger that discharged the full force of mounting international competition between the major powers, and that Emperor Franz Joseph would never have risked the attack on Serbia without the support and public encouragement of Germany, the conflict between Austria and Serbia that had been building since 1908 possessed its own explosive logic.

On 23 July around 6:00 p.m., the Austrian envoy Baron Giesl delivered an alarming note in Belgrade. In it, Vienna accused the Serbian government of complicity in the assassination and issued a ten-point ultimatum in which it demanded that the propaganda aimed against Austria-Hungary be condemned and all irredentist activities be prosecuted. In addition, it demanded that Serbia “agree to the cooperation in Serbia of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the integrity of the Monarchy.” Serbia was to answer within forty-eight hours.

In these forty-eight hours, Nikola Pašić composed—with the help of his minister of domestic affairs, Stojan Protić—a truly masterful answer that commanded quiet respect even in Vienna. He delivered the note personally to the Austrian ambassador shortly before the clock struck 6:00 p.m. The note was conciliatory, nearly apologetic, in all points except one: “As far as the cooperation in this investigation of specially delegated officials of the I. and R. [Imperial and Royal] Government is concerned, this cannot be accepted, as this is a violation of the constitution and of criminal procedure.” The Serbian legal system did not permit any foreign intervention in domestic affairs, it was argued. The very same day, Vienna broke off its diplomatic relations with Serbia, and on 28 July, the Austro-Hungarian emperor declared war on Serbia. It was the culmination of a looming crisis long in the making.

War, Retreat, and Occupation

The Austrians harbored the illusion that the war would be short and therefore sent an underfinanced, poorly equipped, and rather unmotivated army into battle against Serbia. As a precautionary measure, martial law was declared already on 25 July in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia, pro-Yugoslav newspapers were banned, and opposition leaders and “Serbian spies” were arrested, deported, or executed on a massive scale. Vienna made preparations to repress the predictable wave of solidarity with Serbia.

On 11 August, General Oskar Potiorek crossed the Drina from Bosnia-Herzegovina with three armies and headed into Serbia. Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes living under Habsburg rule were forced to fight; in some units they made up as much as 40 percent of the troops. One of them was the 21-year-old locksmith Josip Broz, later known as Tito. The area of eastern Bosnia and the Drina valley was one in which much of the fighting took place. It was from here that the Austrians advanced toward Serbia. Serb volunteers led by Kosta Todorović took the provincial city of Srebrenica on 18 September 1914 but were driven from there shortly afterward by the Austrians, who killed the commander and, together with Croat-Muslim legionnaires, committed hideous atrocities against the civilian population. In Serbian historical memory, Todorović became a hero and is still commemorated today. His story serves as an early parable in the national discourse on sacrifice.

The Austrians soon found themselves in difficulty because of poor strategic planning, logistic problems, and the highly motivated Serbian army under the command of the elderly Serbian general chief of staff Radomir Putnik. Although the Balkan wars had exhausted the Serbs, militarily they were well trained and psychologically hardened for war. On the plateau of the mountain Cer, where the Drina and Kolubara rivers converge, they pulverized Potiorek’s soldiers. Nearly 274,000 Austrian troops were killed in the first year of the war. By the end of 1914, the Austro-Hungarian troops were trapped in the Balkans, the war virtually lost. The Serbs commemorate the important battle with the patriotic song “March on the Drina,” which praises their soldiers’ bravery and love of liberty.

The brutality and totality of the war in the Balkans was characteristic of the conflict from its very beginning in the summer of 1914 and not just the result of the escalating dynamics of violence. The Austrians were convinced that the Serbs would conduct a bloody guerrilla war with the help of irregular fighters, the komitadži. Invoking “Kriegsnotwehrrecht,” the wartime right to self-defense, the Habsburg troops committed horrific devastation and mass atrocities that stood in clear violation to valid international laws of war and appalled foreign observers. A “Direktion für das Verhalten gegenüber der Bevölkerung in Serbien” (directorate for the behavior toward the population in Serbia) ordered: “The war leads us into an enemy country that is inhabited by a population filled with fanatical hatred toward us. Any form of humanity or tenderheartedness shown to such a people is not only misplaced but actually baneful, because such deference, which in wartime is otherwise possible now and then, would in this case seriously endanger the security of our own troops.” The Austro-Hungarian armies took civilians as hostages; killed thousands of men, women, and children “in reprisal” for partisan attacks; burned down villages; and plundered as much as they could carry. This was the case not only in Serbia but also on the other side of the Drina in Bosnia-Herzegovina. “ ‘Our troops,’ one soldier serving with the Honved reported, ‘have struck out terribly in all directions, like the Swedes in the Thirty Years War. Nothing, or almost nothing, is intact. In every house individuals are to be seen searching for things that are still usable.’”

Rudolf Archibald Reiss, Professor for Criminalistics and Forensics in Lausanne, traveled to the Serbian front in 1914 and documented the horror for the rest of the world. Innumerable cities and villages were described as consisting only of ruins, such as Šabac: “Go into any house … everything is empty and plundered. Everything that could not be carried away was kaput, broken or in some way made unusable.” Wherever the Austrians moved in, men were viciously slaughtered, women raped, entire settlements destroyed beyond recognition. On 30 July they arrived in the village of Prnjavor and assembled all the local men. Any man on whom they found a conscription order or even just a bullet was immediately shot. The 60-year-old Jovan Maletić, who witnessed the butchery along with forty hostages, described what he had seen:

By the time the Swabians [a commonly used name for Austrians] brought by the 109 inhabitants from Prnjavor, the soldiers had already dug the grave. They tied them together with rope and wrapped the entire group with barbed wire. Then the soldiers positioned themselves on the railway embankment about 15 meters [50 ft] away from the victims and fired off a round. The entire group tumbled into the grave, and other soldiers shoveled dirt over them without checking if all were dead or if there were still wounded among them. Certainly there were many who had not been fatally wounded, at least a few, but the others had pulled them all down into the grave. They were buried alive!

“Anyone who has seen all that I have seen,” wrote Reiss, a native of Freiburg, “will never be able to forgive.”

Serbia had successfully contended its victory at an enormous loss of human lives and property. The hardship suffered by the country at the outbreak of the war defied description. Soldiers and refugees in the hundreds of thousands and war prisoners in the tens of thousands needed to be provided for. But the economy had come practically to a standstill. In the first war year alone, 163,557 of the 250,000 soldiers and another 69,000 civilians died. Nearly 600,000 refugees were on the move. In early 1915, a typhus epidemic broke out. International aid workers counted 400,000 sick and 100,000 dead. The catastrophe was not contained until five months later.

In the meantime, Austria-Hungary was preparing a counteroffensive. This time the Central Powers were better prepared and had pulled Bulgaria to their side. In October 1915, ten German divisions crossed the Danube from the north, while the Bulgarians invaded from the east. In order to save his army from annihilation, General Putnik ordered a retreat on 26 November 1915, over the mountains to the Albanian coast. The High Command, the elderly King Peter, and numerous members of the government, members of parliament, and intellectuals joined them. It was announced that Serbia would not surrender at any price, despite the superiority of the enemy forces. The men, women, and children left behind were armed.

The formerly proud Serbian army degenerated into a demoralized and internally dissolving force. Many soldiers simply went home. Only those who did not take to their heels started the long trek to the coast. Marching over hazardous paths, the starving, freezing, and deathly exhausted men fought their way through snow and ice at temperatures falling to –4oF/–20oC. “Slowly we crawl up the bare cliffs on the slopes of the Čakor. Step for step on the downtrodden snow we move forward,” wrote Josip Jeras in his diary. “On the sides of the path, exhausted refugees, trapped in the snow, their heads lowered. White snowflakes dance around them, and the mountain winds whistle the funeral dirge. The heads of fallen horses and oxen jut out of the snow.” Caravans of civilian refugees followed the troops: “There were no houses by the way, no refuge of any kind. … If anyone became exhausted, what could be done? … The other members of the family were powerless. It was a case of the rest of the family pushing ahead or of all perishing together,” reported British rear admiral Ernest Troubridge, who accompanied the wretched trek. The horrible, grueling march is often referred to as the Albanian Golgotha. It took the lives of about 150,000 and left another 77,000 missing. Only 140,000 people made it to the Adriatic coast; from there the starved and ragged survivors were shipped to Corfu and Thessaloniki by the Triple Entente. By the spring of 1916, Serbian troops were once again fighting on the frontlines, this time on foreign soil near Thessaloniki.

The victors—Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria—were convinced that Serbia had to disappear from the map as a political entity. However, there were differences of opinion on how to go about this. Should the entire country be annexed or should Serbia be extremely reduced to no more than an economically dependent rump state? At first they divided the country among themselves and set up a harsh occupational regime in the fall of 1915.

The objectives and practices of the occupation amounted to no more than the ruthless denationalization and plundering of the occupied regions, meant to ensure that the state of Serbia would vanish for good. The Austrians set up the Military Governorate of Serbia and introduced a rigid economic system of exploitation. In addition, political organizations and societies were forbidden, and schools were brought under their control. In March 1916, General Conrad ordered that all resistance be destroyed with ruthless severity, that the country be squeezed dry, and that no mercy be shown for the hardship this caused to the general population. Harvest yields and produced goods had to be turned over to authorities; food was rationed. Officials interned 16,500 men fit to bear arms until November 1916. That winter, starvation killed more than 8,000 Serbs, according to Red Cross reports, while figures from the Habsburg High Command reported that 170,000 cattle, 190,000 sheep, and 50,000 pigs had been requisitioned and exported to Austria-Hungary by mid-May 1917.

In late September 1916, the Serbian High Command flew in the guerrilla leader Kosta Milovanović Pećanac from Thessaloniki to organize resistance in Serbia. In February 1917, a force of 4,000 armed men and women managed to liberate an area in the Morava valley, but then the uprising was put down. The Austro-Hungarian military reported 20,000 dead and the escape of 2,600 into the forests.

Starting in November 1915, the Bulgarians established themselves in the eastern part of the country, where they had an old score to settle with Serbia. In 1912/1913, Serbia had ruthlessly “Serbianized” territories annexed from Bulgaria. The churches and schools of the Bulgarian Exarchate had been closed, Bulgarian newspapers banned, Greek and Bulgarian names translated into Serbian ones. When power changed hands at the end of October 1915, the situation reversed itself, and the Bulgarian military government in eastern Serbia, Macedonia, and parts of Kosovo began an unrelenting process of Bulgarianization, occupation, and economical exploitation.

Particularly hard hit were the Serbs. All former soldiers between the ages of 18 and 50, as well as teachers, doctors, journalists, civil servants, and other officials were interned, shot, or transported to Bulgaria as prisoners of war. Another 46,000 or so were deported there as forced laborers. Serb names, alphabet, and language were forbidden; books and maps were banned from the public. However, the occupiers did not treat the Muslims significantly better.

Whereas Austria-Hungary conducted the war against Serbia out of its existential interests, Germany was pursuing primarily economic aims. Berlin took charge of exploiting the mines, controlling the railway in the Morava valley, and organizing a swath of territory behind the lines (Etappenzone) used to provision its troops on the Salonica Front. Germany incorporated Serbia into its planning of the war economy, since the Germans were experiencing acute deficits in raw material and food as a result of the British trade blockade. To handle the exploitation of occupied Serbia, the Deutsch-orientalische Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) was created, based on the model of other German organizations working elsewhere to secure the supply of raw materials needed for the war. This exploitation drove Serbia so deeply into destitution that even Austrian representatives in Berlin filed complaints. Likewise in Bulgaria, the Germans had forced Sofia to let the War Raw Materials Department of the German Empire manage the mining of iron ore, so necessary for steel production.

The Salonica Front ran across all of Macedonia. It was a broad band of destruction, 80 to 95 miles long, that was repeatedly ploughed up by the artillery on both sides. By mid-1916, the fighting had reached such a stalemate that a crisis in provisioning the civilian population and the military reached catastrophic proportions. More and more of the Central Powers’ soldiers, including many Bulgarians, refused to take orders, deserted, or defected to the other side.

Two years later, on 15 September 1918, the Serbian army launched a major offensive that finally broke through the front lines. Accompanied by its allies, it marched in the direction of the Danube and liberated Belgrade on 1 November. From the outbreak of the Balkan wars in 1912 to the armistice in 1918, Serbia, Macedonia, and Kosovo had suffered almost unceasingly from extreme violence, hunger, and disease. These experiences brought about deep-seated material, societal, political, and sociocultural transformations.

Of all the countries involved in the First World War, Serbia had suffered the greatest loss of life with 1.2 million war dead by the end of the conflict. Fifty-three percent of the male population between 18 and 55 had been killed, and 264,000 were invalids. Almost all livestock had been either destroyed or requisitioned. For the Austro-Hungarian South Slavs, the experience of war had proven to be a decisive one. Part of the Isonzo Front ran across Slovenian soil, which resulted in tens of thousands of Slovenes being exiled or deported to Italy, Austria, and Hungary. Nearly 300,000 Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, and Slovenes had lost their lives as frontline soldiers fighting on behalf of foreign powers.

Millions of people had gone through life-threatening experiences, been forced to flee their homelands, and lost relatives and property. This unraveled the old social order. As long as the men, at one point more than 700,000 of them, were off fighting, traditional gender roles had to be redefined. During the war years, women took the place of men as the head of households, performed extremely hard labor for months at a time for the occupation forces, fought in the resistance, and lived a more liberal sexual morality.

In exile on Corfu, where political life continued, the 26-year-old Serbian prince regent used the emergency situation to deal with the secret organization Black Hand, which was allegedly hatching plans for an overthrow in its aim to create a Greater Serbia or Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. In 1917, ten officers were tried for high treason in Thessaloniki, and their leader, Apis, was executed along with two co-conspirators. This ended the rivalry that had existed since 1903 between military and civilian institutions of power and enabled the Serbian state to further consolidate itself.

The trail of destruction and destitution left by the war, the years of trauma, and the massive loss of human life left the entire South Slavic region with a pressing need to justify and attribute meaning to the sacrifice rendered. The prospect of national resurrection and greatness fulfilled this need in Serbian public opinion. Historians, politicians, and intellectuals knew how to incorporate the experiences into the public culture of remembrance. They heroized, sacralized, and mythologized the history of the war by stylizing the Serbs as a nation of martyrs and victims in the monuments they erected and the veteran cult they created. To cultivate this war culture as a common framework of reference and orientation meant to create of a new understanding of national community and political legitimacy, one in which the war ascended to become the founding myth of the new Yugoslav state.