The Chinese Invasion of India III

India had been identified by everyone in the top leadership of the CCP as the main regional enemy as early as 1959, and could therefore serve as a unifying factor as well as a pretext for purging the Party of ‘revisionists’ and other ‘undesirable elements’. At the time India was facing a highly disciplined and brilliantly efficient war machine in the Himalayas, it was not known that China was barely recovering from one of the worst famines in its history, a manmade disaster created by Mao’s own disastrous policies.

Following the Communist takeover of China in 1949, big and small landlords had their land confiscated and distributed among poorer peasants. Collectivization of land had to wait because there would have been widespread opposition to it. It was not until the mid-1950s that the policy changed, and peasants were forced into agricultural co-operatives. By 1958, private ownership of land had been abolished altogether, eventually leading to the birth of China’s hallmark people’s communes, where thousands of farmers were expected to work together to achieve often unrealistic production quotas. Even before that happened on a massive scale, the CCP decided to replace old religious beliefs with communist ideology, which meant that old temples were abandoned and fell into disrepair, traditional festivals were banned, and old icons in people’s homes had to be replaced with pictures of Mao, Zhu De, and other communist leaders.

There was widespread opposition to these measures and criticism of the new economic policies even from within the Party even during those early days of communist rule. In very basic terms, the state was unable to take care of the harvests and make sure that people had enough to eat. Mao’s response was to launch a campaign to let a ‘Hundred Flowers Bloom’. Criticism was not only allowed, it was encouraged. In retrospect it seems that Mao wanted to let the flowers bloom in order to cut them down. Now, when the critics had made themselves known, they were arrested under a follow-up drive called ‘The Anti-Rightist Campaign’, which was launched in June 1957. At least half a million people suffered as a result. The lucky ones just lost their jobs or homes, those who were unlucky ended up in prison or were executed.

But Mao had grander plans for transforming life in China’s rural communities and purging the critics opposed to his radical initiatives. He wanted China to become a modern, industrialized nation. The origins of these policies can be traced to the mid-1950s, when Mao began to advocate rapid industrial growth similar to what the Soviet Union had achieved under Stalin in the 1930s. This was in contrast to the modest, step-by-step industrialization and comprehensive balance as advocated by Chen Yun, a leading economist who tried—in vain—to moderate the Chairman’s wild plans for later became termed as ‘the Great Leap Forward’ and turned out to be one of the worst man-made disasters in modern history.

Mao refused to listen. In November 1957, he visited the Soviet Union and encouraged by Sputnik’s recent launch into space, he declaimed, ‘The east wind is now prevailing over the west wind’. Mao was also impressed with the Soviet Union’s massive steel production and Khrushchev’s pledge to overtake the United States and Britain in economic production in 15 years. Mao wished to see this emulated in China, and, in a People’s Daily editorial on 13 November, the slogan ‘Great Leap Forward’ was actually now used for the first time. Mao wanted to be even bolder than the Soviet Union and during the second Session of the 8th CCP Congress in May 1958 it was stated that China was to be ‘going all out, aiming high, and achieving more, faster, better, and more economic results in economic construction’.68 The goal was to overtake Britain in seven years and reach American levels in 15.

Millions of people all over the country were mobilized to turn China into the world’s most modern and industrialized nation. Steelmaking was given top priority, but in the absence of raw steel, everything from tools and metal sheets to nails and doorknobs were melted down to meet the targets. At the same time wasteful irrigation projects were launched to increase agricultural production and the state-controlled media published fanciful reports of massive progress everywhere in the country.

The Henan Province became the vanguard of the Great Leap Forward policies for the supposedly marvellous progress it had achieved. In Shangqiu Prefecture alone, a million people were employed in home workshops under the slogan, ‘Every household a factory, every home ringing with a ding-dong sound’. The province’s 38,473 collectives had been converted into 1,355 bigger people’s communes with an average of 7,200 households each. Grain production, pig farming, and irrigation projects were booming, according to the state media. In October 1958, the provincial authorities announced that Henan also had 5.77 million people working at more than 220,000 smelting furnaces.

Similar, though not quite as impressive strides forward were reported from other provinces as well. China was on the threshold of becoming the industrialized nation envisaged by Mao and summarized by the slogan ‘Three Red Banners’, i.e., ‘go all out, aim high, and build socialism with greater, faster, better, and more economical results’. But it was all pure fantasy. The people’s communes were built on land previously owned by individual farmers who saw little or no reason to toil for the state and the Party in exchange for rations and handouts from the authorities. Millions of farmers who had been mobilized to make steel no longer worked in the fields. Not surprisingly, the production of grain in Henan actually declined during the Great Leap Forward. Old food distribution networks also broke down under the weight of Mao’s mass mobilization of people to industrialize the country, which was still a backward peasant society. The vast majority of the population lived off the land, even in the co-operatives that had been established after the communist victory in 1949.

In early 1959, the central authorities in Beijing received reports from the model province of Henan that many people there were ‘stricken with edema or had died of starvation’.73 One such letter, dated 20 January 1959, and sent by the masses north and south of the Liudiquan train station, is especially moving and graphic:

On the day of the Spring Festival [the lunar New Year] people covered the grasslands of Xiayi and Yucheng searching for wild plants to eat, but there was nothing left. People have died of starvation in all of the villages on the border between the two counties. Some dropped dead while waiting in line to buy food; others perished while seeking wild herbs in the fields.

The pattern was the same, or worse, all over China. People were dying from starvation everywhere, and there were frequent reports of cannibalism. In Xinyang prefecture in Henan alone, there were at least 20 cases of people eating human flesh. An 18-year-old girl drowned her five-year-old cousin and ate him. The boy’s 14-year-old elder sister was also driven by hunger and ate her brother’s flesh. In Anhui Province there were 63 cases of cannibalism between 1959 and 1960. A couple strangled their eight-year-old son, and then cooked and ate him. In the same province, a man dug up a corpse, ate some of it, and sold a kilo as pork. Those were not isolated incidents. Similar incidents were recorded in most of China’s provinces, although it is only in recent years that the full scale of the disaster has come to light. There were also sporadic rebellions in some parts of the country, but those were quickly quelled and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rebels and their ringleaders were executed by the police and the PLA.

The drive to turn China into an industrialized country also failed miserably. The steel that the furnaces turned out was useless, and the irrigation canals, dykes, and dams that had been built in rural areas to modernize China’s agriculture were of poor standard. Frank Dikötter, a professor at the University of Hong Kong who has written extensively about the Great Leap Forward, states that, ‘more detailed reports by investigation teams confirmed that materials, tools and machinery were neglected or even deliberately damaged. In the Shijiazhuang Iron and Steel Company, for instance, half of the engines broke down frequently.’ Dikötter concludes that ‘a culture of waste developed. In Luoyang, three factories alone had accumulated more than 2,500 tonnes of scrap metal that went nowhere. In Shenyang, sloppy streamlets of molten copper and nickel solution ran between heaps of scrap metal.’

It was on 25 March 1959, in the midst of all this chaos, that the expanded Politburo of the CCP met in Shanghai. The issue that topped the agenda of the meeting was, naturally, the Great Leap Forward. But the Tibetan revolt had just been crushed, and the Dalai Lama had fled to India. So, that topic was also raised. Already before the conference, Zhou Enlai had accused both Britain and the United States of having provided support for the uprising. India, as a frontline state, must have been involved as well, according to Zhou.

At the Shanghai meeting, Deng Xiaoping reiterated what Zhou had stated, but argued that the time was not yet ripe for Beijing to condemn India openly. While it was not yet clear exactly when China was going to ‘settle accounts’ with the Indians, this was an issue where everyone was in complete agreement. Deng, along with Liu Shaoqi, belonged to those who were advocating more realistic economic policies than those implemented by Mao. But Deng was as much a hardliner as Mao when it came to dealing with Tibet and what the Communist leaders considered to be national security issues. The question was only when India should be ‘taught a lesson’.

Despite the consensus on issues relating to Tibet and India, Mao was still in trouble. The failures of the Great Leap Forward had shaken his leadership position and the Shanghai meeting endorsed his retirement from his post as the Chairman of the People’s Republic, or the de facto head of state. That post was given to the much more moderate Liu Shaoqi. But Mao stayed on as Chairman of the Party and, to the best of his ability, continued to manipulate events from behind the scenes.

A major problem for everyone in the top leadership was that they could not trust their underlings in the provinces. To conceal the disastrous outcome of the Great Leap Forward, and perhaps in an attempt to avoid being punished for failures, production figures in all fields were falsified in reports sent to the centre in Beijing. But the figures were so gross and exaggerated that even Mao disbelieved them. In April 1959, after the Shanghai meeting, he sent a circular letter to the Party cadres denouncing ‘mere bragging’ and demanding production targets to be based on reality.

The well-educated Zhou Enlai, who had no difficulty in understanding what was happening, had actually been one of the first to initiate a campaign against Mao’s concept of ‘rash advance’ as early as 1956. But Zhou, perhaps feeling that his position in the top leadership was no longer secure as Mao steamrolled his policies through the CCP’s Central Committee, soon turned around. In March 1958, he even undertook ‘self-criticism’ for opposing Mao’s notions of rapid industrialization. ‘I take the main responsibility for submitting the report opposing rash advance, in effect dashing cold water on the upsurge among the masses…at the time I lacked perception, and it was only later that I gradually came to understand that this was a directional error on the issue of socialist construction.’

Here was the supposedly sophisticated statesman who had made such an impression on the public during his visits to India in the 1950s humiliating himself in front of the Party’s inquisitors. Zhou was no doubt still critical of Mao’s plans for a rapid industrialization of China, but, at the same time, he was an opportunist who had to survive in the increasingly bitter power struggles that emerged during and in the wake of the Great Leap Forward. This became obvious when the CCP convened a meeting of its Politburo and a plenum of the Central Committee at Lushan, a mountain resort in Jiangxi Province in July 1959.

Yang Jisheng, a Chinese writer and researcher, says, ‘Obliged to defend the Three Red Banners and their consequences, Zhou felt deeply conflicted. This was manifested in his schizophrenic performance at the Lushan Conference as he exerted great effort to resolve practical issues while pandering to Mao at every opportunity.’ In retrospect, it seems implausible that Indian policymakers would have got anything sensible out of Zhou when he, at the very same time, was communicating with Nehru about the border and other outstanding issues China had with India.

Zhou’s opportunism made it possible for him to survive the purges that Mao unleashed at the Lushan Conference. The most prominent leader to be ousted was Peng Dehuai, who, on 13 and 14 July, had written a private letter criticizing the Great Leap Forward. Although extremely cautiously worded, and saying that the ‘accomplishments of 1958 Great Leap Forward are absolutely undeniable’, Mao took it as an attack on himself and his policies. But Mao also made the mistake of circulating Peng’s letter, which meant that other critical voices were raised. Zheng Wentian, a party veteran and Politburo member, was outspoken in his criticism—or, rather, as outspoken as anyone could be in the CCP.

Mao’s response was fierce and swift. Peng, Zheng, and others who were associated with them were branded ‘rightists’ and ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and were purged during and immediately after the Lushan Conference. Zheng was accused of having ‘illicit relations with a foreign country’, which, presumably meant the Soviet Union, and buckets of sewage water were poured over his head as he was ordered to confess his ‘wrongdoings’.85 In September, Peng was replaced as defence minister by Lin Biao, a Mao crony who himself would be purged later. Mao appeared to have emerged victorious in the power struggle, but even so, his position was not yet secure.

There was widespread dissatisfaction with him and his rule. The Great Leap Forward had led to famine on a scale not seen before in Chinese history. The exact number of deaths is difficult to determine. Dikötter believes that 45 million people died ‘unnecessarily’ between 1958 and 1962. Yang quotes Jiang Zhenghua, a Chinese researcher, who puts the figure considerably lower at 17 million. Whatever the exact number of deaths from starvation during the Great Leap Forward, it was a disaster of unprecedented magnitude. By comparison, approximately three million people died during the Bengal famine in 1943, the worst disaster that has affected India within the twentieth century.

Even with his main rivals out of the way, and Zhou licking his wounds and now following the Party line, Mao was disturbed by the opposition that he had had to face before and during the Lushan Conference. How many ‘rightists’ and ‘revisionists’ were there still in the Party? Who could he trust? The meeting was hardly over before Mao launched yet another vigorous ‘anti-rightist’ campaign to silence his remaining critics. Even the old marshal Zhu De, the real founder of the PLA, had tried to protect Peng at Lushan by criticizing him only mildly. That was enough for Mao, who had expected Zhu to denounce Peng. Zhu was dismissed from his post as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, but was allowed to retain some other, less important posts in the state and Party hierarchy.

It is plausible that it was at this time that Mao also decided to use the Tibet issue and the border dispute with India to enhance his still shaky position within the Party and the state. The Lushan Conference ended on 16 August, and on 25 August, a PLA unit launched a surprise attack on an Indian position at Longju on the NEFA border. Then came the firefight at Kongka La in Ladakh on 21 October. Lin Biao, the man Mao had put in charge of the military, was obviously doing his job. It is doubtful whether any of those attacks would have happened if the more professional, veteran officer Peng had still been in command of the PLA. On the other hand, China’s battlefield achievements in 1959 as well as in Myanmar in 1961, and, especially, the victory in the 1962 War were made possible because the PLA had benefitted from initiatives taken by Peng to professionalize the officer corps and make the command structure of the armed forces more efficient. These were to be reversed under Lin Biao. It was under him that the Lei Feng concept was promoted and for political and ideological reasons turned into a nation-wide cult, which survives to this day.

Mao’s gradual climb back to a position of absolute power had begun. By 1961, the Great Leap Forward was buried along with all the people who had died during the three years it had lasted. Apart from the millions who had died from starvation, there were others who had been beaten to death by Party zealots or had been executed on accusations of sabotage and other imagined crimes. It was over, and the political legacy of the Great Leap Forward was that Mao decided to replace the old principles of collective leadership of the Party with his own rule, which was not to be disputed or even challenged. He would, from now on, not tolerate any criticism of his rule or of his person.

But his struggle for a political comeback was not yet over. So, how safe was he from plots and intrigues within the Party? Dr Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal physician and confidante, wrote much later in his biography of the Chairman that his support within the Party was waning even after the Great Leap Forward. Mao was ‘depressed over the agricultural crisis and angry with the party elite, upon whom he was less able now to work his will. Mao was in temporary eclipse, spending most of his time in bed.

But then came 1962. According to Dr Li, ‘Nineteen sixty-two was a political turning point for Mao. In January, when he convened another expanded Central Committee work conference to discuss the continuing disaster, his support within the party was at its lowest.’ At the meeting, President Liu Shaoqi openly blamed the famine on ‘man-made disasters’. Liu wanted to bring back the leaders who had been purged for opposing the Great Leap Forward, which made Mao furious.

The sycophantic Lin Biao praised Mao, and the Chairman himself began counterattacking his enemies more vigorously by arguing that ‘classes continue to exist even under socialism’. The ‘class struggle’ had to be carried on and the notorious hardliner and spymaster Kang Sheng was put in charge of carrying out more purges of ‘revisionist’, i.e., anti-Mao elements within the CCP. Kang was almost inseparable from Jiang Qing, the former actress who in 1938 became Mao’s fourth wife. Together with Lin Biao, they became instrumental in bringing Mao back to power and propagating his unique brand of Communism as well as the personality cult that was advanced in the mid-1960s.

The border dispute with India proved to be a useful distraction from the power struggle and an issue that would either silence Mao’s rivals and critics or bring them back them into the fold. And that helps explain why the final preparations for a war with India began in early 1962. Lin Biao was put in charge of the operation and that alliance between Mao and his loyal de facto chief of the PLA made the attack on India possible. With China’s ultimate victory in the war, Mao’s ultra-leftist line had won in China; whatever critical voices that were left in the Party after all the purges fell silent.

By now there was also no doubt that Mao’s vision and ambitions went beyond China’s borders. He wanted to become the leader not only of China but also of all the revolutionary movements in the world. And that became a reality after the victory over India in 1962. Two years later, Nehru died, humiliated by the Chinese, a broken man. Brigadier Dalvi noted this in his account of the 1962 War and its aftermath, ‘Without a Nehru India ceased to be the moral leader of the non-aligned world. Whereas prior to 1962 she wielded immense power and influence despite her poverty and lack of military power, after the Chinese attack she was “cut to size” in the words of one unfriendly critic of Nehru.’

China was encouraged by the victory over India, and, once again, united behind Mao. A more belligerent China also emerged from the ashes of the battlefields in the Himalayas. Bombastic revolutionary phraseology was nothing new in broadcasts by Radio Beijing and articles in the People’s Daily, but the rhetoric in the Chinese media now became even more militant than ever before. And the message was directed at revolutionaries in the parts of the world Mao wanted to have on his side in the struggle against ‘the imperialists’, ‘the revisionists’, and ‘the reactionaries’.

Mohan Ram argues in his excellent study of events before and after the 1962 War that, by mid-1967, China ‘thought the revolutionary situation had turned “excellent” amidst sharpening international class struggle’ and with revolutionary flames being lit all over ‘The Third World’. Ram refers to an article in the People’s Daily, which contained a fierce attack on the Soviet Union’s then premier, Alexei Kosygin, and his call for ‘an end to war’ as well as a condemnation of ‘the greater United States-Soviet collusion against revolutionary struggles’. The People’s Daily concluded that ‘the world is full of the smell of gun powder…to hell with the theory of “dying out” of wars!’

Australians at D-Day


On the night of 5/6 June Bomber Command conducted precision attacks on ten German coastal artillery batteries near the beaches where Allied troops were to land. Each battery was targeted by approximately 100 heavy bombers, and all four Australian heavy bomber squadrons took part in the operation. No. 460 Squadron dispatched 26 aircraft, which were evenly split between attacking the batteries at Fontenay-Crisbecq and St Martin de Varreville. No. 466 Squadron provided 13 aircraft to the raid on batteries at Merville-Franceville Maisy, 14 aircraft from No. 463 Squadron struck Pointe du Hoe and No. 467 Squadron dispatched 14 against batteries at Ouistreham. The RAAF squadrons did not suffer any losses. Many Australian aircrew posted to British units also participated in this attack, and 14.8 percent of the 1,136 Bomber Command aircraft despatched were either part of RAAF squadrons or were flown by Australians.

Australians posted to RAF units also landed paratroopers in Normandy and took part in diversionary operations. On the night of 5/6 June several Australian airmen served in heavy bombers that dropped “window” chaff in patterns that, on German radar, simulated the appearance of convoys headed for the Pas de Calais region of France. Other Australians served in aircraft that dropped dummy paratroopers and jammed German radar. One Australian pilot posted to No. 139 Squadron RAF took part in “intruder” bombing raids against targets in western Germany and the Low Countries that sought to divert German aircraft away from Normandy. Australian aircrew also served aboard the transport aircraft of No. 38 Group RAF and No. 46 Group RAF, which flew the British 6th Airborne Division from the UK to Normandy on the night of 5/6 June. About 14 percent of the transport aircraft in No. 38 Group were piloted by Australians, though the proportion of Australians in No. 46 Group was much lower. There were no completely Australian aircrews in either group.

Australian aircrew supported the fighting on 6 June. No. 453 Squadron was one of 36 Allied squadrons that provided low-altitude air defence for the invasion fleet and landing force. Many of the squadron’s pilots flew several sorties during the day, though they did not encounter any German aircraft. No. 456 Squadron also formed part of the force that provided air defence for the invasion area at night. In addition, about 200 Australian pilots were spread across the dozens of RAF fighter and fighter-bomber units that supported the landings. A small number of Australian aircrew also served in RAF reconnaissance units and 2TAF’s light bomber squadrons, which also saw combat over France on D-Day. The three Australian squadrons assigned to Coastal Command flew only a small number of sorties on 6 June as few German submarines or E-boats put to sea.

About 500 RAN personnel served on board RN ships involved in the operation. While most formed part of the crew of RN warships, several Australian officers led flotillas of landing craft and others commanded individual craft. For instance, Sub-Lieutenant Dean Murray commanded a force of six RN Landing Craft Assault that landed soldiers of the British 3rd Infantry Division at Sword Beach. Hudspeth also took X20 across the channel to mark the edge of Juno Beach during the landings there; he received his third DSC for completing this mission. Some of the warships with Australian crew members that supported the landings were HMS Ajax (which had three RANVR officers on board), Ashanti, Enterprise, Eskimo, Glasgow, Mackay and Scylla. Australian members of the Merchant Navy also participated in the D-Day landings, though the number of sailors involved is not known.

Few of the Australian Army officers attached to British units landed on D-Day. Major Jo Gullett, who was the second in command of an infantry company in the 7th Battalion, Green Howards, came ashore on Gold Beach as part of the invasion force. In his memoirs, Gullett described the landing as “easily the most impressive occasion of my life”. He subsequently led a company of the Royal Scots until he was wounded by German machine gun fire on 17 July. Most of the other Australian officers served in staff positions; for instance Lieutenant Colonel Bill Robertson was the chief of staff of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division when that unit arrived in Normandy and was later posted to the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division where he served in the same role. Vincent came ashore on 7 June and served with XXX Corps, 7th Armoured and 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Divisions during the campaign.

Due to the lack of a nominal roll or other records listing the Australians who took part in the D-Day landings, it is not possible to determine the exact number involved. However, it has been estimated that about 3,000 Australian military personnel and merchant seamen participated in the operation. The total number of Australians killed on 6 June was 14, of whom 12 were RAAF airmen and two were members of the RAN.

The Causes of “The Hundred Years’ War”

Clockwise, from top left: the Battle of La Rochelle, the Battle of Agincourt, the Battle of Patay, and Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orléans

The long conflict between France and England, to which historians have given the name of “The Hundred Years’ War,” interests us chiefly as an illustration on a great scale of the transition from the mediæval, feudal order of society to the modern, national idea of political organization. Its nearer causes were largely feudal, and its methods were still, to a great extent, those of the earlier period. Its remoter causes, however, and the motives that kept it alive are to be sought on both sides in a steadily growing sense of national unity and national honor. Under the feudal régime it may fairly be said that it mattered little to the landholding aristocracy whether it were under the sovereignty of one king or another. The thing it really cared about was whether its privileges were such as it had a right to expect, and whether these privileges were likely to be fully and honorably maintained. So long as this was the case the barons found their profit and their glory in standing by their king in those undertakings which had a certain national character. But if their rights were tampered with, or if another sovereign offered equal guaranties of privilege, they easily took advantage of the flexible feudal arrangements to shift their allegiance.

While this is true of both the countries engaged in this desperate struggle, there is evident by the close of the thirteenth century a very marked difference between them. English feudalism had always differed from that of France in its relation to the overlord. The impulse given to the royal power by William the Conqueror had never been quite lost. The rights of the crown had been steadily enforced, and what might have seemed a great disadvantage, namely, the absence of a large and compact domaine which might become the nucleus of a monarchical state, had really proved an element of strength. For if the monarchy in England were to be maintained at all, it could only be through the willingness of its subjects to support it. Doubtless there were many times when this loyalty had been strained almost to the breaking point, but the necessity under which the English king was put of appealing to all his people instead of relying upon the resources of a great domaine had proved a powerful educating force in bringing about, on the whole, a harmonious working together of the several elements in the English state. On the other hand, it is clear that a rich family property overseas in France was a very tempting prize to an ambitious king in England. It offered him a chance, similar to that which his French rival enjoyed, of disciplining troublesome barons or obstinate parliaments by means of resources not dependent upon their good will. From this point of view, therefore, we can quite understand the energy with which the English kings of the eleventh and twelfth centuries pursued this ambition, to hold and to increase the lands in France which had come to them by way of feudal inheritance. Yet it remains true that while these lands, one after another, fell away from them by the chances of feudal succession, the monarchy was gaining slowly but surely in its hold on the people of England. Further, the smaller extent of English territory, its comparative isolation, and the relatively greater uniformity of its population made it more easily possible for its kings to assert themselves as against the rival interests of barons or of commons. The definite establishment of Parliament toward the close of the thirteenth century offered a point of application for all measures looking towards a wider extension of the royal power as the price of a more firmly founded popular liberty. In a word, by the year 1300 English nationality was no mere dream of the future. It was finding its expression in a popular monarchy and in a vigorous, self-conscious national life. In France a similar effort at concentration of royal power had been proceeding on different lines and had led to different results. We have already examined some of the processes by which the French kings of the thirteenth century had succeeded in enforcing their judicial authority outside their own domaine, while at the same time they were widening as far as possible the extent of the domaine itself. In both these ways the gain had been very great, so that when, in the early years of the fourteenth century, King Philip IV had called upon the nation to support him in his trial of strength with Pope Boniface VIII, the response had been, on the whole, surprisingly prompt and complete. Yet in all the measures of all the kings from Philip Augustus to Philip IV the essentially feudal structure of the French state had not seriously been called in question. The king could never forget that he was himself a feudal prince, a landbaron like the rest, and the aim of his policy was always not to crush his feudal rivals but to substitute himself for them. When a principality of France became domaine, the king succeeded to the rights of the former lord. For the moment nothing was changed in the land except its headship. Its “customs” – that is, the legal status of its inhabitants – were not essentially altered; the same contributions of men and money that had formerly been paid to the lord were now due to the king. Even before such annexation to the crown, it had been possible, certainly from the time of Philip Augustus, for the kings to maintain in the feudal territories royal officials with more or less extensive rights of jurisdiction and of taxation. After annexation the scope of action of these royal officials was simply increased, and they came to replace the similar officials formerly employed by the lesser lords. It is thus almost literally true that during our period the French kings were conquering France not often by the sword but gradually by the slower weapons of purchase, mortgage, forfeiture, gift, or inheritance.

The Hundred Years’ War found France in the midst of this slow and difficult transformation. It is, of course, true that the farther the strengthening of the monarchy went, the greater momentum it gained toward overcoming the resistance of feudalism; but the peculiar character of the war, its long duration, the French reverses, and the dissensions among the leaders in French affairs are all to be understood only in the light of this conflict of political ideas. The monarchy at its best, as under Charles V, was too weak to control perfectly the resources it needed for the deliverance of the country. At its worst, as under John “the Good,” it was itself too hopelessly feudal to be a real leader in the national cause it failed so utterly to understand.

As between the two powers, then, at the opening of the Hundred Years’ War, the advantage appeared to be on the side of England, – a small, compact, fairly homogeneous people under a popular and energetic monarchy over against a people widely extended, made up of many distinct racial elements, and divided against itself by strongly opposed class interests. The war was, on the whole, popular in England, while the French went into it for the first generation rather languidly and without any just sense of the great national issues involved. The armies and navies of England were almost entirely made up of Englishmen; the French, both on land and sea, fought with the aid of large contingents of hired foreigners. The English notion of fighting was to get the better of the enemy and to kill him off as fast as possible. The French leaders were still governed by the lofty but fantastic ideas of mediæval chivalry, which treated war rather as a game, to be played according to certain rules of honor, than as a desperate struggle of peoples bent on carrying their quarrel to the last extremity. It was only by the long training of the war itself that these notions were gradually dispelled and the French people taught that national unity was the indispensable condition of national honor.

The immediate occasion of the Hundred Years’ War was a dynastic one. A glance at the table of the Valois family shows at once the question at issue. When King Philip IV died in 1314 he left three sons who followed him in regular succession upon the throne, and this in spite of the fact that the first two had each left daughters who might have succeeded them. The daughters had been set aside in pursuance of what was called the “Salic Law,” and thus a precedent had been established for all future time. The last of the three brothers, Charles IV, dying in 1328, left his queen in near expectation of an heir, Should this child prove to be a daughter, it was evident that the same question would arise once more and would be so much the more troublesome as the men likely to appear as claimants were more remote from the main Capetian line. In any case there would have to be a regency, and the choice of a regent was felt to involve the whole question of the succession. The male person nearest to the three late kings was their cousin, Philip of Valois, whose claim descended in the male line from Philip III. Philip’s claim to the regency was at once disputed by King Edward III of England, who was the son of a daughter of Philip IV and hence, like Philip of Valois, a descendant of Philip III. He based his claim on the fact of his descent through an elder, through a female, line and maintained that even if the Salic Law debarred a woman from the succession, it could not prevent her from transmitting to her descendants a right she could not herself exercise.

If both claimants had been Frenchmen the decision might have been difficult; as it was, the national spirit was strong enough to settle the matter. Philip of Valois was chosen regent by the barons of France and two months later, on the birth of a daughter to the widow of Charles IV, he was proclaimed king. Then came the test question, – whether King Edward would accept the situation and do homage to King Philip for the lands which he held in France. Under earlier feudal conditions homage paid by one king to another had not seemed to involve any sacrifice of honor. The relation was a personal one and did not carry with it any reflection on the vassal king’s duty to his own people. Now, however, under the new impulses of the national spirit, King Edward could but hesitate. Homage to the French king seemed to be, in a way, a stain upon the honor of the English people. Summoned by Philip VI to do homage in person, he failed to appear, and Philip made preparations to seize the revenues of his lands. In response to a second summons Edward came over to Amiens and there, in a personal interview, agreed to pay homage “by mouth and word,” but refused to place his hands in those of Philip and swear to be his liege man. It is significant that the reason he gave for his refusal was that he must refer the question to his Parliament and do as it would have him. Edward’s conference with his advisers, the pressure of Philip’s agents in Guienne, and the perpetual danger of war on the Scottish border resulted three years later (1331) in a formal declaration on his part that the homage at Amiens should be held to be liege homage, but only for those lands actually in the English possession.

The dynastic question seemed thus to be settled once for all, and so it might have remained but for a series of events not dynastic and not feudal in their nature, but rather political and economic. These were the affairs of Flanders, which we have treated more fully elsewhere. Politically, Flanders was to England what Scotland was to France, a country bound to her rival by ancient feudal ties, but stirred by the new spirit of national independence and seeking for a pretext to break or to weaken those earlier bonds. Economically the bond of Flanders with England was stronger than with France. The chief industry of the great Flemish cities, the manufacture of woolen cloths, was entirely dependent upon the ready importation of English wool, whereas the business dealings of Flanders with France were by comparison unimportant. The rich and powerful citizens of Ghent and Bruges were little inclined to bear the burdens of feudal service in order to maintain their lord, the count of Flanders, in his normal feudal relation to the French king. Especially was this the case when the feudal loyalty of their count to King Philip VI was met by Edward III with an embargo on English wool. “No wool, – no work!” was an appeal stronger than any sentiment of loyalty to prince or king. When the pinch of distress began to be felt, they listened eagerly to able leaders who were ready to show them a way out. Alliance with England was the obvious remedy, and to that policy Jacques van Artavelde, the ablest citizen of Flanders, was prepared to commit them. It was a glaring illustration of how far the old feudal spirit had given way to the demands of the new national states, that Edward III should relieve the scruples of the Flemish on the point of their loyalty to the king of France by again declaring himself to be that person. Loyalty to him was thus in fact loyalty to France. It was a quibble unworthy of the great days of chivalry, but quite in harmony with the “practical” demands of modern politics.

This open violation of the dynastic settlement of 1331 was a challenge which Philip VI could not refuse, and both sides pressed their preparations for war. Indeed, for months past these preparations had been going on. King Edward had succeeded in bringing together a formidable group of allies. At a conference held at Valenciennes in May representatives of the count of Hainault, the dukes of Brabant and Geldern and several others of the lower Rhine princes, the Count Palatilne of the Rhine, and the emperor Ludwig the Bavarian declared themselves in Edward’s favor. Immediately afterward (May 24) Philip summoned the Council of Peers at Paris and with their approval declared that Edward had forfeited all fiefs held by him of the French crown. In a sense this was a declaration of war, but it is idle to attempt to throw the blame of what followed upon either party. Both were bent upon a trial of strength, and it was only a question of opportunity. That opportunity was offered by the situation in Flanders.

By far the most important ally of Edward III seemed to be the emperor Ludwig the Bavarian. The outbreak of hostilities between France and England coincided with the extraordinary series of political declarations in Germany by which the emperor and the electoral college proclaimed their independence of papal interference in the regular working of the imperial electoral machinery. The residence of the popes in France and their close relation to French politics seemed to throw Ludwig naturally on the English side. In the summer of 1338 King Edward left the Low Countries, where he had been strengthening his alliance with the local princes and set out on a journey up the Rhine. The emperor, after the great day at Rense, met him at Coblenz. All the electors of the Empire except King John of Bohemia, who was at the court of Philip VI, were present and gave their sanction to what followed. With every circumstance of solemnity the emperor made a public declaration that King Philip had forfeited his claim to the crown of France and proceeded to invest Edward III as imperial vicar. The precise meaning of this transaction is not clear. Edward names himself in documents: Vicarius generalis per totam Alemanniam et Germaniam, but it seems unlikely that anything more than the lower Rhine country, especially on the left bank, can have been intended. The fact is that Edward was warmly received both going and coming by the princes of that region. All followed the lead of the emperor in promising their aid in the impending war, and all were only too glad to take the handsome sums of money which Edward distributed right and left. A few trifling acts of authority in the name of his imperial master were not resisted; but further than this the loudly heralded imperial alliance did not go. In the desultory campaigning of the next few months the German allies made but a sorry showing. Ludwig the Bavarian, a shifty politician here as always, did nothing whatever to support his grand promises, and Edward, fortunately for his cause, found himself thrown back upon the only true sources of his strength, upon English loyalty and English courage.

Vietnam 1950

French troops coming ashore on the coast of Annam, July 1950.

By 1949, French intelligence in Paris was increasingly concerned about how the war against communism in China was going. Despite being equipped with millions of dollars of American weapons, Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists were rapidly losing. The city of Hsuchow (Xuzhou) on the North China Plain was in the news bulletins for all the wrong reasons. Chiang was defeated in Manchuria in 1948, with the loss of 30,000 soldiers and all of their equipment. By the end of the year, his remaining armies were completely cut off at Hsuchow.

Chiang was betrayed by General Liu Fei, his military assistant, who revealed the nationalists’ strategy to the enemy. On 10 January 1949, some 320,000 nationalist troops were forced to surrender south of Hsuchow. This meant that the communists could march down the Yangtze River, which runs through the very heart of southern China. Ten days later, with his government in chaos, Chiang resigned as president of the Chinese Republic. In April and May, the communists entered Nanking on the Yangtze, and then Shanghai. Once the nationalists were looking to flee to the island of Formosa (Taiwan), it was only a matter of time before Mao’s four-million-strong People’s Liberation Army reached the border with Indochina.

The French military were now taking the situation in Indochina very seriously. France’s most senior soldier, General Georges Revers, Chief of the General Staff, flew to Indochina in May 1949 to assess the situation in person. He and his fellow generals knew that Mao’s imminent victory would drastically transform the status quo in the region. During his briefings in Saigon and Hanoi, it soon became apparent that once Mao was up against the border backing the Viet Minh, the French military would be unable to hold the frontier.

Revers’s report recommended that Lao Kai on the Red River in northern Tonkin, which was particularly isolated, and the Cao Bang-Lang Son ridge on the border northeast of Hanoi, be abandoned, rather than needlessly sacrificing the scattered garrisons. The units could be better used in strengthening the Red River Delta defences. Lao Kai was sometimes referred to as ‘the gateway to China’. The delta, General Revers reasoned, would provide a base to conduct pacification operations, followed by a counter-offensive into the Viet Minh’s heartland in the Viet Bac.

Revers made an astute strategic assessment that was largely ignored by the politicians. He had accurately predicted Giap’s forthcoming campaign. Despite Revers’s recommendations, it was felt that the Cao Bang-Lang Son ridge could not be abandoned, because it sat astride Route Coloniale 4. All the time that it was occupied, it prevented Chinese aid from reaching Giap in Viet Bac. This ignored Revers’s assessment that the ridge could not be held in the face of a concerted attack.

Although the French had reinserted themselves into Indochina and its major cities, they never really took control of the surrounding countryside. In reality, their authority was confined to the main towns and the roads connecting them and the outlying forts. Even in their Tonkin heartland around Hanoi, guerrilla activity and intelligence gathering by Ho Chi Minh’s forces remained unchecked.

The key to the defence of Hanoi and the port of Haiphong was the Red River Delta. Both sides were well aware of this. It shaped their strategic thinking and was to dominate the war until Dien Bien Phu. Giap’s immediate task, as predicted, was to secure the very long frontier with China, which ran all the way from the junction with the Laotian border in the northwest, and to the Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast. This would ensure the free flow of Chinese instructors, weapons and ammunition. The campaigning season was limited, so he needed to act before the rains from May to October 1950 severely hampered mobility.

General Wei Guo-qing, leading a Chinese military advisory group some 280 strong, arrived in April 1950. Their role was to guide Ho Chi Minh on the best tactics and strategy to use against the French. It is not entirely clear just how much influence they had, but the size of the group suggests that it was quite considerable. Wei no doubt espoused Mao’s doctrine of ‘man-over-weapons’ to defeat superior French firepower. As manpower was never a problem, the Chinese Communists were advocates of the ‘human-wave’ tactic, whereby an enemy was simply swamped and overrun. In Indochina, this was to flounder in the face of the French air force’s guns, bombs and napalm.

Giap massed fourteen infantry and three artillery battalions with which to attack the French border forts. He struck first at Lao Kai, not far from the Chinese border, in February 1950. The small French garrison found themselves being bombarded by heavy mortars before being overrun. Then, northeast of Hanoi, he attacked the vulnerable Cao Bang-Lang Son ridge. Both these two towns, between which were French posts at Dong Khe and That Khe, sat astride two different roads from China. These in turn were linked by the road that ran south all the way to the French-held port of Tien Yen.

On 25 May 1950, the Viet Minh took the sandbagged outpost at Dong Khe, midway along the ridge, wiping out two companies of North African troops. This was a typical fort, built on a hilltop after the jungle had been cleared from the summit. Giap employed four battalions, supported by small artillery pieces and mortars to overcome the 800-strong garrison. It was the first time that the Viet Minh used the Chinese human-wave tactic. However, his men had to withdraw two days later, when a French parachute battalion arrived on the scene.

In July, General Chen Geng arrived from China at the request of Ho Chi Minh to help with Wei’s advisory group. This again indicates that Mao was exerting some considerable influence on the conduct of the war in Indochina. Chen also encouraged Ho and Giap to renew their efforts to take the border forts. At the end of the year, he was to depart for Korea, leaving Wei in charge.

Both sides waited for the summer rains to ease before fighting resumed. By this stage, General Marcel Carpentier, commander-in-chief of the French Expeditionary Force, had about 10,000 troops protecting the scattered forts on the ridge. Giap singled out Dong Khe once again, encircling it with his artillery and mortars. The Viet Minh 174th Regiment built a full-scale replica not far away to facilitate lengthy and detailed training. Nothing was left to chance.

Two companies of legionnaires from the 3rd Foreign Legion Regiment, some 260 men, who were holding Dong Khe were shelled all day on 16 September 1950. They only had two artillery pieces, consisting of a 75mm gun and a 105mm howitzer with which to reply.

Then at dusk, six Viet Minh battalions swarmed forward under covering mortar fire. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting followed. They had killed or wounded 140 of the defenders and driven them out of three of their four sandbagged positions by the following night. The legionnaires put up a heroic defence, but were finally overwhelmed on 18 September. A relief column formed by the Legion’s elite 1st Parachute Battalion, who were dropped at nearby That Khe, were ambushed and driven off.

The garrison at Cao Bang at the northern end of the ridge was now cut off from its delta support. General Carpentier finally conceded that Route Coloniale 4 could not be held. On 3 October, it was decided to evacuate Cao Bang. The 1,500 retreating troops and accompanying civilian refugees, however, had first to get past Viet Minh-held Dong Khe to reach That Khe and Lang Son. What followed was a disaster. Despite the French air force flying 844 sorties in support, the French suffered very heavy losses. French pilots were hampered by low cloud and ground mist that helped conceal the Viet Minh’s movements.

On 9 October, the withdrawing garrison, plus a 3,500-strong relief force from That Khe, were both separately ambushed and scattered. The two four-battalion-strong French columns were soon surrounded by thirty Viet Minh battalions and overwhelmed. The two columns never managed to meet on the road, and when some of the survivors regrouped, they were attacked for a third time. All order vanished, and the French lost about 4,000 men in the surrounding jungle. A parachute battalion was annihilated while conducting rear-guard actions. Lang Son was abandoned by Carpentier. Likewise, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Legion’s 3rd Regiment were severely mauled.

By 17 October 1950, all the forts had fallen, resulting in 6,000 French casualties. Giap had secured a strategically important piece of border territory, as well as capturing enough French weapons for an entire division. These included 9,200 rifles, 900 machine guns, 125 mortars and 13 heavy guns, as well as 450 trucks. French morale was crushed, and a wave of alarm passed through the French military and civilian population in Indochina. When the news reached Paris, it was greeted with a mixture of despair and outrage. Heads had to roll. The government’s response was to sack both High Commissioner Léon Pignon and General Carpentier.

The French hold on northern Tonkin, Hanoi and the Red River Delta was now precarious. In France, the war was increasingly disliked, with the Cold War in Europe a national preoccupation. The wounded from Indochina were routed home through provincial airports lest they be greeted by hostile demonstrators in Paris. Conscripts could not go unless they specifically volunteered, but most were deterred from doing so by a lack of faith in the conflict and by understandably anxious parents. There was an atmosphere of tension, with supplies for Indochina being sabotaged on French trains and in ports. Even getting donated blood out to the troops was problematic. France’s communists were opposed to the war, and there were dark mutterings that they were behind the disruption.

The Viet Minh’s supply routes from China were now secure, meaning they were now in a position to confront the French with much greater strength than before. Heartened by his victory, Ho Chi Minh boasted that he would be in Hanoi within a matter of weeks. Giap was encouraged to go over to the ‘open-battle’ phase of their grand strategy. They planned to launch an all-out assault on the delta region, with a view to overwhelming the remaining French strongholds, which would isolate Hanoi and force the French out. What they had not bargained for, however, was the arrival of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny as joint High Commissioner and commander-in-chief in December 1950.

De Lattre, like de Gaulle, was a war hero and a keeper of the faith. Like de Gaulle, he was autocratic, but he loved his men. He had led the French First Army during the liberation of the Riviera and the long march into southern Germany. This force had included the veteran Algerian and Moroccan divisions. They were the saviours of Strasbourg and Colmar. De Lattre first arrived back on liberated French soil on 16 August 1944 with his 16-year-old son Bernard. De Gaulle had granted the boy special permission to join the army and his father. The diminutive general was photographed with his young son proudly towering over him. During his early career, de Lattre senior had fought at Verdun and during France’s wars in Morocco. He was exactly what Indochina’s demoralized garrison needed.

In truth, de Lattre was not the first choice for such a difficult mission. Other veteran generals had been approached. Juin, busy in Morocco, had declined, while Koenig said he would only go if the Indochina garrison was bolstered with conscripts. De Lattre was serving as NATO’s land forces commander, under General Dwight Eisenhower as Allied Supreme Commander, with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery as Eisenhower’s deputy. It was not an easy relationship, especially as the other two always saw themselves as the dominant military partners.

General de Lattre was very much a French version of Montgomery, and putting them together was never a good idea. It was a titanic clash of egos. Their relationship was so tumultuous it was almost to the point of outright hatred. Their squabbles over the chain of command for the Western European Union were so corrosive that it eventually helped derail France’s commitment to NATO. De Lattre was serving as Inspector General of the French armed forces when Montgomery got him appointed commander WEU land forces. Once in post, he would not recognize Montgomery’s authority, which led to very public accusations of disloyalty.

Eventually, after a particularly unpleasant confrontation on 10 May 1950, a weeping de Lattre was reconciled with Montgomery. Before his departure for Indochina, de Lattre had tea with Montgomery, who was celebrating his sixty-third birthday. He was touched when the old field marshal cut an extra piece of cake for Bernard de Lattre, who was already serving in Indochina. Whatever their differences, they were brothers-in-arms and they understood each other.

The young Minister for Overseas Territories, François Mitterrand, warned the 62-yearold de Lattre that Indochina would be a poisoned chalice. He cautioned that it could wreck his health and his reputation. Certainly, at that stage in his life, de Lattre did not need this appointment. No doubt he was astute enough to realize that the fighting in Indochina would swing on the pendulum of the escalating Korean War and the meddling of China. Washington had made it clear that it would not tolerate the spread of communism down the Korean peninsula, whatever the cost. Many senior French officers saw Indochina as another front in the same war. The Soviet Union, China, and communism in general wherever they raised their heads, needed to be contained.

Nonetheless, de Lattre had two good reasons for going. Firstly, Lieutenant Bernard de Lattre was there and writing home with very frank assessments of what was happening on the ground. Bernard, like his father, was a soldier through and through. During the Second World War, he had been wounded, earning the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. Secondly, every year hundreds of young officers coming out of the Saint Cyr military academy were being killed in Indochina. On 23 October 1950, Bernard had written to his mother: ‘Tell Father we need him, without him it will go wrong.’ What father could refuse such an appeal from his son? De Lattre felt he could make a difference.

De Lattre did not go alone, for he summoned many of his wartime comrades. He needed men he could trust and rely on. From his 1944–45 staff, he took generals Allard and Salan, and colonels Beaufre and Cogny. They also rallied others, such as General de Linarès, who was already in-country. Great pomp and ceremony was made of de Lattre’s arrival in Saigon, where he pointedly ignored his disgraced predecessor, General Carpentier. Once in Hanoi, he reviewed the troops and then addressed his staff. He said it was for the young officers that he had accepted this challenging assignment.

There were no promises on the table. Paris offered no reinforcements, and de Lattre could provide no easy victories. What he could promise them was firm leadership. De Lattre knew from Bernard that among the many shortcomings of the French army in Indochina, there was a lack of firm and purposeful command. This bred poor morale and it was something that had to be addressed immediately – the removal of Carpentier was a start. As well as this, de Lattre knew that his immediate task was to hold the Viet Minh at bay while the Red River Delta defences were strengthened.

Salan was appointed deputy commander for northern Tonkin and de Linarès deputy commander of the delta area. The field command was divided into three divisions and the headquarters reorganized to improve civil/military liaison. While making his preparations, de Lattre lobbied for reinforcements but they would take time to reach him. Everything now hung in the balance.

Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War Part II

Household of John, Duke of Berry

The defence was directed from Bourges by the Duke of Berry. The Duke was no soldier but he was assisted by experienced captains including Charles d’Albret, John Duke of Bourbon and that bold fighter Raoul lord of Gaucourt. Bourges was filled with refugees of the Parisian proscriptions of the past year. For a man with Jean de Berry’s commitment to the dynasty, armed confrontation with what was ostensibly a royal army commanded by the King and the Dauphin in person was a terrible experience, perhaps the worst crisis in a long life devoted to the avoidance of discord and the pursuit of comfort and beauty. He took the only line that he could take, that he was not resisting the King but only the Duke of Burgundy. Even at this late stage he put out feelers in the hope of finding a way out which would not put him at the mercy of his terrible nephew. The chronicler of Saint-Denis, who was in the King’s entourage, believed that Charles and many of those around him would have welcomed these approaches had it not been for the unbending attitude of John the Fearless. But John, determined to stick to the policy of unconditional surrender, pressed on regardless. The army quickly overran the outlying garrisons which had been stationed on the eastern and southern approaches to Bourges. The first sustained confrontation occurred at Dun-le-Roi, the last garrisoned fortress before the city. Dun was defended by a garrison of 400 Gascon and Italian routiers under the command of one of the Duke of Bourbon’s bastard half-brothers. But it was an old fortress with high walls and vulnerable to artillery fire. The great bombard Griette, which had destroyed the gatehouse of Ham the year before, was hauled up. It took twenty men to move it, and the detonations could be heard four miles away ‘like reverberations from hell’. On the first day a direct hit demolished a large part of a tower. On the second it breached another tower in two places and brought down a considerable section of wall. The garrison was instructed by the Duke of Berry to submit and withdrew amid screams of abuse from the massed ranks of Burgundians outside. As John the Fearless marched on to Bourges a herald went ahead to call on the city to surrender. The Duke of Berry replied that he would willingly surrender to the King or the Dauphin but not to those whom they had about them. John the Fearless arrived before Bourges on 11 June 1412 to find the walls manned and banners flying from every tower.

Siege of Bourges

Bourges was a substantial walled city in the centre of the vast plain of Berry. Viewed from the south, the direction from which the Burgundian army approached, its skyline owed much to Jean de Berry’s forty-year tenure. There was the western gable of the cathedral with its great rose window and its clock, both commissioned by the Duke; the immense hall and palace dominating the upper town, still incomplete in 1412, today buried beneath the Préfecture of the Cher; the two-storey Sainte-Chapelle, even larger than its famous archetype in Paris, where the Duke intended to be buried, today gone like the palace. The city was defended by a complete circuit of walls dating from the end of the twelfth century, reinforced with a tall circular keep, five powerful gateways and more than forty towers. On the west side the walls stood over the River Yèvre and its tributary the Auron. Two fortified bridges crossed the rivers, giving access to an expanse of marshland and to the open country beyond. In June 1412 these ancient but still formidable defences were manned by about 1,500 men-at-arms and some 400 archers including sizeable contingents of Gascon and English mercenaries. The situation of Bourges made a complete blockade hard to achieve. The besieging army would have been divided by the bogs and watercourses of the Yèvre and the Auron, inviting defeat in detail by sorties from the town. In practice it could be taken only by assault from the plain on the east and south sides. It was there that the Duke of Burgundy set up his camp and sited his artillery. Shortly gaping holes began to appear in the walls and turrets. Huge balls of cut stone were hurled into the city, demolishing whole houses, smashing timber buildings like matchwood and creating wide fissures in stone structures. Over the following weeks the Duke of Berry had to move his headquarters seven times to escape the devastation. Morale among the terrified inhabitants was low. The professional soldiers bore up better but they were mainly interested in their pay, which was greatly in arrears. The Duke of Berry, whose revenues had been severely reduced by the loss of Languedoc and Poitou, had already been reduced to pawning the jewels of his palace chapel. As the siege continued he was obliged to raid the treasuries of the city’s churches, selling the precious stones from the reliquaries and melting down their silver mounts to be minted into coins for the garrison.

The besiegers were in no better case. Their difficulties began almost as soon as they arrived. The garrison had mounted cannon and large fixed catapults on the walls. They inflicted heavy casualties and forced the besiegers to withdraw their siege lines out of range. But by placing their lines further back they exposed themselves to murderous sorties from the gates across the open ground east of the city. The besiegers tried to construct pontoon bridges across the rivers in the hope of closing off access to the city by the west and north. But the soft ground made the engineers’ task impossible and the attempt had to be abandoned. Meanwhile the besiegers’ supply situation deteriorated. The weather was terrible for men working in the open. Torrential rain throughout the spring was followed by a long heatwave in late June and July. The streams and wells dried up. Water had to be fetched over great distances. Within days the army had eaten all the cattle to be found in the region and stripped the fields and trees bare for twenty miles around. The purveyors had to bring in supplies from the Nivernais and Burgundy via the bridge of La Charité in heavily defended convoys. Cash from the treasurers in Paris came by the same route. Even so the convoys were frequently attacked by sortie parties from the city or by the powerful Armagnac garrisons at Sancerre and Gien to the north. The supply situation eased somewhat after the capture of Sancerre at the end of June but food remained scarce and dear throughout the siege.

In addition to his logistical problems the Duke of Burgundy was encountering mounting political ones. Unlike the Burgundian army of 1411, which had been recruited entirely from his own domains and those of his allies, the army of 1412 had been brought together by the King’s officers. Its members had been found in every province of northern and western France. Not all of them were devoted to John’s cause. A number of captains were there only out of respect for the authority of the Crown. Many of them resented John the Fearless’s rejection of compromise, his use of the King as a cipher and his determination to drive the wretched monarch beyond his physical endurance. Their views were shared by a number of people in the royal household. The Armagnacs were well aware of these difficulties. They were kept informed by well-placed friends in the enemy camp. Shortly after the beginning of the siege one of the King’s private secretaries, Geoffroy de Villon, began to send messages into the city suggesting that a sortie might succeed in capturing the King and the Dauphin and bringing them into Bourges. A number of soldiers and body servants of the King were in on the plot. They spread rumours about the camp of a truce in order to lower the guard of the watch. Raoul de Gaucourt then led a sortie by more than a thousand men, about half the garrison. They left by the bridges on the open west side and made their way to the encampment of the vanguard where the King and the Dauphin were. There was a pitched battle at the edge of the encampment in which Gaucourt lost a quarter of his strength before being driven back to the city. The role of Geoffroy de Villon was discovered by interrogating prisoners captured in the raid. He and two squires involved were beheaded a few days later. But this example did not end the divisions in the royal army. Shortly afterwards some 200 men switched sides and fled for gates of the city where arrangements had been made to admit them.

All of the Duke of Burgundy’s problems came to a head in the second week of July 1412. Dysentery had begun to spread through the camp as the heat intensified. Shortly a serious epidemic took hold. In the space of a few weeks some 2,000 men died of disease. Youth and fitness were no defence. The victims included some of the army’s leading captains, among them the King of Navarre’s brother Pierre Count of Mortain and the Duke of Brittany’s young brother Gilles. The survivors sickened amid the stench of rotting corpses. Panic set in. Desertions added to the Burgundians’ losses. The King and the Duke of Burgundy were forced to withdraw from their encampment outside the city walls and to establish a new base several miles back where the air was thought to be healthier. In these conditions doubts about the wisdom of the Duke of Burgundy’s inflexible strategy resurfaced. Demands for a compromise were openly voiced among the noblemen about the King. To the fury of the Duke the Dauphin himself was won over to their view. He directed that the artillery should avoid hitting Jean de Berry’s palace. When John questioned this order he protested that the war had lasted too long. The defenders of Bourges were ‘his uncle, his cousins and his closest kin by whom he might one day be well served in his affairs’. It was the first recorded breach between the Dauphin and his father-in-law. John the Fearless had angry words with the Duke of Bar, whom he suspected of putting him up to it. The Duke of Bar, whose brother was fighting for the Armagnacs, was notoriously ambivalent about John’s cause. All of these problems were now complicated by the prospect of English military intervention.

English Intervention

Henry IV’s ministers had begun to prepare the expeditionary force at the beginning of May 1412, even before final agreement had been reached with the Armagnac ambassadors. The recruitment of companies and the requisitioning of ships were practised routines which generally took between two and three months. The original plan was to land the army in France early in July. However, the ink had hardly dried on the treaty before the preparations were engulfed by a fresh political crisis which delayed it by several weeks. The problem arose out of ill-feeling between the Prince of Wales and his father and brother. Henry IV had originally intended to take command himself, accompanied by the Prince with a separate force of his own. The Prince, however, made no secret of the fact that he regarded himself as bound in honour to the Duke of Burgundy. He had opposed the treaty with the Armagnacs and he remained in contact with the John the Fearless after it had been made. Partly for this reason and partly to save money, he had been given only a minor role with a retinue so small as to be insulting. After what was evidently a bruising negotiation the Prince’s retinue was eventually increased. However, all of these arrangements had to be revisited when it became clear that Henry IV was physically incapable of commanding an army. His health rapidly deteriorated during the summer. He could no longer either walk or ride. His council, profoundly suspicious of the Prince, was appalled by the prospect of his taking command in his father’s place. They advised the King to appoint Thomas of Lancaster instead. This provoked a damaging row. The Prince was furious at being supplanted by his younger brother and appears to have pressed for the cancellation of an expedition that he had never liked anyway. At the same time the government was having difficulty finding the money to pay the shipping costs and the troops’ advances. Henry’s ministers put it about that the Prince and his friends were actively obstructing their preparations. This may well have been true. The same reports reached the ear of Jean de Kernezn, who was now for practical purposes the Duke of Burgundy’s resident agent in England and had excellent sources of information in the households of the Prince and his stepmother Joan of Navarre. Jacques Legrand, who had stayed behind in London to represent the interests of the Armagnac princes, lobbied for the project with mounting desperation.

For some time the future of the expedition hung in the balance. Writing to the Duke of Burgundy on 31 May 1412, the Earl of Arundel thought that the outcome was still uncertain. But by 10 June the King had settled the issue. The council succeeded in borrowing part of the money from the City of London and raised the rest by a campaign of forced loans. The expedition was confirmed and Thomas of Lancaster was formally appointed to command it. He was also made Lieutenant in Guyenne and charged with the task of taking possession of the provinces which the Armagnacs had promised to restore once they had disposed of the Duke of Burgundy. To give him the status required for these important functions Thomas was raised to the peerage as Duke of Clarence. The King’s cousin the Duke of York and his half-brother Sir Thomas Beaufort (who now became Earl of Dorset) were nominated as the new Duke’s lieutenants. The Prince of Wales was excluded altogether. He took this very badly. He withdrew in high dudgeon to his estates in the Midlands to confer with his supporters and to discuss the wider implications. There were worrying signs of a broader assault on his position by his father’s councillors. An investigation was launched into his stewardship of the finances of Calais which concluded that he had retained large sums due to the garrison. There were even rumours that they were pressing the King to disinherit him, presumably in favour of Thomas. Whether there was any truth in these rumours is unclear but the Prince and his friends believed them and resolved upon a show of strength. On 17 June Henry of Monmouth issued an extraordinary public manifesto from Coventry in which he presented a highly tendentious account of recent events, denied the accusations that had been made against him and protested his support for the campaign in France. His father’s councillors were denounced as ‘sons of iniquity, disciples of dissension, supporters of schism, disseminators of ill-feeling and fomentors of discord’. At the end of June the Prince appeared in London accompanied by a great number of prominent friends and an intimidating personal retinue to demand the punishment of his detractors. He probably hoped to pressure his father into replacing his councillors. If so he was disappointed. The King fobbed him off with a promise to refer the matter to the next Parliament and in the end the issue was dropped.

Reports of these events reached France garbled and late. The Duke of Burgundy was of course aware of the Armagnac mission to London from Jacques Legrand’s intercepted papers. But the first that he knew about its outcome was in the middle of June when a copy of a letter from Henry IV to the Four Members of Flanders was brought to him at Bourges. The letter, written from Westminster shortly before the treaty was finalised, referred to the offers that the Armagnacs had made to him and informed the Four Members of his plans for military operations in conjunction with the Armagnac princes. Invoking the Anglo-Flemish truce Henry called on the Flemings to withhold all assistance from the Duke of Burgundy in his military enterprises in France. A few days later one of the Prince of Wales’s chaplains arrived in the Burgundian camp at Bourges bearing an apologetic letter from his master reporting what had happened and telling John that he was unable in the circumstances to take their current negotiations any further. The details were filled in by Jean de Kernezn. His report, addressed to Charles VI from England, must have reached the camp at Bourges in early July. ‘Make speed to complete your operations,’ he wrote, ‘for the English army is assembling and their fleet is ready to sail for France.’

The arrival of an English army outside Bourges would have transformed the military balance. The Duke of Anjou and the Count of Penthièvre, who were John the Fearless’s principal allies among the higher nobility, were on their way to reinforce him with about 2,500 men. Even so the combined forces of the English, the garrison of Bourges and the troops of Arthur de Richemont and Charles of Orléans would have outnumbered them. In a pitched battle the formidable corps of 3,000 longbowmen would probably have been decisive. The Duke of Burgundy was forced to abandon his policy of unconditional surrender and settle with the Duke of Berry before the English arrived. A short truce was agreed. The Dukes of Berry and Burgundy met in a carefully prepared enclosure in an atmosphere redolent of mutual distrust. The two sides were separated by a timber barrier. The Duke of Berry appeared in chain mail and helmet, sword and axe in hand. ‘I admit that I have done wrong,’ he is reported to have said to his nephew, his eyes full of tears, ‘but you have unquestionably done worse.’ As he left he added: ‘In your father’s time we never needed a barrier between us like this.’ ‘It is not my doing,’ John replied. The negotiations which followed extended over several days and divided both sides. Among the Armagnacs in the city there was the familiar division between those who were mainly concerned to recover their confiscated property and their lost status in government and those whose main purpose was to avenge the murder of Louis of Orléans. There were some who wanted to hang on until the English arrived. Others thought that reliance on these dangerous auxiliaries was shameful and preferred to do without their help. The Duke of Berry’s chancellor, who must have known the truth, denied point-blank that there was any agreement with the English. Some of the defenders, determined to wreck the negotiations, ignored the truce and led sorties into the Burgundian camp while the negotiations were in progress. As for the Burgundians there were many things to set them against each other. Some agreed with the Dauphin and the Duke of Bar that the war had lasted too long. Some wondered whether the capture of Bourges was still feasible. Some were fanatics who were determined to insist on unconditional surrender. Some had received grants of property confiscated from the Armagnacs which they were unwilling to surrender as part of any deal with them.

In the end the Duke of Burgundy prevailed by sheer obduracy and force of personality. On 12 July his staff sent a document into the town containing a summary of the terms that he would accept. It was a short and partisan document which gave John everything that he wanted except for the public humiliation of the Duke of Berry. Both sides bound themselves to adhere to the ‘hollow peace’ of Chartres. The Armagnacs were to surrender Bourges and to open all their other garrisoned fortresses to the King’s officers. They were also to renounce ‘any treaty or alliance that they are said to have made with the English’ and any other alliance directed against the Duke of Burgundy. In return the Duke of Burgundy and his allies promised very little. They would to do their best, they said, to persuade Charles VI to restore the offices and property of which the Armagnacs had been despoiled. The defenders of Bourges were given until three o’clock on the following afternoon, 13 July, to accept. As the appointed hour approached Charles VI stood in front of the walls in full armour in the burning heat, the Oriflamme flying from a lance beside him and his entire army drawn up in lines across the plain at his back. Inside the city the Armagnac princes were still arguing about the terms. Finally they decided to reject them. But the Duke of Berry was as determined as John the Fearless. He sent a message to the King accepting them. It was the King’s last public appearance for three months. At some time in the next few hours, as the heralds passed through the camp announcing the cease-fire, the King relapsed into his old illness after his longest and most active period of lucidity for many years. Yet even in this period of relative coherence Charles had contributed little to the decision to fight the Duke of Berry and nothing to the decision to make peace with him. His only function now was to dignify the grubby decisions of other men. That at least he had done.

For the Duke of Burgundy it was a remarkable outcome considering the weakness of his position just a week earlier. On 16 July 1412 the Duke of Berry presented the keys of the city to the Dauphin. The formalities were completed in the hamlet of Argenvières on the banks of the Loire opposite La Charité, where the Duke of Burgundy had withdrawn with the King and the Dauphin to escape the foetid air around Bourges. Here, a week later on 22 July, the Armagnac leaders who had been present at the siege swore the customary oaths to observe the terms of peace. They were joined by emissaries from Charles of Orléans and his brothers, who undertook on their behalf to be bound by them as well. They then set about burying as best they could their embarrassing treaty with the English. A letter was issued in the King’s name annulling it and commanding the Armagnac princes to renounce it. The Dukes of Berry and Bourbon and Charles d’Albret then sealed letters to Henry IV and the Prince of Wales citing the King’s command and declaring that they considered themselves to be released.


Battle of Cynossema, 411 BCE. Athenian fleet in blue, Spartan navy in red.


Yet if the Aegean had been relatively quiet since 429, suddenly from 411 to 404 the Athenians met the Spartans and their allies in at least seven major engagements. Across time and space, rarely are rival fleets willing to engage each other repeatedly until one side is not merely defeated but annihilated. Such is the conservatism of admirals who so jealously protect their precious assets while on the high seas. Like the British systematic destruction of the Napoleonic armada or the American Seventh Fleet’s brutal death struggle with the Japanese, which finally ended with the utter annihilation of the most lethal carrier and battleship force of the pre–World War II world, both Athens and Sparta now no longer sought mere tactical advantage but were willing to risk their all to finish off the enemy.

To win, Sparta had to kill off, capture, or scatter a final cohort of at least another 50,000 or so Athenian and allied sailors and sink another 200 ships, which otherwise, over a decade, might replace the losses of Sicily. These last battles across the Aegean—they are often lumped together and called the Ionian War—were decided in the waters off western Asia Minor (Ionia) and in or near the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles). If Boeotia, home of nine major hoplite battlefields by the fourth century, was once dubbed by the Theban general Epaminondas “the dancing floor of war,” one could call the Hellespont and the adjoining Propontis (the Sea of Marmara) “the seas of death.” In those environs alone 50,000 men were probably killed, missing, or captured in just three battles at Cynossema, Cyzicus, and Aegospotami, all within a sixty-mile radius. In addition, between 412 and 404 thousands more Athenians, Persians, and Peloponnesians died in ambushes, seaborne attacks, and random killing up and down the Ionian seaboard.

With the establishment of a permanent garrison at Decelea, the new Peloponnesian fleet was confident that it now had muscle enough to block grain ships from arriving at Attica. Thus, this time under a year-round combined land and sea assault, the city, it was thought, would shortly go bankrupt if not starve: keep Attic farmers away from their land, destroy ships that imported food, deny access to grain-growing areas abroad, assure subjects that they can revolt in safety and withhold tribute, and all the while sink Athenian triremes. Decelea was the antithesis of Archidamus’ earlier failed strategy, which had offered no permanent presence and no ancillary naval strategy.

Not long after the defeat in the Great Harbor of Syracuse, an emboldened and reconstituted Spartan armada engaged what was left of the Athenian fleet in a series of inconclusive sea battles in the Aegean, at Spiraeum (412), Syme (411), Chios (411), and Eretria (411). Whereas losses at these rather obscure sea battles on both sides were minimal, the succession of collisions began to wear on a shaky Athens and had the practical effect of destroying another 30 or so Athenian triremes.

More importantly, perhaps 5,000 seamen were killed, scattered, or captured. Despite spending its final 1,000-talent critical reserve on rebuilding the fleet, strategically Athens could no longer control even the seas off its own coast. It was also on the verge of losing much of Ionia and, with it, a tribute-rich empire. After the defeat at Eretria in nearby Euboea—the Athenians lost 22 ships and most of the crews were killed in battle or captured—a panic descended upon the city that was greater than the near riot that had broken out after the news of the Sicilian disaster reached the Piraeus, two years earlier.

The final phases of the war next turned to the northern coast of the Hellespont. There, near the peninsula called the Thracian Chersonese, the Spartans now tightened the noose, hoping to cut off the sea-lanes between Propontis and Athens. In summer 411 at Cynossema, 76 Athenian ships, under the brilliant general Thrasybulus, beat back the larger Peloponnesian fleet of 86 triremes. Perhaps 32,000 seamen were involved. At least 36 ships were lost in fighting that spanned some eleven miles of the strait. The total casualties are unknown—though as many as 7,000 may have been killed, scattered, or wounded. The Athenians claimed victory on the basis that they had at least kept their last fleet intact. They had regained morale in their first major fight after the disaster in Sicily, defeated a fleet that included several hated Syracusan triremes last encountered in the disaster of the Great Harbor, and ensured that commerce with Athens remained open. As Thucydides rightly put it, “They stopped considering that their enemies were worth much in naval matters.”

Yet in such battles of attrition, the greater resources now were starting to tip toward the Peloponnesians. Their newfound pluck at sea would encourage more contributions from their allies and closely observant Persia. In contrast, to win the war on the seas the Athenians would have to inflict crushing losses on the Spartans while losing almost none of their now precious triremes. Thucydides, for example, said of the Athenian victory at Cynossema (fought not far from Gallipoli) that it came “at just the right time,” inasmuch as small losses to the Peloponnesians in the prior two years and the great catastrophe on Sicily had made them “afraid of the Peloponnesian fleet.”

To compound the Peloponnesian misery, not far away, at Abydos, a few weeks later the Spartans once again forced battle. There they were to lose another 30 ships, along with thousands of crewmen. Still, Alcibiades—in 411 he had returned to Athens in yet another incarnation, as chief Athenian admiral—summed up the Athenian dilemma best before the battle of Cyzicus. After explaining why his crews had “to fight at sea, fight on land, and fight against walled fortresses,” he finished with the admission of a bitter reality: “The reason is that there is no money among us, while the enemy has all they wish from the king of Persia.”

Sparta was not to be deterred by the loss at Abydos in its ambitious efforts to destroy what was left of the once grand Athenian fleet. In between battle and revolution, the Spartans offered Persian bonuses for oarsmen on the open market, rightly figuring that higher pay in the Peloponnesian navy would cause desertion from the Athenian fleet, which now depended on mercenary rowers.

About six months later, in March 410 and thirty-five miles distant from Cynossema, the Spartan fleet unabashedly forced battle again, near Cyzicus. In this third consecutive battle of the Ionian War, after Cynossema and Abydos, the Peloponnesians suffered yet another setback, despite their now accustomed numerical superiority. Inspired leadership by the veteran generals Thrasybulus and Alcibiades and remarkable seamanship by a new generation of Athenian oarsmen, who went to sea in a storm and performed flawlessly the difficult periplous, explain the remarkable victory. In fact, Cyzicus proved one of the greatest naval disasters for any Greek fleet during the entire war. Yet it was the beginning, not the end, of the bloodbath in the Aegean.

Another 60 ships, including 20 Syracusan triremes, were now lost, some of which their dejected crews burned after seeing the defeat of their allies. The casualties are not known, but they must have been high. Perhaps well over 10,000 seamen were captured, scattered, or killed, including the Spartan general Mindarus. The historian Xenophon, in one of the most famous passages in his Hellenic history, quotes a laconic letter sent back home to Sparta from the surviving vice admiral Hippocrates—intercepted by the victorious Athenians—that read: “The ships are gone. Mindarus is dead. The men are starving. We are at a loss what we should do.”

What to do? In less than a year, Sparta had suffered staggering losses. Somewhere between 130 and 160 triremes were gone—almost the entire contribution two years earlier of its Peloponnesian and Syracusan allies. How many were dead, wounded, or lost is not recorded. In theory, between 20,000 and 30,000 seamen were on those ships that went down; in reality, no doubt at least a few thousand probably escaped or were captured.

Suddenly the entire course of the war began to change. After Sicily, the Greeks had assumed that Athens was finished. Now they were not so sure. Athens’ food supply was still safe. Rebellion among the allies was less likely. Athenian naval prestige was once again unquestioned. And most importantly, generals like Thrasybulus, Theramenes, and Alcibiades had proved that they were far better tacticians than almost all the admirals that had accompanied the Spartans to the Aegean.

After Cyzicus, a dejected Sparta apparently remembered why it had not sought naval engagements against Athens some twenty years earlier. In frustration, Sparta quickly sent out peace feelers to Athens: “We want to have peace with you, men of Athens,” their ambassadors pleaded in offering a return to the prewar status quo. But the Athenian assembly, perhaps led by rabble-rousing demagogues like Cleophon, was now aroused, drunk on success and paranoid after the failed oligarchic coup of 411. For the first time in some three years, the Athenians had thoughts of reclaiming the entire Aegean. Maybe they really could destroy the Spartan fleet for good, and drive the Persians out of Greek affairs. Unsure how to follow up their spectacular successes, the Athenians unwisely played defense for nearly four years, between 410 and 407, while the Spartans rebuilt their forces and found themselves a true military genius in Lysander, albeit one who did not emerge in a major role until 407, near the end of the war.

Unfortunately for the Athenians, few of the city’s politicians saw the true complexion of this new Ionian War, and ignored the advice of the three brilliant generals, Alcibiades, Thrasybulus, and Theramenes, who had brought them such stunning victories. The truth was that the war had now changed dramatically and could no longer be seen in terms of the old simple Spartan land/Athenian sea dichotomy of decades past. The newfound Spartan ability to tap into the imperial treasuries of Persia, through the direct succor of its western satrapies, ensured the enemies of Athens an inexhaustible supply of mercenaries, new triremes, and money to hire crews who were experienced rowers, not rustic farmers from the Peloponnese.

To nullify the Spartan advantage in numbers and its determination to prompt battle repeatedly, Athens had to rely on superior seamanship and command in every major battle, without any margin of error. It could not fight on the defensive, since it was trying to maintain an empire, which involved more than just keeping out the Spartan fleet. And an unforeseen result of the Athenian victory at Cyzicus was a reexamination of the Spartan command, leading to the appointment of a new admiral, Lysander, who, even more so than Brasidas, would prove to be the unqualified military genius of the entire war on either side, the most ruthless, brilliant, and multidimensional battle leader Greece had produced since Themistocles. Most Spartan generals were fighters (with tough names like Thorax, “Breastplate,” and Leon, “Lion”), but rarely was one both heroic and full of strategic insight about how to defeat something as insidious as the Athenian empire. The presence of Lysander—a man cut from the same cloth as Brasidas and Gylippus (none of them were Spartan royalty and thus all were considered somewhat expendable)—along with a greater infusion of Persian capital was felt almost immediately as the Spartan maverick systematically hunted down grain ships, stormed Athenian strongholds, and enslaved captured peoples. In the next major battle, at Notium (spring 406)—the Spartans had used the three-year hiatus in naval confrontation to rebuild their fleet—Alcibiades temporarily left command to Antiochus, a minor captain, with strict orders to avoid an engagement in his absence.

Instead, the Athenians rashly fought Lysander off Ephesus, and right away lost 22 irreplaceable ships. By any measure this was small potatoes after the stunning string of victories at Cynossema, Abydos, and Cyzicus. On the other hand, every Athenian trireme was now precious. Despite the fact that when Alcibiades returned to Notium after the defeat of his subordinate the Athenians still had as many ships as Lysander, the loss caused outrage at a desperate Athens, raising the specter of Alcibiades’ past machinations and triangulations.

Once more Alcibiades was banished, and with that Athens lost its most capable and popular admiral. True, Athens had lost few ships, and its fleet of 108 remaining triremes was roughly the same size as the Peloponnesian armada. But Athens’ dilemma was not merely that it had to stop the Persian fleet but that it had an empire to protect in Ionia as well, a fact that in strategic terms meant that superiority, not parity, in ships was required.

A few months later at Mytilene, the Athenians under Conon lost another 30 ships to a Spartan fleet that once more had grown to somewhere between 140 and 170 ships. In response, the Athenians began a desperate search for even more manpower, putting old and young, slave and free, poor and wealthy on triremes in hopes of manning enough ships to thwart the Spartan juggernaut. By late spring of the same year, the death struggle continued as the fleets once more sailed to engage each other off the Ionian coast. In the previous five years, at the smaller battles of Spiraeum, Syme, Chios, Eretria, and Abydos and the three great fights at Cynossema, Cyzicus, and Notium, at least 84 Athenian triremes had been lost, along with perhaps as many as 16,000 seamen. Sparta, in turn, had suffered nearly double those casualties—160 ships sunk or captured and, with them, perhaps as many as 30,000 sailors.

Yorkshire in the English Civil War: Opening Moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The storming of Wakefield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lützen 1631

Prelude: The Battles of Steinau and Alte Veste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of Lützen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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