SEMPACH, 9 July 1386

1889 painting by Karl Jauslin

Swiss pike square in the battle near Sempach on the 9th of July, 1386. Painting by Hans Ulrich Wegmann (1638/41) from the Battle Chapel at Sempach.

Illustration of the battle of Sempach in the chronicle of Diebold Schilling.

The Battle of Sempach, 1386. (a) Phase I: Marching north-east from Sempach (1), Duke Leopold’s Austrian army is unaware of the approach of a Swiss force moving towards him on the same road (2). The Swiss vanguard and the Austrians’ first division spot each other and begin to deploy (3). (b) Phase II: Recognizing the threat from the Swiss phalanx, Leopold orders his lead division to dismount (1) and deploys light infantry crossbowmen (2) to fire into the Swiss battle square to begin chipping away at the formation (3). (c) Phase III: The Swiss battle square begins to lose cohesion (1) and Leopold orders his dismounted knights into the fight (2). The Austrians inflict heavy losses on the Swiss, and Leopold readies his mounted knights for a charge (3) to finish off the disintegrating phalanx, but before the duke can order his horsemen forward, the Swiss main body appears over the rise towards Hildisrieden (4) and heads down the slope towards the action. (d) Phase IV: The Swiss quickly deploy from column into battle square (1) and smash into the flank and rear of the dismounted first division (2). Fatigued after an hour of fighting and faced with a seemingly unstoppable mass of fresh halberd-wielding infantry, the Austrians begin to rout (3). Leopold leaps from his horse and orders his division forward against this new menace (4). (e) Phase V: Before Leopold can launch his counter-attack, the Swiss wheel their square in a devastating assault on the Austrian flank (1). Though the Austrian knights fight bravely, they are gradually overcome by the Swiss halberdiers (2). The count of Hohenzollern, commanding the Austrian reserve, panics and orders a precipitate retreat (3), causing the squires and pages tending to the second division’s horses to look to their own safety and flee as well, abandoning their masters, including Duke Leopold, to certain death at the hands of the Swiss infantry (4).

Date: 9 July 1386.

Location. On the shores of Lake Sempach 10 miles north-west of Lucerne, near Road 2. 186.

War and campaign: The War of Independence of the Eight Swiss Cantons.

Object of the action: The Austrian Hapsburgs were trying to crush the rebellions of Confederate cantons.

Opposing sides: (a) Cantonal commanders leading the forces of four cantons, (b) Duke Leopold III commanding an Austrian army. Forces engaged: (a) Swiss: all infantry. Total: 1,600. (b) Austrians: including a large contingent of cavalry. Total: 4,000.

Casualties: The Austrian dead totalled 676 men including Leopold, a margrave, 3 counts, 5 barons, 7 bannerets, and 28 Austrian and 35 Tyrolean knights. The Swiss lost some 120-200 men, more than half of them Lucernese.

Result: The Swiss victory had wide repercussions owing to the death of Leopold and the flower of the Hapsburg nobility. It established the Swiss military reputation. As a result of this battle (from which the military reputation of the Swiss in part dates) the imperial towns were able to negotiate a truce which lasted until February 1388.

The battle of Sempach represents one of the most significant encounters in Swiss history-if not for the decisive way in which it was won, then certainly for the w a y in which the halberd became the primary Swiss weapon.

During the last quarter of the fourteenth century waves of political and social unrest swept over all western Europe. In Germany, in order to combat the encroachment of the Princes and lesser nobility, the towns made a supreme effort at co-operation and created a union in 1381. To this, in February 1385, Zurich, Berne, Solathurn and Zug adhered. The Forest Cantons however refused to join and Lucerne offered only indirect support. Despite this Lucerne considered the moment favourable for an attempt to throw off the last vestiges of Hapsburg overlordship, and in December 1385 war was started by her seizure of the Hapsburg administrative centre of Rothenburg while the town of Sempach, discontented with Austrian rule, was given co-burghership. All the confederates except Berne joined in.

After the death of the Emperor Charles, the Habsburg dynasty was divided up and the western approaches to Austria were handed over to the precocious young Duke Leopold III. Leopold, anxious to reassert the claims of his house on Swiss territory, soon incurred the wrath of the Confederation, which by a succession of alliances now had five new member cantons: Lucerne (1332), Zurich (1351), Zug and Glarus (1352), and Berne (1353). After hostilities between Lucerne and the Austrian fortress at Rothenburg in December 1385, war was declared; and by the middle of 1386 Leopold had mustered a formidable army of 4,000 knights and mercenaries, and carefully prepared his campaign.

However, the Confederates were well aware of his troop movements and swiftly marshalled some 1,600 troops from Lucerne and the three Forest Cantons. The two armies met to the northeast of Sempach by the hamlet of Hildesrieden. Here the two main Austrian columns were confronted by the Swiss van speedily advancing to gain their needed advantage of terrain. As it was, neither army had time to deploy effectively.

The Swiss, however, had achieved their aim, for Leopold had ordered his young knights in his ‘vaward battle’ to dismount-not only on account of the terrain, but also because the Duke wished to prove the effectiveness of the dismounted lance against the halberd. The Swiss for their part hastily formed a wedge with the wider right wing forming the point.

Shortly before mid-day the two armies crashed together in combat. With the first wave the dismounted Austrian vaward battle inflicted considerable losses in the front ranks of the Lucerne contingent, including the Hauptmann, Petermann von Gundoldingen. Soon the weight and superiority of the Austrian ‘pike’ began to show. Their crossbowmen gave the Swiss considerable trouble. Realizing the ineffectiveness of the frontal onslaught, the Swiss commanders ordered a sudden change in formation in which the rear left flank of the wedge widened to counter the Austrians from the flank. The arrival of fresh Swiss contingents from Uri gave new impetus to the ploy. Almost at once the Confederates succeeded in gaining a lodgement in the Austrian front. It is said that this was achieved by the brave feat of a certain soldier known as Winkelried, who threw his body at the Austrian ‘pike’, thus taking out a number of their points and snapping the shafts in the process. Once this decisive breakthrough had been achieved the Swiss halberdiers poured through, swinging their weapons above their heads and causing tremendous damage to the Austrians. On seeing this, Leopold ordered his second column to counter, but it advanced in considerable disorder and the momentum of the Swiss was too great for it to have any effect. Seeing the Austrian front fold, the rearguard panicked, and the train was the first to flee, taking the horses and leaving many of the dismounted knights stranded. Within two hours the battle had been turned and won. and 1,800 Austrians lay dead on the battlefield among 200 Swiss. Sempach illustrated the ability of the halberdier to hold his own against the knight, although the inappropriate nature of the terrain made it necessary for the Austrian horse to fight the battle on foot.



In response to Operational Requirement OR.94 calling for a bomber capable of operating at a cruising height of 35,000 feet over 2,200 miles, Vickers proposed the Mk.V and Mk.VI variants of the Wellington, around which Specifications B.23/39 and B.17/40 were written. The aircraft were fitted with a pressurised cabin in the forward fuselage and ultimately a 12 feet increase in wingspan. The two variants differed mainly in their powerplants, with the Mk.V having the Hercules Mk.VIII and the Mk.VI the Merlin 60; prototypes of both were built at Vickers’ Experimental Section site at Foxwarren, Cobham, a few miles from Weybridge. They first flew in 1940 and 1941 respectively, but a change in air staff policy led to second thoughts about the value of high-flying bombers and consequently only the Mk.VI was ordered into limited production, with sixty-four being built at Weybridge between May 1942 and January 1943 and assembled at Smith’s Lawn temporary airfield in Windsor Great Park. Testing at A&AEE Boscombe Down commenced with W5795 but on 12 July 1942 the aircraft dived at high speed from altitude, breaking up before it reached the ground, with the loss of Sqn Ldr Cyril Colmore and his crew. The probable cause was the failure of a propeller blade which penetrated the pressure cabin and hit the pilot. In December 1942, a production Mk.VI DR484 was used to demonstrate its true performance and included a cruising altitude of 34,000 feet (which the aircraft took fifty minutes to reach), an estimated range of 1,100 miles, and a height over the target of 37,100 feet.

The aircraft was operated by a crew of four; pilot, navigator, bomb aimer and wireless operator, all housed in the forward pressure cabin. The need for air gunners was removed as the turrets were to be operated remotely from the cabin and sighted via a periscope. In the event the only service use was with one flight of 109 Squadron which received four aircraft (W5801, W5802, DR480, DR484) as GEE trainers and for Oboe trials in concert with Mk.ICs T2513 and X9678 of the Telecommunications Flying Unit (TFU) Defford, Worcestershire with trials also being flown from Tempsford. The remainder of the Mk.VI fleet was struck off charge and scrapped between March 1943 and August 1944.

A Mk.VI DR480 was to be have been fitted with a British Thomson-Houston built W.2B jet engine in November 1942, but these trials were delayed until 26 January 1943 and the aircraft was re-allocated for use at TFU Defford without being converted

Type 407 and Type 421 Wellington Mark V were the second and first prototypes respectively: three were built, designed for pressurised, high-altitude operations using turbocharged Hercules VIII engines.

Wellington Mark VI

The Mk VI was developed at the same time as the Mk V, but using Rolls Royce Merlin 60 engines, providing 1,600 hp. These proved more successful than the Hercules III engines used in the Mk V, but high-altitude flight provided problems of its own, as many of the liquids used in the aircraft froze in the extreme cold. Sixty four Mk VIs were produced, and it was intended to use them with pathfinder squadrons to mark targets for the main bomber force, but by the time the Mk VI was ready for service the Mosquito had appeared, and was very obviously better suited to the role. The Mark VIs never saw combat, though two were flown by a service squadron for a short time, presumably as operational evaluation. Most of the Mark VI bombers were converted to “Wellington Mark VIG” trainers for the Gee radio precision bombing system. The surviving Mk VIs were scrapping in 1943.

Mk.V Type 407, 421, 426, 436, 440, 443 – 3 built

Hercules III 1,425 hp. High-altitude bomber to operate up to 40,000 ft. Prototypes R3298 & R3299 first flown August 1940. One further aircraft W5766. Type 443 one aircraft for Hercules VIII tests

Mk.VI Type 431, 439, 442, 443, 449 – 64 built

Wing span 86 ft 2 in length 61 ft 9 in height 17 ft 8 in, gross weight 30,450 lb, service ceiling 38,500 ft, range 2,275 miles with 1,500 lb bomb load. Merlin 60 1,600 hp. High-altitude bomber. Prototype W5795 plus 63 production aircraft, some used as GEE trainers by one flight of 109 Squadron which received 4 aircraft

HMS Inflexible (1876)

Inflexible, 1876, as completed with sails for training. Note the torpedo launching chute over the stem.

The design concept of Inflexible was of a raft, the citadel, which would float if the ends were destroyed or flooded. The ends were closely subdivided and protected by a thick deck. A light, unprotected structure above provided accommodation.

In 1885 Inflexible’s sailing rig was replaced by two military masts.

In a letter to The Times of 1 January 1877, Edward Reed described the Inflexible as `… a huge engine of war, animated and put into activity in every part by steam and steam alone. The main propelling engines are worked by steam, a separate steam engine starts and stops them; steam ventilates the monster, steam weighs the anchors, steam steers her, steam pumps her out if she leaks, steam loads the gun, steam trains it, steam elevates or depresses it. The Ship is a steam being .’

The 1873 Estimates envisaged the building of a single, improved ‘Fury’ (in fact, this meant Fury, not yet renamed, with the modifications which made her Dreadnought). The problem facing Barnaby was stark; the 12.5in, 38-ton gun fitted in recent ships could fire an 820lb projectile through 15.7in of iron armour at 1000yds. Fury’s 14in belt (amidships) was already inadequate and, furthermore, both Woolwich and Elswick claimed that 50-ton guns were within existing capabilities with even larger guns in the near future.

The early studies retained the main features of Dreadnought with the two twin 38-ton turrets augmented by a number of smaller guns en barbette amidships. In one such study a single 50-ton gun in a turret was squeezed in amidships. The 14in belt was retained amidships but the thinner belt at the ends was omitted and a thick transverse bulkhead fitted at each end of the belt. Thus the much admired end-to-end belt of Devastation was already abandoned for what must have been a very small saving in weight.

By this time Woolwich was speaking with confidence of a 60-ton gun and Barnaby was driven to a more radical solution. The main requirements seem to have been set by Barnaby himself, though presumably after discussion with Board members and others. The armament was to consist of two twin turrets with 60-ton guns capable, if possible of being changed to 80-ton guns when available. White described the problem: ‘At first it was contemplated to have 60-ton guns and the ship was laid down on this basis. Finally, in 1874 it was decided to adopt 80-ton guns, which involved an increased weight aloft of 200 tons, and considerably modified the design, the draft and displacement having to be increased. There had been some previous instances of ships getting ahead of the settlement of their gun designs but never so serious one as this. Unfortunately, it was only the first of a long series of similar difficulties … .’ The armour was to be concentrated over a short citadel with a maximum thickness of 24in. She was to be fast – 14kts – and capable of using the Suez Canal at light draught (24ft 4in). Barnaby’s ideas were generally welcomed and the design was progressed incorporating some detail improvements mainly suggested by the DNO, Captain Hood, but with some later ideas from Barnaby. The following paragraphs describe the design as it finally evolved.

The design concept was of a very heavily armoured raft containing the machinery and magazines on which the two turrets were carried. The ends were protected by a strong armoured deck below the waterline, by close subdivision and by buoyant material whilst a light superstructure provided living space. Even if both ends were flooded, the armoured box was intended to have sufficient buoyancy and stability to float upright. This stability requirement led to a wide beam which, in turn, meant that the turrets could fire close to the axis past the narrow superstructure, limited by blast damage to the superstructure. She was fitted with anti-rolling water tanks to reduce the severity of rolling but these were ineffective.

The earliest studies of this configuration showed 60-ton guns though provision was made to mount 100-ton guns when they became available. Woolwich built an experimental 80-ton MLR which completed in September 1875 with a 14.5in bore. After tests, it was bored out to 15in and after further tests in March 1876 it was finally enlarged to 16in bore with an 18in chamber, accepting a 370lb charge. This gun fired a total of 140 rounds-215,855lbs of iron from 42,203lbs of powder – mostly against what was known as ‘Target 41’ which had four 8in plates separated by 5in teak. The standard system of grooving used with studded shell proved troublesome and in final form it had thirty-nine shallow grooves (‘polygroove’) with a lead gas check at the base of the shell.

The production guns-80-ton, Mark I-were mounted in twin turrets each weighing 750 tons and 33ft 10in external diameter. These turrets had an outer layer of compound armour with 18in teak backing and an inner layer of 7in wrought iron. The projectile weighed 16841b and when fired with the full charge of 450lbs brown prism powder had a muzzle velocity of 1590ft/sec and in tests could penetrate 23in of wrought iron in either a single thickness or two plates spaced. The interval between rounds was said to be between 2½ and 4 minutes. To load, the guns were run out and depressed against ports in the deck through which hydraulic rams loaded the guns. Two of these monstrous guns survive on the train ferry pier at Dover, though the turret design is rather different and an early studded shell is in the Naval Armament Museum, Gosport.

Inflexible’s citadel was protected at the waterline by a strake of 12in plate, 4ft deep, backed by 11 in teak containing vertical frames. Behind this was another 12in plate backed by 6in horizontal frames, filled with teak followed by the shell of two thicknesses of ⅝in plate. The total thickness of this waterline belt was 4lin, weighing 1100lbs/sq ft and this thickness was preserved in the protection above and below, the thickness of teak increasing as that of the iron was reduced. Above the waterline strake there was a 12in outer plate and an 8in inner plate whilst below the thicknesses were 12in and 4in.

It is not clear why the armour was in two thicknesses as a 22in plate was made by 1877 and it was already recognised that two plates are inferior to a single plate of the same total thickness. A test in 1877 showed that a single plate 17-17½in thick was equivalent to three plates of 6½in. The waterline belt of 24in in total was the thickest belt ever carried on a battleship but it was only 4ft high and would have been of limited value. It does not seem that this protection was tried in final form. It was claimed that this protection was invulnerable to guns similar to those she carried and even to the 17.7in, 100-ton Elswick guns mounted in Italian ships but it was clearly the end of the road for wrought iron as the weight was already at the very limit of what could be carried.

The protection for the ends was a very sophisticated combination of measures. The first line of defence was a 3in wrought iron deck, normally 6-8ft below the waterline. The space between this deck and the middle deck, just above water, was closely subdivided and used for coal and stores which would limit the amount of water which could enter from holes in the side. In addition, narrow tanks 4ft wide and filled with cork were arranged at the sides between these decks and extending 4ft above the middle deck. Inside these cork-filled spaces there was a 2ft coffer dam filled with canvas packed with oakum. All these fillings were treated with calcium chloride to reduce their flammability although tests showed this was not very effective. This scheme has much in common with that which Reed proposed to the 1871 Committee.

In 1877, Reed wrote to Barnaby and later to The Times claiming that calculations which he and Elgar had made showed that the stability provided by the citadel was inadequate if both ends were flooded. Despite a comprehensive rebuttal by Barnaby, an enquiry was set up chaired by Admiral Hope and consisting of three distinguished engineers, Wooley, Rendel and W Froude. Their investigation was extremely thorough, entering into aspects of naval architecture never previously studied.

Their report concluded that it was most unlikely that both ends would be completely flooded but that if this did happen, the Inflexible would a retain a small but just adequate margin of stability in terms of the GZ curve. Their comments on the difficulty of actually hitting the enemy ship are of interest – remember the Glatton turret and Hotspurs initial miss! They listed the problems as the relative movements of the two ships, the smoke generated (470lbs of powder per round), the rolling and pitching of the firing ship, the lack of any way of determining range and the deflection due to wind. In particular, they noted that it was customary to fire the guns from a rolling ship when the deck appeared horizontal at which position the angular velocity was greatest. (Note also that Froude had showed that human balance organs are very bad at determining true vertical in a rolling ship.) All in all, hits anywhere on the ship would be few and those in a position to flood the ends few indeed.

A shell exploding within the cork would destroy it locally but tests showed that a shell hitting light structure would explode about  of a second later during which it would travel 6-10ft, clear of the cork. The canvas and oakum filling of the coffer dam was quite effective at reducing the size of the hole made by a projectile passing through. Both the cork and the coffer dam were tested full scale with the gunboat Nettle firing a 64pdr shell into replicas. The Committee also pointed out that shells were unlikely to enter the space between the waterline and armoured deck except at long range when hits were even less likely.

Though the Committee thought it was unlikely that the ends would be riddled (filled with water) and even less likely that they would be gutted (all stores, coal, cork etc, blown out with water filling the entire space), they examined these conditions with extreme care. Stability curves were prepared and Froude carried out rolling trials on a 1-ton model both in his experiment tank at Torquay and in waves at sea. The movement of floodwater within the ship acted to oppose rolling in waves, as in an anti-rolling tank. The effect of speed on the trim of the flooded model was also examined. Their conclusion was that the ship should survive this extreme condition but would be incapable of anything other than returning for repair.

This investigation was far more thorough than any previous study of the effects of damage and owed much to White’s calculations and Froude’s experiments. It was the first time that GZ curves of stability had been drawn for a damaged ship and the importance of armoured freeboard was brought out and it must be a matter for regret that similar work was not carried out for later ships. With the invaluable gift of hindsight, one may suggest two aspects not fully brought out. The first was the vulnerability of the citadel armour itself, particularly bearing in mind the shallow 24in layer, in two thicknesses, and the increasing power of guns. The second point was the assumption that the watertight integrity of the citadel would endure even when multiple hits had riddled the ends. The Victoria collision was to show that doors, ventilation and valves do not remain tight after damage and Inflexible would probably have foundered from slow flooding into this citadel. Barnaby claimed that she was designed to withstand a torpedo hit with the centreline bulkhead giving only a small heel – but he did not envisage flooding extending beyond one transverse compartment.

However, it is difficult to see a better solution to the design requirement and the concept received some vindication from the battle of the Yalu Sea on 17 September 1894 when two Chinese ironclads, Ting Yuen and Chen Yuan, to Inflexible’s configuration, but smaller, received a very large number of hits and survived. To some extent, the 1913 trial firings against the Edinburgh may be seen as justifying the concept. Opponents of the Inflexible mainly favoured protected cruisers whose only protection was similar to that at the ends of the Inflexible which they derided. White gives her cost as £812,000 though other, much lower, figures have been quoted. There were two diminutives which call for no mention.

‘The Ship is a Steam Being’

Reed’s letter, quoted at the beginning of the chapter, referred to the increasing use of auxiliary machinery. Some early examples include; a capstan in Hercules (1866), hydraulic steering gear, fitted to Warrior in 1870, and a steam steering engine for Northumberland as well as the turrets in Thunderer and later ships. The number increased rapidly and Inflexible was truly a ‘steam being’. Her auxiliaries comprised:

1 steering engine

2 reversing engines

2 vertical direct fire engines

2 pairs steam/hydraulic engines to work the 750-ton turrets

1 capstan engine

4 ash hoists

1 vertical direct turning engine

2 40hp pumping engines, total capacity 4800 tons/hr 2 donkey engines for bilge pumping

2 steam shot hoists

4 auxiliary feed, similar to donkey engines.

2 Brotherhood 3 cylinder for boat hoisting

4 Brotherhood 3-cylinder fan engines

4 Friedman ejectors

2 horizontal direct acting centrifugal circulating pump

The list above does not mention ventilation fans but it is virtually certain that these were fitted. It was some time before satisfactory ventilation systems were developed. An electric searchlight was tried in Comet in 1874 and the first permanent fitting was in Minotaur in 1876. Inflexible had 800-volt d.c. generators by the US Brush company. These powered arc lights in the machinery space and Swan ‘Glow’ lamps elsewhere. The Swan lamps were connected in series and it was a year before the 800-volt system killed its first victim. She was even launched by electricity; when Princess Louise touched a button, a wire fused and the bottle of wine fell and weights crashed onto the dog shores.

Battle of Wenzenbach 1504

Battle of Wenzenbach

Behamisch facht (Böhmisches Gefecht) aus dem Weißkunig, Holzschnitt 175. The Bohemians are positioned on top of a hill at the center; tree-covered hills recede into the background at the right. The Bohemian troops’ shields form a protective barrier while they point their spears outward against the cavalry approaching from the right and the foot soldiers from the left. A mass of spears pointing inward from both sides of the composition leads the eye to the doomed soldiers in the middle. On the left behind the advancing forces, Schönberg Castle burns, blasting billows of smoke upward into the sky.

Triumphzug Kaiser Maximilians I. (die Böhmenschlacht und der böhmische Trophäenwagen) von Albrecht Altdorfer (Regensburg um 1512–1515). In this work, begun around 1512, a section of the frieze attributed to Altdorfer himself shows two battles from the War of Succession displayed on banners, one helpfully inscribed `Der Bayrisch krieg’ (showing the Siege of Kufstein) and the other, `Die Behemisch slacht’ (Fig. 13.2). Altdorfer’s miniature faithfully follows Treitzsaurwein’s instructions, as behind the scene of the `Bayrisch krieg’, three men parade on horseback holding banners with the coats-of-arms of the three territories Maximilian claimed for himself at the Kölner Spruch.

Battle of Wenzenbach in Codex Germanicus. Note Emperor Maximillian I’s fall left foreground.

The `Bohemian battle’, also variously referred to as the `Battle of Wenzenbach’ and the `Battle of Schönberg’, took place on September 12, 1504 and was an important battle in the Landshut War of Succession, a conflict that marked the culmination of over a hundred years of territorial squabbling among the four Wittelsbach lines of Bavarian dukes. By the middle of the fifteenth century, the deaths of two dukes without male issue had consolidated the four duchies into two: Bavaria-Landshut and Bavaria-Munich. Lacking an heir, Duke Georg `the Rich’ of Bavaria-Landshut named the Palatine branch of the Wittelsbachs as his beneficiaries in his 1496 will, hoping to keep his territories out of the hands of the Munich line. However, these dynastic machinations were not legally valid, as they expressly went against the stipulations worked out by previous Wittelsbach rulers in their divisional agreement of 1392 (and its subsequent renewal in 1450) that when one line died out the territories would go to the other Bavarian Wittelsbach lines. Georg’s own advisors counseled him that the will could not be upheld. The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I agreed and sustained the provision that should Georg die without male issue, the surviving Wittelsbach duke of Bavarian territories-Albrecht IV of Bavaria-Munich- would succeed him. In December 1503, Georg died without having rescinded his will of 1496, and the Landshut War of Succession broke out the next year between the Palatine supporters and the Munich faction with Habsburg and imperial backing. The Battle of Wenzenbach proved to be the largest and bloodiest meeting of troops during the war. Ludwig’s father, Albrecht IV, and his maternal uncle, Maximilian I, achieved a resounding victory over the Palatine forces, which included a huge number of Bohemian mercenaries (hence the battle’s nickname). The battle was not all smooth sailing, however. Maximilian’s horse stumbled and the emperor fell; he was almost trampled to death before being pulled free and helped back into the saddle by Duke Ernst of Braunschweig-Lüneberg. As a result of the Battle of Wenzenbach, the war subsequently fizzled to its eventual conclusion. At the Reichstag in July 1505, the Emperor brought an end to the conflict with the Kölner Spruch (verdict at Cologne), in which he gave rulership of the duchy of Bavaria-Landshut to his brother-in-law, Albrecht, and claimed for himself the three most profitable Bavaria-Landshut territories located in the Alps, in effect a commission for resolving the conflict. The Battle of Wenzenbach proved to have been a critical factor in the war’s eventual outcome.

Georg von Frundsberg

Georg von Frundsberg fought for the Habsburg emperor Maximilian I against the Swiss Confederacy in the Swabian War of 1499, where he had to realize that the era of the heavy armoured knights was well and truly over. In the same year he was among the Imperial troops sent to the aid of Ludovico Sforza, who had been deposed as Duke of Milan by King Louis XII of France. When Maximilian appointed him Tyrolean military captain, he recruited a powerful army of pike square infantry formations following the Swiss example.

Still serving Maximilian, he took part in the 1504 War of the Succession of Landshut, fighting against Count Ruprecht of the Palatinate and his father Elector Palatine Philip. Frundsberg distinguished himself leading a Landsknecht regiment into the decisive Battle of Wenzenbach, whereafter Maximilian I personally bestowed knighthood on him: armed with muskets and culverines, the Frundsberg regiment broke a breach into the wagon-wall of the Bohemian mercenaries (composed 300+ wagons), which were then routed. Convinced of the necessity of a native body of trained infantry, Frundsberg assisted Maximilian in the organization of the Landsknecht troops. One year later, he became the commander of the Landsknechts in the Habsburg Netherlands.

A detailed description of this battle can be found in Friedrich Dörnhöffer, `Ein Cyclus von Federzeichnungen mit Darstellungen von Kriegen und Jagden Maximilians I’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, 18 (1897): 45-46.

Battle of La Rochelle (1372)

Battle of La Rochelle (1372), a Castillian fleet annihilate the English fleet at the early stages of the Hundred Years’ War by Giuseppe Rava.

King Charles’s reconquest had continued. Although the Mayor of Poitiers supported the English, its people opened the gates to du Guesclin in 1372 and the rest of Poitou soon followed its capital. In June the same year, off La Rochelle, a Castilian fleet defeated an English fleet under the Earl of Pembroke—the new Governor of Aquitaine—sending the ship carrying his troops’ pay to the bottom and taking the Earl back to Spain as a prisoner. In consequence the Mayor of La Rochelle overpowered the English garrison and admitted du Guesclin. The Constable also took Usson in the Auvergne, while the whole of the Angoumois and the Saintonge went over to the French. There were not enough English troops to provide adequate garrisons and the enemy seemed to be everywhere. The English strongholds in Normandy and Brittany were falling and even Guernsey was invaded by a French force under Evan of Wales (a member of the former ruling family of Gwynedd).

The Battle

The development of battle tactics are also clearly illustrated in the course of this encounter, which took place in June 1372 at a time when England’s military prowess was on the wane. Edward III was now old and had lost his wife, Philippa, probably to a recurrence of the plague in 1369. Both 1370 and 1371 had seen invasion scares, with the south-coast towns on alert for raiders, and stories circulating widely of large French fleets being gathered for a descent on the English coast. John of Gaunt was actively pursuing his ambitions in Spain and attempting to put together an expedition and a fleet for that purpose. In France itself, English forces in the southwest were under pressure. In these rather unpromising circumstances the young Earl of Pembroke was commissioned in April as royal lieutenant in Aquitaine. He finally left to take up his position in June, leading a small force of probably under twenty ships, mostly small transports, but with three large vessels as escorts. He had with him 224 knights, fifty-five esquires and eighty archers. He also received a large sum of money in gold and silver, about £12,000, so that he could recruit and pay an army of about three thousand men when he reached his destination.

The various chronicle accounts then differ markedly as to what then ensued. Froissart as usual has a stirring tale to tell, which also changed between the different versions of his work. The foremost English chronicles hardly mention the incident. The Anonimalle Chronicle merely states that ‘the young count set out towards Gascony with too few men to the great damage of England’. He encountered enemy ships and was captured along with some of his companions and others were killed.38 A French chronicle, the Chronique des Quatre Premiers Valois, explains that on 22 June the English squadron arrived off La Rochelle and found a force of Castilian galleys already barring their way. The English thought little of the Spanish and were not unduly disturbed. An action ensued with the crossbowmen on the galleys opposing the archers on the English sailing ships. At nightfall this was still inconclusive so the two fleets parted. The chronicle also implies at this point that low tide was around dusk, perhaps around 9pm. This chronicle is then adamant that at dawn the next day after the first attack the English were aground because of the falling tide. The galleys, drawing much less water, were still able to manoeuvre freely and attacked, this time using flaming arrows and pots of grease and oil to set the English ships on fire. Soon most of the English ships were alight, with terrified horses in the holds adding to the confusion and uproar. The earl’s vessel was grappled by no fewer than four galleys and despite fierce fighting on the deck those who remained alive were forced to surrender and were captured. The treasure intended to pay the army in Gascony also fell into enemy hands.

This account of the battle has generally been accepted, although there is some disagreement over whether the English ships went aground. The timing of the crucial tide changes must remain uncertain without precise information but it seems likely that the tide was ebbing from around 2–3am on the morning of 23 June so that at dawn when the Castilian attack went in this would soon be a problem for the English ships if they had anchored not far from the shore. More controversial is the effect of this battle. One historian has called it ‘the greatest defeat ever sustained by the English navy’. Another has claimed that the effect was, ‘to stimulate naval activity’. The most recent writer’s view is that ‘the loss of prestige incurred by this first major English defeat was incalculable.’ For most contemporary English chroniclers the most important matter was the capture of the Earl of Pembroke by the Spanish.

Despite the loss of ships in this disaster and the need to compensate the owners of three of the largest with grants of royal ships, a large fleet was raised later that same summer for an expedition to France, which came to nothing because of a long spell of adverse winds. There is also evidence that the fact that a galley fleet had destroyed one made up of sailing vessels lay behind the decision to set in train the building of more balingers and barges for the Crown. Feelers were also put out to both Genoa and Portugal in the hope that they might be able to provide galleys or oarsmen to power the new balingers. More generally, English military power was receding as Charles V of France reinvigorated his forces both on land and at sea; the era of English success and stunning victories seemed to have ended, as the enormous expense of the wars became more and more apparent to a people who had lost much of their enthusiasm for the whole endeavour.

English Naval Forces

The idea that all ships in the possession of Englishmen and able to go to sea made up the navy of England was deeply rooted in the minds of English monarchs and accepted by English seafarers. However reluctant they might be at times to obey a royal summons to serve the King and defend the realm with their vessels at sea, the existence of this principle was not questioned. English kings from at least the tenth century had at times also owned ships themselves and had used these in a variety of roles. The twists and turns of external circumstances and royal policy ensured that there was little continuity in the royal ownership of ships, or in the way they were financed or maintained. We have seen that some English kings devoted considerable time and energy to the well-being and the proper use of their ships, while others neglected them, or in fact disposed of them entirely. How did the rulers of other states approach the same problem of defending the dwellers on their coasts, their ports and their trade? How did they also attempt to supply the need for ships that could give a good account of themselves in war at sea?


Facing the North Sea and the Atlantic, the kingdom of France possessed, in theory, around 2500 kilometres of coastline, stretching from the estuary of the Zwyn in Flanders to Hendaye on the frontier with Castile. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, however, only the counties of Ponthieu and Artois on the north coast were ruled directly by the French king; other territories including Flanders, Normandy, Brittany, Poitou and Gascony were fiefs of the French Crown, but were ruled directly by dukes or counts who often followed their own policies. This was particularly the case with the territories which were ruled by the Kings of England as dukes, first of Normandy from the Conquest till c.1204 and from c.1417 to c.1450, and second of Gascony (also known as Aquitaine) from 1152, when the future Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine, till 1453. Brittany, under its own duke, also pursued independent policies until the last years of the fifteenth century, when the French king took over the direct rule of the duchy by marrying Anne, the heiress of the last duke in 1491. As a consequence of this situation, kings of France had taken little interest in maritime matters, until the collapse of English rule in northern France in the reign of King John extended their power over most of the Channel coast. The kings of France, initially Philip II Augustus, now had control over a coastline in the north of their kingdom with excellent ports, where maritime trade was on the rise, and where skilled and adventurous seamen could be found in large numbers. They also had the power to demand feudal service at sea from these mariners and their ships in much the same way as the English Crown could rely on its power to conscript ships and crews for royal fleets. As Michel Mollat put it, ‘Philip [II] did not have a fleet but he had ships’. It was a fleet raised in this manner which met with the English at the battle of Dover in 1217.

Sources for French naval forces

There are not, however, many surviving French equivalents of the letters patent, commissions and accounts which allow historians to examine in detail the fleets largely made up of conscripted merchant ships raised by English kings from the thirteenth century onwards. It is easier to find evidence of the measures taken by French kings to defend their coastline by fortifying ports and building castles, for example at Montreuilsur-Mer and Boulogne. After their control also extended by the mid thirteenth century to the coast of Poitou and Saintonge, the fortifications of the major port of La Rochelle were also strengthened, although it was not until 1345–47 that the twin towers which guard the harbour entrance were built. These still exist and the Tour St Nicholas, in particular, is a very imposing structure; the watch tower is more than 35m above sea level. A chain was stretched across the entrance to the harbour between the two towers on which cannon were also mounted. Harfleur had similar towers, while at Honfleur across the estuary of the Seine one tower was built by the French in the mid fourteenth century, and another built c.1430 when the town was ruled by the English.

An Alternative Battle of Austerlitz, 1805

Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Gérard (Galerie des Batailles, Versailles)

Allied (red) and French (blue) deployments at 1800 hours on 1 December 1805

The decisive attacks on the Allied center by St. Hilaire and Vandamme split the Allied army in two and left the French in a golden strategic position to win the battle.

The weather had turned bitterly cold and the news of the defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar had further dampened French morale. The astonishing victory at Ulm, where the Austrian General Mack’s advance army had been surrounded and compelled to capitulate, though just two months earlier, seemed a distant memory. Even after the surrender of 60,000 Austrian troops and the occupation of Vienna, the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, refused to come to terms with the Emperor of the French. The reason for this was the belated arrival of the Russian army, the other major participant in the Third Coalition of countries opposed to France along with Great Britain. Tsar Alexander’s men gave the Coalition force a decided numerical advantage, and Francis insisted in fighting on.

For his part, Napoleon needed a rapid resolution to the conflict. He was 700 miles from home and outnumbered. Back in France, the departure of the Grande Armée, and Nelson’s victory off the Spanish coast, had encouraged the supporters of the deposed Bourbon monarchy to rebel once again. There was also the possibility that Prussia, which was known to be mobilising its forces, would join the Coalition. Somehow Napoleon had to draw the Austrians and Russians into a battle on ground and under circumstances of his own choosing – and quickly. But how?

The combined enemy force, some 90,000 strong, was positioned towards Olmütz on the Morava River, in the present day Czech Republic, but then in the eastern regions of Francis’ empire. The Austro-Russian army had secured communications running back through Poland and Silesia. If Napoleon tried to attack the allied army, it could quite easily fall back on its lines of communication, and in doing so, further elongate the Grande Armée’s already severely over-stretched supply chain. Indeed, the French army was in poor shape, with their weapons, equipment, clothing and shoes all showing the signs of excessive wear. If the allied army did withdraw, the French were in no position to follow and if Prussia did declare war on France, Napoleon might well find his armies cut off from France and surrounded by enemies. Rarely had Europe’s finest general found himself in such a predicament.

The Field of Battle

The principle Austro-Russian force was concentrating at around Olmütz, some thirty miles to the northeast of Brünn (today’s Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city) and it was the area in the region of Moravia’s historic capital that Napoleon scouted to gain an appreciation of the ground to see if it could offer him any advantage. It was following one such reconnaissance that the soldier-historian Philippe-Paul, comte de Ségur, famously described an incident on the journey back from Wischau: ‘ turning off towards the south he entered a high plain contained between two embanked streams running from the north to the southwest.

‘The Emperor slowly and silently went over this newly discovered ground, stopping several times on its most elevated points, looking principally towards Pratzen. He carefully examined all its characteristics and during this survey turned towards us saying, “Gentlemen, examine this ground carefully, it is going to be a battlefield; you will have a part to play in it.” This plain was indeed to be within a few days the field of the Battle of Austerlitz.’

Having chosen his battleground, Napoleon had to bring on the action that he sought, and induce the Tsar and Francis to commit their troops to battle. He proposed to do this by pretending to be weak and worried, hoping that the prospect of defeating the great Napoleon would prove too tempting an opportunity to dismiss. Consequently, he planned to place a proportion of his army close to the main Austro-Russian force. This small, but significant French body, would give all the appearance of being isolated and within striking distance of the allied force. Hopefully, this would tempt the Tsar to attack and, once committed, Napoleon would then spring his trap, with the rest of Grande Armée suddenly appearing, to pounce on the unsuspecting enemy. It would a highly dangerous operation which would require perfect arrangement and impeccable timing.

Corps de Armée

Such an operation was only made possible because of the manner in which Napoleon had organised his army. It was divided into seven corps, whilst varying in size depending on the talents of its commander or the assignment it had been tasked with, each of which was a force of all arms capable of holding off an enemy of similar or larger numbers for at least a full day until reinforced. This meant that the corps in front of the Austro-Russian army could hold their own until the other corps marched to deliver the decisive blow. Added to this was the creation of a cavalry reserve of such a size that it could crash through the enemy’s line at the critical moment in a battle. This reserve totalled around 22,000 men including two full divisions of heavy cuirassiers.

Everything, though, would depend upon Napoleon’s brilliant chief of staff, Marshal Berthier, to bring all the Grande Armée’s corps together at the right moment. A corps of 30,000 men on the march took up five miles of good road, sixty guns with their caissons required two and a half miles, and 6,000 cavalry, riding four abreast, extended for about four miles. The length of such a column made it necessary for the corps to move along several parallel roads, keeping in mind the need for lateral communications if the situation required a sudden change of plan.

A Weak Front

The corps of Murat (Cavalry Reserve), Lannes (V Corps) and Soult (IV Corps) were to advance towards Wischau and Olmütz (present-day Olomouc) and occupy Austerlitz and the adjacent Pratzen Heights, with one cavalry brigade pushed towards Olmütz. This move would give all the appearance of an aggressive approach by Napoleon, indicating that he was still on the offensive. This was an obvious double-bluff. It would appear that Napoleon was putting a bold face on a rapidly deteriorating situation in the hope this would frighten the allies into remaining cautiously on the defensive. The Tsar, whose army constituted by far the bulk of the allied force and therefore who dictated strategy, would see through this and attack this comparatively small body of French troops which amounted to no more than 53,000 men. By 25 November, the move forward by this detached force was completed and Napoleon now had to wait to see if Tsar Alexander would take the bait.

Command of the Austro-Russian army was nominally under the command of Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, though he had to take orders from Alexander. The Tsar saw what he thought was a golden opportunity and wanted to attack immediately, as did many of the Austrian and Russian generals. Kutuzov saw no need for such action and the Emperor Francis, on whose territory this was all taking place, urged caution. If the allies were defeated, the Russians could simply abandon the expedition and return to Russia, whereas Francis would be forced into a humiliating capitulation. Francis, therefore, had the most to lose.

With all this in mind, an allied delegation was sent to Napoleon to discuss the possibility of an armistice, but in reality to get a closer look at the state of the French army. Napoleon played his part to perfection, being charming and accommodating and indicating that he was only too happy to consider discussing terms.

This did the trick. It seemed clear that Napoleon was in some trouble and would happily accept a negotiated way out of the difficulties he was in. Never had there been a better chance for any of France’s enemies, in ten years of almost continual warfare, to strike such a blow. The Tsar had indeed sniffed the bait, and was about to swallow it.

The Eve of Doom

On 28 November, Austro-Russian troops attacked Murat’s outposts and pushed them back towards Soult’s corps. This was attended by impossibly high armistice demands from the Tsar and the Emperor. With this Napoleon knew the allies were going to fall into his trap and urgent messages were sent to the other corps commanders to march for Brünn with all speed. Marshal Bernadotte’s I Corps and Marshal Davout’s III Corps were soon on the road, with a thick cavalry screen ahead of them to conceal their movements from the enemy. Napoleon would still be outnumbered, but only slightly so, and he would have surprise on his side.

Before committing his troops to battle, the Tsar wanted confirmation that he was doing the right thing, and to allay the fears of those around him that doubted the wisdom of attacking Napoleon. So another delegation was sent to the French camp. Once again, Napoleon put on a display which made the returning Count Dologorouki tell the Tsar that ‘the French army was on the eve of its doom’.

Believing that he had convinced the enemy, Napoleon started the moves that would draw the enemy into his clutches, by ordering Soult to abandon Austerlitz and the Pratzen Heights, and in doing so to give all the appearance of near-panic. Kutusov was quick to take advantage of the French withdrawal and occupy the Heights.

No-one would relinquish the high ground if they were intent upon attacking, or even holding a defensive stance. The French, it seemed, knew the game was up and that they had better withdraw or be annihilated. To confirm this, the rest of the French cavalry pulled back from Wishau, again in an apparent state of disorder, followed now by the slow but increasingly confident Austro-Russian army. But as the Tsar’s men lumbered towards Austerlitz, Bernadotte’s I Corps arrived secretly behind Napoleon’s front, on 30 November, with Davout and the III Corps just a day’s march away. The following day was spent by Napoleon inspecting his troops and ensuring that everything was in place for the battle on the morrow.

He also issued an Order of the Day, which, rather than just appealing to the soldiers’ patriotism and sense of honour as such addresses usually did, actually explained an element of his plans for the battle:

‘SOLDIERS – The Russian army is before you, come to avenge the Austrian army of Ulm …

‘The positions which we occupy are formidable, and while the Russians march upon our batteries I shall attack their flanks.

‘Soldiers, I shall in person direct all your battalions; I shall keep out of range if, with your accustomed bravery, you carry disorder and confusion into the ranks of the enemy. But if victory is for a moment uncertain, you shall see your Emperor expose himself the foremost to danger; because victory must not hesitate an instant today, when, above all, the honour of the French infantry is concerned, which bears with it the honour of the whole nation.

‘Note that no man shall leave the ranks under the pretext of carrying off the wounded. Let everyman be filled with the thought that it is vitally necessary to conqueror these paid lackeys of England who so strongly hate our nation.’

As well as taking them into his confidence regards his plans, Napoleon was using clever psychology here, in that if the men did not see Napoleon at their head, they knew they were on course for victory and would keep on fighting, believing they were succeeding.

That evening Napoleon slept until 22.00 hours and then rode around part of the battlefield with twenty men of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde Impériale, narrowly being captured by a party of Cossacks. He returned through the French camp. It was a foggy, moonless night and the Chasseurs lit torches of fir and straw to light the Emperor’s passage. ‘Seeing in the light of their torches a group of mounted officers approaching them, the soldiers quickly recognised the Imperial party, and many torches were lit,’ recalled Pierre Daumesil, ‘Soon the entire French line was ablaze, and repeated shouts of “Vive l’Empereur!” echoed across the Goldbach stream to the Russian lines. Regimental bands added their music to the exhilaration of the moment.’ Napoleon was moved by the scene, and as he later settled back in his tent, he was heard to murmur: ‘This has been the finest evening of my life.’ The following day would be remembered as the worst of his thirty-five years.

The Fog of Austerlitz

The field of battle for 2 December 1805, stretched from the villages of Welatiz and Bosenitz, just to the north of the road from Brünn to Austerlitz in the north, to the lake of Satschan, about six miles to the south. From east to west it spread from the Goldbach stream to the town of Austerlitz itself. The ground is slightly hilly but fairly open, dominated by the Pratzen plateau, with a wide, swampy region running northeast from the Satschan lake, along the River Littawa, on the eastern base of the plateau towards Austerlitz. On the day, the Austro-Russian army amounted to something between a little more than 85,000 to almost 88,000, compared to the 73,000 which Napoleon would eventually have under his command.

The fog of the night had not lifted when dawn broke on 2 December which hindered the assembly of the Austro-Russian formations. The allied plan, devised by the Austrian General Franz von Weyrother, was to direct the main effort against the seemingly weak French right, which was held by Soult. This would cut Napoleon’s line of retreat back to Vienna. As the French flank was being turned, another strong body would attack along the Olmütz-to-Brünn road on the French left, which also appeared to be held by a single corps, that of V Corps. What von Weyrother did not know was that already Bernadotte had joined Lannes, and Davout was closing in upon Soult. Von Weyrother’s plan also called for other columns to move from the Pratzen Heights as the French reeled under the blows of the two flanking columns to strike at the French centre to complete the victory. There were two complimentary flaws in this plan. The concentration of effort on the two flanks meant that the allied centre was very weak, and the Pratzen Heights – the high ground that dominated the battlefield – would be abandoned. Apparently General Langeron pointed out these dangers but his concerns were ignored. Napoleon, it was argued, was looking for a way out of the dangerous position he was in and he would never dream of sending troops to actually attack. This, though, was exactly what Napoleon hoped would happen.

Once the Russians and Austrians were on the move, a mass of 65,000 men would erupt from behind the Santon stream at its confluence with the Goldbach to confront the allied main force, whilst the divisions of Vandame and Saint-Hilaire (16,000 men and two batteries of artillery), would seize the Pratzen Heights. This would split the allied army in two, and whilst the enemy’s right flanking move was held by Lannes corps, the main French force would wheel round to the south and crush the left half of Kutuzov’s army. It was a brilliant and ambitious plan but, if the Russians abandoned the Heights, it could hardly fail.

First Moves

Tsar Alexander was anxious for the start of the great victory he visualized and, as the minutes ticked by he finally voiced his growing frustration. He addressed his commander in chief: ‘Mikhail Illarionovich why haven’t you begun your advance?’ Kutusov replied ‘I am waiting for all the columns of the army to get into position.’

‘But we are not on the Empress’s Meadows [a parade ground near St Petersburg], where we do not begin a parade until all the regiments are formed up!’

‘Your Highness, if I have not begun it is because we are not on parade, and not on the Empress’s Meadow. However, if such be Your Highness’s order …’

Ready or not, the Austro-Hungarian divisions moved off, and by 06.00 hours most of the attacking formations were on the move. General Buxhwden was in overall command of the main striking force which would crush the French right, and it was the five battalions of General Kienmayer’s 1st Infantry Brigade of his Advance Guard, leading the way, which first came into contact with the French as the Austrians approached the village of Telnitz on the banks of the Goldbach. The Austrians, anxious to show the Russians that they could fight as well as themselves, assaulted the village ‘with great resolution’. The ground, though, was difficult as the Goldbach at this point ran in ditches, behind which was a low height covered with vineyards and houses. Telnitz was held by a battalion of line infantry, the 3rd, as well as the Légion Corse. ‘Covered behind the inequalities of the ground,’ wrote the nineteenth century historian, Adolph Theirs, ‘these clever tirailleurs, taking cool aim at the hussars that had been sent forward in advance, brought down a great number of them … The Austrians, tired of a murderous conflict productive of no result, assaulted the village of Telnitz in a body of five united battalions which did not succeed in penetrating into it owing to the firmness of the 3rd of the line, which received them with the courage of well-tried troops.’

The other columns of Buxhwden’s force (First Column, Lieutenant General D. Doctorov; Second Column Lieutenant General A. Langeron; Third Column Lieutenant General I. Przbyswski; Fourth Column, lieutenant generals M. Miloradovich and J. Kollowrath) followed but not in the coordinated fashion that Von Weyrother would have hoped, but Kutuzov had predicted. Eventually, though, the allied main force overpowered the French left wing and Davout’s corps had still not reached the battlefield.

This was a critical moment in the battle. All Napoleon’s calculations were based on being able to hold back Buxhwden until he had taken the Pratzen Heights and broken through the Russian centre. Fortunately, Berthier’s arrangements proved to be satisfactory as usual, and the first until of III Corps finally marched into view. Corporal Blaise was with Heudelet’s division which was ordered to counter-attack: ‘General Heudelet put himself at our head and we marched boldly forward in battle order until we were halted by a ditch which was too large for us to cross. General Heudelet thereupon ordered our colonel to move us over a bridge away to our left. This necessary movement was the cause of our undoing, for the soldiers were so eager to come to grips with the vaunted enemy infantry that they disordered their ranks … and when we tried to reform our battle order under heavy fire, some Austrian hussars … in the thick smoke and fog which was a feature of the day, wounded a great many of us and captured 160 man including 4 officers.’

Despite such setbacks, Davout’s men helped recover Telnitz, only for a renewed assault by General Doctorov’s column to succeed in recapturing the village. Though the allies had the upper hand in the south, the easy breakthrough which had been anticipated by von Weyrother, upon which the whole of his plan depended, had not yet happened. This was in part because the Russian Second Column had become involved in what has been described as a massive traffic jam caused by the decision from the Russian staff on the Pratzen Heights to move the Fifth (Cavalry) Column across the front of Langeron’s men, causing a delay of almost an hour. All this meant that the French right was holding, just as Napoleon hoped it would, and the battle was developing exactly as Napoleon and anticipated.

Crossing the Goldbach

Eventually, though far later than had been planned, Langeron arrived on Doctorov’s right followed by Przbyswski’s Third Column on the right. Telnitz was retaken and the allies began to cross the Goldbach. It seemed that by sheer weight of numbers that the allies were overcoming the French. Then, as they crossed the stream, they were attacked by General Bouchier with six regiments of dragoons, followed by the rest of Heudelet’s infantry, and the Russians were thrown back in disorder. Davout’s men continued to push forward, taking advantage of the confusion in the Russian ranks. Astonishingly, a total of only 10,500 Frenchmen had not only stopped, but driven back, more than 50,000 Russians and Austrians. Often in history smaller, well disciplined and organised, bodies of troops, have defeated much larger enemy forces which are much harder to control and manoeuvre. Such was the case on the morning of 2 December on the banks of the Goldbach stream.

‘It was not yet eight o’clock,’ wrote Captain Segur, one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp, ‘and silence and darkness were still reigning over the rest of the line, when, beginning with the heights, the sun suddenly breaking through the thick fog disclosed to our sight the plateau of Pratzen growing empty of troops from the flank march of the enemy columns. As for us who had remained in the ravine which defines the foot of the plateau, the smoke of the bivouacs and the vapours which, heavier on this point than elsewhere, still hung around, concealed from the Russians our centre deployed in columns and ready for the attack.’

Napoleon turned to Soult, who was to lead the assault upon the Pratzen, and asked him, ‘How long will it take to move your divisions to the top of the Pratzen Heights?’ The marshal replied, ‘Less than twenty minutes, Sire, for my troops are hidden at the foot of the valley, concealed by fog and campfire smoke.’ Napoleon hesitated for a moment, and then said, ‘In that case we will wait another quarter of an hour.’ Napoleon wanted the last of the allied columns to leave the heights before delivering the blow that would decide the battle, and end the Third Coalition.

But the sun which shone on the Pratzen Heights suddenly penetrated the mist that had concealed Soult’s division. The wary Kutusov, who had been opposed to the entire idea of attacking the French at all, immediately understood what he saw – a large body of French infantry that had not been engaged which was poised to cut right through the Austro-Russian line. The normally lethargic Russian general was a bustle of activity. The troops still on the Heights preparing to march down the slope were halted and orders were sent recalling Kollowrath’s Austrians and Miloradovitch’s twenty-five Russian battalions which were descending on the left towards Sokolnitz.

Napoleon had waited too long. For many years afterwards, Russians and Austrians who had been at the battle, would talk of the ‘sun of Austerlitz’, which had shed its light on the French, and shone its glory upon the Tzar and the Emperor of Austria.

Another few minutes and Miloradovitch would have been engaged and unable to extract his troops in time. But Kutusov’s urgent appeal reached the Russian general in time, and he wheeled his battalions round and headed back up the slope before Soult could begin his advance.

It was a race for the top of the Heights, but, despite the speed of the French columns, it was a race the Russians were always going to win. As Soult neared to within 200 yards of the summit, he saw the dense line of green-jacketed infantry stretched across the skyline.

To loud cries of ‘Vive l’Empereur’ Thiébault’s and Saint-Hilare’s divisions attacked with their usual impetuosity. But the Russians were stern opponents, and after a single volley, the men of the Novgorod, Apsheron, Little Russia and Smolensk regiment strode out purposefully, bayonets levelled.

The clash of arms was a terrible one, but weight of numbers and gravity was in the favour of allies. As the French were slowly pushed back, two brigades of von Lichtenstein’s cavalry, which had also been summoned by Kutusov, crashed into rear of Soult’s isolated regiments.


Witnessing the confused scene on the slopes above, Napoleon knew that the battle hung in the balance. True to his word, he galloped up the Heights to show his men that the result was in doubt. But when the French troops saw their Emperor, it only served to confirm what they knew – they were in trouble. Instead of galvanizing them into greater efforts, it had the opposite effect. It was clearly a case of every man for himself.

The French soldiers had never known defeat under Napoleon. They had supreme confidence in him, believing he would never fail. All that was shattered in moments. Napoleon watched the Grande Armée dissolve in front of him. It was the end of the dream.

The news of the French defeat soon reached Berlin and King Frederick William responded quickly, ordering those regiments that were fully mobilzed to take advantage of the situation, cutting off a large part of the retreating French infantry divisions. The Grande Armée was destroyed. So sluggish had been Kutusov’s pursuit, Napoleon could well have rallied his men and, with the help of reinforcements from France, held the allies on the Rhine, but the intervention of the Prussians proved fatal to what was to prove to be Napoleon’s weak grip on his adoptive country.

Though there was still a strong army in the south fighting the Austrians in Italy, there was little hope for France. Whilst Napoleon dreamt up ambitious schemes to attack the approaching enemy columns, his marshals knew that the only way to avoid France being overrun was to remove Napoleon. So it was, that on Christmas Eve, 1805, Louis XIII returned to Paris and was installed in his capital. Napoleon, however, was granted generous terms by the allies and he was permitted to retire with dignity to Corsica, the island of his birth. His had been a great adventure – until it came to an end on a low range of hills to the north of Vienna.


The Battle of Austerlitz was probably Napoleon’s greatest victory, which resulted in the destruction of the allied army. Around 27,000 Austrians and Russians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, amounting to more than thirty per cent of the total allied force. This happen because Tsar Alexander had taken over command of the allied army from Kutusov, who had shown nothing but distain for von Weyrother’s plan and had argued against attacking Napoleon in the first place. Once Napoleon saw the Russians moving off the Pratzen, he send Soult’s IV Corps up the slope to push through the now extremely thin allied centre, cutting Kutusov’s army in two. Supported by Bernadotte’s corps and the Imperial Guard, Soult then swung round to the south, trapping Buxhwden’s force against the Satschan lakes. The allied troops tried to escape across the frozen lakes, and seeing this, Napoleon ordered up twenty-five cannon to fire upon the ice. The effect of the cannon balls, crashing onto the ice which was already under severe strain from the thousands of fleeing soldiers and the heavy artillery teams, began to crack. Though the number of men drowned in the freezing water was thought to have been many thousands, when the lakes were drained shortly after the battle only a few corpses were recovered. What the breaking of the ice did was block the allies only line of retreat, which why as many as 12,000 became prisoners.

The day after the battle the Emperor Francis sought an armistice, whilst the remnants of the Russian army retreated to the east. When news of the scale of the Austro-Russian defeat reached London, Prime Minister William Pitt is reported to have said, in reference to a map of Europe, ‘Roll up that map; it will not be wanted these ten years.’ He was proven, at least partially, correct. The Third Coalition was brought to a speedy end and the map of Europe was redrawn. The principle effects of this was that Napoleon created a grouping of the western German states, called the Confederation of the Rhine, to act as a buffer between France and Prussia. These states were formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire. Robbed, therefore of much of his authority Francis relinquished his title and the Holy Roman Empire, which had stood for almost 900 years, ceased to exist. Its demise was unquestionably one of the factors that enabled Prussia to become the dominant Germanic country which, in 1871, absorbed the smaller German states to form the German nation that we know today.


Doihara in a press photo in Tokyo during 1936, by then a Lt. General

With the Japanese samurai all means are permissible as long as they lead to the end in view. To them it is smart to lie, to cheat, to deceive, to intrigue, to be double-faced, hypocritical, provided it pays or brings power. It is in their nature to be false.

Amleto Vespa – former secret agent for Japan

In 1853 the United States sent four warships under Commodore Matthew Perry to barge open trade relations with Japan. The Japanese stalled and so Perry returned to Tokyo Bay a year later with more ships and hinted at war if an agreement was not reached. For centuries Japan had isolated itself from the world and until the coming of Perry it existed in an introspective, feudal cocoon. No one was allowed to leave Japan and no one could visit, with few exceptions. Perry’s arrival changed everything and Japan soon embraced the modern, industrial era, with Western experts advising on everything from postal systems to army reform.

The arrival of so many foreigners caused a schism in Japanese society that affected political life. Although Japan was nominally ruled by an emperor, since the 1600s military dictators known as shoguns had run the country. After several revolts, in 1868 imperial power was restored to the young Emperor Meiji (1852–1912), who passed a series of laws heralding a policy of Westernization and tolerance to foreigners.

While Japan eagerly embraced everything the West had to offer, few Westerners realized the bitterness felt by many Japanese toward foreigners. A philosophy known as Hakko Ichiu (Eight Corners of the World under One Rule) took hold of Japan, which preached a doctrine of racial superiority and the divine right of the Japanese people to do pretty much as they pleased. Japan was said to be at the centre of the world and the tenno (emperor) was a divine being directly descended from the Goddess of the Sun. The Japanese people, furthermore, were protected by their gods and were thus superior to all others. The Hakko Ichiu also had a profound impact on foreign policy, Japan having been given a divine mission to bring all nations under the beneficial rule of the tenno.

To realize these divinely inspired ambitions, Japan needed a modern espionage system. Adopting the German model, Japanese officials were sent to study under Wilhelm Stieber in the mid-1870s. Over the next decade Japan built up separate army and naval intelligence services, each with an accompanying branch of secret military police (Kempeitai for the army and Tokeitai for the navy). These latter organizations also provided an excellent counter-espionage service. However, where the Japanese were unique was in the use of spies belonging to unofficial secret societies working alongside or independently of the official intelligence agencies. These shadowy institutions were ultra-nationalist by nature, drawing their membership from a cross-section of Japanese society, including the military, politics, industry and Yakuza underworld. Under ruthless leadership, their henchmen would spy on, subvert and corrupt Japan’s Far East neighbours.

Perhaps the biggest losers in the Meiji Restoration were samurai warriors – the knights of the shogunate era. As Japan modernized and built an army based on universal conscription, the samurai found themselves an unwanted anachronism – even banned from publicly carrying their swords. Known as ronin, masterless samurai gravitated towards new urban centres where, unwilling to give up their martial way of life, they turned to crime. Realizing their potential, gang leader Mitsuru Toyama (1855–1944) organized the ronin into an effective force of hired muscle specializing in strikebreaking and assassination. Demand for Toyama’s services saw doors opened for him to the highest levels of society. Soon he was one of the most influential figures in the ultra-nationalist underworld, known to many by the sinister appellation ‘Darkside Emperor’ or ‘Shadow Shogun’.

An exponent of Japanese expansion, Toyama became the guiding hand of the Genyosha or Dark Ocean Society formed in 1881 by Kotaro Hiraoka – a rich samurai mine owner with an eye on business opportunities in Manchuria. To collect intelligence on the region and its Triad gangs, Toyama dispatched a hundred Genyosha agents to China. The most effective front for their espionage operations came through activities in the vice trade, with the Genyosha setting up bordellos in Hankow, Shanghai, Tientsin, Pusan and Russian-controlled Central Asia. The most noted of these was the ‘Hall of Pleasurable Delights’ at Hankow. Based on Stieber’s ‘The Green House’, this brothel was extremely popular among Chinese politicians and Triad bosses. While providing a safe house for Japanese spies, it brought in funds for the Genyosha’s clandestine activities and provided ample means to blackmail clients or find potential allies among the growing number of Chinese revolutionaries.

The name ‘Dark Ocean’ referred to the genkai nada – the stretch of water between Japan and Korea, hinting at the location of the group’s first major operation. The close proximity of the Korean peninsula to the Japanese islands gave it considerable strategic value as a springboard into East Asia and as a defensive buffer against China and Russia. At the behest of the minister of war, Soroku Kawakami, Toyama and another leading Genyosha member, Ryohei Uchida, set up the Tenyukyo, a group of 15 hand-picked agent provocateurs sent into Korea as agitators.

Once inside the country the Tenyukyo established contact with the Tonghaks, a radical Korean terrorist group. Together they waged such a campaign of terror that the Korean emperor was compelled to ask China for help. As obliging Chinese troops gathered on the border, Japanese hawks were presented with the excuse they had been hoping for. After condemnation of China’s ‘aggressive’ intervention (the Chinese had not actually entered Korea yet), Japanese troops were landed and, claiming to be acting in defence of Korean sovereignty, they seized the royal palace in Seoul on 23 July 1894. The ensuing conflict, which was declared a few days later on 1 August, saw a quick succession of Japanese victories against the Chinese on land and sea, leaving part of Manchuria and the island of Formosa (Taiwan) in Japanese hands.

Despite the victory, war had stretched Japan’s resources to the limit and rival nations were quick to detect the scent of vulnerability. Pressure from France, Germany and in particular Russia obliged Japan to give up its mainland gains in China. Russia formed an alliance with China against Japan in 1896, which gave it important strategic gains including the lease of Port Arthur (1898) and rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Manchuria to the Russian seaport of Vladivostok.

It was clear to the Genyosha leadership that this growing Russian influence would have to be checked. However, after the Korean episode, the society’s activities had come to the attention of headline writers. The unwanted publicity increased after Toyama’s disciples assassinated the Korean princess Bin and terrorized the Korean emperor into seeking refuge in Russia. Its high profile made the Genyosha unsuitable for conducting further secret operations, so in 1898 the group dissolved. Toyama instead formed the East Asia One Culture Society, a pan-Asian group with the ambition of formulating a common system of writing in the region. To help accomplish this, the group formed the Tung Wen College in Shanghai. Still operational in 1945, the Tung Wen College had thousands of graduates working from India to the Philippines. Of course the whole project was a sham front for espionage operations – the Chinese always referred to the Tung Wen as ‘the Japanese Spy School’.

In 1901, under Toyama’s direction, his Black Ocean comrade Ryohei Uchida formed the Kokuryu-kai, or Black Dragon Society. Like the Genyosha before it, the clue to the group’s ambitions lay in its name, which really implied ‘Beyond the Amur River’, the river separating northern Manchuria and Siberia. In Chinese the Amur translates to Black Dragon River, hence the origin of the society’s most common name.

Initially the group recruited its soshi (lit. brave knights) from patriotic ronin and avoided the criminal types increasingly predominant in the Genyosha. As word of their activities spread, other crusaders for the Japanese imperial cause sought membership. Although the society quickly boasted members in upper governmental and military circles, the group was not always in line with government policy, nor did it receive official sanction.

As war with Russia approached, the group successfully lobbied for the appointment of Colonel Motojiro Akashi as military attaché to St Petersburg. Akashi was an excellent intelligence officer sympathetic to the Black Dragons’ aims. He had previously served as military attaché at Japanese embassies in Sweden, France and Switzerland. In these posts he established that Western Europe would not come to the aid of tsarist Russia if it were attacked by Japan.

While fulfilling his duties, Akashi made secret contact with anti-tsarist revolutionary cells inside Russia and around Europe. In return for financial aid, these groups provided Akashi with intelligence on the Russian military and secret services. He also made contact with Abdur Rashid Ibrahim, a Tartar Muslim who provided important information on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. More intelligence came out of Port Arthur from the British agent Sidney Reilly who had met Akashi in St Petersburg. Reilly had set up a sham company in Port Arthur to provide him with a cover story while he spied on Russian defences for Akashi.

In addition to Akashi’s work, Japanese spies posing as coolies and dockworkers infiltrated Russian bases in Manchuria. The Black Dragons were at the forefront of these actions. They sent agents into Manchuria and Siberia – and even opened a ju-jitsu school in Vladivostok to provide a front for their operations against the Russians. They observed troop and naval movements, building up detailed information on the Russian order of battle and logistics. They also had an agent in the north of Manchuria, Hajime Hamamoto, who ran a general store near to a Russian army base. By seducing wives of Russian officers, Hamamoto was able to glean important information from them, which was passed on to Military Intelligence in Japan via an agent in Vladivostok.

These secret operations gave Japan a major advantage in the war, which began on 8 February 1904 with a Japanese surprise attack on Port Arthur, two days before a formal declaration of war was made. Moving to Stockholm, Akashi stretched Russian resources, stirring up Russian and Finnish revolutionaries. On a more practical level, Black Dragon agents acted as interpreters and guides for the Japanese army, organizing guerrilla operations with allied Manchurian warlords such as Marshal Chang Tso-lin.

Japan slowly wore down the Russian opposition, capturing Port Arthur and Mukden (now Shenyang). The Russians were finally forced to agree terms with Japan after its fleet was smashed at the battle of Tsushima (27–29 May 1905). A conference was held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, resulting in Japan gaining control of Port Arthur and the South Manchurian railroad. Russia evacuated southern Manchuria, which was restored to China, and Japan’s dominance of Korea was recognized.

With Russia out of the way, the Black Dragons turned their focus to China. Having met the revolutionaries Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) and Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) in Tokyo during 1905, the Black Dragons subsidized the 1911 overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty, which made China a republic. However, this assistance was given only to destabilize China and facilitate Japan’s seizure of Manchuria – a long-term ambition of the Black Dragons.

The hunt began for a stooge in whose name the seizure of Manchuria would be justified and world opinion placated. One candidate had been identified by the Black Dragon Naniwa Kawashima, an old samurai and veteran of the Russo-Japanese war. After the war Kawashima found himself chief of police in the Japanese section of Peking. In the course of his duties he befriended his opposite number, Prince Su Chin Wang, head of Peking’s Chinese police force. Prince Su was one of eight princes of the Iron Helmet, traditionally the emperor’s closest companions, which in Kawashima’s opinion gave him the right pedigree. Prince Su agreed to the plan, but it did not receive support from the Japanese government and floundered, much to the Black Dragons’ disappointment. Su went on to form an anti-Republican army in the northeast together with the Mongol general Babojab. When this army was defeated, Su retired to Port Arthur where he died in April 1922. The search for a suitable puppet shifted from Su to the deposed Chinese emperor.

Pu Yi (1906–67), the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, had ascended to the throne in 1908 before his third birthday. Since 1925 Pu Yi had lived in a villa – the Chang, or Quiet, Garden – inside the Japanese concession of Tientsin, where he enjoyed a playboy lifestyle with his increasingly opium-addicted wife ‘Elizabeth’ Wan Jung. Faced with the crippling cost of maintaining his royal trappings, Pu Yi was desperate to regain the throne and hoped he might find support among the Black Dragons. He was well informed of their activities, recording in his memoirs how the society had taken hold in China:

[It] started out with bases in Foochow, Yentai (Chefoo) and Shanghai and operated under such covers as consulates, schools and photographers … its membership was said to have reached several hundred thousand with correspondingly huge funds. Toyama Mitsuru was the most famous of its leaders and under his direction its members had penetrated every stratum of Chinese society. At the side of Ching nobles and high officials and among peddlers and servants, including the attendants in the Chang Garden. Many Japanese personalities were disciples of Toyama’s.

Pu Yi agreed to discuss his restoration with a Black Dragon agent named Tsukuda Nobuo. However, because the Black Dragons’ policy was not shared by the Japanese government, when Nobuo learned the local Japanese consul had also been invited to the interview, he pulled out and promptly disappeared. Puzzled at the agent’s behaviour, Pu Yi sent his advisor and tutor, Chang Hsiao-hsu, to Japan to make contact with the Black Dragons directly.

In the meantime, plans were set to seize Manchuria and its vast, unexploited resources. Since the war with Russia, Japan controlled the South Manchurian Railway, which it protected with a body of troops known as the Kwantung Army based in the Japanese concession at Mukden. Before Manchuria could be seized the powerful Manchurian warlord Marshal Chang Tso-lin had to be eliminated. A former Japanese ally in the war against Russia, the marshal opposed the growing Japanese influence in the region. In 1928 the Japanese assassinated the marshal by bombing his train, leaving Manchuria ripe for the taking. The following year intelligence specialist Colonel Seishiro Itagaki was posted to the Kwantung Army to make the final plans for the seizure of Manchuria. His plan was a masterpiece of ruse and treachery.

On the evening of 18 September 1931, Japanese sappers secretly planted explosives near to the track of the South Manchurian Railway. The objective was not to destroy the tracks, but to give the impression that Chinese saboteurs had attempted to derail a passing train. The Japanese quickly condemned the ‘attack’ and launched a ‘retaliatory’ attack against the Chinese in Mukden. To ensure a successful outcome, two heavy-calibre guns had been hidden in a ‘swimming pool’ constructed at the Japanese officers’ club. One gun was trained on the Chinese constabulary barracks, the other at the air force base at Mukden airport. When news of the ‘attack’ on the railway reached the Japanese garrison, the guns opened fire on the sleeping Chinese. It was a massacre.

News of the ‘battle’ quickly travelled to Port Arthur, where Lieutenant-General Honjo ordered an all-out attack by the 20,000-strong Kwantung Army. In a feat of unparalleled military efficiency, Honjo’s men were already mobilized before his orders arrived. The rival Chinese troops were caught on the back foot and, under general orders not to engage Japanese forces, were pushed back to the Sungari River. This attack left most of southern Manchuria in Japanese hands for the loss of just two men.

The outside world condemned the ‘Mukden Incident’ as a blatant case of Japanese aggression. However, Pu Yi saw it as an opportunity to take up the throne of his native Manchuria. Eight days after the incident, Colonel Itagaki arrived in Tientsin and offered Pu Yi the throne. To his surprise, the former emperor’s advisors urged caution, suspicious that a ‘mere colonel’ was making the offer rather than Japanese politicians. Pausing for thought, Pu Yi wrote to Toyama asking him to clarify the situation.

Three weeks later, Pu Yi was introduced to a senior member of the Kwantung Army, Colonel Kenji Doihara (1883–1948). Another of Toyama’s acolytes, Doihara was an intelligence officer and had been active in northern China and Siberia for some considerable time. Even among the pantheon of villains that were his contemporaries, Doihara stands out as a particularly loathsome individual. His rise to infamy began with tricking his 15-year-old sister into posing nude for some photographs. Armed with the developed pictures, the loving brother touted them to a Japanese imperial prince who was so impressed he made her his number one concubine. In return for this favour, Doihara was posted as an assistant to General Honjo, military attaché to Peking.

Doihara must not be dismissed as a simple thug. He had a deserved reputation as a linguist, claiming to speak nine European languages and four Chinese dialects faultlessly. He enjoyed the attention of Western journalists who dubbed him the ‘Lawrence of the East’ for the way he adopted Chinese costume on his many travels round the country recruiting spies and seeking out potential allies. In 1928 he became military advisor to Marshal Chang and was almost certainly involved in his assassination, after which he was promoted to colonel. In 1931 Doihara was head of the Japanese Special Service Organ in Mukden and was declared mayor of the city after the attack on 19 September.

Doihara arrived at the Quiet Garden villa and offered Pu Yi the throne of Manchuria. Pu Yi knew that Doihara was a ‘disciple’ of Toyama and recorded his opinion of the colonel in his memoirs. Although at first taken in by him, Pu Yi came to realize – too late – the full depth of Doihara’s mendacity:

Because of the mysterious stories that were told about him the Western press described him as the ‘Lawrence of the East’ and the Chinese papers said that he usually wore Chinese clothes and was fluent in several Chinese dialects. But it seems to me that if all his activities were like persuading me to go to the Northeast [Manchuria] he would have had no need for the cunning and ingenuity of a Lawrence: the gambler’s ability to keep a straight face while lying would have been enough.

Doihara asked Pu Yi to travel to Mukden from where he would be placed on the Manchu throne. His sovereignty would be guaranteed by the Kwantung Army, which of course said it had no territorial ambitions in Manchuria. Eager for power, Pu Yi agreed in principle, but sought assurances from Doihara that he would not be merely a Japanese puppet. Doihara assured, but still Pu Yi dithered. It appeared that the empress did not trust the Japanese and would not agree to leave Tientsin. Frustrated, Doihara needed help and so called on Itagaki for advice. The author of the Mukden Incident answered Doihara’s call by playing the joker in the Japanese pack – the Manchu-born agent known as ‘Eastern Jewel’.

The daughter of the pro-Japanese prince Su Chin Wang, Eastern Jewel was born in 1907. In 1913 she was given to the Black Dragon Naniwa Kawashima for adoption as a mark of friendship between the two men. Arriving in Japan, she was renamed Yoshiko Kawashima and educated at the Matsumato school for girls. She was a thrill seeker and tomboy, with a voracious sexual appetite which she claimed was awakened by her adoptive grandfather at 15. After a string of affairs, an arranged marriage was set up for the 21-year-old Eastern Jewel with the Mongol prince Kanjurjab, son of her biological father’s ally, General Babob.

The marriage – which took place in Port Arthur during November of 1927 – was seen as a means of cementing influence in Mongolia, where Japan held territorial ambitions. However, Eastern Jewel claimed that the marriage was never consummated and she quickly ditched the prince. She plunged headlong into the depths of Tokyo’s wild, bohemian underbelly. Outgrowing her adopted land, she travelled widely and even turned up as a houseguest of Pu Yi and the empress at Tientsin in 1928. With similar family backgrounds, Elizabeth and Eastern Jewel struck up an improbable relationship, the closeted empress in turns captivated by and envious of Eastern Jewel’s lurid and exotic exploits.

Eastern Jewel was in seedy Shanghai, having just walked out on a Japanese politician who had run out of money. On the prowl for a new sponsor she daringly set her sights on Major Tanaka, the head of the Shanghai secret service – or Special Service Organ. Attending a New Year party she ushered Tanaka to a discreet location and attempted to seduce him. Tanaka resisted the advances of the Manchu princess, explaining that it would be disrespectful for him – a commoner – to take her to bed. Eastern Jewel was not so easily deterred and dishonoured herself by borrowing money from Tanaka, finally breaking his resistance through a shared fetish for leather boots. Tanaka was impressed by Eastern Jewel’s forward manner and put her on the secret service payroll to fund her whims. Tanaka also paid for her English lessons, believing she might one day prove useful as a spy.

Returning to the matter of Pu Yi and the throne, Itagaki sent a telegram to Shanghai ordering Tanaka to report to Mukden. Fearful of being disgraced for lavishing official funds on his mistress, Tanaka left for Mukden on 1 October 1931. At the subsequent interview Itagaki revealed Doihara had been sent to get Pu Yi and that the Japanese forces were planning the next stage of their advance into Manchuria with the capture of Harbin. Tanaka was charged with keeping the League of Nations’ attention fixed away from Manchuria by provoking a disturbance in Shanghai. Tanaka told Itagaki he had the perfect agent in mind and was surprised – not to mention worried – when Itagaki said he knew all about Eastern Jewel. He then revealed the trouble Doihara was having with the implacable Elizabeth and mentioned he might need to borrow Eastern Jewel. Itagaki gave Tanaka $10,000, which he used to clear Eastern Jewel’s debts and begin the preparations for his Shanghai diversion.

Subsequent to this interview, Doihara wired Shanghai for Eastern Jewel. Calling in a favour from a pilot boyfriend, she flew to Tientsin that same evening. Anxious to make a lasting first impression on Doihara, Eastern Jewel disguised herself in the robes of a Chinese gentleman. She arrived and immediately caused a stir by refusing to divulge her name to the desk sergeant at Doihara’s headquarters. Suspecting treachery was afoot, Doihara placed a revolver on his desk and opened the inquisition.

‘Your name, please?’ he asked. ‘My name is of no importance,’ replied Eastern Jewel, ‘I have come to help you.’ ‘You speak like a eunuch,’ Doihara retorted. ‘Are you one of Pu Yi’s men?’ Eastern Jewel simply laughed in reply. Doihara grabbed his samurai sword. ‘Very well then, if you won’t tell me who you are, let us see what you are.’ Drawing the sword, he began to away cut the ties to her robe. Eastern Jewel did not move, but continued to stare at Doihara provocatively. Doihara flicked open the robe and ‘with a guttural samurai yell’ cut open the silk scarf she bound her breasts with. ‘I saw that she was a woman’ Doihara later confessed, ‘so I conducted a thorough investigation and determined that I had not put even the smallest scratch on any part of her white skin.’

Next day, Eastern Jewel visited the Quiet Garden and heard Elizabeth’s views on the proposed move to Mukden. She was able to report to Doihara that the empress was implacably opposed to any move to Mukden and it would take extreme measures to convince Pu Yi to travel alone. Growing impatient, Doihara resorted to terror tactics. He told Pu Yi that a price had been put on his head by Chang Hsueh-liang, the son of the murdered Marshal Chang. To lend credence to Doihara’s warnings, Eastern Jewel placed some snakes in Pu Yi’s bed. On 8 November bombs were hidden in a basket of fruit delivered anonymously to the Quiet Garden. Pu Yi recalled: ‘an assistant came running into the room shouting “bombs, two bombs”. I was sitting in an armchair and this news gave me such a fright that I was incapable of standing up.’ Eastern Jewel called the Japanese guards who came rushing in led by one of Doihara’s henchmen. He took the bombs away and then later revealed they had been manufactured by stooges of the late marshal’s son.

More was to follow. Along with warning letters, Pu Yi received a telephoned tip-off from ‘a waiter’ at his favourite Victoria Café that men with concealed weapons had been enquiring after him. Doihara then arranged for a crowd of Chinese agents to make trouble in the Chinese-administered part of the city. On 10 November martial law was declared and Japanese armoured cars surrounded the Quiet Garden to defend Pu Yi, whose nerve began to crack. Scared out of his wits, Pu Yi at last agreed to go to Mukden, travelling without the empress on Eastern Jewel’s advice. After dark he was bundled into the trunk of a car and driven to the docks by his Japanese interpreter. Elizabeth, meanwhile, was comforted by a heady mix of Eastern Jewel and opium until reunited with Pu Yi in Port Arthur six weeks later.

Eastern Jewel returned to Shanghai and began preparations with Tanaka for what became known as the Fake War. She hired gangs of Chinese street thugs and provided them with lists of Japanese business and residential addresses to attack. After the attacks began on 18 January 1932, Tanaka stoked up indignation in the Japanese community. Outraged by two more days of attacks, an ultimatum was delivered by the Japanese consul general to the Chinese mayor to stop them. However, with Eastern Jewel controlling the thugs, the Chinese mayor had little chance of success. In the face of Chinese impotence Admiral Shiozawa felt justified in landing his Imperial Marines to protect Japanese nationals. Tanaka’s mission was accomplished.

While engineering the arrival of the Japanese troops, Eastern Jewel had been busy in her now familiar role of seductress extraordinaire. The son of the Chinese republican Sun Yat-sen happened to be in town and soon fell victim to Eastern Jewel, confiding in her the rivalries in the Chinese camp. She also acted as a weathervane on international reaction to the Japanese actions. Putting her English lessons to good use, she took a British military attaché as a lover. From his pillow talk she was able to tell Tanaka that the West was unlikely to back its vigorous condemnations with any real action.

After the Shanghai incident, Eastern Jewel took up with a string of lovers. Her extravagance became so great that Tanaka offloaded her to Pu Yi’s chief military advisor, Major-General Hayao Tada. She was also indulged with the command of 5,000 Manchu ‘rough riders’, the captains of which she selected personally to her own exacting criteria of manhood. During the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937, Eastern Jewel caused outrage among the Chinese when she was seen walking through the ruined streets laughing with Japanese officers. It was rumoured she had even flown over the city in a bomber. When Peking fell to the Japanese in 1937, Eastern Jewel formed part of the administration. She abused her power by blackmailing wealthy Chinese with false accusations of assisting the enemy. Once noted for her beauty, Eastern Jewel’s debauched lifestyle began to weather her looks, although her libido remained undiminished. She found it increasingly harder to attract men and had an actor arrested on trumped-up charges of theft because he spurned her advances. Instead she increasingly began to explore her fantasies with local sing-song girls. Even Tanaka was moved to describe her later conduct as ‘beyond common sense’. At the end of the war Eastern Jewel declined an offer to return to Japan and went into hiding. Acting on a tip-off, Chiang Kai-shek’s counter-intelligence officers picked her up in November 1945. On 25 March 1948 Eastern Jewel was led to a wooden block and decapitated by a swordsman.

After the Pu Yi drama, Doihara began recruiting agents in the newly conquered territories. He broadened the Special Service Organ’s network of spies throughout southern Manchuria, utilizing large numbers of Russian refugees who had fled the Soviet Union. Desperate for employment, the men worked for Doihara as hired thugs, while women filled the brothels. European women were much in demand and acted as opium peddlers, receiving a free pipe for every six they sold.

One of Doihara’s converts was Italian-born spy Amleto Vespa, a one-time agent of Marshal Chang who had since managed a cinema. A fascist sympathizer and former member of the Mexican Revolutionary Army, Vespa had travelled extensively, coming to work with Marshal Chang Tso-lin in 1920. To avoid trouble with the Italian authorities, Vespa had obtained Chinese citizenship. Because of this, after the Mukden Incident Vespa found himself under the Japanese yoke without the usual protection afforded to Westerners. He was forced to work for the Japanese, running the spy service in Harbin until 1936 when he managed to get out of China with his family. Vespa wrote a remarkable book detailing Japan’s brutal clandestine activities in Manchuria. He was taken to meet Doihara on 14 February 1932, an encounter described in his book. Vespa disliked the man intensely:

Foreign journalists had referred to colonel Doihara as the Japanese ‘Lawrence of Manchuria’. I suspect, however, that if his sister had not been concubine of a Japanese Imperial Prince most of his success would have been still in his imagination.

Doihara left Vespa under no illusions about where his future loyalties belonged. If Vespa disobeyed, Doihara would shoot him. Vespa was told to return the following day and be introduced to the chief of the Japanese secret service in Manchuria. Vespa never discovered the true identity of this man, but many believe he must have been a Japanese prince close to Emperor Hirohito. The ensuing interview revealed the true extent of Japanese secret operations in Manchuria. In perfect English the mysterious chief told Vespa:

‘If Colonel Doihara has told you anything unpleasant, please pay no attention to it. Since, in other countries, they call him the Japanese Lawrence, he delights in showing his greatness by his hectoring manner. He has worked under me for many years, however, and I have no hesitation in saying he is much less of a Lawrence than he thinks he is.’

With remarkable candour, the chief explained how it was Japanese policy to make colonies pay for themselves. The Japanese system was to secretly grant certain monopolies to trusted individuals. Naturally the monopolies changed hands for enormous sums, in return for which the holder gained Japanese protection. The principal monopolies were the free transportation of goods by railway under the guise of Japanese military supplies; the monopoly of opium smoking dens, the sale of narcotics, poppy cultivation, the running of gambling houses and the importation of Japanese prostitutes – 70,000 Korean and Japanese prostitutes were shipped to Manchuria in the year after the Mukden Incident.

Although very strict on drug abuse at home, the Japanese flooded Manchuria with narcotics. Throughout the 1930s Manchurian streets were littered with wasted addicts and the corpses of emaciated overdose victims. To meet the demand, soya-bean farms were turned over to poppy production and drug-processing plants were set up along with ‘shooting-galleries’ for those too poor to enjoy the comforts of an opium den. Vespa revealed:

In Mukden, in Harbin, in Kirin etc., one cannot find a street where there are no opium-smoking dens or narcotic shops. In many streets the Japanese and Korean dealers have established a very simple and effective system. The morphine, cocaine or heroin addict does not have to enter the place if he is poor. He simply knocks at the door, a small peep-hole opens, though which he thrusts his bare arm and hand with 20 cents in it. The owner of the joint takes the money and gives the victim a shot in the arm.

The Japanese didn’t need bullets to kill Chinese; the drugs would do it for them – and at a profit.

By 1938 Doihara was the commander of the Kwantung Army. Based in Shanghai he successfully penetrated Chang Kai-shek’s headquarters with spies. Operating under the pseudonym of ‘Ito Soma’ and posing as a Japanese financier, Doihara managed to befriend the republican leader’s personal assistant, Huang-sen. His hook, improbable as it may sound, was a shared passion for goldfish, Doihara being an authority on the subject. In return for information and the procurement of rare goldfish, Huang-sen spied for Doihara. His information was used to foil a Chinese plan to attack Japanese shipping in the Yangtse River. The failure of the plan led to an investigation, after which Huang-sen was exposed and executed by the republicans. A follow-up investigation led in 1938 to the execution of eight Chinese divisional commanders, all of whom were found working for Doihara.

Later, as an air force major-general, Doihara sat on Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s Supreme War Council. Doihara was present at the session of 4 November 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor was decided. He went on to command the army in Singapore (1944–45) and ran brutal POW and internee camps in Malaya, Sumatra, Java and Borneo. Doihara was tried at the Tokyo war crimes trial and executed on 23 December 1948 by hanging. He was joined by Seishiro Itagaki, the author of the Mukden Incident, and Prime Minister Tojo, the former Kwantung Army leader. Eastern Jewel’s case officer, Tanaka, was more fortunate, surviving to tell the tale. Having opposed the decision to attack America, he retired in 1942. After the war he was an aide to the tribunal’s chief American prosecutor, Joseph Keenan. Tanaka claimed he even procured girls for the American.

As for the Black Dragons, their reputation as sinister arch-plotters meant that they were not ignored in the round-up of war criminals in 1945. General MacArthur banned the group on 13 September 1945 and ordered the arrest of seven leadership figures. He need not have bothered. Of the seven, two had never been members, a third had died of old age in 1938, while a fourth had committed suicide in 1943. The other three suspects had once been members but had renounced their membership long before.

In truth the Black Dragons had long since fallen out of favour and had ceased to be a force in Japan. Their last public meeting was held in October 1935 when Toyama protested at Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia – another episode of white aggression against men of colour, as he saw it. The Japanese police used the meeting as a pretext for a crackdown on the Black Dragons and thereafter the society dwindled to a handful of forgotten diehards working out of a dingy, backstreet Tokyo office.

While Toyama and his disciples continued to view Russia as the main enemy, a new group rose to prominence – the Strike South faction. This group called for expansion into Southeast Asia and Indonesia, rich areas abundant in the resources Japan was lacking. After an undeclared border war with Russia, which culminated in Japan’s defeat at the battle of Khalkhin Gol in August 1939, Tokyo began to favour the new option. There was just a one slight problem with their plan. If a strike south occurred, Japan would inevitably clash with Western interests, particularly those of the British Empire and the United States of America.