Von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 versus the Southwest Front Part II

On the southern side of the bulge produced by Panzergruppe 1’s advance, Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps was joined by General-leytenant Dmitri I. Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps, which had just completed a 600km road march to the front. Ryabyshev’s corps had lost almost half its tanks due to mechanical breakdown, including forty-four out of forty-eight T-35 heavy tanks. Ryabyshev’s corps conducted a forward passage of lines early on 26 June, passing through Karpezo’s disorganized corps. Karpezo opted to remain on the defensive, allowing Ryabyshev to make the main effort in assaulting the right flank of General der Panzertruppen Werner Kempf’s XXXXVIII Armeekorps (mot.) between Leshnev and Kozyn. Ryabyshev began a premature attack with General-major Timofei A. Mishanin’s 12th Tank Division at 0900 hours, but the rest of his corps could not be committed until the afternoon. Ryabyshev intended to capture the village of Leshnev, then push on to seize Berestichko, which would isolate the 11.Panzer-Division at Dubno. Ryabyshev was confident that Mishanin’s division, which had a company of KV-1 tanks and a full battalion of T-34 tanks, could accomplish this mission.

Unfortunately, Mishanin’s armour was committed nearly straight off the line of march, with no time to reconnoitre the unfamiliar terrain or for his artillery and engineers to arrive. Consequently, Mishanin conducted a nearly pure-armour attack with his two tank regiments, but only minimal infantry support. The tanks immediately encountered very marshy terrain along the Syten’ka River, which was little more than a stream, but the Soviet tank crews lacked the skill to negotiate even this minor obstacle. Three T-34 tanks were stuck in the marshy terrain and Mishanin was forced to look for an alternate crossing in full sight of the German troops from the 57.Infanterie-Division in Lishnev. As the Soviet tanks bunched up around the river, the Germans called for artillery fire, which pounded the massed armour. Eventually, Mishanin was able to get his tanks across the marshy terrain and assault into Leshnev. The German panzerjäger were overwhelmed by the T-34 and KV-1 tanks and a number of Pak guns were crushed under their tracks. The German infantry abandoned Leshnev and fell back. However, before Mishanin could consolidate on the objective, an armoured kampfgruppe from Hube’s 16.Panzer-Division attempted to retake Leshnev. While the Pz.III and Pz.IV tanks were seriously out-gunned by the T-34 and KV-1 tanks, the German panzers enjoyed artillery and air support, as well as better C2, which evened the odds considerably. German gunners concentrated on hitting the tracks on the bigger Soviet tanks and succeeded in immobilizing some of the T-34s. Eventually, the German panzers broke off the action and retreated. Mishanin had twenty-five tanks stuck in the marshes or knocked out around Leshnev and was in no position to continue the attack with his unsupported armour. Instead, he sent a company of KV-1 tanks forward to sever the Berestichko-Dublin road and to shoot up some of the German wheeled traffic along this route. Ryabyshev’s other two divisions, the 34th Tank and 7th Mechanized, only got into the fight late in the day and achieved little or nothing.

Amazingly, one of the most powerful Soviet armoured units of June 1941 had failed to inflict significant damage on a single German infantry division. The Red Army’s failure to use combined arms tactics – which was mostly due to impatience in the higher command – almost completely negated the superior capabilities of the T-34 and KV tanks. By the end of 26 June, it appeared that Ryabyshev and Karpezo were still in an excellent position to smash in von Kleist’s right flank on the next day, but the Germans had their own surprise in store. German reconnaissance aircraft had been observing the mass of Soviet armour around Brody all day and they had spotted the GAZ-AAA radio trucks belonging to both the 8th and 15th Mechanized Corps command posts. Around 1800 hours, several groups of low-flying Ju-88 bombers from Fliegerkorps V came in and bombed both command posts. Karpezo was badly wounded but Ryabyshev survived, minus his radio truck, which was left burning. This one air strike – which was a result of poor operational security in the Red Army – seriously degraded Soviet C2 in the armoured battles around Dubno. On top of these difficulties, the Stavka reiterated its order at 2100 hours that Kirponos would continue attacking with all armoured forces and forbid even tactical retreats to prevent encirclements.

Despite Kirponos’ intent to launch a pincer attack from Rovno and Brody to encircle the German forces in Dubno, the lack of coordination between the mechanized corps and other Red Army units resulted in a series of piecemeal battles throughout 27 June. The pincer from Rovno collapsed as Feklenko’s and Rokossovsky’s understrength corps dashed themselves to pieces against 14.Panzer-Division and two supporting infantry divisions. Von Kleist’s panzers now had the benefit of infantry support, which had caught up with them, greatly increasing the staying power of the frontline units. Once the Soviet armour from the 9th and 19th Mechanized Corps was spent, the Germans committed their armour: both 13 and 14.Panzer-Divisionen attacked, threatening to envelop the remnants of Feklenko’s and Rokossovsky’s corps. Meanwhile, Crüwell’s 11.Panzer-Division blasted its way through a thin blocking force of Soviet infantry and captured Ostrog. A counterattack by fifteen BT-7 light tanks against Panzer-Regiment 15 in Ostrog failed to budge the Germans. Kirponos was forced to cobble together Task Force Kukin, a small mechanized formation, to block Crüwell from pushing even further east.

In spite of the myriad problems afflicting the Red Army’s armour units at the outset of the war, Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps came close to achieving a real success southwest of Dubno on 27 June. Assembling Mishanin’s 12th Tank Division, Polkovnik Ivan V. Vasil’ev’s 34th Tank Division and Colonel Aleksandr G. Gerasimov’s 7th Motorized Division north of Brody, Ryabyshev was able to mount a fairly organized attack that managed to envelop and isolate the 11 and 16.Panzer-Divisionen, as well as part of the 75.Infanterie-Division, by midday on 27 June. A number of Soviet tanks were lost crossing the marshy terrain, but a mobile group with about 200 tanks succeeded in fighting its way to the outskirts of Dubno. Mishanin was wounded in the attack and Soviet losses were heavy, but the situation for Kempf’s XXXXVIII Armeekorps (mot.) was equally desperate. By the end of the day, German and Soviet armour units were thoroughly intermixed southwest of Dubno and there was no distinct front line.

Although Zhukov abruptly returned to Moscow, he continued to hound Kirponos by teletype messages to continue the counter-offensive against von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1. Kirponos, intimidated by his commissars, complied and thereby sentenced much of the remainder of his armour to annihilation. Rokossovsky managed to scrape together a battle group with about fifty T-26 and BT light tanks, a handful of KV-2 heavy tanks and some infantry, which he used to attack into the northern flank of Panzergruppe 1’s bulge on the morning of 28 June. However, by this point the infantry from 6.Armee had arrived in force to bolster von Kleist’s exposed flanks and the panzerjägers from 299.Infanterie-Division stopped Rokossovsky’s attack cold. Polkovnik Mikhail E. Katukov led his thirty-three BT-2 and BT-5 light tanks into battle and lost all of them. As usual, Soviet armoured attacks went in with little or no reconnaissance support and negligible artillery support. Massed artillery, anti-tank fire and flak destroyed most of the Soviet armour, although a single damaged KV-2 limped away. Once the Soviet attack was spent, Generaloberst von Mackensen deftly coordinated the 13 and 14.Panzer-Divisionen into an all-out attack that smashed in the flanks of the Soviet 9th and 19th Mechanized Corps. The fragments of seven Soviet tank and motorized infantry divisions were routed and fled back behind the Goryn River. Feklenko abandoned Rovno, which was quickly occupied by the 13.Panzer-Division.

While disaster was striking the northern group of Soviet armour, Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps found itself being encircled. This was the first instance in the war in the East of Soviet armour achieving a significant penetration of German lines, and Ryabyshev set a precedent that would occur again and again over the next two years. First, no follow-on forces were available to support the breakthrough; the nearly leaderless 15th Mechanized Corps mounted only a demonstration attack against the infantry of the German XXXXIV Armeekorps which provided no help to Ryabyshev. Second, the Germans reacted quickly to sever the narrow penetration corridor used by the attacking Soviet armour, isolating the bulk of the 12th and 34th Tank Divisions in a kessel just west of Dubno. Third, morale and C2 within the trapped forces quickly disintegrated, resulting in rapid loss of any unit cohesion. The German 75.Infanterie-Division played a vital role in isolating the bulk of Ryabyshev’s forces, which speaks volumes about the Soviet lack of battlefield situational awareness at this point. A foot-marching infantry unit could envelope fully motorized units. Once Ryabyshev’s armour was encircled, Hube’s 16.Panzer-Division began a series of attacks that quickly reduced the kessel. German heavy artillery and flak was brought up to finish off the trapped Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks, which were now low on fuel and ammunition; twenty-two tanks were knocked out. Ryabyshev, who was outside the kessel, personally led the 7th Motorized Infantry Division in an effort to break through to his two trapped tank divisions, but failed after crippling losses. By the end of 28 June, Ryabyshev’s corps had been neutralized and von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 had driven a deep wedge into the boundary of the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies. In just six days of battle, four of Kirponos’ mechanized corps had been defeated and the remainder had been seriously reduced.

For the first six days of the battle, while Kirponos was grinding up his own armoured forces in piecemeal battles, von Kleist held back the 9.Panzer-Division and his four motorized divisions. Once the best Soviet armoured formations were spent, von Kleist began to commit his second-echelon motorized forces on 28–29 June. The 9.Panzer-Division attacked unexpectedly into the flank of the Soviet 6th Army north of L’vov and quickly broke through its infantry. The 16 and 25.Infanterie-Division (mot.) used their superior mobility to quickly reinforce the flanks of Panzergruppe 1 at Berestichko and Rovno, which enabled the panzer divisions to resume their attacks eastward. Von Mackensen’s III Armeekorps (mot.) sliced into the fragments of Rokossovsky’s forces and pushed them back. After heavy fighting with Hube’s 16.Panzer-Division southwest of Dubno, Ryabyshev retreated with the remnants of his corps, reduced to 35 per cent of their initial tank strength, four infantry battalions and four batteries of artillery. The rest of his corps, roughly 10,000 troops and 200 tanks, were left in the kessel outside Dubno. With the Southwest Front’s forces in retreat or faced with encirclement, the Stavka finally ordered Kirponos to withdraw to the Stalin Line on the old border.

In the final actions near Dubno, the trapped tankers of the 34th Tank Division took advantage of fog along the Ik’va to stage a breakout operation on the night of 30 June, which succeeded in saving some troops, but not much equipment. In a confused night action – rare on the Eastern Front – the Soviets massed their remaining tanks and punched through Hube’s cordon. The Germans massed artillery, flak guns and tanks to destroy the fleeing Soviets, but some German troops panicked when T-34 and KV heavy tanks appeared out of the mist and overran their positions. Corps Commissar Nikolai Popel, leading the breakout, later wrote:

One of our T-34s flared up like a torch, darting around a field. Over a dozen Pz.IVs ganged up at the same time on a KV-1. We were shooting German vehicles pointblank. When ammunition ran out, we rammed them … Sytnik’s KV-1 [Major A. P. Sytnik, commander 67th Tank Regiment], in the heat of battle, rushed ahead of the others. [He] rammed several Pz.IIIs. His vehicle became a pile of shapeless metal. He began retreating with his crew deeper into the thickets.

By 1 July, the Southwest Front was in full retreat and Panzergruppe 1 had achieved its initial objectives. The tank battles fought between Panzergruppe 1 and elements of seven Soviet mechanized corps around Lutsk-Rovno-Dubno-Brody in the first week of Barbarossa were the largest tank battles to date, involving over 600 German and 3,800 Soviet tanks. While it is true that von Kleist failed to encircle and destroy any Soviet mechanized corps, as occurred in the battle of the Bialystok-Minsk kessel, the 8th, 15th and 19th Mechanized Corps were badly mauled and three other mechanized corps lost at least half their strength. Approximately two-thirds of the Soviet armour, or 2,500 tanks, were lost in the battle between 22–30 June 1941; the majority of losses were caused by non-combat factors, including mechanical failure and lack of driver training. The technical superiority of the Soviet KV-1 and T-34 tanks counted for very little in the Battle of Dubno due to untrained crews and inept tactics. The Stavka’s insistence on launching a premature counteroffensive resulted in the best Red Army armoured units being thrown into battle piecemeal, where they were chopped to ribbons by veteran panzer units. In addition to material losses, losses of senior armoured leaders included two of six mechanized corps commanders, six of eighteen division commanders and ten of thirty tank regiment commanders. The surviving formations were reduced to division-size battle groups with little artillery or support services left after the retreat to the Stalin Line. The one bright spot for the Red Army in the Ukraine was that second-echelon armoured units near Kiev and the 2nd and 18th Mechanized Corps, deployed with the Southern Front near Odessa, were too distant to be significantly affected by the initial German Blitzkrieg; these formations would greatly assist Kirponos in slowing Heeresgruppe Süd’s advance upon Kiev in July–August.

In contrast to the damage suffered by Kirponos’ first-echelon armour, the German panzer units in Panzergruppe 1 suffered very light losses in the first week of combat; no senior panzer leaders were casualties and total personnel losses were around 5 per cent or less. Excluding Pz.I and command tanks, no more than twenty-five tanks in Panzergruppe 1 were totally destroyed by 30 June, with about another 100 damaged or down for mechanical defects, but all five panzerdivisions were still fully combat-capable. German leadership, from von Kleist, to von Mackensen and Kempf at corps level, to Crüwell and Hube at division level, had demonstrated great flexibility and aggressiveness. Even when briefly isolated, the panzer divisions retained their cohesiveness and fought their way out of trouble. To be sure, the Pz.III tanks armed with the 3.7cm KwK 36 L/46 cannon had proven to be a liability in combat against Soviet tanks, but the German skill at combined arms warfare and air-ground coordination had carried the day against Soviet numerical superiority and technical advantages. As Heeresgruppe Süd continued its advance to the Stalin Line in early July 1941, von Kleist was still outnumbered but his forces were better handled and, thus, capable of achieving decisive local superiorities.


Louis Philippe d’Orleans, Duke of Chartres at Valmy

The Duke of Chartres, on foot at left, and his brother, the Duke of Montpensier on horseback, are shown in green dragoon uniforms at Valmy.

French volunteers of the young republic (left) stand in stark contrast to the well-groomed regulars at right. At Valmy, the citizen soldiers proved they could stand up to enemy fire.

Some of Kellermann’s volunteers had already pleasantly surprised their commanders. One of the Duke of Chartres’ battalions was made up of new recruits. Its men refused orders to remain in the rear and guard the baggage trains. Confronted by the duke, a spokesman said, “General, we are here to defend our country, and we entreat you not to require any of us to leave the standard of our battalion for the purpose of guarding the baggage.”

“Very well,” answered the duke, “your baggage must take care of itself for today, and your battalion shall march along with your fellow soldiers of the line.”


The young Louis Philippe d’Orleans, Duke of Chartres, calm and highly visible on his horse amid the turmoil, lent his aid to the line officers as they steadied and reformed their battalions. Only 19 years old, the duke’s high rank as a division commander was due to his status as the son of the Duke of Orleans, one of France’s wealthiest men and the head of the cadet branch of the royal family. “I have never seen a general as young as you,” Dumouriez said upon their first meeting. “I am the son of the man who made you a colonel, and I am entirely at your service,” the duke replied.


King of the French from 1830 to 1848, Louis Philippe I was the son of Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duke of ORLÉANS (known as PHILIPPE ÉGALITÉ), and Louise-Marie de Bourbon-Penthievre. He bore the titles successively of duke of Valois, of Chartres (1785), and of Orléans (on the death of his father in 1793). Raised with his sister, the future Madame ADÉLAIDE, by Mme de Genlis, he was, like his father, a fervent supporter of revolutionary ideas. A member of the JACOBINS, he distinguished himself as an officer at the Battles of Valmy and Jemappes (1792).

Dumouriez had ordered Ferrand to take Jemappes, while at noon he launched his hammer blow. Supported by the cavalry and led by several artillery batteries, Chartres’ center and Beurnonville’s right advanced toward the ridgeline, formed in attack columns deployed en echequier (chessboard style). When they reached a range of 160 meters, Beurnonville deployed eight battalions and charged the Austrian center, taking several guns. Three Austrian cavalry squadrons countercharged, putting the French infantry to flight as reinforcements were rushed to the center.

The French commanders rallied Beurnonville’s fleeing infantry, while Chartres reordered his men to form the massive bataillon de Mons column. Followed by two regiments, the column advanced and retook the Cuesmes ridge, beating off Austrian counterattacks. On the French left Ferrand, with a 4-to-1 advantage, was encircling Jemappes with fifteen infantry battalions and cavalry. After initial slow progress south of the village, he took the small hill, although two grenadier battalions halted the next French advance on the village.

After the execution of his father, Louis-Philippe remained in exile, traveling and teaching mathematics and languages in Ger many, Scandinavia, the United States, and England. In 1809, he married his cousin, Marie-Amélie, who was King Ferdinand IV of Naples’s daughter. They had eight children. He returned to France after the abdication of NAPOLÉON I and was welcomed by LOUIS XVIII, who restored him to the Orléans estates. As the son of a former regicide, however, he was kept out of the court and out of political life. In the late 1820s, he became the favorite of the middle and lower classes, who had grown restive under the reactionary rule of CHARLES X.

In the JULY REVOLUTION OF 1830, which overthrew Charles, Louis Philippe, brought to power by the wealthy bourgeoisie, was proclaimed king of the French by the Chamber of Deputies. At first content to rule as a “citizen-king,” he conciliated the republicans who brought him to power, and dispensed with many royal privileges, beginning what is known as the JULY MONARCHY. He had also supported, more or less, such liberal newspapers as Le Constitutionnel and later Le National. Gradually, however, he became more authoritarian and sought to rule as well as to reign (see FRANÇOIS GUIZOT). The last years of his monarchy were marked by corruption and failures in both domestic and foreign affairs, and he was eventually deserted by both the democratic and the authoritarian elements. He was deposed by the REVOLUTION OF 1848 and, after his abdication, went into exile in England, where he died two years later.

The Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank – PIAT

A PIAT team at a firing range in Tunisia, 19 February 1943; prior to the weapon’s first combat use during the Invasion of Sicily. Note the three-round ammunition case.

Despite begun broke out an at Cambrai interest again in September tanks 1917, which when 1939 had war the British Army’s infantry regiments were poorly equipped for anti-tank operations. Their two main anti-tank weapons were the largely ineffective No. 68 anti-tank grenade, fired from a Lee-Enfeld rifle, and the Boys anti-tank rifle, which had a short range and was only useful against light tanks and armoured cars. A better anti-tank weapon was obviously needed and this appeared in the summer of 1942, some months before the US Bazooka, in the form of the Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank, or PIAT.

The PIAT saw a considerable amount of action during the later stages of World War Two and they were found to be very effective if used at a sufficiently close range, a characteristic well demonstrated by the actions of Major R. H. Cain of the South Staffordshire Regiment. At Arnhem, on the afternoon of Thursday 21 September, Major Cain, commanding a detachment of the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshires, waited with his PIAT in a trench adjacent to a ruined building, as two German armoured vehicles approached his position. The first of the vehicles, a StuG III self-propelled gun, opened fire on the house, killing Cain’s observer, Lt Miekle, and showering the Major with rubble. Despite several wounds, Cain held his position and fired a number of rounds from his PIAT at the StuG, eventually disabling it. He then turned his weapon on to the second tank, before a malfunction caused the bomb he had just loaded to explode before firing, creating a huge flash that temporarily blinded the Major. Cain was thrown backwards and, thinking his injury was permanent, in his own words, started: “… shouting like a hooligan, I shouted to somebody to get onto the PIAT because there was another tank behind. I blubbered and yelled and used some very colourful language. They dragged me off to the aid post.”

By the time the Staffords were forced to withdraw across the Rhine, Cain was reported to have been responsible for the destruction or disabling of four Tiger tanks, as well as two smaller tanks and a number of self-propelled guns, for which actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross.


The PIAT was developed from an original idea which had been intended to produce a lightweight mortar for use at platoon level. Originally designed by Lt Col Blacker, Royal Artillery, this weapon eventually came into service as the Blacker Bombard. However, distribution of the weapon was confined to the Home Guard and a few units of the regular Army and its design had also undergone some significant changes, such that it was now an anti-tank gun, firing a 20lb bomb, rather than a rocket firing mortar. The Bombard was quite unique in that, rather than working like a conventional mortar, it had originally been based on a design called a ‘spigot mortar’, incorporating a spring loaded spigot or rod over which the projectile was mounted, with a primer and propellant, usually cordite, incorporated in the base of this ‘bomb’. When the trigger at the base of the spigot was pulled, the combined spigot/firing pin drove forward, striking the primer, which ignited the propellant and fired the projectile.

One of the main advantages of this design was that the ‘barrel’ of the weapon was incorporated within the projectile, consisting effectively of the tube which fitted over the spigot. This meant that, unlike a conventional mortar or field gun, there was apparently no limit to the diameter of the ammunition which could be used in the weapon, although in the final design of the PIAT a trough had to be incorporated under the spigot to support the weight of the bomb.

The Bombard suffered from a number of faults, not least being that even when the 20lb bomb had travelled over the meagre 100 yards which constituted its extreme effective range, it was ineffective against armour, despite the size of the explosive charge used in the weapon. After obtaining official approval for his Bombard, however, Blacker appears to have become aware of the technology which was becoming available for the design of ‘shaped charge’ ammunition. This type of projectile was ideally suited to an anti-tank role, being designed to significantly increase the effectiveness of an explosive charge by incorporating a reversed metal cone in front of the explosive in the warhead, and Blacker immediately began work on a new design of anti-tank gun using this type of charge, although this time he intended that the weapon would be fired from the shoulder.

Blacker’s initial design for this prototype was significantly flawed and when he left Department MD1 (better known as Churchill’s Toyshop), the original prototype came into the possession of a colleague, Major Millis Jefferis. Jefferis rebuilt the weapon and then used a mortar bomb incorporating the new ‘shaped charge’ technology as the projectile for his new gun. Trials of the new ‘Jefferis Shoulder Gun’ were promising, despite some malfunctioning ammunition, and after the faults with the projectile were corrected, the Ordnance Board of the Small Arms School where it had been tested accepted it into service. Renamed the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank or PIAT, production had begun by August 1942.


The PIAT launcher consisted of a tube made out of thin sheets of steel, with a trough at the front to accept the projectile and the trigger mechanism and fi ring spring in the rear section. Attached to the firing spring was the spigot, which also held the firing pin, and this assembly ran forward down the middle of the launcher and into the fi ring trough. The butt section was well padded to protect the firer’s shoulder, although even with this protection it was not possible to fire a PIAT in anything but a prone position without risk of serious injury. Sights were fitted to the top of the tube, but they were unsophisticated and similar to the sort of device fitted to a military rifle. Significantly shorter than both the Bazooka and the Panzerfaust at 39 inches, unfortunately, due to its complex mechanical operating system the PIAT was almost double the weight of the US weapon, weighing in at just over 30lb, to which was added the weight of the attached monopod.

Ammunition was slightly lighter, a single bomb weighing just 3lb as compared to the Bazooka’s 3½lb rocket and the PIAT was slightly more versatile than the original M1 Bazooka, being supplied with both HEAT (High Explosive Anti Tank) or SMK (Smoke) bombs.

One of the PIAT’s major disadvantages was the awkwardness which was involved in getting it ready for initial operation. The spigot system was operated by a very powerful spring and in order to cock the weapon for its first shot, the operator had to rest the PIAT on its butt, before placing both feet on the shoulder padding and turning the weapon to unlock the body and simultaneously lock the spigot and firing pin to the rear section. Pulling the entire body of the weapon upward then moved the spring to the rear, locking the trigger sear in place and thus cocking the weapon. The body was then returned to its original position, relocked and once loaded with a fresh bomb, the PIAT was ready for operation.

Firing a PIAT involved first placing a bomb in the forward trough, while making absolutely sure that the tail tube of the bomb was correctly engaged over the spigot. Pulling the trigger then released the spring, which, in turn, pushed the firing pin forwards into the base of the projectile, ignited the propellant charge and launched the bomb out of the trough towards the target. Conveniently, the resulting recoil then blew the spigot backwards onto the spring, automatically re-cocking the weapon. Smaller men seem to have found the operations required to cock one of these weapons particularly difficult. It was also hard to perform when lying prone, as was the case if the weapon was used in its usual position from a slit trench or some other form of cover and, consequently, it seems to have been usual for two men to be involved in these initial preparations.

Despite its obvious drawbacks, the PIAT did have a number of advantages over its US contemporary, the M1 Bazooka. Most significantly, it produced relatively little muzzle or back blast, so it did not give its user’s position away, unlike the belch of smoke and flames associated with operation of the M1. Nor did its manufacture require high quality materials, so it was cheap to produce, although its performance was not as good as the American weapon. During trials conducted in 1944, an experienced user only hit the designated target approximately six times in every ten shots at 100 yards (90m) and, in fact, most records of the successful use of the PIAT in combat show that it was often used at a range of 30 yards or less. Faults in the fuses also caused 25% of all the bombs tested to experience detonation failures, although the advent of the Mk. IA bomb did away with most of these detonation problems.


After its initial introduction, the PIAT remained unchanged mechanically until it was phased out of use in the early 1950s. However, problems were experienced with the bombs supplied for the weapon and this led to a series of modifications to the ammunition. The first Mk. I bombs were soon found to have an irritating intermittent fault, which affected around 25% of the projectiles supplied to the Army and manifested itself by a failure to detonate, even when the fuse had operated properly. This malfunction was found to be due to weakness in the range holding the cordtex train in position and was cured by doubling the size of range and adding a washer, the bomb being subsequently re designated the Mk. IA.

Unfortunately, although it proved significantly more reliable, it was found after approximately six months of production that the effective armour penetration of the Mk. IA had deteriorated. This was found to have been caused by a fault in manufacture and was cured by incorporating both a pre-formed sealing washer and pre-formed explosive into the process, the bomb now being designated the Mk. II. Further improvements were made to the Mk. III bomb, which now incorporated a screwed fuze holder and graze fuze No. 426, improving the functioning of the PIAT’s bomb against irregular targets.


The PIAT entered service with British and Commonwealth units in 1943, being first used in action during the Allied invasion of Sicily. During this period a platoon in the British Army consisted of 36 men and each of these units had a two-man PIAT team as well as a 2in mortar detachment on the platoon strength. Royal Marine Commando and Australian Army units were also issued with the PIAT, although in the Australian army the weapon was designated PITA (Projector, Infantry, Tank Attack).

A survey of Canadian Army officers found the PIAT to be a popular weapon, ranking it the number one most ‘outstandingly effective’ weapon, with the Bren gun surprisingly only achieving second place. Results from combat situations corroborated the Canadian’s opinions. During the Normandy campaign, for example, 7% of all German tanks destroyed were accounted for by PIATS, compared with 6% destroyed by aircraft rockets like those used on the Hawker Typhoon.


State Armed Forces – Later Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

In early 1645 Field Marshal Lennard Torstensson led a Swedish army of 9,000 cavalry, 6,000 infantry, and 60 cannon against a Habsburg-Imperial army of 10,000 cavalry, 5,000 infantry, and 26 cannon commanded by Melchior von Hatzfeld. Both armies were com posed of regiments commanded by international colonel-proprietors, who had used their funds or credit to raise and maintain military units. Many of the soldiers in both armies had been in service for ten years or more. The colonel-proprietors and generals in both armies regarded the recruitment of their experienced veterans as a long-term investment, and both were supported in their enterprises by an international network of private credit facilities, munitions manufacturers, food suppliers, and transport contractors. In both cases this elaborate structure was funded through control of the financial resources of entire territories, largely extracted and administered by the military high command. the armies clashed at Jankow in Bohemia, and the Imperial forces, though superior in cavalry, were held and eventually defeated by the Swedes, in part thanks to their artillery.

At the battle of Prague in May 1756, Frederick II of Prussia also faced an Austrian Habsburg army. In this case the Prussians fielded 65,000 troops and 214 cannon against Austrian forces of 62,000 and 177 cannon. While both armies contained mercenary units, the bulk of the forces were raised under the authority of the state. Prussia’s rulers had adopted conscription early in the eighteenth century, as had the Austrian Habsburgs following the military disasters of the 1730s and 1740s. The state had assumed direct responsibility for the training, upkeep, and support of the armies, and in both the officers now served less as entrepreneurs, more as employees of the state. As at Jankow the result was a defeat for the Austrians, but the battle was extraordinarily costly, a pyrrhic victory for the Prussians, who suffered even heavier casualties than their opponents.

These two battles might be used as case studies to demonstrate the evolution of armed forces in the long century separating the end of the Thirty Years War from the Revolutionary Wars of the 1790s; they frame a style of warfare and of military force which may readily be identified with the dynastic states of the Ancien Régime. Yet while it is true that changes in scale, organization, technology, and tactics certainly took place both within land forces and at sea over this long century, it is important to avoid both oversimplifying the causes and exaggerating the extent of change. Above all, this period was not simply a story of the rise of modern forces controlled by the state overcoming a backward and ineffectual semi private military system whose origins stretched back to the condottieri of renaissance Italy. The fierce and protracted fighting at Jankow provides a characteristic demonstration of the military qualities of privatized military forces, while the broader conduct of the 1645 campaign revealed operational skills of a high order. This effectiveness reflected the organizational and operational priorities of the military enterprisers themselves: small, high-quality, and extremely mobile campaigning armies-hence the very large proportions of cavalry- sustained on a broad base of territorial occupation and tax extraction, whose operations were carefully linked to an assessment of logistical and other support systems funded by these war taxes or `contributions’. The same was true of navies, shaped by a combination of private and public initiatives in which a number of the largest warships were built and maintained by the ruler at direct charge to the state, but many more ships were built by subjects at their own cost and risk, commanded by captains whose main contribution to the war effort would be privateering activity, loosely integrated into collective naval operations. Such systems delivered impressive military results; they were also well-adapted to the needs and character of the early modern state. Military organization reflected a relationship between relatively weak central state power and the willingness of elites within and outside of particular societies to mobilize resources to provide military force on behalf of those states. It offered substantial incentives-financial, political, and social-to those members of the elites prepared to involve themselves in military activity, and who could mobilize resources considerably more effectively than rulers and their limited state administrations.

That said, the coming of peace at Münster and Osnabrück in 1648, then finally a settlement between France and Spain in 1659, did mark a turning point, and the emergence of a set of organizational and political compromises that defined the distinctive character of Ancien Régime armed forces. It was not, in general, that military enterprise was considered to have been a failure, but rulers nonetheless turned self-consciously back towards an ideal of direct control and maintenance of their armed forces. Tis was partly a matter of ideology: the ruler’s self-projection as a roi de guerre, whose sovereignty was explicitly linked to personal control of his armed forces and the waging of war, made military enterprise appear an undermining of that sovereign authority. Moreover, while necessity in time of war could justify the collection of heavy taxes by the military itself, with the coming of peace it was less disruptive for the state and its agents to resume tax collection, especially as many rulers came out of the Thirty Years War with a clearer awareness of the taxable potential of their subjects. In France in the 1660s, despite the return of peace and a modest retrenchment of the main land tax, overall tax levels were kept at wartime levels.

Initially the objective of establishing military force under the direct control of the ruler, paid for from tax revenues collected and distributed by his administration, seemed attainable. The military reforms of Louis XIV’s France in the decade after 1660 provide the paradigm for this reassertion of state control. More effective management of state finances and tax collection-considerably easier in a period of external peace and internal order-provided the basis on which a permanent army of around 55,000 troops could be created and funded, and allowed for the development of a virtually new navy and its support facilities. The army, in particular, was characterized by a much more intrusive administration under the aegis of the war ministers Michel Le Tellier and his son, the Marquis de Louvois. Codified regulations that were actually enforced, reasonable standards of discipline, especially with regard to civilian populations, and an insistence on external oversight of recruitment quality, equipment, and drill, all transformed the army into what was widely seen as an adjunct of royal authority and sovereignty. Such military initiatives were not merely the prerogative of the major powers: a similar bid to maintain and increase tax levels to sustain the army of Brandenburg Prussia had created a peacetime army of 14,000 men under the direct control of the Elector by 1667.

This ideal of armies which were closely linked to the direct financial resources of the state, and of a manageable scale where central administration-a Bureau de la guerre or a Kriegskommissariat-could exercise a high degree of control and supervision over troop and officer recruitment, provisioning, discipline, and deployment, was a realistic target for the Ancien Régime state. Moreover, the forces that could be fielded through such direct systems of control and support were not necessarily limited to the comparatively small bodies assembled in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War; these were frequently envisaged as a nucleus of larger forces that would be raised in wartime, whether through recruitment at home or foreign mercenaries. The growth of state administration, both in numbers of personnel and the range of their activities and procedures, is an all-but universal phenomenon of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. So, to some extent, is a steady increase in the burden of taxes that rulers could impose on their-usually unprivileged-subjects. Hemmed in by dependence on parliamentary grants for extraordinary tax revenues, even Charles II and James II of England were able to use their direct control over the growing and better-administered revenues from customs and excise to fund a standing army which grew from 15,000 in 1670 to something over 30,000 men in late 1688. So post-1650, rulers could in theory look to maintaining and controlling armies and navies that were compatible with their growing share of state resources and the developing range and sophistication of their administrations.

However, this was not how the armies of the Ancien Régime developed in practice. What occurred instead was a process in which the demands of armies and navies, and especially their costs, outstripped the capacity of the state to meet them. It was not, in most cases, a consciously-sought development, and its impact was largely counterproductive in terms of the effectiveness of armed forces. As so often in military history, the waging of war was driven forward by its own dynamic; once the self-regulatory and self-limiting style of entrepreneurial warfare had been abandoned, the road was opened to a type of armed force and style of combat which overwhelmed the resources of the state and led to military stagnation and a variety of political and social tensions through the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

One factor in this transformation was military technology. The gradual introduction from the 1680s of muskets equipped with a cheap but reliable flintlock mechanism replaced the older weapons in which the charge in the musket’s breech was ignited by applying a piece of lighted, slow-burning match. Virtually simultaneous with this was the development of the ring-bayonet, providing the musketeer with both an offensive and defensive weapon. The traditional infantry elite, the pikemen, whose solid presence had both served to protect reloading and vulnerable musketeers from the shock of cavalry or charging infantry, and had themselves proved a formidable offensive arm, were almost entirely phased out by the early eighteenth century. Although a standardized, flintlock- and bayonet-armed infantry may be thought to usher in an era of warfare dominated by the massed firepower of infantry, in fact musketry remained grossly ineffective: poor production qualities, limited range, and minimal accuracy were com pounded by a rate of fire that by the standards of industrialized warfare remained cripplingly slow even in the best-drilled units. In fact, firepower did transform the battlefield, but it was developments in artillery which were the key. Tough the basic technology of the muzzle-loaded field gun remained unchanged through this period, better casting, lighter barrels and carriages, more mobility, and standardization led to a huge increase in the numbers of artillery deployed on the battlefield: perhaps most significant, these improvements led to the proliferation of more mobile medium-weight guns, the nine- to twelve-pound field pieces which dominated the battlefields of Europe until the mid-nineteenth century. From the Thirty Years War with a couple of dozen guns on either side, though to an engagement like Malplaquet (1709) with 100 Allied guns against 60 French, to Torgau (1760) where 360 Austrian field guns were deployed against 320 Prussian, the role of the artillery was ever more central to the battlefield and the siege. Massive concentrations of artillery fire, equipped with a fearsome range of anti-personnel missiles, blasted infantry and cavalry formations alike.

These changes had some paradoxical consequences for tactics and deployment on the battlefield. The effectiveness of artillery led to a further increase in the numbers of gun crews and officers, but an obvious response to this greater lethality was an attempt to get larger forces, principally more infantry, onto the battlefield. Yet the infantry massed on the battlefield were not merely subject to slaughter by opposing artillery; the thinning out of the infantry line, which by the mid-eighteenth century was three rows deep and whose only defence after a handful of musket rounds was the bayonet, also made them much more vulnerable to cavalry. As many astute commanders recognized, the battle-winning arm, given that the artillery could not exploit the advantages that its firepower created, remained the cavalry. Yet cavalry as a proportion of armies declined steadily in the century from 1660 to 1760, from around one-third to around one-quarter of the total combatants. Military logic might have suggested a great increase in the proportions of cavalry, especially light forces of the sort that had been typical of eastern European warfare for centuries, but military budgets ensured that the cavalry remained underdeveloped.

The proliferation of artillery also had a drastic impact on siege warfare, seen since the late sixteenth century as the most typical form of combat, and another reason why the battlefield advantages brought by more cavalry could be downplayed. After decades in which artillery-resistant fortifications had proved an intractable challenge to besieging armies, the numbers of guns that could be assembled for a siege in the later wars of Louis XIV finally tipped the balance in favour of the offensive. Sieges of major fortified places in the sixteenth and earlier seventeenth century had been won through a haphazard, lengthy, and expensive process of blockade, the defeat of enemy relief forces and occasionally either mining or direct assault, rather than by artillery barrage and breach. This was superseded by methodical prescriptions for conducting a siege by parallel trenches dug progressively closer to the fortifications, and protected from the defenders’ fire by zig-zag communication lines. Using these trenches to move artillery further forward, the fortifications and their defenders would be progressively ground into surrender. The only response was that pioneered by the French fortification-genius Marshal Vauban, whose pré carré provided a massive proliferation of state-of-the-art fortifications in a deep defensive barrier stretching along the French frontiers. Individual fortresses could be taken, but as the commanders of the Allied armies, Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy, were to discover in their campaigns after 1708, the time and cost required to take out a sufficient block of such fortified places reduced their invasion of France to a slow, attritional frontier struggle. On the defensive (down)side, the costs of building and then of garrisoning and maintaining such fortification systems was immense. Moreover, experiences such as Maurice de Saxe’s campaign in the Austrian Netherlands in the 1740s cast doubt even on these massive fortress systems as a means to ensure defensive security. The strongest fortifications were unlikely to hold out if it was clear to the fortress commanders that there was no supporting army in the field capable of driving off the besieging forces.

Artillery had the capacity to transform battlefields and sieges into more lethal spaces than hitherto, but one part of this capacity would reflect the rigorous training of artillery crews in maneuvering guns, and above all in loading, firing, and reloading them as rap idly as possible. Tis drew upon a much broader seam of organizational and, to an extent, social change: such effective fire would be best achieved, it was considered, by the imposition of a mechanical sequence of procedures on the gunners, learnt by rote and taught by rigorous practice and discipline. And to an even larger extent this would be the requirement for the infantry. If the musket/bayonet combination was to approach its (limited) maximum potential as a battlefield technology, then rates of fire needed to be optimized, as did the way in which firepower was deployed through a unit of soldiers, and the way that the unit was to maneuver to defend itself or to exploit changing battle field circumstances. The means to achieve this was through drill. Formal drill became the raison d’etre of infantry training, imposed uniformly on cohesive groups of soldiers from the day of recruitment throughout their military careers. For drill to achieve mechanically disciplined, rapidly responsive, and cohesive infantry, more than a few weeks in a training camp were needed. The Marquis de Chamlay commented that whereas it was possible to have good cavalry troopers within a year of their enlistment, it took a minimum of five to six years to produce infantry who could deploy disciplined fire without losing cohesion.

Three consequences stemmed from the development of drill. First, the time and expense involved was too great to allow the soldiers to go back into civilian life after a few years of service. Volunteers, as in France, Britain, and some of the German states, were contracted and compelled to stay in service sometimes for decades. Where conscription was introduced, adult male populations might benefit from relatively enlightened systems such as the Prussian, or the Swedish Indelningsverk, whereby after initial training the men were kept militarily effective by regular drill camps but otherwise allowed to pursue their civilian lives. Elsewhere they could be subject to more brutal demands, as in Peter the Great’s Russia, where a proportion of the servants and tenants of the landowning class were simply conscripted for life. Conscription in its various forms became a characteristic of the Ancien Régime state; by the 1690s even France started to use the compulsory local service of provincial militias as a `feeder-system’ for the regular army. A second consequence was that the very long service required of conscripts and volunteers made soldiers more prone to desert. In consequence, military authorities sought to keep soldiers under close supervision. Typically, segregation from the civilian population was adopted as the most effective means to oversee enlisted soldiers, and when feasible this led to their confinement in purpose-built barracks. Both these factors contributed to a third: service as a common soldier lost any remaining social standing. While in the Thirty Years War veterans had seen themselves, and had been treated, as the equivalent of skilled workers, the Ancien Régime soldiers, often separated from the civil population and subordinated to a harsh military code, were relegated to the lowest status. A vicious circle developed in which low social esteem made recruitment more difficult, and encouraged the NCOs and officers to treat their men with even more brutal discipline and greater contempt.

Yet the transformation most evident in Ancien Régime armed forces was that of numbers and scale. Even the most exaggerated assertions about the size of armies raised in the century before 1650-most of which have no foundation in army rolls or muster details, and all of which ignore fluctuations between and within campaigns-are still dwarfed by the scale of the war effort sustained by armies and navies from the 1690s onwards.

To some extent the technological and consequent organizational change indicated above could account for an upward pressure on the scale of armed forces, and perhaps especially the size of forces concentrated on the battlefield. But it would not of itself have generated the growth in military establishments on the scale seen in the decades from the 1680s to the eighteenth century. The great increases in this period were not primarily driven by military factors and their implications, but were a consequence of the conduct of international politics. Louis XIV’s inept and threatening diplomacy throughout the 1680s drew France inexorably towards a war against a coalition of every other major west-central European power. Holding her own against this alliance after 1688 required an unparalleled military effort. France’s enemies responded with a scale of mobilization which would collectively match and surpass the 340,000 soldiers and 150,000 tonnes of naval force that France managed to throw into the struggle. Military expansion moved eastwards in the mid-eighteenth century, where the triangular contest between Prussia, Austria, and Russia in the decades after 1740 had the same effect on army growth. Frederick II inherited an army of 80,000 in 1740, but the wars over Silesia pushed this up to 200,000. Austrian military expansion following the disasters of the 1740s was no less impressive, while exploitation of lifetime conscription ensured that Russia overtook all other European states in military manpower. The final driver of military-this time naval-expansion was European colonial and trade rivalry and warfare, and above all the determination of the British to maintain oceanic naval supremacy over any other European power. The Royal Navy, which reached a peak of 196,000 tonnes in 1700, underwent progressive increases through the 1750s when the total rose through 276,000 tonnes up to 473,000 tonnes by 1790. This increase in the size of British naval force was not surpassed by any other European power, but the attempt to build forces that were at least comparable stimulated naval growth throughout the eighteenth century. Whether this reflected the ambition of combined French and Spanish Bourbon fleets to challenge the British in the Atlantic, or concerned the exercise of naval power by Russia and the Scandinavian powers in the Baltic, the net effect was a steady growth in the size of naval forces, and for most states this naval growth moved in step with demands for massive land forces.

Yet European powers in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries proved able to sustain these increases; states did not collapse under the burden of maintaining armed forces. It is not easy to explain this in terms of rising prosperity, demographic, or economic growth. For in west-central Europe the biggest military increases coincided with a long period of economic stagnation from 1650 to 1720/30. In this later seventeenth and early eighteenth century, Britain and the United Provinces were exceptional in achieving broad-based economic growth. France and the German or Italian states saw ever-more troops and revenues being extracted from peoples barely able to meet these demands. In contrast, it was certainly the case that from the 1730s European rulers began to benefit from economic and demographic growth. Economic progress fostered technological improvement and cheaper production of military goods such as reliable cast-iron cannon for both navies and land armies. A mid-century transformation of agriculture allowed more efficient land-use, which had effects on military operations through a steady growth in the populations which provided army and navy personnel. But the largest military expansion had occurred before these advantages came into play, in states whose economies remained depressed and limited.

Because the huge growth in military force achieved by rulers like Louis XIV, Charles XI of Sweden, Frederick-Wilhelm I of Prussia could not be attributed to expanding economic and demographic potential, a traditional and now easily-derided response was to shroud the process in a mysterious and frequently circular set of assertions about the personal power and capability of `absolutist’ monarchs. A slightly more plausible interpretation argued that this military growth was the result of growing bureaucratic and governmental effectiveness. Better-assessed taxes collected under the threat of military coercion allowed further tax increases, which in turn made possible further growth in the armed forces. Armed forces and central authority are assumed to grow in a single, internally-cohesive process. It is indisputable that the character of Ancien Régime armies would have been very different without the developing administrative competence and greater coercive power of the states concerned. The Austrian military reforms of the 1740s were the result of military experience working within an increasingly effective administration, while Frederick II’s comments on the differences between Prussia and (unreformed) Austria stress the importance of administrative capacity: `I have seen small states able to maintain themselves against the greatest monarchies, when these states possessed industry and great order in their affairs. I find that large empires, fertile in abuses, are full of confusion and only are sustained by their vast resources, and the intrinsic weight of the body.’

Nevertheless, improvements in administration, better accountability, and more efficient collection and use of tax revenues would not alone have allowed Louis XIV in the early 1690s to support an army of 340,000 men and a navy of at least 30,000 sailors, any more than in 1740 would it have allowed Frederick William I of Prussia to maintain a standing army of 80,000 troops. Substantial elements of the costs of war were still met by extorting war taxes from occupied lands and from foreign subsidies such as those provided by Britain to Frederick William I. Both helped to maintain larger forces than could have been supported from native resources, but for the most part they were factors that operated only in wartime. And as the Swedes discovered to their cost in the aftermath of 1648, supporting troops at the cost of neighbouring states or through subsidies from powerful, self-interested paymasters, could involve a heavy political and military price.

Celtic Military Traditions

The Celts (Urnfeild Celts) formed about 1000 BC and spread across France from Middle Europe. By 400 BC there are the Spanish Celts (Celtiberians), Gallic Celts, and from the Halstatt Celtic areas, La Tene Celts pushing down into Italy from the Alps. The Gauls actually move into the Balkans and become the Galatians about 250 BC. Others, the Belgic Gauls, push into Britain and fought/mixed with the native Picts. Every area forms it own culture to some extent, mixing with the indigenous peoples, and depending on period, different mixes of religions and military traditions. Germanic tribes move in from the east and north behind the Celts and mix with them (Teutones and Cimbri.) This whole swath of northern Europe, from the Alps to France and Spain was seen as a loose, ‘Celtic Empire’ that proved to be very much a mix of very different and independent cultures that fell apart piecemeal fighting Rome, especially against Julius Caesar. In many ways, to say that these many tribes were the same culture is the same as saying the Athenian, Syracuse, and Punic cultures were all Greek. It’s true, but they were very different too, both culturally and militarily–again depending on the century we are discussing. Duncan Head has a clear description of the various Celt armies in his “the Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars 359BC to 146BC” As he says, “The picture of the Celts as wild, ferocious, but erratic, disorganised and lacking in tactical sense, while popular with Greek and Roman writers, is not the whole truth.” [page 58]

When all the Belgic Celts were conquered, the Picts were not. Moreover, the Romans did not describe them as the same. Picts were darker, less well armed and more inclined to raid. Even the Belgic Celtic tribes considered them barbaric. and the British Celts were different in their own ways. In 61 AD Britain, Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni led a revolt, unheard among the continental Celts before or after. Unlike them, the British tribes are still using chariots to the exclusion of cavalry and charging in one solid mass.

Terrain and mixing with indigenous peoples changed Celtic military practices. The Celts in Spain took up the Spanish weapons and use of light infantry, which the Northern, Germanic tribes did not. Unlike many Celtic tactics, which relied on mass attacks over open terrain, the German tribes used ambush in their heavy forested country, such as the Battles of Orange and Teutoburg. Celts in the mountains of the Alps and Greece fought differently than those on the plains of France and Spain.

As to the issue of discipline or fighting style. The Wedge attack formation, used by some tribes, but not all. A fairly disciplined form of combat, by any measure. Celts were known to lock shields in what the Romans described as a ‘testudo’ on the defensive. Livy describes this for the battle of Sentinum. While they were known for their wild, ferocious charges, they were also known to attack in close order too. Certainly, the mindless frontal assault was not universal Celtic behavior in battle. Unlike their western relatives, the Galatians calmly waited the Roman attacks in 189 BC, which was different from their ancestors only a hundred years before. Even the idea of a mindless, uncontrollable assault at first sight of the enemy, is belied by evidence.

Duncan Head writes, “As early as 386 Gauls decisively outgeneralled the Romans at Allia, seizing a key hill and turning the flank. At Telamon the allied Gallic army, caught between two fires, formed up calmly and in good order facing both directions in a position which greatly impressed observers, and the Romans ‘were terrified of the fine order of the Celtic host.” The Celts often demonstrated a number of tactics beyond a headlong charge, such as at Sentinum, or Mount Magaba. And this was before any long term contact with Roman and other indigenous peoples amended the Celts’ ‘heroic’ approach to battle. Certainly, the berserker assaults were a characteristic of Celtic battle–but not to the exclusion of all else, nor were they necessarily “out-of-control” even when frenzied.

The wild charges could be ‘controllable.’ The Galatian attack at Thermopylae is described thus: “They rushed at their adversaries like wild beasts, full of rage and . . . even with arrows and javelins sticking through them they were carried on by sheer spirit while their life lasted.” Yet Duncan says, ” . . .the Galatians kept up this almost berserk enthusiasm, despite making no headway, till their leaders called them off;” The end, ’till leaders called them off’ is an interesting one after describing the wild, animal-like fighting. Many descriptions make the frenzied Celts sound as though they were on a leash. For example, we see none of this uncontrollable behavior in the descriptions of Gauls fighting with/for the Carthaginians, even when deployed as independent units during any of the Punic Wars–and a number of these troops were tribes from the relative primitive Alpine regions.

There are many reasons debated for the differences between tribal styles of fighting, tactics and discipline. The Romans thought the Celts coming into the hotter climates of Italy and Greece became sluggish and slow-witted, or became soft with civilized living.

Whatever the reasons, there were distinct differences between tribes, over time, in different terrain, from mixing with other peoples, as well as differences in leaders. For instance, Vercingetorix actually led huge Gallic forces and committed them to a siege–something unheard of before or after.

The universal, frenzied, mindless charges of the Celts are in some ways the ‘propaganda’ of the Greeks and Romans of Livy’s time, rather than an accurate description of Celtic battle behavior practiced by hundreds of tribes, covering most of Europe, over more than a five hundred year period.

Though the Romans did eventually conquer them, even the most anti-Celtic writers in Roman history would acknowledge the Celts as masters of warfare and as brave fighters. Though neither as organized nor as well equipped as the legions of Rome, Celtic armies were a force to be reckoned with in the field, as demonstrated by the extent of the forces that Julius Caesar had to bring to bear against them and the sheer amount of effort and resources that went into the Roman conquests of Gaul and Britain.

The Celts, thanks to their frequent internal tribal warfare, had developed martial traditions long before they engaged in combat with Rome. Indeed, archaeological finds from the Hallstat Culture period show that most of the military technologies associated with the Celts were more or less fully developed at a fairly early time in Celtic history. Some technologies, however, would continue to develop into the La Tene period. Among these, the most notable example is the longsword that is thought to have been the primary weapon of the Celtic warrior. These longswords were designed almost exclusively for wide slashing motions, which could be devastating with a sufficiently long sword wielded by an experienced fighter. This put the primary sword of the Celts in a position of stark contrast to one of its more frequent opponents, the Roman gladius. The legionnaires of Rome were equipped with these much shorter swords, which were designed for more precise thrusting motions.

Certain Roman accounts mention Celtic warriors going into battle nearly or even completely naked. To military historians, these accounts have long been a matter of debate. Certainly, it could be argued that these records were merely an attempt on the part of the Romans to portray the Celts as barbaric. However, there are certain problems with this theory. The first is that even in the accounts that mention nudity in battle, it is clearly stated that some Celtic warriors did wear armor, whereas others chose to fight without it. This, combined with the fact that a decision to fight without clothing or armor would have been seen as indicative of bravery in the ancient world, seems to rule out the concept that these accounts are mere propaganda. Archaeological finds of well-crafted armor at Celtic sites confirm that the Celts were not without the ability to protect themselves in battle with armor and shields. If some Celtic warriors did choose to fight nude, there are two primary explanations that could justify this decision from a standpoint of military practicality. The first is simply that a soldier fighting without bulky armor gains an increase in both mobility and speed over a heavily armored opponent, such as a Roman legionnaire. The other possibility is that the Celts who fought in this manner were engaging in a type of psychological warfare, attempting to shake the Romans with an overt display of physical courage. Whatever the case may have been, it is likely that we will never know the exact reasoning behind this tactic or how common it really was in battle.

Though the Celts fought mainly with infantry, cavalry forces were used by many of the tribes. In most cases, these cavalry forces were most likely made up simply of horse-mounted infantrymen. Many Celtic archaeological sites, however, have yielded remains of chariots, which would have been more effective in most battles and would also have required somewhat more skilled handling to use to their fullest advantage. Roman accounts indicate an intriguing tactic employed by the Celts in their chariot warfare of using chariots to deposit soldiers riding on board into enemy ranks. Though such use of chariots was not unheard of in the ancient world, it was much more standard for soldiers to remain on board the chariot while the charioteer drove it through the enemy ranks, rather than jumping off to engage on the ground.

In many cases, warfare would become the occupation of entire tribes for periods of time. In these instances, the tribes would actually find themselves moving with their armies, as in the case of Boudicca’s army or the Helvetii of Gaul, both of which moved with far larger numbers of non-combatants than actual warriors. For this reason, large numbers of four-wheeled wagons would often be brought along on campaigns, as sufficient food to sustain both the army and non-combatant population would be required. This practice proved to be detrimental to Celtic armies in many instances, particularly in their fights against the Romans. Celtic armies, when burdened with thousands of people who were not warriors, often could not move as quickly as the highly trained Roman legions. As can be seen in the case of the Battle of Watling Street, this massive group of non-military personnel could also restrict the movements of the Celts on an active battlefield.

We know relatively little about Celtic battlefield tactics. While individual accounts of battles recorded by the Romans exist and are even fairly thorough, they have two notable weaknesses. The first is that the Romans seem to have constantly sought to make the Celtic tribes out as barbarians. In military matters, they did this by portraying Celtic armies as more or less disorganized hordes of soldiers, rather than cohesive militaries. However, there is much doubt about whether or not this is accurate. Even Roman accounts acknowledge the Celts using complex tactics, such as the plan of separating legions by attacking the baggage train in the middle of Caesar’s column at the Battle of the Sabis. This, combined with the fact the Celts engaged in frequent warfare and therefore would have had ample opportunity to develop effective battlefield tactics, calls the Roman accounts of disorganized hordes into question. Lending further weight to the argument that the Romans embellished battle accounts to make the Celts seem like a more primitive people is the fact that Celtic tribes had invaded both Italy and Greece long before Caesar invaded Gaul and Britain and had fought relatively successfully in both theaters of combat. It is difficult to believe that, no matter how brave Celtic warriors may have been, the armies of these tribes could have fought peoples with such illustrious military traditions without having developed complex and cohesive military strategies and tactics of their own.

In Celtic defensive actions, fortifications were always an important element. Not having the same heavy shields and armor as the Romans equipped their legions with, the Celts would have had a very difficult time creating a defensive line on an open battlefield that could effectively stand against the Romans. Celtic hill forts and the larger oppida, therefore, took on a special significance in places the Celts wished to defend. Under most circumstances, however, Celtic armies seem to have preferred offensive campaigns, resorting to defensive positions only when no other option readily presented itself.

A common custom among Celtic tribes, according to Roman sources, was to cut off the heads of fallen enemies for display in their own communities. Celtic religious custom seems to have held that the head was the part of the body that housed the soul or spirit, meaning that ritual decapitation allowed the Celts to bring the spirits of their foes back with them as captives. An account left to us by Diodorus Siculus indicates that, when a battle was finished, a victorious Celtic army would decapitate the bodies of its enemies and hang them around the necks of horses for the journey back to their settlement. Unlike most of the more barbaric practices of the Celts that are mentioned by the Romans, there is significant archaeological evidence to suggest that headhunting was a real custom of the Celtic tribes, and Roman accounts are corroborated by Greek writers, who were generally less biased against the Celts.

Pensacola 1781

Control of the area around the Mississippi was a key Spanish war aim and it had been achieved by 1780. This territory, in the words of the Spanish Minister of the Indies, was to be ‘the bulwark of the vast empire of New Spain’. Bernardo de Gálvez, the governor of New Orleans who had already demonstrated considerable diplomatic skill in his handling of the Willing raid, had taken to military operations like a duck to water.

Gálvez had received news of the Spanish declaration of war long before any British forces in the area and had prepared a little fleet to raid up the Mississippi. His ships, apart from a single frigate, were then destroyed by a hurricane, but the determined and resourceful Gálvez went back to work and created another little fleet out of thin air by raising some wrecks from the seabed and sending troops far and wide to strip the Gulf Coast around New Orleans of every available craft. Once ready, his new fleet carried a jumble of men: Spanish veterans, Mexican recruits, Canary Islanders, carabiniers, militiamen, free blacks, mulattos and Indians. The fleet was shadowed on the banks of the Mississippi by those soldiers who could not fit on the boats.

On 7 September this eclectic maritime force surprised the British at Manchac, thus securing the first Spanish victory of the war. The key strategic location of Baton Rouge fell soon after, and then Fort Panmure at Natchez. Also, and perhaps more importantly, they captured eight British vessels in the river and adjacent lakes, including one troop transport on its way to Manchac, which was taken by a Spanish crew that was five times smaller than that of its prize. Not only had the Spanish taken control of the key British forts on the river, therefore, but they had also acquired a small fleet with which they could police the river and link their new possessions together. In total Gálvez and his men captured three forts, 550 soldiers, eight vessels and 430 leagues of the best land on the Mississippi. Quite a prize.

In the summer of 1780, therefore, the Hudson, the Mississippi and the mighty harbour of Newport were in American, Spanish and French hands: a three-way transnational allied claw on the American colonies that held them fast against British threats from north, south and east and provided a strong foundation from which to build. The French presence in Newport paralysed the Royal Navy at New York and Solano’s massive fleet at Havana paralysed the British fleet at Jamaica. There were no significant British naval forces in the Floridas, Georgia or South Carolina at all, and Gálvez seized the opportunity.

He set about preparing for a strike against Mobile, the closest British base to New Orleans and a crucial harbour. Mobile Bay is like a tooth knocked out of the face of the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty miles long, six wide and protected by sandbanks, it was a fine anchorage. Some 1,200 men were readied in fourteen ships, but Gálvez’s preparations were undone by another storm, this one so fierce that 400 Spanish sailors and soldiers drowned. Yet again Gálvez was forced to resuscitate a fleet, and yet again he succeeded where many would have failed. For Gálvez the struggle for sea power was, more than anything else, a struggle against the elements.

When his fleet finally arrived at Mobile, things again went wrong. Six ships ran aground, one was wrecked, and the whole process of unloading troops and supplies, trying at the best of times, became almost farcical in the tempestuous weather. Gálvez lost so many supplies that he seriously considered retreating overland to New Orleans. Ten days after his arrival, however, reinforcements arrived from Havana and the siege was on. The Spanish immediately began to make scaling ladders from their shattered ships. The city was defenceless against such sea power and Fort Charlotte fell on 13 March. The Spanish thus took control of Mobile and with it secured access deep inland via the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers.


Gálvez’s next goal was Pensacola, capital of British West Florida and only fifty miles or so further along the coast. Pensacola, however, was another type of target altogether, a fact which Gálvez knew well, having commissioned a detailed spying operation on the British defences there in the twilight years before official Spanish involvement in the war. To take Pensacola would require a far more significant expedition than that which had taken Mobile, and it would rely entirely on Spanish ships: Pensacola was almost completely cut off from the interior by impassable swamps – it was, in effect, an island. Gálvez therefore travelled to Havana to urge Solano in person to let him borrow his fleet. Solano agreed.

In October nearly 4,000 troops boarded a fleet of seventy-two ships under Solano’s command, left Havana for Pensacola, and immediately sailed into a horrific storm – the third time in three operations that natural forces destroyed Spanish fleets. ‘The day began beautiful, with a clear horizon and a good wind’, wrote one Spaniard, but things started to change, and fast. ‘The wind rose at 9.30; at twelve it became violent; and at 4 there was a furious hurricane.’ Three days later, their masts gave way, and ‘water came in through the heads, the ports, and everywhere’. One ship, the San Ramón, was taking on fifty-eight inches of water every hour.

Most surviving accounts of the storm are terse and echo shock and disappointment, rather than detailing the actual struggle with the elements, but one letter written by an educated Spaniard, perhaps an officer and certainly a seaman, offers a glimpse of the shocking destruction that visited the fleet. He reported that, of Gálvez’s seven ships of the line, only one returned unscathed. One was never seen again and the rest were all left dismasted and adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The fleet was scattered far and wide across the Gulf of Mexico: some survivors came ashore at their intended destination of Pensacola; others reached Mobile, New Orleans, even Campeche on the south-eastern tip of the Gulf of Mexico’s crescent; others still, including Gálvez himself, were able to make it back to Havana. In many instances the sailors had thrown overboard everything that the ocean had not already claimed, simply to stay afloat. For warships the heaviest and most dangerous items in a storm were the cannon; for the horse transports it was the poor horses; for one of the hospital ships it was her entire supply of ‘equipment and materials’. No detailed figures survive, but the British press boasted that over 2,000 Spaniards died. The hurricane was so powerful that its existence can be physically demonstrated today in tree-ring isotopes in Georgia.


This sequence of three storms endured by the Spanish in three separate operations raises the important question of weather forecasting in this period. In this campaign alone Gálvez had been frustrated at every turn, and in the war as a whole the weather repeatedly played a major role, not least in the storm that disrupted the battle between Howe and d’Estaing off Rhode Island in 1778, the storms that delayed and damaged Byron on his way to America and then the Caribbean in 1778, the storm that damaged d’Estaing’s fleet at Savannah in 1779, the storm that nearly destroyed Arbuthnot and Clinton’s expeditionary force to Charleston in 1780, and the major hurricane of October 1780 that would shortly tear apart the Royal Navy in the Caribbean.

It is important to realize that the men who navigated these ships, entirely dependent on the weather though charged with the fate of empires, actually knew very little about the science of the weather. Professional sailors had a general understanding that certain locations were dangerous at certain times of year, but apart from that their weather forecasting simply relied upon portents in the immediate environment: the behaviour of sea-birds; pods of dolphins moving in a certain direction; the appearance and behaviour of ocean swells. The science of meteorology was not unknown, but it was not yet a rigorous science, and instruments were very rare and neither standardized nor accurate. Certain crucial basics had not yet been discovered: atmospheric dynamics and the concepts of revolving storms and moving depressions were all unknown until the nineteenth century.

It is all too easy to focus on a warship’s guns and forget that these ships had no weapons at all with which to fight or outwit the weather. If caught out, all that the sailors could do was endure, though it is important to appreciate just how skilled they became at doing exactly that. A practised eighteenth-century crew could swiftly transform a ship set up to squeeze every last knot from a light breeze into one that could be punished by the elements for days at a time. Their repair skills were also exceptional. Wood or canvas could be taken from one part of a ship to be grafted onto another, like a bone transplant. Rudders could become jury-masts; capstan poles could become yards; sails could block breaches in the hull. We only have a dim sense now of just how they did what they did, however, and the question of seamanship during or after storms and battles remains one of the most interesting but least researched topics of naval history. Indeed, one of the most fascinating hidden statistics of this period is not how many ships were wrecked by storms but how many were saved by exceptional seamanship and innovation – a type of knowledge that is now largely lost to history.


Gálvez’s men endured this third storm and, eventually, returned with all but one of their ships to Havana, an impressive achievement indeed. Gálvez set about rebuilding the force. In Pensacola knowledge that this extraordinarily resilient man had his eyes set on them weighed heavily on the British, and they began to suffer from the same anxiety that had plagued the citizens and soldiers of New York in 1776, Philadelphia in 1777, and Charleston in 1780. Eyes nervously scanned the horizon for a force that they knew was coming but which they could do nothing to stop. Capture, rot and convoy duty had reduced the British ‘squadron’ at Pensacola to two armed schooners, and the same hurricane that shattered the Spanish fleet at Havana had nearly destroyed the British fleet at Jamaica. Parker was now unable to offer any help at all, even if he had been willing.

The lack of British naval presence threw the Pensacolans into ‘a state of disagreeable uncertainty’. This was no Gibraltar; they had no expectations of succour at all. With the Spanish threat so clear and so close, the military and civilians of Pensacola fell to pecking at each other, the military claiming that the civilians were ‘selfish and lazy’ while at the same time coming up with plans to hand them all over to Gálvez as soon as he arrived so that they could be kept, for their own ‘safety’, in Spanish ships. Unsurprisingly, the idea appalled the civilians, who considered it ‘unprecedented in any society’.


The lesson of 1780 was that the worst British fears had come true: they had lost control of the sea. The combined American, French and Spanish threats meant that there were insufficient British warships to protect all their possessions. This had been a problem since the start of the war, but now, with competent men at the helm of the French and Spanish navies, it had become particularly acute. It is no surprise that the allies also began to make significant convoy captures in this period. On one occasion, on 9 August, a Franco-Spanish fleet of thirty-three ships sailed from Cádiz and captured a vast British convoy of over sixty ships, taking prisoner 1,350 seamen and 1,255 troops, and seizing £1.5 million in cargo and stores. It was the worst British convoy disaster in living memory, and was felt so severely that it led to significant changes in British marine insurance. Under pressure everywhere, the British had been unable to provide this convoy, which was travelling at a predictable time of year along a predictable course, with any more than a single line-of-battle ship and two frigates as escorts. The Channel Fleet was weak with sickness and the pressure of trying to control home waters with an inadequate force nearly killed Admiral Geary, then commander-in-chief of the home fleet. He appears to have had a complete breakdown and remarkably the doctor’s report still survives. ‘The Admiral’, wrote Dr James Lind, ‘thro’ a constant fatigue and hurry of business added to an over anxiety of mind, seems to have exhausted his strength, and spirits. He is feverish, his pulse weak, has for a violent headache, pain of his Breast, and profuse sweats.’ He simply had nothing left to give, broken by the challenge of exercising British sea power.

The British maritime empire was starting to fall apart because its maritime connections could not be guaranteed. This naval weakness, experienced empire-wide, was sensed intensely in Britain, particularly in London, where the pressure of exercising inadequate sea power was crippling its already divided political hierarchy. The sudden outburst of riots in London, the worst riots of the century, is no coincidence. The very last thing that the British now needed was for Spain to open a new front in the Mediterranean; for France to reopen another front thousands of miles away in India; for several more countries, all equipped with their own navies, to flex their maritime muscles against Britain; and for the Spanish and French to ignore the festering wounds of their failed combined operations and to begin to co-operate once more.

But – quite extraordinarily – that is exactly what happened.


Early summer of 1781, while Rochambeau was marching across Connecticut to link with Washington, and while La Luzerne was persuading Congress to allow Louis XVI and Vergennes to negotiate America’s future. In June, in a harbor in Haiti, the Comte de Grasse and the Spanish nobleman Captain Francisco de Saavedra, thirty-five, sat down aboard the majestic Ville de Paris to decide where in North America de Grasse’s fleet would go.

Saavedra had credence in this meeting because he had recently been involved in successfully besieging a British stronghold in North America, Pensacola. Saavedra, a special emissary from Carlos III appointed to coordinate the activities of France and Spain in the Caribbean, had put together the forces for the Pensacola attack—the Spanish and French soldiers, the vessels, and their commander, Gálvez. Back in May, that Spanish fleet and polyglot army had started to attack that Gulf Coast city. Bernardo de Gálvez’s 1,315 troops had been ferried there on Spanish ships from Havana, some of those ships and troops having recently crossed the Atlantic to reinforce the Spanish Caribbean fleet.

The first Spanish ship to enter Pensacola Bay had run aground and the fleet commander refused to attempt the bar with any of his other vessels. Gálvez was furious, and his situation was shortly remedied by the arrival of more ships sent by grateful American residents of New Orleans, ships that were put under his sole command. With these he passed the sandbar, and then needled the Havana-based ships into following him through. During the ensuing siege he was wounded twice. Saavedra then arrived with more reinforcements, Spanish regulars accompanied by eight hundred French troops and some free blacks. By May 1781 in Pensacola Bay Gálvez commanded seven thousand men—more soldiers than Rochambeau had at Newport. On May 8, a Spanish cannonball pierced the walls of Crescent Fort and hit the powder magazine, which exploded, killing 105 men and making it possible for the Spanish to fire without opposition at the main Pensacola defensive works, Fort George. Two days later the British surrendered. It was a major victory. Together with the Spanish-led takeover of the lower Mississippi, it left control of the Mississippi Delta and the nearby Gulf of Mexico in Spanish hands. Gálvez, promoted to field marshal in charge of all Spanish military forces in the Caribbean and New Spain, elevated Saavedra to strategist of all future military activities.

Before entering the military Saavedra had been a theological student, and his intelligence had aided his rise in the Spanish government, in diplomatic and council posts, before he was sent to Havana. France had agreed that in the Caribbean, Spain’s would be the dominant force and the French would be under their command. Learning of de Grasse’s imminent arrival in Haiti a week in advance, Saavedra went there and was well acquainted locally by the time he and de Grasse met aboard the Ville de Paris on June 17.

There the leaders formulated a two-step plan. De Grasse would best the British in North America, and then in the fall return to the Caribbean to take part in a joint Franco-Spanish operation against Jamaica, the most valuable of the British possessions. In regard to the North American venture, as Saavedra put it in his diary, they “could not waste the most decisive opportunity of the whole war”—to take advantage of the British naval inferiority in the American Atlantic. The most vulnerable British point, in the view of Saavedra and de Grasse, was Virginia, because the British troops there enjoyed only sporadic naval protection from squadrons based in New York and the Caribbean. De Grasse was also not inclined to attack New York because he knew that d’Estaing had not been able to pass the bar at Sandy Hook. Letters from Rochambeau and La Luzerne championed a Chesapeake Bay focus, as did Saavedra’s positive reports of the success of the action at Pensacola against a well-defended British stronghold. De Grasse would go to Virginia.

The most important strategic decision of the war, to attack the British on the Yorktown Peninsula, was made by French and Spanish military men in a Haitian harbor.

To receive permission to depart for American waters, de Grasse had to obtain his ships’ formal release by Spain. Gálvez authorized that, but Saavedra vetoed allowing de Grasse to take Spanish ships with him, as de Grasse had requested, on the grounds that their fighting directly for America might be construed as de facto recognition of American independence, which Madrid was at pains to avoid. The Spanish fleet, by remaining in the Caribbean and protecting both French and Spanish colonies, would tie down Rodney’s squadron, as the British admiral would not risk going to the aid of his brethren in the north for fear that the Spanish would use his absence to seize more British sugar islands.

De Grasse was under instructions from Rochambeau to raise specie to pay the French troops, whose stash was running out. He was unable to coax very much from the French Caribbean colonists, even after public notices advertising a very favorable credit exchange rate. Saavedra then stepped in. Deciding that “without the money the Conde de Grasse could not do anything and the delay … would put his fleet in jeopardy,” the young captain told the admiral to start his ships toward America and that he would have conveyed to them at sea the needed money, which he would obtain from Cuba. In just six hours, by an “emergency appeal” to the populace in Havana, he collected five hundred pesetas and had them ferried to de Grasse. The admiral then took off northward with his fleet, sending ahead a letter that his destination was Chesapeake Bay.

Planning the “Dash” I

KMS Prinz Eugen

KMS Scharnhorst

Although Scharnhorst and Gneisenau posed a considerable threat to the British while lying at Brest in 1941 and the repeated raids by the Royal Air Force were far too inaccurate to do any serious damage, Hitler felt the two units were too exposed, and ordered them to return. Operation ‘Cerberus’, the daylight dash through the English Channel in February 1942, was probably the Kriegsmarine’s greatest success, for it took the British completely by surprise, the two battle-cruisers and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen slipping past ineffectual air and sea attacks. Apart from slight damage to Scharnhorst from a magnetic mine during the final phase it had been a humiliation for the British and proof that audacity pays.

The two great grey ships appeared off the entrance to the French Atlantic port of Brest just after dawn. They were Germany’s 32,000-ton battleships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau returning from marauding raids against Allied shipping in the Atlantic.

They had sailed from Kiel at the beginning of 1941. Evading the British Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow, they had broken through the Denmark Strait into the Atlantic. For the next two months like gigantic pirates they roamed the Atlantic shipping lanes sinking more than twenty ships totalling over 100,000 tons. It was the first—and last—successful foray by German battleships against Allied merchant shipping in the Second World War. Then in early March they seemed to disappear into Atlantic mists.

At 7 a.m. on 22 March 1941, as sullen French dock workers watched, they tied up at the quai Lannion in Brest. It was nearly a year since France had fallen and the French Naval base had been taken over by German dockyard workers from Wilhelmshaven. They had returned to Brest because they were badly in need of repairs. The two-months’ cruise had revealed serious defects in Scharnhorst’s boilers. The tubes of the super-heaters, especially, had given constant trouble threatening a major breakdown. German dockyard engineers who examined her estimated ten weeks would be needed for repairs. When her Kapitän, Kurt Hoffmann, reported this news to Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, head of the German Navy in Berlin, the German Admiralty staff were shocked at the extent of the repairs necessary.

Her sister ship Gneisenau was also in need of minor repairs. The refit of both battleships went ahead quickly but no Frenchman was allowed to work on them, for French workmen in the repair depots ashore went as slow as they dared to hold up the work of the German conquerors. Throughout the dockyard and in the town, the inhabitants were not only surly and hostile, but some of them were in touch with French underground agents, who would pass the information about the repairs to Britain.

After the ships’ arrival eight depressing days passed with unceasing rain and frequent false air-raid alarms. Then on the evening of 30 March came the real thing. The wail of sirens was followed by the crash of bombs. The flak gun crews poured up a curtain of fire but their shells could not reach high-flying planes.

Ashore, many officers of the German Naval Staff were killed when the hotel where they were accommodated was hit and caught fire. The ships were undamaged but when the fragments of bombs were examined by German experts next day they made an important discovery. The RAF had dropped 500-lb armour-piercing bombs specially made to crash through the armoured decks of the warships. The Germans then knew that this was no routine dock raid. These bombs were direct evidence that the RAF knew they were there. Now the raids would never cease. They were right. The RAF started to come day and night when weather permitted.

At dawn on 6 April a RAF torpedo-bomber suddenly dived out of the clouds. It was a Coastal Command Beaufort from St. Eval in Cornwall, piloted by Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, who made a most courageous and determined attack upon Gneisenau. She was tied up to the buoy against a wall at the north end of the harbour, protected by the curving mole. The little hills all around the harbour bristled with clusters of guns and moored near the mole as extra protection were three flak ships.

The battleship’s position appeared to be impregnable. Even if an aircraft managed to deliver a low level attack it would not be able to pull out in time and must crash into the high ground surrounding the harbour.

But Kenneth Campbell dived down to deck level and flew steadily past the blazing muzzles of the flak ships’ guns. He skimmed over the mole and dropped his torpedo at point-blank range towards Gneisenau’s stern. As he did so, the German flak gunners hit him and he crashed in flames into the water.

But he had done his job. Seconds later his torpedo exploded against Gneisenau on the starboard side aft. Water rushed in and she began to list heavily. A salvage vessel which came alongside to pump tons of water from her scuppers had difficulty keeping her from sinking.

The bodies of Campbell and his gallant aircrew, Sgts. Scott, Mullis and Hillman, were fished out of the harbour and brought on board the battleship. Their bodies were draped in flags and placed on the quarterdeck, where a guard of honour was mounted as a mark of respect.

While this chivalrous ceremony was taking place, the salvage crews managed to pump enough water out to right her, since she could not remain in danger at the buoy. RAF spotter planes were now informing the British about every move of the battleships. Another attack like Campbell’s on Gneisenau would probably sink her.

The following morning Gneisenau again entered dry dock where inspection confirmed that Campbell’s torpedo had wrecked the starboard propeller and shaft tunnel. This would need six months to repair. She would be out of action twice as long as Scharnhorst.

When the British heard about Campbell’s heroic act he was awarded the highest decoration for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. The citation said: “Despising heavy odds Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell went cheerfully and resolutely to his task. By pressing home his attack at close quarters in the face of withering fire on a course fraught with extreme peril, he displayed valour of the highest order.”

As a result of Campbell’s torpedo both battleships were now due for a long stay so the German Navy decided to put their static fleet to some use. A detachment of a hundred midshipmen were sent from Germany to the Brest battleships to complete their training. They were posted equally to both ships and, as anti-aircraft defence was most vital, this was their main task. It became a brutal battle training for these budding officers. For some it was very short.

On the night of 10 April, the sirens again wailed and the first bomb explosions could be heard above the roar of the flak guns. Suddenly there came a series of tremendous flashes and explosions and a red glow lit up Gneisenau‘s superstructure. She had been hit by three bombs and was on fire. The bombs killed fifty and wounded ninety of her crew, the heaviest casualties being among the flak crews and the young midshipmen. At the time of the raid many of the off-duty midshipmen were in their quarters between decks. Most of them were killed by fragments of other big bombs exploding on the quayside.

As ambulances drew up at the ship’s gangway and long rows of stretcher cases were taken to hospital, Captain Hoffmann went across from Scharnhorst to offer help. He ordered a working-party to fight the fires on the mess decks, but they had to flood one magazine before the fires were controlled and Gneisenau out of danger.

The Germans’ main concern was to conceal the extent of the damage from the French, but each battleship could only make ten coffins, and this meant tiiey would have to call in French carpenters to make many more. When the order was given the news of the German dead spread rapidly among the inhabitants of Brest.

After this they arranged for most of the crews to sleep ashore in barracks, leaving only flak gunners and a duty watch in the ship. This raid also decided the authorities in Berlin to step up the A.A. defences of Brest. They increased the number of 4-inch guns to 150 and smaller flak guns to 1,200, to make a murderous concentration of fire. Also the two battleships were moved closer together. The lock gates were closed and protected by nets against torpedoes fired by either intruding submarines or wave-skimming planes.

In Scharnhorst’s old berth, Hoffmann built a wooden and sheet-iron replica of her on the hull of an old French cruiser, Jeanne d’Arc. Nets hung from the battleships’ masts to the dockside with paint sprayed over them to make them resemble clumps of trees. On the roofs of the Naval College the surviving midshipmen erected wooden huts to make it look like a village.

A network of artificial smoke-generators which could shroud the port under a thick fog within a few minutes was installed around the harbour. This last precaution aroused protests from the Luftwaffe who maintained that the dense smoke would endanger their fighter operations. This artificial fog also nearly caused a collision between the two battleships when they came to leave harbour.

The flak and the fighters gave them protection during the day but in darkness it was a different story. As the RAF’s heavy bombing continued nearly every night it looked as though not only would the ships be damaged but most of their crews endangered. Although many of them were taken at night in lorries to barracks in Brest, many were still being killed ashore so it was decided to move them farther out to avoid the raids.

They were moved at night to La Roche fifteen miles from Brest near the sleepy little Breton town of Landerneau. Both places were on the main line to Paris and the railway was used a lot to move crews about.

Hidden in a small forest of birch trees near Landerneau, barracks were built for the crews of each ship. It was also planned to build extra ones for the crew of another German battleship, Bismarck, due in for a refit after her own Atlantic merchant shipping forays. Outside the dockyard at Brest the large buoys swung at their moorings awaiting her arrival.

While the other two German battleships were being repaired in Brest, Bismarck was sheltering in the German-occupied Norwegian port of Bergen. But on a moonless night—20 May 1941—she slipped out, escorted by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. At noon next day, when the news reached the Admiralty in Whitehall, the Home Fleet was ordered to sail from Scapa Flow to intercept the German ships south of the Denmark Straits.

At dawn on 24 May the two German ships were in action with the British fleet, which included the veteran battle-cruiser Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales on her maiden voyage. The Royal Navy had the worst of the battle. Hood, hit by Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, blew up. Prince of Wales was so badly damaged that she took no further part in the action. But smaller Royal Naval ships still shadowed the fast-steaming Bismarck.

In the afternoon the new aircraft-carrier Victorious was detached from the main force to attack her. When 825 Squadron of Swordfish rose from her flight deck to make a night attack on the German battleship, the leading plane was piloted by Lt.-Cdr. Eugene Esmonde.

At 11:30 p.m., when they were 120 miles from the carrier, Esmonde’s Swordfish squadron sighted Bismarck. Flying 100 feet above the waves in the darkness, they let go their torpedoes from less than 1,000 yards. As they banked away there was a roar followed by a flash and a curling plume of flame.

The Bismarck had been hit amidships.

The torpedo slowed her down, and after a three-day chase the Home Fleet again brought the Bismarck into action. This time she was alone. Four hours before the battle the Prinz Eugen had slipped away. The Bismarck sank under the guns and torpedoes of the Royal Navy.

It was on the night of 7 May that German naval officers at Brest, surreptitiously listening to the B.B.C. news, heard: “At 10:37 G.M.T. the German battleship Bismarck was sunk.”

The German Navy in Brest took the news of Bismarck’s sinking gloomily. Equally depressing was the lack of news of her escorting cruiser, Prinz Eugen. Had she too been sunk? Or had she escaped and was preserving radio silence in case her calls were intercepted by the pursuing Royal Navy? For five days there was silence. Then at dawn on 1 June a buzz of excitement went round the battleship crews. Prinz Eugen had appeared at the entrance to Brest Harbour.

She brought grim news. When her captain, Helmuth Brinkmann, made a report to Grand Admiral Raeder in Berlin about the fate of the Bismarck, he stated that the British battleships now had such good radar equipment that it could not be evaded.

The rest of the situation was also depressing. Despite German precautions, day and night raids on Brest docks became a familiar part of their daily life. Almost every day, the B.B.C.’s nine o’clock news reported that bombers had visited Brest to attack the German warships.

The British realized that this constant bombing might eventually cause the Germans to make a desperate dash home. A series of conferences was held between Admiralty and Air Ministry planners. As a result Coastal Command was ordered to establish three separate dusk-to-dawn radar reconnaissance patrols off Brest and along the Channel. They became known as “Stopper,” which covered from Brest to Ushant, “Line SE” from Ushant to Brittany and “Habo” from Le Havre to Boulogne. Fighter Command also organized daylight Channel sweeps known as “Jim Crow.”

On 29 April 1941 an Air Ministry letter to the three RAF Commands—Fighter, Bomber and Coastal—said: “Scharnhorst and Gneisenau may attempt to reach a German port up the Channel route during the period April 30th to May 4th inclusive. It is considered probable that the Straits of Dover will be navigated in darkness. It is considered unlikely that the enemy would attempt the passage of the Straits in daylight. But if this should be attempted, a unique opportunity will be offered to both our surface craft and air striking force to engage the enemy ships in force whilst in the Straits of Dover.” Bomber Command was instructed to have strike forces in readiness for the Germans leaving Brest.

At this stage, the RAF were well ahead of the Germans in their tactical appreciation. It was not until 30 May—a month after the Air Ministry had considered the possibility of a Channel break-out—that the German Naval Command West in Paris sent a memorandum to Grand Admiral Raeder in Berlin suggesting a contingency plan: “The possibility of bringing heavy ships through the English Channel should be carefully examined. The route is shorter than the Iceland passage. There are good escort possibilities, both air and sea. Enemy radar could be jammed. Superior enemy units would not be present and the passage would be in the close proximity of our own harbours to which ships could be taken in the event of breakdowns.”

Raeder reacted strongly against this suggestion. He drew up a formidable list of hazards: “1. The difficulty of navigation in narrow waters. 2. The battleships must be seen by the British. 3. The danger from mines, torpedo boats, torpedo-carrying aircraft and dive-bombers.”

But Raeder’s principal objection was that mine-sweepers could not clear a wide enough path for the ships to take avoiding action in the event of torpedo attack. He concluded, “The naval war staff therefore consider an unobserved and safe escape through the Channel to be impossible.” This view entirely coincided with that of his opposite number in London, First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound.

Raeder had good reasons for being cautious. For he had only five battleships—including the “pocket” battleships—to the Royal Navy’s fifteen. He had no aircraft-carriers, although the Graf Zeppelin was under construction—but never completed—whilst the British had six operational carriers.