The Balkans and Italy 1943-44

British support for the resistance in Yugoslavia had thus far troubled the Wehrmacht little. Although up to thirty Axis divisions had been engaged in internal security operations in the Yugoslav mountains, including Italian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Croat (Ustashi) formations, only twelve were German, most of a military value too low to permit their employment on the major battlefronts. Even after the British had definitively transferred their sponsorship of Yugoslav resistance in December 1943 from the royalist Chetniks to Tito’s communist guerrillas, who then numbered over 100,000, the Germans were able to keep the resistance forces constantly on the move, forcing them to migrate from Bosnia to Montenegro and then back again during the campaigning season of 1943 and in the process inflicting 20,000 casualties on their troops, as well as untold suffering on the rural population. The capitulation of Italy in September 1943 had eased Tito’s situation. It brought him large quantities of surrendered arms and equipment and even allowed him to take control of much of the area relinquished by the Italians, including the Dalmatian coast and the Adriatic islands. However, as long as the Germans continued to isolate the Partisans from direct contact with external regular forces, the rules of guerrilla warfare applied: Tito had a strong nuisance value but an insignificant strategic effect on Germany’s lines of communication with Greece and the areas from which it drew essential supplies of minerals.

In the autumn of 1944, however, Germany’s position in the Balkans began to weaken, so threatening to elevate Tito from the role of nuisance to menace. Hitler’s Balkan satellites, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, had been brought into the war on his side by a combination of threat and inducement. Hitler could no longer offer inducement, while the principal threat to these states’ welfare and sovereignty was now prescribed by the Red Army, which between March and August had reconquered the western Ukraine and advanced to the foothills of the Carpathians, southern Europe’s natural frontier with the Russian lands. Much earlier in the year the satellites had begun to think better of their alliance with Hitler. Antonescu, the ruler of Romania, had been in touch with the Western Allies since March; his Foreign Minister had even attempted to draw Mussolini into a scheme for making a separate peace as early as May 1943. Bulgaria – whose staunchly pro-German King Boris died by poisoning on 24 August 1943 – had made approaches to London and Washington in January 1944 and then placed its hopes in coming to an understanding with Stalin. Hungary, which had benefited so greatly at Romania’s expense by the Vienna Award of August 1940, was meanwhile playing its own game: Kallay, the Prime Minister, had made contact with the West in September 1943 with the aim of arranging through them a surrender to the Russians, while the chief of staff suggested to Keitel, head of OKW, that the Carpathians be defended by Hungarian troops only – a device intended to keep not so much German as Romanian troops off the national territory.

Even while the German troops were in full retreat in Italy and the Russians were advancing irresistibly to the Carpathians, Hitler could deal with Hungary. He had easily put down a revolt in the puppet state of Slovakia, raised by dissident soldiers in July when they imminently but over-optimistically expected the arrival of the Red Army on their doorstep. In March he had quelled the Hungarians’ initial display of independence by requiring Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian dictator, to dismiss Kallay and grant Germany full control of the Hungarian economy and communications system and rights of free movement into and through the country by the Wehrmacht. Horthy’s dismissal of his pro-German cabinet on 29 August alerted Hitler to the revived danger of Hungary’s defection. When on 15 October, therefore, Horthy revealed to the German embassy in Budapest that he had signed an armistice with Russia, German sympathisers in Horthy’s Arrow Cross party and in the army were ready to take control of the government. Horthy was isolated in his residence, where he was persuaded to deliver himself into German hands after Skorzeny, the rescuer of Mussolini, had kidnapped his son as a hostage.

The occupation of Hungary, though smoothly achieved, could not at that stage halt the unravelling of the Balkan skein. Hungary had ultimately been driven into opening negotiations with the Russians because it feared, quite correctly, that Romania might otherwise make its own deal with Stalin and secure the return of Transylvania, which it had been forced to cede to Horthy under the Vienna Award. However, it was Hungary that had been forestalled; as soon as the Red Army crossed the Dniester from the Ukraine on 20 August, King Michael had had Antonescu arrested, thus provoking Hitler to order the bombing of Bucharest on 23 August and so allowing Romania to declare war on Germany next day. This change of sides forced the German Sixth Army (reconstituted since Stalingrad) into precipitate retreat towards the passes of the Carpathians. Few of its 200,000 men escaped. Bulgaria, into which they might have fled southward, was now closed to them because on 5 September the government had opened negotiations with the Russians (with whom it had never been at war) and promptly turned its army against Hitler. In Romania, reported Friesner, the commander of the Sixth Army, ‘there’s no longer any general staff and nothing but chaos, everyone, from general to clerk, has got a rifle and is fighting to the last bullet.’

The defection of Romania immediately entailed the loss of access to the Ploesti oilfields, fear of which had so deeply influenced Hitler’s strategic decision-making throughout the war. It was that fear which, in large measure, had driven him to take control of the Balkans in the first place, to contemplate the attack on Russia, and to hold the Crimea long after it was militarily sound to do so. Now that the synthetic oil plants which had subsequently come on stream within Germany had been brought under disabling attack by the US Eighth Air Force, the loss of Ploesti was doubly disastrous. However, Hitler could not hope to recover them by counter-attack, for not only did the Russian Ukrainian Fronts which entered Romania on its defection enormously outnumber his own local forces; the simultaneous defection of Bulgaria put the German forces in Greece at risk also and on 18 October they evacuated the country and began a difficult withdrawal through the Macedonian mountains into southern Yugoslavia. Tolbukhin, commanding the Third Ukrainian Front, entered Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, on 4 October, having made his way there through Romania and Bulgaria. The 350,000 Germans under the command of General Löhr’s Army Group E thus had to make their escape from Greece past the flank of a menacing Soviet concentration, through mountain valleys infested with Tito’s Partisans and overflown by the Allied air forces operating across the Adriatic from their bases in Italy.

The security of the other German forces – Army Group F – in what remained to Hitler of his Balkan occupation area now closely depended upon Kesselring’s ability to defend northern Italy. Should it fall, Allied Armies Italy would be free both to strike eastward through the ‘gaps’, notably the Ljubljana gap which led into northern Yugoslavia and so towards Hungary, and also to launch major amphibious operations from the northern Italian ports across the Adriatic, as the commanders of Land Forces Adriatic, supported by the Balkan Air Force (established at Bari in June 1944), had already begun to do on a small scale. At a meeting with Stalin in Moscow in October 1944, Churchill concluded a remarkable, if largely unenforceable, agreement advocating ‘proportions of influence’ between Russia and Britain in the Balkans. Unlike the Americans, Churchill continued to be fascinated by the opportunities that a Balkan venture offered. In the event it was not Allied scheming but German force allocation that decided the issue. By the time the Fifth and Eighth Armies reached the Gothic Line, their strength stood at only twenty-one divisions, while that of the German Tenth and Fourteenth, thanks to the transfer of five fresh formations and the manpower for three others, had increased to twenty-six. Although the Gothic Line was eighty miles longer than the Winter Position, it was backed by an excellent lateral road, the old Roman Emilian Way from Bologna to Rimini, which allowed reinforcements to be sped from one point of danger to the other, and on the Adriatic coast was backed by no fewer than thirteen rivers flowing to the sea, each of which formed a major military obstacle.

This terrain and the onset of Italy’s autumn rains now ensured that Kesselring’s hold on northern Italy, if not the whole of the Gothic Line itself, could not be broken. Alexander, correctly assessing that the route towards the great open plain of the river Po was more easily negotiable on the right than on the left, secretly had transferred the bulk of the Eighth Army to the Adriatic coast during August. On 25 August it attacked, broke the Gothic Line and advanced to within ten miles of Rimini before being halted on the Couca river. While it paused to regroup, Vietinghoff, commanding the Fourteenth Army, rushed reinforcements along the Emilian Way to check its advance. The British renewed the offensive on 12 September but were fiercely opposed; the 1st Armoured Division lost so many of its tanks that it had to be withdrawn from offensive operations. In order to divert enemy strength from the British front, Alexander ordered Clark to open his own offensive on the opposite coast on 17 September, through the much less promising territory north of Pisa. So narrow is the coastal plain there, dominated by heights reminiscent of Cassino, that it made very slow progress. During October and into November, as rains turned the whole battlefield into a slough and raised rivers in unbridgeable spate, the campaign dragged on, while ground was won in miles and lives lost in thousands. The Eighth Army lost 14,000 killed and wounded in the autumn fighting on the Adriatic coast, the Canadians bearing the heaviest share, for they were in the forefront. The Canadian II Corps took Ravenna on 5 December and pushed onwards to reach the Senio river by 4 January 1945. The Fifth Army, attacking through the mountains of the centre, reached to within nine miles of Bologna by 23 October; but it had also lost very heavily – over 15,000 killed and wounded – and was confronted by terrain even more difficult than that on the Eighth Army’s front. So weakened was it that a surprise German offensive in December won back some of the ground it had captured in September north of Pisa.

Losses, terrain and winter weather determined that at Christmas 1944 the campaign in Italy came to a halt. It had been a gruelling passage of fighting, almost from the first optimistic weeks of landing and the easy advances south of Rome sixteen months earlier. The spectacular beauty of Italy, natural and man-made, its scenery of crags and mountain-top villages, ruined castles and fast-flowing rivers, threatened danger at every turn to soldiers bent on conquest. The painters whose landscapes had delighted European collectors had left warnings to any general with a sharp eye of how difficult an advance across the topography they depicted must be to an army, particularly a modern army encumbered with artillery and wheeled and tracked vehicles. Salvator Rosa’s savage mountain landscapes and battle scenes spoke for themselves. Claude Lorrain’s deceptively serene vistas of gentle plains and blue distances were equally imbued with menace; painted from points of dominance that an artillery officer would automatically choose as his observation post, they demonstrate at a glance how easily and regularly ground can be commanded by the defender in Italy and what a wealth of obstacles – streams, lakes, free-standing hills, mountain spurs and abrupt defiles – the countryside offers. The engineers were the consistent heroes of the campaign in Italy in 1943-4; it was they who rebuilt under fire the blown bridges the Allied armies encountered at five- or ten-mile intervals in the course of their advance up the peninsula, who dismantled the demolition charges and booby traps the Germans strewed in their wake, who bulldozed a way through the ruined towns which straddled the north-south roads, who cleared the harbours choked by the destruction of battle. The infantry too proved heroic: no campaign in the west cost the infantry more than Italy, in lives lost and wounds suffered in bitter small-scale fighting around strongpoints at the Winter Position, the Anzio perimeter and the Gothic Line. Such losses were shared equally by the Allies and the Germans, as were the natural hardships of the campaign, above all the bleakness of the Italian winter. As S. Bidwell and D. Graham put it in their history of the campaign: ‘A post on some craggy knife-edge would be held by four or five men . . . if one of them were wounded he would have to remain with the squad or find his own way down the mountain to an aid post . . . if he stayed he was a burden to his friends and would freeze to death or die from loss of blood. If he tried to find his way down the mountain it was all too easy . . . to rest in a sheltered spot . . . or lose his way . . . and die of exposure.’ Many of the Germans of the 1st Parachute Division who held Cassino so tenaciously must have come to such an end; many, too, of the Americans, British, Indians, South Africans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Poles, Frenchmen and (later) Brazilians who opposed them there and at the Gothic Line.

Losses and hardships were made the more difficult to bear, particularly by the Allies, because of the campaign’s marginality. The Germans knew that they were holding the enemy at arm’s length from the southern borders of the Reich. The Allies, after D-Day, were denied any sense of fighting a decisive campaign. At best they were sustaining the threat to the ‘soft underbelly’ (Churchill’s phrase) of Hitler’s Europe, at worst merely tying down enemy divisions. Mark Clark, commander of the Fifth Army and, under Alexander, of Allied Armies Italy, sustained his sense of personal mission throughout. Convinced of his greatness as a general, he drove his subordinates hard, and his frustration at the deliberation of British methods poisoned relations between the staffs of the Fifth and Eighth Armies – a deplorable but undeniable ingredient of the campaign. More junior commanders and the common soldiers were sustained, once the spirit of resistance to German occupation had taken root among the Italians, by the emotions of fighting a war of liberation. No great vision of victory drew them onward, however, as it did their comrades who landed in France. Their war was not a crusade but, in almost every respect, an old-fashioned one of strategic diversion on the maritime flank of a continental enemy, the ‘Peninsular War’ of 1939-45. That they were continuing to fight it so hard when winter brought the campaigning season to an end at Christmas 1944 was a tribute to their sense of purpose and stoutness of heart.



General Motors XM-1


General Motors XM1 prototype

Congress canceled the MBT-70 in November and XM803 December 1971, and redistributed the funds to the new XM815, later renamed the XM1 Abrams after General Creighton Abrams. Prototypes were delivered in 1976 by Chrysler Defense and General Motors armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun along with a Leopard 2 for comparison.

The actual development of the XM-1 was carried out on a competitive basis, contracts for it being awarded in 1973 to Chrysler and to General Motors. Both companies completed their prototypes in 1975 and after trials the Chrysler XM-1 was chosen in 1976 for further development on the grounds that it was being offered at a lower cost. The principal engineering difference between the two was that the General Motors prototype was powered by a variable compression ratio diesel, which was not entirely successful, while the Chrysler prototype was powered by a gas turbine, which was expensive to produce and which, in spite of repeated claims to the contrary, proved to have a high fuel consumption. A conventional diesel would have been a better choice for either of the two designs and one of 1500hp had been developed in Germany for the MBT-70 but it was not considered for the XM-1.

Whichever of the two US prototypes won, it was intended that it should be evaluated in competition with the German Leopard 2 with the view of achieving standardization between the US and German tank fleets, ostensibly even to the extent of adopting the same tank for both. In the event all that happened was that the US Army decided in 1978 to adopt the 120mm smooth-bore gun produced in Germany for the Leopard 2. The decision was taken after trials carried out in 1977 when the German 120mm smooth-bore gun was compared with the US 105mm tank gun, which by then was 18 years old, and a new 120mm rifled gun hastily developed in Britain to suit US requirements.


In the late 1970s, two companies, Chrysler and General Motors, had competing prototypes of the M-1. General Motors had a large and traditional diesel engine in the tank, and Chrysler, which had tried and failed to develop turbine engine technology for cars and trucks for the commercial market, wanted to recoup their costs and put a risky and complicated turbine engine in their tank. The Army was ready to give the contract to General Motors, but politics intervened. In 1987, the Washington Monthly laid out the scene around the all-important decision of what tank was to be chosen:

On a July afternoon ten years ago, Lt. Colonel George Mohrmann sat at his desk on Capital Hill awaiting a phone call. As head of the Army’s congressional liaison office, he was ready to deliver a stack of sealed letters to members of Congress announcing the winning contractor in the multi-billion dollar competition to build the Army’s M-1 tank.

The two competing contractors, Chrysler and General Motors, offered a clear choice. Chrysler had built its tank around a radically different and unproven tank engine, the turbine; GM had used a more conventional diesel engine. The two tanks had undergone months of head-to-head trials at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

GM had won.

The Army, it seemed, was not going to risk adding the M-1 to its growing list of overly sophisticated weapons that cost too much and don’t work. “We were sitting there poised to deliver [the envelopes],” Mohrmann recalls. “The decision [to select GM] had been made. We were just waiting for the Secretary of Defense to be briefed.”

The call, however, was surprising. The Pentagon told Mohrmann not to deliver the letters. The next day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered a whole new round of competition. A week later, Rumsfeld turned the M-1 tank program upside down. He mandated that the tank be redesigned to incorporate the turbine engine. Four months later the award-which promised to generate $20 billion in sales – went to Chrysler and the Army was on its way to getting a weapon suited more for a paved interstate than a battlefield.

… That isn’t another story about the Army’s incompetent bureaucracy. “You can blame the Army for a lot of things,” says Anthony Battista, a staff member of the House Armed Services Committee, “but not for the troubles of the M-1.” Rather, it’s a story of how outside factors can overwhelm military considerations in the Pentagon decision-making process, how narrow interests – in this case the ailing Chrysler Corporation and, by a strange twist, the U.S. Air Force – can outweigh the need for a reasonably-priced and effective military. The M-1 was never just a weapon; it was also a bail-out package.




Remagen, beschädigte Brücke

“The Rhine. I don’t know what I expected. Another Mississippi, I suppose,” an engineer sergeant told his diary. “The damn thing flows north.” Indeed it did. From Switzerland, where the river was fed by 150 glaciers, to the North Sea, the European father of waters formed an extraordinary moat against invasion from the west. Although it was only the world’s fifteenth-largest river in volume, ranking between the Euphrates and the Rhône, the Rhine was broad, deep, and fast enough that engineers compared any crossing to “a short sea voyage.” “At no place is the river fordable, even at low water,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported, and winter floods had been the highest in a quarter century, with currents in some stretches approaching eleven miles an hour. Most of the thirty-one Rhine bridges within Germany had been demolished by men with a rare aptitude for destruction. Thanks to the aerial bombardment of German factories, the river flowed relatively unpolluted for the first time in a generation, but so much wreckage clogged its bed that the Allies could not simply sail upstream from Nijmegen. A “top secret and private” note from Churchill’s office to Beetle Smith likened the difficulties faced by seven Allied armies in catapulting eighty divisions across the river to “another D-Day.”

Plans to jump the Rhine had been drafted even before the Normandy landings. Exhaustive studies examined bank, current, weather, and ice conditions, as well as Roman accounts of erecting a trestle bridge before the birth of Christ, and French records of nineteenth-century pile-driving near Strasbourg. Army engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi, scrutinized historical hydrology data, aided by intelligence agents in Switzerland and daily gage readings intercepted in German radio broadcasts to river pilots. More than 170 models of the Rhine were built, and a hydraulics laboratory in Grenoble conducted elaborate experiments. A Rhine River Flood Prediction Service opened in January; mindful of the Roer debacle, diplomats pressed the Swiss to protect seven headwater dams with soldiers and artillery.

River-crossing schools on the Loire trained hundreds of outboard-motor operators, pile-driving specialists, and DUKW drivers. A steel mill in Luxembourg extruded 54,000 tons of massive I-beams for bridge building. Boatyards in Florida, Minnesota, and Michigan built hundreds of seventeen-foot plywood craft designed to carry a dozen riflemen and three engineers each; nested and crated in clusters of six, the vessels were whisked to Europe by cargo plane or fast ship. French boatwrights, shown a photograph of a storm boat in January, set to work using blueprints drawn by a naval architect. Trees were felled, plywood milled, and screws and nails fashioned from surplus wire; five weeks after placing the order, the U.S. Army picked up seven hundred boats.

Seagoing landing craft, capable of carrying a Sherman tank or sixty men, sailed from England to Antwerp and up the Albert Canal before being hauled overland to the Rhineland on trailers so enormous that bulldozers led the convoys to knock down any building crimping the roadway. Other big craft for this “inland navy” were trucked three hundred miles from Le Havre; they arrived, a witness reported, “festooned with treetops, telephone wires, and bits of buildings from French villages.”

By early March, forward depots contained 1,100 assault boats, 124 landing craft, 2,500 outboard motors, 5 million board feet of lumber, 6,000 bridge floats, and enough steel and pilings to build more than 60 bridges. Everyone agreed, however, that it would be far simpler to capture one already built.


Just such a bridge still stood fifteen miles south of Bonn at Remagen, an ancient Roman town straddling a road built by Marcus Aurelius. Here the Rhine scoured a curving basalt gorge: to the north, Siegfried had slain his dragon at Drachenfels, bathing in the creature’s blood to become invulnerable; to the south, Julius Caesar built two spans over the river, in 55 and 53 B.C., during his Gallic campaigns. The current bridge had been completed in 1918 and named for General Erich Ludendorff, the progenitor of the final, fatal German offensives on the Western Front in the Great War. More than a thousand feet long and wide enough for two trains to pass abeam, the span featured symmetrical arches resting on four stone piers, with embrasured stone towers at either end. Wooden planks could be laid on the rail tracks to permit motor traffic. On the east bank, the tracks vanished into the Dwarf’s Hole, a tunnel bored through the steep six-hundred-foot hill called the Erpeler Ley. Local aesthetes complained that the bridge marred the dramatic riverscape; they complained more when it drew repeated Allied air attacks, including a January raid that killed three dozen civilians.

Retreating German soldiers had tramped across the Ludendorff in late 1918, and now retreating German soldiers were tramping over it once again, mingling with refugees, livestock, and an occasional hospital train carrying broken boys. A teenage antiaircraft gunner described a snaking procession making for the bridge through Remagen’s jammed streets on Wednesday morning, March 7, “with cannons being pulled by horses, by motor vehicles, and yes, even by soldiers.” Fewer than a thousand defenders remained in the area; most were Volkssturm militia of doubtful martial value, and all fell under a confused, fractured command architecture. Field Marshal Model had promised reinforcements, but none had arrived.

Sixty zinc-lined boxes for explosives had been fitted to the bridge in 1938, linked by cables through heavy conduits to an electrical firing switch inside the rail tunnel. The premature blowing of a bridge near Cologne—apparently triggered by an American bomb—had led to a Führer order that explosive charges would be emplaced only when the enemy was within five miles of a bridge, and igniters were to be withheld until “demolition seems to be unavoidable.” On Wednesday morning, sketchy reports put U.S. Army outriders near the western bluffs above Remagen. Explosives were laid, but Army Group B described the Americans as a thin screening force to mask an Allied thrust toward Bonn and Cologne. Little urgency obtained.

Their enemy was nearer than they knew. On the previous night, March 6, the U.S. III Corps commander, Major General John Millikin, had phoned Major General John W. Leonard, commander of the 9th Armored Division. “Do you see that little black strip of a bridge at Remagen?” Millikin asked as both men squinted at their maps. “If you happen to get that, your name will go down in glory.”

At 8:20 A.M. on this gray, misty Wednesday, a tank-and-infantry task force left Meckenheim, ten miles from the river. Leading the column in the advance guard was Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann, who had commanded Company A of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion for less than twenty-four hours. Timmermann had been born not far to the southeast, in Frankfurt; his doughboy father had taken a German war bride in 1919 before moving back to Nebraska. In a note scribbled in a Meckenheim cellar, the weary young officer told his wife:

There is no glory in war. Maybe those who have never been in battle find [a] certain glory and glamour that doesn’t exist.… Tell mom that we’ll be on the Rhine tomorrow.

Now Lieutenant Timmermann would prove himself wrong: for a brief, vivid moment glory would be his. Summoned by two waving scouts shortly before one P.M., he hurried forward in his jeep to find a hazy, panoramic view of the Rhine gorge below. “Jesus, look at that,” a sergeant muttered. “Do you know what the hell river that is?” Through field glasses Timmermann watched cows, horses, soldiers, trucks, and civilians cross beneath the bridge arches in a lumbering parade. Just below, white flags and bedsheets flapped from Remagen windowsills. Two locomotives with steam up stood on the far bank.

As three platoons descended through the town, leapfrogging from doorway to doorway, Timmermann bounded past the handsome St. Apollinaris Church and a sign that read, “Citizens and Friends: Preserve Our Parks.” A spatter of German musketry provoked booming return fire from a platoon of new M-26 Pershing tanks, each brandishing a 90mm gun. Tearful Germans pointed to cellars where Volkssturm stragglers crouched in terror. A captured enemy general in an elaborately braided uniform proved upon interrogation to be a railroad station agent.

Shortly before two P.M. a dark geyser of earth and paving stones abruptly blossomed above the western ramp; the blast left a smoking hole thirty feet wide, intended to keep American tanks from gaining the bridge. Heckling gunfire erupted from the Ludendorff towers. Bullets pinged and sparked among the girders. GIs fixed bayonets before darting past the last houses above the river. “I’ll see you on the other side,” the 27th Armored Infantry commander told Timmermann, “and we’ll all have a chicken dinner.… Move on.” Timmermann raked the far bank with his glasses. Tiny figures loped along the shoreline and into the tunnel. “They look like they want to get us on the bridge before they blow it up,” he said.

Barely half a mile away, pandemonium swept the eastern shore. Civilians and shrieking children cowered in the Dwarf’s Hole as billowing smoke from white-phosphorus shells drifted down the tunnel. German soldiers ran this way and that along the bridge ramp, including several engulfed in orange flame from American tank shells chewing up the riverbank and smacking the Erpeler Ley. Three junior officers argued over whether the demolition order should be put in writing. Shouts of “Blow the bridge!” carried across the water, and at length a captain shouted, “Everybody lie down! Open your mouths to protect your eardrums.” He turned the key on the firing switch.

Nothing happened. He turned it again, and again, without effect. A German sergeant sprinted ninety yards onto the bridge, lighted the primer cord by hand, and pelted back to the tunnel, chased by bullets.

With a doleful boom the timber planks rose from the railbed like jackstraws. Dust and black smoke boiled from the piers. The Ludendorff seemed to levitate momentarily as if expending a great sigh, then settled back onto its stone foundations, insulted but intact.

No one would ever be certain why fourteen hundred pounds of explosives failed to detonate properly: faulty charges, faulty blasting caps, perhaps a tank shell that severed the main demolition cable, perhaps, as some averred, a miracle.

Reprieved, Lieutenant Timmermann and his men raced onto the bridge, slashing wires and pitching charges into the water. Four Pershing tanks and a dozen Shermans arrayed on the west bank hammered the eastern tower until riflemen could clear out a German machine-gun nest. Sergeant Alex Drabik of Toledo reached the far bank first, in a zigzagging, stumbling sprint that cost him his helmet. Eight others followed on his heels, including Timmermann.

By late afternoon, Company A had 120 men across. A platoon began to scale the Erpeler Ley, dodging stones rolled down the slope by a flak battery holding the crest. After a single warning shot, five German engineers surrendered in the Dwarf’s Hole; GIs blew apart the master demolition switch with a carbine. A 90mm tank round from across the river smashed through a German locomotive tugging a long string of boxcars, and the train halted with a sharp lurch, a white plume of steam sighing from the firebox. GIs crouched in a ditch as a passenger train from the north pulled into the tiny Erpel station; middle-aged soldiers with rifles spilled onto the platform only to be greeted with mispronounced shouts of “Hände hoch.” A single German guard at the eastern exit of the rail tunnel also was seized, and twenty minutes later two hundred others emerged under a white flag to march in their long leather coats, hands high, across the bridge they had neither saved nor destroyed. Before surrendering, Captain Willi Bratge, the Remagen commandant, told a subordinate to deliver a message to the German high command. “Inform them that the demolition of the bridge was unsuccessful,” Bratge said, “and that the Americans have crossed.”

Night fell, a sodden, moonless night, “dark as a pocket,” as one officer recorded, so dark that engineers felt for the street curbs in Remagen with their feet. Bulldozers slowly filled the crater on the western ramp and three artillery battalions unlimbered. Soldiers ripped lumber from German houses to patch the rail planks. Exhausted drivers napped at their wheels as great knots of convoy traffic converged at the bridge, awaiting orders to cross. By ten P.M. three depleted rifle companies occupied the far shore, thwarting a counterattack by a hundred German engineers and antiaircraft crewmen who were repulsed near the Erpeler Ley while carrying half a ton of explosives.

At last nine Shermans—narrower than the Pershings—crept across at midnight, guided by foot soldiers wearing luminous buttons on their belts. German tracer fire searched the span, usually a few feet too high. “Ominous and nerve-wracking creaking” rose from the bridge, a captain reported, all the more ominous when the tenth vehicle to cross, a tank destroyer, skidded to the right near one of the eastern piers and plunged partway through a hole in the deck. For several hours—“the most harrowing minutes of my life,” one officer acknowledged—the vehicle remained stuck, blocking all traffic. Engineers debated pushing it over the side, or jacking it up, or winching it out, or blowing it to pieces. Just as dawn peeked above the Erpeler Ley, the damnable thing was muscled out and towed away. The desperate effort to deepen the bridgehead resumed apace, through what a Wehrmacht general now called “the inner door to Germany.”


Battle of Emmendingen, (19-20 October 1796)


General Moreau’s Army, passage from Germany, 1796

In the Rhine valley, 15 kilometers north of Freiburg im Breisgau in the Elz valley, Emmendingen was the site of the main Austrian victory over General Jean Moreau’s retreating French army, which forced the French to withdraw across the Rhine. It was the culmination of the Austrian plan devised in mid-July to gain local numerical superiority and defeat the two French armies individually to win the 1796 campaign in southern Germany.

News of Archduke Charles’s victory over General Jean-Baptiste Jourdan at Würzburg on 3 September had prompted Moreau to abandon his offensive in southern Germany against the Austrian Feldmarschalleutnant Maximillian Graf Baillet von Latour and retreat back up the Danube valley to the Rhine bridges. He defeated Latour at Biberach on 2 October and withdrew down the Höllental between the Black Forest and the Swiss border over 13-15 October, while General Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr’s troops on his left secured Freiburg. After his victory at Altenkirchen on 19 September, Charles had marched south up the Rhine valley with 16,000 troops to join Latour and attempt to defeat Moreau. Charles had committed 8,000 troops to besieging the Kehl Rhine bridgehead opposite Strasbourg, so Moreau, with 16,000 troops massed at Freiburg with his advance guard holding Waldkirch (just southeast of Emmendingen), decided to reopen his communications with Kehl. On 17 October Charles secured Kintzingen, while from the east Feldmarschalleutnant Friedrich Graf Nauendorff (Latour’s advance guard) had reached Schweighausen, but there was little fighting the next day, while Latour joined the archduke.

Both commanders decided to attack on 19 October, but Charles struck first: Feldmarschalleutnant Karl Alois Fürst von Fürstenburg held Kintzingen in the northwest with 4,000 men; Nauendorff with 6,000 troops headed for Waldkirch from the northeast; Feldzeugmeister Wilhelm Graf Wartensleben with 8,500 marched from the north on the Elz Bridge at Emmendingen, alongside Latour with 6,000 men. To the southeast, Generalmajor Franz Freiherr von Fröhlich and Louis-Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé pinned down Moreau’s right wing under General Pietro Maria Ferino in the Stieg valley. St. Cyr’s French division made the main attack on Nauendorff around Bleibach, but the Austrian commander used his hidden detachment at Sieglau to assail St. Cyr’s left and forced the French back through Waldkirch. Wartensleben fought his way into Emmendingen and by nightfall had reached the Elz Bridge, which had been broken by the retreating French. In the meantime, Latour crossed the Elz and reached Denzlingen village. As night fell, Moreau withdrew to a position north of Minburg between Riegel and the Gundelfingen forest to the southeast. Charles renewed the general assault the next day: Wartensleben’s and Nauendorff’s columns drove the French from Langendenzlingen and the Gundelfingen forest, while after four attacks, Latour crossed the Resiam, and Fürstenburg took Riegel.

Moreau’s left wing under General Louis Desaix crossed the Rhine at Breisach the next day, and after a further clash at Schliengen on 24 October, the main French army fell back across the Hüningen Bridge near Basle two days later.

References and further reading Charles, Archduke. 1814. Grundsätze der höheren Kriegskunst. 2 vols. Vienna: Strauss. Volume 2 translated by George Nafziger as Archduke Charles’s 1796 Campaign in Germany (Westchester, NY: Self-published). Phipps, Ramsay Weston. 1980. The Armies of the First French Republic. Vol. 2, The Armées de la Moselle, du Rhin, de Sambre-et-Meuse, de Rhin-et-Moselle. London: Greenwood. (Orig. pub. 1926-1939.)


Falklands Sea Kings



Westland, Mitsubishi, and Agusta manufactured over 400 versions of the H-3 under license. Westland installed a pair of Rolls Royce Gnome H. 1400 turboshafts and a Louis Newmark Mk 31 automatic flight control system in the British Sea Kings. The RN initially ordered fifty-six HAS1 Sea Kings, with 700(S) Squadron receiving the first for test and evaluation in August 1969. Testing resulted in the more powerful HAS2, and the HAS5 with a longer cabin to accommodate the Sea Searcher radar. Westland provided the Egyptian Air Force with a twenty-one-seat Sea King utility transport, minus the external floats, called the “Commando.” The British Royal Marines also ordered this version as the HC4, which conducted extensive combat operations in the Falklands War.

Westland also produced a completely self-contained SAR helicopter that carried a crew of four, nine stretchers, a weather/search radar, smoke and flare dispensers, a flight director system with an auto hover mode, and folding blades for shipboard storage. The RAF made use of this version as the HAR Mk3 and the West German Navy as the Mk 41. Westland exported Sea King variants to India, Norway, Belgium, Pakistan, Australia, and Qatar.

On April 2, 1982, Argentinean forces invaded the Falkland Islands, touching off the Falklands War, or the Guerro Pour Los Malvinas, which lasted until June 20. Both countries possessed many of the same type of helicopters, but, despite the loss of most of their helicopters when an Exocet missile slammed into the container ship Atlantic Conveyor, the British helicopters and crews proved much more effective than the Argentineans. Operating in immoderate weather conditions, the UK machines accomplished extraordinary rescues and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. When two Wessex HU5s crashed on Fortuna Glacier, another Wessex crew, contending with 90-mph winds and blinding snow, rescued both downed crews. During the short war, Wessex and Sea King helicopters plucked several downed aircrews from the icy waters off the Falklands, in both plane guard and SAR roles. In their baptism of fire, 20 naval Lynxes, armed with Mk 44, Mk 66, or Stingray torpedoes, or four BEA Sea Skua ASMs, scored 100 percent accuracy in the antisurface role. The Lynx HAS 2 was faster and more agile than previous British ASW helicopters and carried an updated Sea Spray search/targeting radar to locate enemy shipping and the 600-mph Sea Skua, designed to attack vessels moving at up to 50 knots. Army Lynxes, and the Chinook saved from the fire-ravaged Atlantic Conveyor, performed more than credible service in transporting troops and supplies throughout the campaign.
A number of Sea Kings were deployed during the Falklands War. They were transported to the combat zone and operated from the decks of various ships of the Royal Navy, such as the landing platform dock HMS Fearless. In the theatre, they performed a wide range of missions, from anti-submarine patrols and reconnaissance flights to replenishment operations and the insertion of special forces. Support provided by the Sea Kings in the form of transport for men and supplies has been viewed as vital to the success of the British operation. Sea Kings also protected the fleet by acting as decoys against incoming Exocet missiles, with some missions being flown by Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Anti-Submarine Sea Kings of 820 Naval Air Squadron were embarked in HMS Invincible. With 11 HAS.5s, the squadron operated anti-submarine and search and rescue sorties with one helicopter always airborne on surface search duties. On 14 June, an 820 NAS Sea King HAS.5 was used to transport Major General Jeremy Moore to Port Stanley to accept the surrender of Argentine troops on the island. The squadron flew 1,650 sorties during the war. A Flight of 824 Naval Air Squadron embarked two Sea King HAS.2As aboard RFA Olmeda and were used to move supplies to other ships on the way south and later anti-submarine patrols. C Flight had three Sea King HAS.2As on board RFA Fort Grange which were used for replenishment duties, supplying over 2,000 tons of stores.
825 Naval Air Squadron was formed for the war with 10 Sea King HAS.2s modified as utility variants to support ground forces. The anti-submarine equipment was removed and the helicopters fitted with troop seats. Two aircraft embarked in Queen Elizabeth 2 and were later used for moving troops from QE2 to other ships, the remainder embarked in Atlantic Causeway and were used for troop movements around the islands. Embarked in HMS Hermes was 826 Naval Air Squadron with nine HAS.5s, which carried out continuous anti-submarine sorties. From the departure of Hermes from Ascension in April until the Argentine surrender, the squadron operated at least three helicopters airborne continuously for fleet protection.

On 23 April 1982, a Sea King HC4 was ditched while performing a risky transfer of supplies to a ship at night, operating from the flagship HMS Hermes. On 12 May, a Sea King operating from Hermes crashed into the sea due to an altimeter problem; all crew were rescued. On 19 May 1982 a Sea King, in the process of transporting SAS troops to HMS Intrepid from Hermes, crashed into the sea while attempting to land on Intrepid. Twenty-two men were killed and nine survived. Bird feathers were found in the debris, suggesting a bird strike, although the accident’s cause is inconclusive. The SAS lost 18 men in the crash, their highest number of casualties on one day since the Second World War. The Royal Signals lost one man and the RAF one man.

Both the British and Argentinean military lost helicopters during the war, in combat and operational accidents. Ground fire shot down British Sea Kings and Argentinean Pumas, and both sides lost helicopters when ships on which they were based sank as a result of naval combat. Argentine Pucara ground attack aircraft shot down a couple of Gazelles, killing the crews, and a friendly fire incident, when HMS Cardiff mistakenly shot down another Gazelle with a Sea Dart, cost the United Kingdom another aircraft and crew. British Sea Harriers shot down at least three Argentinean Pumas and destroyed two others plus an Agusta 109 on the ground. By the end of the conflict British forces had captured nine Bell UH-1H Hueys, two 212s, and several Pumas left on the islands.



The problem was that Curtis LeMay had become an altered man. The young colonel who had been so open-minded and keen to learn that he had risked personal humiliation by convening all-ranks, freewheeling criticism sessions in the mess hall after a raid on Nazi-occupied Europe had become the four-star general who was no longer willing to hear anything that did not fit his preconceptions. He was the classic example of a man made arrogant by power. Years of commanding with unchallenged authority had rendered him rigid. He had become a figure of obsessions and had lost his sense of proportion. His former restraint had also been replaced by a quick temper, a short fuse as it was called in the military, which further inhibited his ability to listen.

The change was conspicuously apparent in his correspondence with Nathan Twining in the mid-1950s. Formed as he was by the gruesome, no-quarter-given air battles with the Luftwaffe in 1943, he was fixated in the belief that the Soviets were also going to build an air force powerful enough to challenge his SAC in a similar death struggle for supremacy of the skies. He had such profound and unquestioning faith in the bomber that he could not imagine someone else might resort to an alternative weapon to rain nuclear fire on an opponent. The fixation resonated in a March 21, 1955, memorandum to Twining and in a covering letter of the same date. Both assessed with uninhibited criticism a plan by Twining’s headquarters that laid out a proposed structure for the Air Force through 1965. “Before 1965 Soviet Forces will probably attain a delivery capability and a [nuclear] stockpile of sufficient size and configuration to completely destroy any selected target system within the U.S.,” LeMay stated on the opening page of his memorandum. Some of this “delivery capability,” he conceded, may consist of future Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, but he was convinced that the predominant element would be intercontinental bombers. (The prototype of the first strategic bomber of original Soviet design, not a copy of the B-29, had been detected in 1954. It was the Miasishchev Mia-4, dubbed the Bison by NATO intelligence, with swept-back wings and four jet engines.)

Therefore, he emphasized again and again in the memorandum and in the covering letter, the Air Force had to structure itself so that its “primary objective … should be to win the battle against Soviet Air Power.” This meant a bigger and better SAC because “the bomber airplane is the best delivery vehicle” to triumph in this “battle against Soviet Air Power,” a phrase he repeated constantly. He asserted that his bombers would catch the Russian planes on the ground and destroy them and their bases as well as the industries that produced them. He wanted 1,440 of the new B-52s by 1965. To keep this bomber fleet aloft with midair refueling, he asked for 1,140 of the forthcoming Boeing KC-135 four-engine jet tankers, which were to replace the propeller-driven KC-97s. (The KC-135, ample-bodied to carry as much aviation fuel as possible, initiated one of the most spectacularly successful commercial spinoffs from military hardware. The entrepreneurs in Seattle saw in its dimensions a passenger jet and with the installation of seats and other civilian accoutrements it became the famous Boeing 707 jetliner, over a thousand of which were sold to American and foreign airlines. The plane transformed international air travel.) With the cost of this stupendous bomber and tanker fleet in mind, he objected to the number of jet fighter-bombers and air superiority fighters the Air Force planned to buy to fulfill the Tactical Air Command’s mission of providing close air support over a battlefield for Army ground troops. Assisting the Army was not a mission that interested LeMay. He even argued that the bomber was the best weapon to neutralize any ICBMs the Soviets might field by 1965 because of its ability “to destroy their launching sites as a matter of high priority.” (Since it would take hours for SAC’s bombers to reach the launching sites and only half an hour for a Soviet ICBM to reach its target in the United States, the logic of bombing empty launching sites hardly seems to follow.)

LeMay’s attachment to the bomber and his fixation on winning the air battle he anticipated with a Soviet version of SAC led him to what was perhaps his most astonishing proposal to Twining. He wanted to abolish conventional armaments and go entirely nuclear. “Atomic and thermonuclear weapons have made conventional weapons obsolete, and the United States should cease stockpiling of conventional weapons,” he wrote. “The expense of developing and maintaining a limited conventional capability in the face of the critical need for skilled personnel and resources to man and equip strategic units can no longer be justified.” He proposed henceforth to use only nuclear weapons in wars both big and small. In other words, it was just as appropriate to let fly with nuclear weapons in a small-scale war like the recent conflict in Korea as it was in a full-scale one with the Soviets. “The distinction between localized and general war is political rather than military,” he said, and the United States should “always use the best weapons available in either general or limited war.”

There was a further advantage to moving straight to nuclear weapons in small wars, he maintained. They would bring quick victory and, apparently with the example of Korea in mind, avoid having the war drag out and public opinion turn against it. Therefore, “to insure the favorable outcome of a localized war in a short period of time, it was necessary that any political or psychological restraint in employing atomic weapons be erased.” Precisely what Twining thought of LeMay’s proposal is unknown and there is no record of a reply in the correspondence. Presumably he understood, as the changed LeMay did not, that for the U.S. Air Force to publicly advocate something like this would set off a political firestorm at home and abroad of nuclear dimensions.

His memory of those terrifying skies over Germany was also the root cause of LeMay’s most striking loss of a sense of proportion—his unquenchable desire for more and more megatons of nuclear explosive to drop on his Soviet opponents and more and more bombers with which to loose it. (A megaton is the equivalent of a million tons of TNT.) He feared that when war came, unnerved crews would not strike with the accuracy they attained in practice exercises in peacetime. Some planes would also not find their targets because of navigational errors, others would be shot down, still others would turn back because of mechanical failures. The answer was to make up for these errors and omissions with bigger and bigger bombs and enough planes to double and triple the number of strikes programmed for a single target.

He was extremely pleased in late 1954 to get the first practical hydrogen bomb, designated the Mark 17, a “weaponized” version of a dry thermonuclear device, fueled by lithium deuteride, which the Los Alamos laboratory had set off at Bikini Atoll earlier that year in a test called Romeo. This first “droppable” H-bomb weighed 42,000 pounds, which meant that only a B-36 in the current SAC fleet could carry it, but it exploded with a doomsday blast of eleven megatons, the equivalent of 524 Nagasaki, first-generation plutonium bombs, and 880 times the force of the smaller atomic bomb that had devastated Hiroshima. LeMay began pressing right away for lighter hydrogen bombs of equal or greater megatonnage. With them he wanted to turn his B-47s, which had a 25,000-pound payload, into thermonuclear bombers and fit more than one hydrogen bomb into the new B-52, with its 43,000-pound capacity (soon increased to 50,000), in order to obliterate multiple targets. When the Mark 21 hydrogen bomb, which weighed 15,000 pounds and yielded 4.5 megatons, appeared in 1955, he immediately mated it to the B-52 as the central component of SAC’s striking power for the next couple of years. The Mark 21’s “bang” did not satisfy LeMay, however, and so he pressed for an upgrade. This was to be the Mark 36, which would be produced the following year. It was somewhat heavier than the Mark 21 at 17,500 pounds, but yielded more than twice the force when it exploded.

In another memorandum to Twining that November of 1955, LeMay raised the ante on bombers. He now said he needed approximately 1,900 B-52s and some 1,300 KC-135 jet tankers to midair refuel these bombers by 1963. (Eisenhower was eventually to cap B-52 production at 744 aircraft by the fall of 1962, a decision the Kennedy administration was to uphold, with the comment: “I don’t know how many times you can kill a man, but about three should be enough.”) Nor did LeMay succeed in persuading the Eisenhower administration to build an H-bomb, except for the original Mark 17, beyond ten megatons, but not for lack of trying. In 1953, he asked the Nuclear Weapons Panel of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to look into the feasibility of a hydrogen bomb of twenty megatons or greater, an idea Eisenhower is said to have vetoed as beyond common sense. The massive megatonnage and the doubling and tripling on targets was to lead to fantastic overkill. SAC was to end up programming for Moscow alone more than twenty-five megatons. Pressure from LeMay was to be the major impetus in driving the yield of the American stockpile of nuclear warheads up to the record 20,491 megatons peak it was to reach in 1960, enough to provide each of the approximately 180 million inhabitants of the United States at the time with bomb material equivalent in explosive force to 110 tons of TNT.

While LeMay wished to be absolutely certain that enough planes got through with enough big bombs to “kill” every target on his list, it is clear from his correspondence and statements over the years that he also simply wanted to blast the Soviet Union, and any targets he thought worthy of his attention in Eastern Europe and China, with as much explosive force as he could muster. He apparently did not understand how different in nature nuclear weapons were from the conventional explosives he had dropped on Nazi-occupied Europe. He seems to have thought of hydrogen bombs essentially as just vastly more powerful bombs. He had a pitiless, smug vision of what he was going to do to the peoples of the Soviet Union with them, a vision he described in a lecture to the National War College in April 1956:

Let us assume the order had been received this morning to unleash the full weight of our nuclear force. (I hope, of course, this will never happen.) Between sunset tonight and sunrise tomorrow morning the Soviet Union would likely cease to be a major military power or even a major nation.… Dawn might break over a nation infinitely poorer than China—less populated than the United States and condemned to an agrarian existence perhaps for generations to come.

What LeMay did not realize was that if he ever launched the war for which he had prepared, the result would be national suicide. It would hardly matter should the Soviet Union fail to strike the United States with a single nuclear bomb. If he dropped all of this megatonnage on the Soviets, the American people would perish too. And he would also be condemning to an agonizing perdition the peoples of Canada, Europe, and most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere through the Middle East and Asia. The puny, by comparison, bombs that had shocked the world in demolishing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been fused to burst in the air. (The Little Boy Uranium-235 bomb dropped on Hiroshima had been detonated at 1,900 feet above the courtyard of one of the city’s hospitals.) The air burst technique had been deliberate in order to focus the maximum pressure and heat of the bomb’s blast on the buildings and people below, obliterating both in an instant. While there was extensive radiation, it did not extend far beyond the area covered by the blast, because comparatively little dirt and debris was blown up into the atmosphere.

LeMay, however, as he wrote to Twining, was going to fuse a lot of his monster bombs for ground or near-ground bursts to be certain of crushing underground bunkers and so-called hardened targets, such as concrete revetments with thick overhead cover used to protect aircraft. These ground-level bursts would hurl massive amounts of irradiated soil and the pulverized remains of masonry and concrete structures high into the upper atmosphere. The clouds of poisoned soil and debris would spread as they were carried around the earth by the upper atmospheric winds. One result would be a nuclear winter, a catastrophic change in climate of unknown duration, with frigid temperatures at the height of summer, because the dirt in the upper atmosphere would block out the sun’s rays. Agriculture, on which human beings depend for sustenance, would become impossible. Most animal and bird life would be extinguished because the plants, shrubs, and trees on which so many of these creatures depend would also die from the cold and lack of sunlight, without which plants cannot perform the photosynthesis process that nourishes them. And as precipitation brought down the irradiated particles, humans and animals and birds would be stricken with fatal radiation sickness. The water resources would be contaminated too as this deadly residue from LeMay’s thermonuclear devices was gradually absorbed into them. Civilization as we know it in the Northern Hemisphere would cease to exist.

To give the man his due, he created a force that posed a formidable deterrent to Soviet military adventurism in Western Europe, had the Soviet dictator been so inclined. That Stalin had no intention of launching such adventures, as was revealed with the opening of the Soviet Union’s archives after its collapse in 1991, did not negate the fact that the threat was perceived as real by Americans in the early 1950s. And the promise of overwhelming retaliation from SAC undoubtedly kept Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, from being more rash than he was. LeMay’s deterrence mission was thus a legitimate one, given the thinking of the period. Although he would later express regret that the United States missed an opportunity in the early 1950s to unleash SAC and destroy the Soviet Union at what he believed would have been little or no cost to itself, there is no evidence that LeMay actively sought to provoke what was referred to at the time as “preventive war.”


Dutch versus Spain/Portugal–the Colonial War

The Dutch were particularly fond of privateers. Piet Heyn amazingly captured the whole of the Spanish treasure fleet – complete with gold and silver booty from its American colonies – during the Battle in the Bay of Matanzas in September 1628. Heyn became a folk hero and part of a Golden Age of Dutch enterprise, which saw an expanding commercial empire buoyed by the maritime prowess of its sailors. Simultaneously, however, the Dutch were quick to punish piracy. Without sanction, and an agreed fee to the Crown, pirates would be executed.

When the Catalans continued their protests that by April 1640 had turned into armed resistance against the troops there to defend them. The troops were merely the focus of much deeper popular discontent at years of corrupt administration. The famed liberties were mainly restricted to the aristocracy that dominated the kingdom’s assembly (the Corts) and manipulated their privileges for their own ends. The right to bear arms, for example, was used to cloak widespread banditry as lords sponsored gangs to pursue feuds with their neighbours. ‘A mafia-type regime prevailed in parts of Catalonia, sustained by violence and extortion.’ Under these conditions, the protesters did not see their actions as disobedience but as an attempt to draw Philip IV’s attention to their plight.

Peasants armed with scythes entered Barcelona on 22 May 1640 and opened the jail. Alarmed, the viceroy cancelled the Corpus Christi procession scheduled for 7 June. Around 2,000 ‘reapers’ (segadors) protested anyway, triggering four days of rioting. The viceroy and a leading judge were murdered, while other officials fled or went into hiding. Madrid and the provincial authorities blamed each other for the disorder that now spread across the kingdom.

The insurrection threatened the aristocracy’s privileges, but these would also be curtailed if Philip IV were to crush the revolt. The aristocrats sought another way out, opening negotiations with France, and agreeing on 29 September to open the ports to French ships and maintain the 3,000 auxiliaries despatched by Richelieu to assist them. Olivares believed he was facing a second Dutch Revolt and summoned an emergency levy of men across the loyal provinces. The marquis de los Vélez was sworn in as the new viceroy at the head of 20,000 men in southern Catalonia on 23 November. He retook Tortosa and the important port of Tarragona, which was also the seat of the archbishop of Catalonia.

Richelieu initially regarded the revolt as a welcome diversion from the crisis in Italy as the siege of Turin reached its climax. He was prepared to recognize Catalonia as an aristocratic republic that could serve as a useful buffer between France and Spain. The deteriorating situation following Los Vélez’s advance forced him to despatch another 13,000 men to reinforce the rebels. The royalists reached Barcelona at the end of December. Their appearance compromised the provincial government that was accused of failing to defend the kingdom. Following the murders of five more judges, the survivors placed themselves under French protection on 23 January 1641, accepting Louis XIII as ‘count of Barcelona’ and effectively ceding Roussillon. Three days later, the combined Franco-Catalan army defeated Los Vélez on Montjuic hill outside the city.

The rebels had passed the point of no return, but ‘acquired the burden of power without any of the fruits’. Half the French effort was directed at conquering Roussillon where Spain still held Perpignan and other key fortresses. Only half the army was sent into Catalonia where fighting concentrated around Lérida (Lleida) to the west of Barcelona, the town that commanded the main road from Castile into the kingdom.

The Catalans were joined from December 1640 by the Portuguese, opening a new Iberian front to the west. The Portuguese had contributed a comparatively modest 1 million cruzados to Spain’s war effort after 1619. Madrid’s demand for 3 million in 1634 struck them as completely unreasonable. Tax revolts erupted in three of the kingdom’s provinces during 1637 just as key parts of the Portuguese empire were lost to the Dutch as well. These problems stirred the latent resentment at the loss of independence. Olivares’ suppression of the Council of Portugal in 1638 did nothing to help this. Anti-Hispanicism mixed with anti-Semitism as Lisbon Jews and Conversos were integrated into Spain’s financial system after 1627 to take up the slack left by the inability of Genoese bankers to manage the burgeoning debt. Anti-Semitism encouraged popular and clerical support for the break with Spain. The yearning for independence was expressed as the Sebastian myth – that the country’s last native king who ‘disappeared’ at the battle of Alcazarquivir (al-Qasr el-Kabir) in Morocco in 1578 would eventually return. Unlike in Bohemia or Catalonia, the presence of the native Braganza dynasty offered a powerful focus for the coming revolt.

Its trigger was the demand in June 1640 for 6,000 Portuguese troops to assist in crushing the Catalonians. Portuguese malcontents stormed the Lisbon palace of the vicereine, Margarita of Savoy, and threw her adviser, Miguel de Vasconcellos, out of the window in the Bohemian fashion on 1 December. The vicereine was bundled over the frontier and Spanish resistance collapsed. Apart from Ceuta in North Africa, the Portuguese colonial empire recognized the new regime in 1641.

The ensuing conflict is known in Portuguese history as the War of Restoration (1640–68). Left largely alone, the Portuguese were able to improvise an army almost from scratch and launch an offensive into Spain in June 1641. Pope Urban received their ambassador, implying recognition, in 1642, while the English agreed an alliance that was later (1660) renewed with the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II, the match that saw Bombay and, briefly, Tangiers pass to English rule. However, fighting remained limited until the 1650s because Olivares concentrated on combating the Catalan revolt, since this provided an open door to French invasion. The Portuguese opposed Spanish rule, but they still shared a common enemy in the Dutch who continued their conquests in the Portuguese colonies.

The general sense of failure was magnified by bad news from the Indies, the region that had come to symbolize Iberian wealth and power. The Portuguese held on to Goa and Mozambique, but were expelled from Japan by local opposition in 1639. A protracted struggle with the king of Kandy for control of Sri Lanka opened the island to the Dutch who joined the local campaign to eject the Portuguese after 1636. The conflict drained the resources of the Estado da India, undermining resistance elsewhere to the Dutch who had captured most of the Indonesian spice islands by 1641.

The situation in the West Indies was equally bleak. Using the Matanzas loot, the Dutch West India Company fitted out 67 ships, with 1,170 guns and carrying 7,280 men under Admiral Hendrik Loncq. This was twice the manpower and three times the number of ships deployed to defend Portuguese Brazil. Loncq captured Olinde and Recife, the principal ports of Pernambuco in February 1630. Olivares despatched Spain’s senior admiral, Antonio Oquendo, with 56 ships and 2,000 soldiers to retake the towns before the Dutch could penetrate the sugar-producing hinterland. Oquendo eventually defeated the Dutch off Abrolhos in September 1631. Battered and with no harbour in which to refit his ships, Oquendo was obliged to return to Lisbon. The Dutch extended their positions, occupying the Guianan coast between the Amazon and modern Venezuela. The subsequent capture of Curaçao island in 1634 secured the local salt trade, vital to the Dutch herring industry.

A second relief effort in 1635 similarly failed to dislodge the Dutch, in stark contrast to the successful expedition a decade before. The Brazilian planters realized they would have to collaborate with the occupiers to safeguard their incomes. Portuguese control in Brazil shrank dramatically after the arrival of the energetic Prince of Nassau-Siegen as Dutch governor in January 1637. He won local support by allowing Catholic convents and monasteries to remain open, conducted the first scientific survey of the area and extended Dutch control to 1,800km of the coast by 1641 with a force of only 3,600 Europeans and 1,000 Indians. Two further Portuguese expeditions were repulsed in 1638 and 1640. Meanwhile, the Dutch capture of Elmina on Africa’s Gold Coast in 1637 gave them Portugal’s main slaving base. The Dutch exploited Portugal’s difficulties with Queen Njinga to take Luanda and other positions in Angola by 1641. Axim, the last Portuguese fort on the Gold Coast, fell the following year. Dutch slavers had shipped 30,000 Africans to Brazil by 1654. Dutch sugar exports to Europe between 1637 and 1644 already totalled 7.7 million florins, while other colonial produce worth 20.3 million was shipped over the same period.

Spain’s transatlantic trade collapsed in 1638–41. No treasure reached Seville in 1640. The Tierra Firme fleet brought only half a million ducats the following year, while the New Spain fleet sailed too late in the season and was hit by a hurricane as it left the Bahama Channel. Ten ships went down with 1.8 million ducats. The gross tonnage crossing the Atlantic by the later 1640s was nearly 60 per cent below that during the Twelve Years Truce. Silver continued to get through, but little more than 40 per cent of that produced in the New World was officially declared in Seville, while crown receipts were less than half those of the 1630s. Part of the decline was due to the increased cost of colonial defence, but much disappeared through fraud and the fact that the war forced the colonies to become more self-sufficient and develop their own trade outside the official system.