Leopard 2

The original Leopard 2A1 (right) and highly modernized 2A6 (left). The substantial modifications and enhancements to the AOA package are evident.

Schematics showing protection offered over surfaces of the Leopard 2A4

The Leopard 2 is a German MBT designed by Krauss-Maffei throughout the 1970s as a successor to the earlier Leopard 1 MBT. Entering service with the West German army in 1979 the Leopard 2 had received numerous modernization upgrades since then. With Germany and the Netherlands as the major operators of the vehicle, and with a number of other NATO nations also receiving orders, a total of approximately 3500 vehicles were built. The latest common configuration, the Leopard 2A6, was built at a unit cost of US$5.74 million in 2007 funds. Following the cold war Germany sold most of their Leopard 2s to various allies, including Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. The Leopard 2 is considered to be one of the premier MBTs in operation today.

The Leopard 2 MBT is a 137,000 pound (62.3 tonne) vehicle that is approximately 33 feet (10 meters) long with the main weapon oriented in a forward direction, 12.25 feet (3.75 meters) wide and 10 feet (3 meters) in height to the top of the turret roof. The vehicle is operated by a crew of 4, consisting of a driver, loader, gunner and commander. The crew layout is traditional, with the driver located at the front center toward the right hand side and the others located within the turret. The main weapon of the Leopard 2A6 is the 120 mm Rheinmetall L/55 smoothbore gun.

The vehicle is powered by a 1500 hp MTU MB 873 liquid-cooled V-12 twin-turbo diesel engine. A HSWL 354 transmission provides four forward gears and 2 reverse gears and the vehicle is equipped with torsion bar suspension and advanced friction dampers. Seven dual rubber tire road wheels and four return rollers provide the vehicle running gear on each side, with a forward idler wheel and a rear drive sprocket. The vehicle is able to attain speeds of 45 mph (70 km/h), is able to drive through water 13 feet (4 meter) deep without alteration through use of a snorkel, can climb 3 ft (1 meter) high vertical obstacles, and travel 340 miles (540 km) with the 317 gallons (1200 litres) of internally stored fuel. With a design emphasis on mobility the Leopard 2 is regarded as without competition in regards to speed and cross-country capability.

Most fielded Leopard 2s have been upgraded from the earlier Leopard 2A1, 2A2 and 2A3 versions to either the Leopard 2A4 or 2A5 designation, with principle modifications being to the weapon, firing control system and armor package. The latest fielded version is the Leopard 2A6. A Leopard 2A7+ configuration has also been developed but this involves only minor sub-system upgrades compared to the 2A6 version. The 2A7 package can be selected by customers as a future optional upgrade.

The primary weapon of the Leopard 2 MBT is the 120 mm Rheinmetall smoothbore gun. Developed by the Germans and recognized and one of the premium guns of its class in the world this weapon is built under license by many other NATO and allied nations for their own MBTs, including the M1 Abrams. The Leopard 2A1 had the 120 mm L/44 installed while later configurations were provided with the L/55 version. The ‘L’ designation is for ‘length’ and the numerical value indicates the length of the barrel in proportion to the weapon calibre (diameter) of the barrel. So L/44 is a barrel with a length equal to 44 times the diameter of the gun tube. The L/55 is more than 4 feet longer than the L/44 barrel. As barrel length increases the muzzle velocity of exiting rounds corresponding increases, improving both accuracy (flatter trajectory) and lethality. The significant increase in barrel length of the L/55 versus the L/44.

The 120 mm gun is a fully stabilized weapon in which firing accuracy is facilitated through a fire control computer and laser rangefinder which has an effective range out to 10,000 yards (9000 meters). The fire control system targeting computer calculates the optimum firing position of the gun barrel by evaluating target distance, vehicle tilt angle, ammunition ballistic data, wind speed and vehicle direction and speed with respect to target. The gunner is provided with panoramic periscopes, tower sights and low-lighting enhancing capabilities. The tank has the ability to engage moving targets while moving over rough terrain. The A1 and A2 upgrades involved added thermal sights as replacements for the low-lighting enhancers while the A4 upgrade provided a completely new digitized fire control system. The A5 upgrade provided for all-electric turret controls and a gun braking system which permitted firing of a more powerful APFSDS that was being developed at the time. And the A6 upgraded the existing Rheinmetall L/44 120 mm cannon to the 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun. The gun comes standard with a thermal sleeve, fume extractor and a muzzle reference system.

Primary ammunition for the 120 mm cannon consists of armor piercing and high explosive rounds. The latest rounds are of a 5th Generation configuration. The anti-tank round is the DM63 Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot-Tracer (APFSDS-T), specifically designed for optimized performance in high temperature (i.e., desert) environments. The DM63 replaced the previous DM53 APFSDS-T, which itself replaces the DM33, DM23, and the original DM13 APFSDS-T round. Each evolutionary step of the round tended to increase the length to diameter ratio, thereby improving penetration capability.

The high explosive round is the DM12 High-Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose – Tracer (HEAT-MP-T), which incorporates a programmable fuze to optimize performance against infantry that might be concealed behind buildings or trenches. The fuze permits an air burst mode, effectively converting the DM12 into an artillery shell, permitting directed fragmentation attacks. The round has an effective range of over 5000 yards. For Leopards that have the L/55 cannon but not the upgraded Fire Control System, the DM11 HEAT round is used. The upgraded Leopard 2s can also use the recently developed Penetrator with Enhanced Lateral Effect (PELE), which is an APFSDS-T round with a modified penetrator designed to reduce collateral damage when used on targets in an urban setting. The Leopard is provisioned with 42 rounds of ammunition for the cannon.

The secondary weaponry consists of 7.62 mm MG3A1 machine guns, provided with 4,750 rounds of ammunition. The Leopard 2A7+ vehicle has also been upgraded to provide a FLW200 Remote Control Weapon Station (RCWS), ensuring that the weapon operator is not exposed during firing, as is the case with the roof mounted 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun. The FLW200 can be configured to fire a 50 calibre, 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm machine gun, or a 40 mm grenade launcher, all of which are fully stabilized. The unit is operated by the vehicle commander and targeting is provided through a Charge Couple Device (CCD) day camera and a thermal imager. A laser range finder is also provided to evaluate target distance.

The Leopard 2 MBT is constructed from welded ballistic steel to which supplemental add-on-armor (AOA) modules are added. The AOA consists of a 3rd generation composite solution optimized to defeat shaped charge warheads, as used in HEAT rounds, RPGs and ATGMs. This composite armor consists of a spaced multilayer combination of high-hardness steel, tungsten, ceramic and various elastic polymer components. The original vehicle had a box-like geometry with vertically faced turret and frontal arc armor, much as the Abrams. The vehicle offered protection of the vehicle and its occupants against both large calibre kinetic energy penetrators and shaped charge warheads. The vehicle frontal arc armor is up to 31 inches (780 mm) thick and has been suggested as able to provide protection against a standard Soviet 125 mm APFSDS round at 1500 yards.

The vehicle sides are protected against lesser calibre anti-tank rounds, the vehicle rear is able to defeat heavy machine gun rounds and there are ballistic skirts over the tracks to improve RPG protection. The lower portion of the tank has been configured to offer effective anti-tank mine protection by sloping the floor of the hull near the sides at 45°. The vehicle floor is also reinforced with corrugations which are meant to protect the crew by absorbing blast energy. Additional crew protection is provided by an Active Fire Suppression System (AFSS), nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) over-pressure system and by compartmentalization of the fuel and ammunition from the crew occupied area. Blow-off panels located above the ammunition storage areas are designed to direct outward from the vehicle the energy generated by possible secondary explosives. Smoke grenade launchers are mounted on each side of the turret to provide a smoke screen when required.

With the introduction of the A4/A5 upgrade the vehicle geometry was significantly modified to provide further enhanced protection by angling the armor at high obliquities where practicable. Most notably the turret armor was upgraded with titanium/tungsten modules and the forward turret armor was steeply inclined through the addition of laminated appliqué armor. This “arrowhead” design is meant to improve protection through deflecting incoming rounds by offering a highly oblique strike surface. It also increased the effective thickness of the protection offered in these regions from 31 inches (780 mm) to 59 inches (1500 m) against APFSDS rounds. There is also a significant improvement to the protection provided against sharped charge warheads. Side skirt armor was also further enhanced to protect the uppermost portion of the tracks and the idler wheel while a 25 mm thick spall liner was added to the vehicle interior to reduce the Behind Armor Debris (BAD) spall cone in the event of an overmatch event (i.e., threat penetration occurs).

The A6/A7 upgrade included further improvements to the vehicle armor laminate configuration as well as enhancements to the vehicle underbelly to provide better protection from anti-tank mines and IED threats. This later system is known as the Mine Protection Package, or M-Package. It has a total weight of almost 4000 pounds. As well as adding energy absorbing materials to the floor of the vehicle, the M-Package also replaces the floor mounted driver seat with a suspended system which isolates the driver from floor deformations resulting from an attack. The vehicle also replaces the loader and gunner seats in the turret with upgraded Energy Absorbing (EA) seating. Extensive modifications occur to the lower hull with the M-Package, including a protection plate under the vehicle floor and reinforced torsion bars with cover shields. The vehicles were also configured with mounting arrangements to add ERA modules if deemed necessary for particular combat missions (the extra weight of the ERA reduces mobility, so a trade-off analysis is performed).

There are also a number of urban combat configurations available for the Leopard 2 involving the addition of modular armor over surfaces that were not be regarded as sufficiently protected in a 360 degree threat environment. Composite armor modules can be selectively added along the sides of the turret and hull, and SLAT armor can be added to enhance RPG protection at the rear of the vehicle.

The protection level offered by the A5 configuration is estimated at up to 690 mm RHAe on the turret against kinetic energy penetrators and up to 1000 mm RHAe against shaped charge warheads. Glacis and lower front plate are protected to 600 mm RHAe for kinetic projectiles. For the A6/A7 upgrades, this protection is believed to have been enhanced to up to 940 mm RHAe for the turret and 620 mm RHAe on the glacis and lower front plate for kinetic projectiles. The schematics below provide what are believed to be the protection level offered by surface on the Leopard 2A4 front a frontal and a side perspective.

Leopard 2A4s and 2A5s saw deployment to Kosovo with the German Army as part of KFOR. The Dutch also operated the same vehicles as part of the IFOR forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The vehicles were reported to have operated to expectations, though no direct combat exchanges were experienced during these operations.

More critically, Danish and Canadian Forces deployed Leopard 2s to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) contingents. The Canadian deployment consisted of 20 Leopard 2A6s borrowed from Germany specifically for the mission. In late 2007 one of the Canadian vehicles was struck by an IED during an attack on an enemy position but suffered only minor damage as a result and with no crew being injured. The M-package proved itself successful at protecting both vehicle and crew. In October of the same year the Danish deployed Leopard 2A5s to the region. Early in 2008 a Danish vehicle struck an IED. A track was damaged, but the crew were uninjured and the vehicle was able to return to base unassisted. In July of 2008 however a Danish Leopard 2A5 struck an IED which resulted in the death of the vehicle driver. Essentially no level of armoring of an armored combat vehicle can protect the occupants against truly large threats. As effective as the protection systems are on the Leopard 2 or any other vehicle, weapons can always be contrived to overwhelm and defeat these systems, either through sheer size or volume. The goal of armor is to maximize the challenge to an opponent to produce and field threats able to defeat it, to minimize the opportunities for such threats to be used, and to make the use of such threats highly risky to the attacker.

“War of the Three Jeannes”

The War of Breton Succession, which took place at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, is referred to by Klausmann, Meinzerin, and Kuhn as the “War of the Three Jeannes” due to the women at the center of the action: Jeanne de Montfort, Jeanne de Clisson, and Jeanne de Penthièvre. In particular, two of these Jeannes fought for their family’s right to the throne—by land and by sea. These women proved themselves to be extraordinary fighters who fiercely defended what they felt was theirs. Their lives and legends serve as a bridge, connecting the Viking women who came before them with the Barbary corsairs who followed them.

To fully understand these women, a brief history of the conflict is necessary. Brittany, a province on the west coast of present-day France, was its own state during the Middle Ages, ruled by a duke. Parts of Brittany were loyal to the English while other parts swore allegiance to the French, but the majority of Bretons considered themselves Bretons first and foremost. Their culture, unlike English and French culture, was uniquely and healthily dosed with Celtic and pagan traditions as well as the more modern Christian ones. They were loyal to the Duke of Brittany over the kings of England and France; they would not be united with France until 1532. In short, the duchy was important to the Bretons, and the fight to figure out who had a rightful claim was something over which they were willing to wage a war. Both England and France were invested in the outcome, given that the Breton duke usually made alliances with one country or the other. As the Hundred Years’ War started, both sides knew that Brittany could be a powerful ally in their struggle.

John III was Duke of Brittany in 1341 and died childless. Originally, he had named as his successor Jeanne (or Joan) de Penthièvre, his niece. Joan was married to a powerful nobleman, Charles de Blois, who was related to the French king, Philip VI. Unsurprisingly, the French backed Joan’s (and Charles’s) claim to the duchy. However, before John III died, he reconciled with his long-estranged stepfamily and named a new heir, his half brother John de Montfort. John was the English choice for the duchy. These two houses—House of Blois and House of Montfort—both felt that they had the right to the throne, and both were prepared to fight for it.

John de Montfort’s biggest asset in this fight was his wife, Jeanne de Montfort. She is also known as Joanna of Flanders, due to her Flemish parentage (her brother was the Count of Flanders). She married John de Montfort in 1329, and the couple had two children together. Much of what is known about her originates from medieval French author Jean Froissart, whose Chronicles are important texts in medieval history. He had only good things to say about Jeanne, claiming that she had “the courage of a man and the heart of a lion.” Other sources have said that her story may have inspired another famous Jeanne: Jeanne d’Arc.

Despite all of Froissart’s coverage, there are still gaps in history’s knowledge of Jeanne de Montfort. Froissart is happy to educate the reader on Montfort the soldier and warrior but is mum on the details of Montfort the woman. It is not certain, for example, what her relationship with her husband was like. Did she pursue the duchy so fervently out of love, or out of a desire for power? Although there is more historical documentation around de Montfort than there is for many of the other women pirates, there are still many things a reader might want to know. Froissart’s records, although sympathetic to de Montfort, do leave out many things that would enrich the story.

When the duchy came up for grabs in 1341, de Montfort and his wife knew that the French would most likely side with the House of Blois, given that the French king was a cousin of Charles de Blois. They therefore decided to get a jump on the competition and start ruling right away as if John were already the duke. The de Montforts went to Nantes, the Breton capital, and gained a fair amount of fans among the people of Brittany. It seems that if there had been a popular vote, the de Montforts would have had the duchy sewn up. However, it was a matter to be decided not by the people but by the Court of Peers in Paris.

John de Montfort was summoned to Paris to appear before King Philip. On his way, he traveled to England to pay homage to the English king, Edward III. Once de Montfort arrived in Paris, Philip was unimpressed with the argument that he was nearest of kin to the late Duke of Brittany and thus had the stronger claim. The French king called for the Peers to hear and judge both claims, and he forbade de Montfort from leaving Paris until after the hearing. John was no fool. He knew that there was little chance the Peers would vote for him and that if he stuck around, imprisonment or worse was likely, so he took off in the night and returned to Nantes and his wife.

And who was his rival, this Charles de Blois? Reports of his character are conflicting, with some of them declaring him a saint, while others paint him as a sadist and extremist. He was said to hear Mass several times a day, put pebbles in his shoes, and beat himself black and blue while praying. He was actually canonized as a saint, but his sainthood was revoked in the late 1300s and not restored until 1904. Despite his piety, he was known for his cruelty and brutality in battle. No matter his personal inclinations, his wife’s connection to the late duke and his own connections to the French throne made him a powerful contender for the duchy.

In September 1341 the Peers declared the House of Blois as the rightful heirs to the duchy, as John de Montfort had predicted they would. De Blois marched to Nantes and captured Montfort, imprisoning him in a tower at the Louvre in Paris. De Blois probably thought that with his rival in prison, his claim to the throne was secure and his troubles were over. What he had not counted on was his rival’s wife, who was not about to be put out of the fight just because her husband was in jail. No, Jeanne de Montfort would not back down from her family’s claim, even if she had to do all the fighting by herself.

One can imagine the scene when Jeanne received the report that her husband had been captured. How would she have received the news? Perhaps she felt shocked at first and needed a moment to let the information sink in. This was not a scenario the couple had planned for. What was going to happen now? Would de Blois come for her and her children? Jeanne would have been aware of de Blois’s reputation and could only imagine what awful fates he had planned for her and her young daughter and son.

Someone, either a friend and advisor or Jeanne herself, came up with the plan to claim the duchy in her son’s name. As long as her male child was alive, the House of Montfort still had a chance. Jeanne had to finish the fight her husband had started if she had any hope of seeing him again.

According to Pierce Butler, Jeanne gathered her remaining loyal friends and soldiers and showed them her little boy, named John after his father. She exhorted the crowd, “Ah! sirs, be not cast down because of my lord, whom we have lost: he was but one man. See here my little child, who shall be, by the grace of God, his restorer.” She promised them riches aplenty if they would remain with her. Jeanne took this show on the road, traveling from garrison to garrison and giving out cash and weapons wherever she went to ensure that everyone was happy, well paid, and above all, loyal to her family. After she had secured her troops, she took her family to the fortress of Hennebont. She would await de Blois’s attack from there.

It is Jeanne’s conduct during the siege of Hennebont, more than any other episode in her history, that endears her to readers. When de Blois and his men arrived, Jeanne herself donned protective gear and rode on horseback all over town, exhorting people to fight bravely with everything they had. She had a special command just for women—to tear up their skirts, pull up cobblestones from the streets, and chuck them at the attackers . . . and if they happened to have some spare pots of quicklime, pour that on them too. From a tall tower, she watched the enemy’s camp. When de Blois’s men had all ridden out into the fields to ready for the assault, leaving the camp empty except for a few young boys, she made her move. She herself rode out, along with about three hundred of her men, and set the whole camp on fire. Her attack destroyed much of the enemy’s provisions, as well as their living quarters. As de Blois’s men ran back from the fields, furious, Jeanne and her men snuck away to a nearby castle and sought shelter there until they could return home safely. This daring and effective plan by Jeanne earned her the nickname “La Flamme”—French for “the flame.”

Being taken by surprise by this upstart woman enraged de Blois, and he redoubled his efforts to take Hennebont, but his band of men continued to suffer heavy losses every time they engaged with de Montfort’s forces. It seems that, army for army, he was not going to capture this prospective duchess at Hennebont. He took a large portion of his men and set his sights on taking nearby Auray instead. The forces he left behind to torment Hennebont did a much better job than de Blois himself had done, and many of Jeanne’s advisors urged her to surrender. She refused, insisting that the English forces she had sent for long ago would finally arrive and rescue them. Some accounts claim she prayed to the lords of Brittany that they stand by her and send English help within three days. Once she declared that England was coming, she would not budge despite constant pressure, and she remained posted at the window looking out to sea. On the second day, she spotted the English ships and cried out, “I see the succors of England coming.” English forces had indeed come to offer backup, although they had been long delayed due to bad weather.

Despite Sir Walter Manny’s arrival and assistance, Jeanne and her troops were losing ground against de Blois and his men. They held onto Hennebont but lost Auray, Dinan, and other cities. She knew that she would not last much longer at this rate and she had to appeal to a higher power—the king of England, Edward III. She sailed to England to make her plea in person.

Eventually, Edward granted her request, and she sailed back toward home with a fleet of ships commanded by Robert d’Artois. Before they could make it back to Brittany, they were attacked by Sir Louis of Spain, who had joined forces with de Blois. Off the English coast, the two fleets fought a fierce naval battle. Reports claim that Jeanne had a small sword that she bravely wielded and fought the Spanish forces hand to hand. After an intense day of fighting, a massive storm came up and blew all the ships in various directions, effectively ending the battle. The French and Spanish ships wound up near the English Channel while Jeanne and her forces landed near Vannes, a once-friendly city that they were able to take back with a small effort. Whether fate, God, or Jeanne’s own superior sailing skills led the English ships to a safe harbor the world will never know. Somehow, Jeanne escaped a mighty naval battle after just one day of fighting and found herself not too far from home, which allowed her to safely return to Hennebont.

In 1345 Jeanne’s husband, John, escaped from the Louvre and obtained a fighting force of his own from Edward III. He returned to Brittany but was killed in battle. It is unknown whether husband and wife ever saw each other again before his death. Now, Jeanne was truly on her own in the fight for the duchy. She continued to fight for nearly twenty years until 1364, when Charles de Blois was killed in the Battle of Auray. Jeanne de Penthièvre was forced to sign away her claim to the duchy and content herself with being Countess of Penthièvre. With the House of Blois out of the way, young John of Montfort was finally awarded the duchy and named the rightful Duke of Brittany, a title that he held until his death and then passed on to his son.

Some accounts say that Jeanne did not get to enjoy her son’s reign, for which she had fought so long and hard. Several stories claim that Jeanne was mentally ill and confined in England to a castle with a caretaker, never to return to Brittany. She probably died in England around 1374. Some suggest that she was not in fact ill but simply a political prisoner of Edward III, who wanted to ensure that Brittany remained an English ally. Although mental illness can afflict anyone at any time of life, it does seem suspicious that a woman who led a successful military campaign for over twenty years and showed no previous signs of illness would suddenly succumb so dramatically that she would require constant care and confinement. It seems more likely that Edward, knowing what the woman was capable of, did not want to leave her (and Brittany’s) loyalty to England to chance. If that is true, Jeanne de Montfort’s story had a remarkably unhappy ending—betrayed by a man who used her for his own political ends under the guise of helping her. Hopefully she took comfort in the knowledge that at least her battle was not in vain. Even though she might not have returned to Brittany herself to see her son on the throne, she could die secure in the knowledge that the man she considered the rightful heir to the duchy, her son John, was ruling Brittany. Against impossible odds, this woman waged a war and came out on top. The Montforts remained in control of the duchy of Brittany until it ceased to exist when Brittany unified with France in 1547.

Despite her possibly ignominious end, Jeanne is fondly remembered in history. Philosopher David Hume called her “the most extraordinary woman of her age.” She is considered the poster child for the fighting woman of France—despite the fact that she fought against the French—and is, as previously mentioned, said to have been an inspiration to Joan of Arc. But was she a pirate? Well, she was definitely a warrior, which is a good start. She also fought battles at sea, including her infamous battle against Sir Louis of Spain, even going so far as to engage in sword combat during the battle. Her true piratical pedigree, however, comes from her “theft” of the duchy from the House of Blois, the official pick of Paris. With her cunning maneuver at Hennebont (which recalls the cleverness of Artemisia’s sacking of Latmus), she managed to steal the duchy from de Blois’s grasp, and that makes her a pirate—not a textbook example of a perfect pirate, to be sure, but clearly worthy to stand up among her sisters in the pirate pantheon.

Jeanne de Clisson was born Jeanne de Belleville in Belleville-sur-Vie, a castle and fortress on the western coast of France. Her parents were wealthy nobles, and she most likely enjoyed a bucolic childhood on the grounds of the castle, which she would eventually inherit. She was called “one of the most beautiful women of her day” by historian Richard Bentley. Her childhood did not last long, however, as she was married off at age twelve to a Breton nobleman. The couple had two children together before he died in 1326.

Jeanne remained a widow for four years before she took her second husband, Olivier de Clisson, a very wealthy nobleman with whom she had five children. By many accounts, the match was, if not exactly a love match, at least a successful mutual partnership. By age thirty, Jeanne had two husbands and seven children under her belt. What would she accomplish next?

When the War of Breton Succession came, Olivier chose to back his friend Charles de Blois in his claim to the duchy. It seems that he fought loyally for the House of Blois, but Charles de Blois became convinced that de Clisson was a traitor and had defected to the English side. Exactly why he believed this to be true is unclear. Some legends claim that when de Clisson was captured by the English at Vannes in 1342, the ransom demanded for his return was, to de Blois, suspiciously low. This led him to conclude that de Clisson had not fought as valiantly as he could have and was perhaps not as loyal to the House of Blois as he claimed to be. Other versions of the story say that de Clisson actually did switch sides, although these accounts are much rarer. In any case, de Blois was no longer certain that his old friend had his best interests at heart. This would not do. During a truce in the fighting in 1343, de Blois hatched a plan with the French king, Philip VI, to have him killed. Olivier and some other Breton lords were invited to France under the guise of a friendly tournament. When they arrived on French soil, however, de Clisson was arrested, carried off to Paris, and tried as a traitor to France. He was convicted and sentenced to death. After he was killed, his head was put on a pike and sent back to Brittany’s capital, Nantes, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be defectors from the French cause.

King Philip’s actions shocked the public. Olivier’s trial did not present any public evidence of his guilt; it only claimed that he had confessed to being a traitor. Furthermore, displaying of a corpse was usually done only when the criminal was common or lower class. People felt that King Philip had gone too far and possibly murdered an innocent man. And nobody was madder than de Clisson’s widow, Jeanne de Clisson.

When she found out that her husband had been tricked into going to France and then killed without cause, she sprang into action. If the French were no longer allies to her husband, then she would not support the French any longer. She severed all ties with the House of Blois and devoted her life to making the French pay for what they had done to her family. But first, some sources say, she took her sons to Nantes to see their father’s head.

To a modern reader it seems a bit puzzling, to say the least, that Jeanne would choose to expose her young sons to such violence. No doubt the boys were already devastated by the news of their father’s death; it seems redundant at best and cruel at worst to traumatize them further with the actual evidence of his murder. But Jeanne was not looking to shield her boys from pain. She knew now how hard and pitiless the world could be— even innocent men could be killed by kings. Jeanne chose to educate her boys on the harshness of life in order to light a fire of hate in them, twin fires to the one that now burned in her breast. In her world, there was no time for sorrow, only revenge.

After her trip to Nantes, Jeanne set about raising the money she would need to mount an army to terrorize the French. Much of her lands had been confiscated by King Philip due to her husband’s “crime.” She sold what she had left, including her jewels and furniture (and some accounts claim she sold her body as well) in order to outfit an army. Her goal was to kick the French out of Brittany completely. Stories of places she attacked are varied and lack detail, but nearly all accounts agree that whatever locations she did take, she took bloodily. She would massacre every occupant of a place save one or two, leaving them alive to report to France exactly who had committed the deed.

The path Jeanne chose after her husband’s murder seems almost unthinkable, but it may have been preferable to the alternatives before her. Whether they were rich or poor, most medieval women could not be said to have pleasant lives. They had two role models: Eve, the fallen woman, and the Virgin Mary (the original manifestation of the Madonna/whore dichotomy). Doubtless many women felt themselves somewhere in between the two icons. They did not have access to education. Life expectancy was not long. Ironically, many scholars claim that after the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century, the status of medieval women briefly went up due to the dearth of people left alive. Surviving women could receive better wages due to better-paying jobs being available and thus delay marriage, increasing their chances of survival. Childbirth was a specter that haunted all married women. An estimated 20 percent of all women in the Middle Ages died in childbirth, 5 percent during the birth itself and another 15 percent due to complications after labor. Things that today are minor issues were often fatal during this era. The presence of midwives—one of the only trades open only to women—helped to make birth safer, but a dizzying variety of complications could kill an expectant mother. Jeanne had survived childbirth numerous times; she might have felt that she had cheated death and could therefore slay Frenchmen at will, sending them to death in her place.

With her husband gone, Jeanne would have had the option to enter a convent. Nuns’ lives were marginally easier than that of the average married woman. For one thing, there was some access to basic education in the convent. Nuns did not have to fear death in childbirth. They still participated in domestic labors, cooking and producing things for the convent in addition to the many hours spent studying and in prayer. Nuns could advance up the religious ranks—the only position with any upward mobility for women during the Middle Ages. The leader of a convent, an abbess, sometimes advised not just the nuns in her care but also the monks in an adjoining monastery. Other than being a queen, an abbess was probably the highest office a woman could obtain during the Middle Ages. But Jeanne was not interested in a sequestered religious lifestyle; she sought vengeance. And so to the sea she went, forging a new path.

Jeanne decided that she preferred naval fighting to land fighting. She was still going to make the French pay, but she would do so at sea. With her remaining cash, she sailed to England with two of her sons in order to assemble a small fleet of three ships. Where her other children were during this time is unknown. Some accounts say that on this journey, one of her sons died of exposure. She then allegedly sent the other surviving son to live in the English court with young John de Montfort, who would eventually become the new Duke of Brittany. These details about her sons are only occasionally present in Jeanne’s legend. Whether she had her sons with her or not, and regardless of how many of them survived the journey, Jeanne soon had her fleet of ships, which was called the Black Fleet. These ships Jeanne painted black, and she dyed the sails blood red. She was not interested in subtlety or subterfuge. She wanted the people who saw her coming to know what fate awaited them. Her victims would not be taken by surprise, as her husband had been.

Jeanne and her Black Fleet sailed up and down the English Channel, preying on any French ship she could get her hands on. Her plan was the same as it was on land: murder everyone except a messenger or two. Soon, legends of her brutality spread all over Europe, and the “Lioness of Brittany” became a feared pirate. Some accounts claim that she was officially a privateer for England, but the English would have had to overlook her personal penchant for beheading every French nobleman she captured, since that was not exactly privateer protocol. Nevertheless, she may have kept the English forces stocked with supplies during various battles with the French. Her service to the English seems to have been an afterthought, though—much less important to her than the destruction of the French forces. It’s unclear if she had any particular love for the House of Montfort, but her hatred of the House of Blois ran deep and was clearly to the de Montforts’ benefit.

King Philip VI’s death in 1350 did not put a dent in the Lioness’s pirating. She continued to wreak havoc on French ships in the English Channel for another six years. Sources estimate that Jeanne’s piratical career lasted for a total of thirteen years. Instead of seeing the war through and ensuring that her candidate won the duchy in the War of Breton Succession, she retired eight years before the conflict’s conclusion and married an English deputy of King Edward III.

This action of hers, and the historical coverage of this action, leaves many questions unanswered. Why did she choose to marry a third time? If she was so useful to the English forces, why didn’t she help them finish the war? How did she meet Sir Walter Bentley, her new husband? Perhaps this action proves that she was not truly in the fight to back de Montfort but instead simply to cause damage to de Blois and King Philip. But then why not retire at Philip’s death? Maybe she ran out of money to maintain her Black Fleet. Maybe the lonely widow fell passionately in love with the English lord. Maybe she just got tired of sailing. Maybe, after so many captures and beheadings, her lust for revenge was one day finally slaked. All that is certain is that she married Sir Walter and left her pirating days behind her. King Edward had bestowed on Sir Walter several castles and lands for his services to England. Some accounts claim that Sir Walter was given control of English territories and interests in Brittany. Stories differ on what properties were given to the Bentleys and when, but most legends agree that the couple eventually settled down back in France in Hennebont Castle, the very same castle that was such a pivotal part of Jeanne de Montfort’s story. Jeanne de Clisson died a few years later, sometime around 1359.

William Pitt’s Vision, of Global Supremacy

On September 13, 1759, the British under General James Wolfe (1727-59) achieved a dramatic victory when they scaled the cliffs over the city of Quebec to defeat French forces under Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham (an area named for the farmer who owned the land). During the battle, which lasted less than an hour, Wolfe was fatally wounded. Montcalm also was wounded and died the next day.

The First Global War: Britain, France, and the Fate of North America, 1756-1775. Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) The third war between Austria and a rising Prussia for control over Silesia, the culmination of the long Anglo-French struggle for colonial supremacy, and the last major conflict before the French Revolution to involve all the traditional great powers of Europe. There were three principal theaters of this war. Great Britain helped support Frederick of Prussia in battling Austria, France, and Russia and their allies: British finances helped purchase mercenary troops to augment Prussia’s army. The British navy battled the French navy in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well as the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas. Finally, augmented by colonial militia, the British made a determined and ultimately successful effort to destroy French power in North America. When the Seven Years’ War ended, Frederick gained Silesia, though with significant manpower losses; the British gained territory in India and all of French Canada (save for tiny St. Pierre and Miquelon Islands off the Newfoundland coast).

William Pitt’s vision, of global supremacy, seemed within reach. The early course of the Seven Years War was wholly changed by the victories of Frederick of Prussia, the ally of England, who soon acquired a reputation as the Protestant hero of Europe. In November 1757, at Rossbach in Saxony, he defeated the combined armies of France and Austria. A month later, at Leuthen in Bavaria, Frederick defeated a much greater Austrian army and seized Silesia. As if emboldened by these victories another allied commander, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, chased the French out of Hanover and pushed them back across the Rhine. Chesterfield, so doleful before, conceded that ‘the face of affairs is astonishingly mended’.

Pitt was now free to pursue a continental strategy, with his enemy in retreat, but already he had more extensive ambitions. In the spring of 1758 an allied force captured the French fort of St Louis in Senegal; its principal commodity of slaves was now secure for the British Crown. At the end of the year an English force took Gorée, an island off the coast of Dakar, which thirty years later would contain the notorious ‘House of Slaves’. So from the boiling and fever-stricken coastlines of West Africa came slaves and ivory, gum and gold dust, that were packed for the Caribbean or for England and then stored in factories with armed guards supplied by the local chieftains.

News came in this year, also, that Robert Clive had emerged victorious from the battle of Plassey and had taken control of Bengal, with its 30 million inhabitants, in a campaign Clive himself described as a medley of ‘fighting, tricks, chicanery, intrigues, politics and the Lord knows what’. The victory led directly to British domination of South Asia and to the subsequent extension of imperial power. Yet not all welcomed these developments. There was a sense of unease over this meddling with exotic and alien foreign lands. There seemed to be no sure foundations on which to build. Only in the nineteenth century were these doubts resolved.

Within three years the French had been compelled to leave India. Without effective sea power they were destined for disappointment. The East India Company soon had all the trappings of an oriental state, with its own police force and native army. It was the tiger in the jungle, dripping with blood and jewels. India became the cockpit in which it was shown that trade was war carried on under another name. In the poetry of the period, in fact, allusions to Africa and India became commonplace; they had become part of the imagination. Yet there was still no talk of empire.

The West Indies had become the most profitable possession, even if the prize had to be shared with the French, the Spanish and the Dutch. An expedition sailed in the winter of the year and took Guadeloupe, the home of cotton, sugar and molasses; for Pitt the island of sugar was a greater prize than Canada, so much stronger were commercial than territorial ties. It sent forth each year 10,000 tons of sugar and in return required 5,000 slaves. It was considered to be a fair bargain. In the hundred years after 1680 some 2 million slaves were forcibly removed from their homes to the work camps of the West Indies.

The conditions of the enslaved workers were notorious. Another sugar island of the Indies, Jamaica, was described by Edward Ward in Five Travel Scripts (1702) ‘as sickly as an hospital, as dangerous as the plague, as hot at hell, and as wicked as the devil’. The slaves could not breed in these torrid conditions, so even more had to be transported. These were the least of the slaves’ torments. Many of England’s overseas possessions were no more than penal colonies rivalling any of those in Stalinist Russia.

Slaves were simply beasts of burden. They were already suspended on a cross of three points, known as ‘triangular’ trade: they were purchased on the west coast of Africa with the proceeds of cloth or spirits before being transported across the ocean where they were sold to the plantation owner; the merchant seamen then returned with their holds filled with sugar, rum and tobacco. It was simplicity itself. A few local difficulties sometimes marred the smooth running of the enterprise. The slaves were manacled to the inner decks with no space to move, with women and children forced promiscuously among the male prisoners. When a ship was in danger of foundering, many of them were unchained and thrown into the sea; when some of them hit the water they were heard to cry out ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ The putrid and malignant diseases from which they suffered, in close proximity to one another, spread all over the vessel. The ‘middle passage’ across the ocean often created the conditions of a death ship.

Yet the church bells were ringing all over England. Even as the stinking and putrescent slaves were marched onto Jamaican or Bajan soil the new year in England, 1759, was being hailed as an ‘annus mirabilis’. The early capture of Guadeloupe was only the harbinger of overseas victories that guaranteed England’s global supremacy. Horace Walpole remarked that the church bells had been worn thin by ringing in victories, and wrote to Pitt ‘to congratulate you on the lustre you have thrown on this country . . . Sir, do not take this for flattery: there is nothing in your power to give what I would accept; nay there is nothing I could envy, but what you would scarce offer me – your glory.’ That had always been considered the French virtue above all others; gloire and le jour de gloire were later to be immortalized in the second line of ‘La Marseillaise’. But in 1759 they had been snatched away.

After the capture of Guadeloupe, Dominica signed a pact of neutrality with the victors. Canada, or New France as it was then known, was to come. In June General Amherst captured Fort Niagara and, in the following month, Crown Point. These victories were followed by the fall of Quebec in the autumn, when Major-General James Wolfe stole up the Heights of Abraham like a thief in the night. The capital of the French province lay on a precipitous rock at the confluence of the St Lawrence and St Charles rivers. Early assaults had come to nothing against what seemed to be an impregnable position. Wolfe wrote in his dispatches that ‘we have almost the whole force of Canada to oppose’.

Do or die. He planned to land his force on the bank of the St Charles, to scale what seemed to be the insuperable heights, and then to attack Quebec from the relatively undefended rear of the town. Recovering from their surprise at the success of the enterprise the French attacked but were beaten back. The French commander, Montcalm, was shot as he stood; Wolfe received a wound in the head, followed by two other bullets in his breast and his body. Yet in death his was the victory. The beaten and demoralized French army evacuated much of Canada and retired to Montreal; a year later the garrison at Montreal also surrendered, and Canada joined the list of England’s overseas territorial possessions.

The consequences of human actions are incalculable. With the threat of the French removed from the British settlers over the ocean, they began to resent the presence of English soldiers. Who needed the protection of the redcoats now that the enemy was gone? And so from small events great consequences may arise. An action that Voltaire derided as a conflict ‘about a few acres of snow’ gave rise in time to the United States of America.

The events in the European theatre were no less promising. The threat of French invasion was diverted. The reports of an invasion force, complete with flat-bottomed boats for landing, provoked Pitt into calling out the militia to guard the shores. At Quiberon Bay in November 1759, off the coast of southern Brittany, the French navy was caught and for all purposes destroyed. There would be no further threat of a French invasion.

And that, it might seem, was that. England had achieved maritime supremacy and gathered up more territorial possessions than ever before. The economic strain at home was beginning to show, however, with multifarious taxes imposed to bolster the revenues for the war. Yet if there was a sense of war weariness, it was not evident to the first minister. Pitt had been successful in Canada, the East Indies and the West Indies but he was determined to guide the destiny of Europe and confirm the strength of his country’s global trade. The duke of Newcastle wrote to a colleague that ‘Mr Pitt flew into a violent passion at my saying we could not carry on the war another year; [he said] that that was the way to make peace impracticable and to encourage our enemy; that we might have difficulties but he knew we could carry on the war and were one hundred times better able to do it than the French . . . in short, there was no talking to him’. Pitt knew that his colleagues were now in favour of a negotiated peace; negotiation meant, for him, compromise with the French. He would not rest until their most important possessions were in his hands. But the most carefully laid plans do not always come to fruition.

Suddenly all was changed. On 15 October 1760, George II rose early to drink his chocolate; he then felt the need to visit the water closet from which the valet-de-chambre, according to Horace Walpole, who seems to have known the most arcane secrets of the royal family, ‘heard a noise, louder than royal wind, listened, heard something like a groan, ran in’ and found the king on the floor with a gash on his forehead. The king expired shortly afterwards, bequeathing a new king to a not necessarily grateful nation.

‘Destroy At All Costs’, December 1918

HMS Vendetta, June 1919 (IWM Q73903).

Thirty-five-year-old Johan Laidoner had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces on 23 December 1918. From the time of his arrival two weeks beforehand, he had set to work with a will, using the breathing space that Alexander-Sinclair’s attack had brought him to organise his forces and plan a counter Bolshevik campaign. By the day of his promotion to CinC he could boast a force of 600 officers and 11,000 volunteers.

December 23rd was also the day Laidoner began the fight back. Escorted by HMS Calypso and the destroyer Wakeful, he landed 200 men at Kunda, in the Bolshevik rear; they caused panic, destroyed supplies and severed communications before retreating, all the time covered by gunfire from the Royal Navy. By 1900, the ships were safely back in Reval harbour, without any interference from the Red navy.

This assault, and the previous destruction of the railway and bridge by Cardiff and Caradoc, occurring as they did so close to the Baltic Fleet’s base at Kronstadt, infuriated Trotsky. He ordered the immediate annihilation of the vessels at Reval, stating ‘they must be destroyed at all costs’. Kronstadt was a formidable fortress, a major source of protection for the Soviet fleet. In 1919 it was probably the best protected fleet base in the world. Built initially by Peter the Great, and developed over the succeeding centuries, it lay on the southern side of Kotlin Island. To the west of the base there were minefields stretching to the shore, with only one swept channel. Closer in, the northern channel around the island was spanned by a line of forts linking Kotlin to the mainland. These forts had a chain of submerged breakwaters between them. The main, southern, approach and the River Neva also had several sea forts. On the high ground overlooking the narrow neck of the bay were large fortified gun batteries mounting heavy artillery, including the 12in guns of the major fortress of Krasnaya Gorka. The Tolbukhin lighthouse commanded a view of all approaches to the island. And behind these impressive defences lurked the Baltic Fleet.

Numerically the fleet was strong and significantly overmatched Alexander-Sinclair’s forces. There were three battleships, Andrei Pervozvanni of 1910, a pre-dreadnought armed with four 12in and fourteen 8in guns; and the dreadnoughts Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol, sister-ships armed with twelve 12in guns, and already met in the ‘Ice Voyage’. In addition, there were two cruisers, Oleg of 1903, twelve 6in and twelve 12pdrs, Aurora, eight 6in, and Pamiat Azova, launched in 1888 but now in use as a depot ship. Another cruiser, Gromoboi, was laid up there. Of smaller vessels there were eight destroyers, five modern submarines and an old minelayer. The guns of the battleships and the cruisers were a significant threat to the ships of the 6LCS and their consorts.

The Imperial Russian Navy had long been deficient in training, however, and the situation had worsened since the revolution. The crews at Kronstadt had joined the October Revolution with enthusiasm, some officers had been murdered and most others had fled or been imprisoned. The ships were largely controlled by Soviets of sailors and discipline was practically non-existent. As a fighting force, they were possibly less formidable than first appeared.

This was in part demonstrated by their intelligence-gathering work. The Russians believed that two battleships had covered Laidoner’s landing on 23 December; and, despite reconnaissance by three submarines in November and December, they understood the British ships at Reval to number four battleships and up to ‘fifty or sixty vessels’.

The task of fulfilling Trotsky’s wish for the destruction of the British forces was allotted to Member of the Revolutionary War Soviet (the Revvoeyensovet) of the Red Navy at Kronstadt, Deputy Commander of the Seventh Army and Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, 26-year-old Fyodor Fyodorovich Raskolnikov, previously a midshipman (michman) in the Tsar’s navy.

His plan was for a task force comprising the battleship Andrei Pervozvanni, cruiser Oleg and destroyers Spartak, Avtrovil and Azard to undertake the operation. The destroyers, under Raskolnikov’s direct control, would enter the Reval roads and bombard the port, bringing to action any ships therein. If superior forces were encountered, they were to retire on Oleg with the battleship further back as heavy support. The action was slated for Christmas Day.

At the appointed hour, only Spartak and Andrei Pervozvanni left port, the others being either away or out on patrol. When they all finally rendezvoused, Azard was found to be out of fuel and Avtrovil delayed by an engine breakdown. The operation was put back until the 26th.

Accordingly, at 0700 on St Stephen’s Day, Raskolnikov, aboard Spartak, declared his intention to start the attack; but first he stopped to fire on Wulf (Aegna) and Nargen (Naissaar) Islands (both of which lie across the entrance to Reval harbour and had been fortified in the nineteenth century), ostensibly to see if they were occupied and armed; he then captured a small Finnish steamer which was sent to Kronstadt under a prize crew. These delays were to prove his undoing.

Meanwhile, at Reval, the local authorities had decided to hold a noontime banquet for the Royal Navy officers and crews to thank them for their support. Ladies were to be provided ‘for hire’ as dancing partners. But the preparations for the festivities were interrupted by the sound of gunfire – the attack on the defensive islands – and then by the unpleasant noise of shells dropping in the harbour. Urgently, the ‘recall’ signal was given; sirens blared continuously and British sailors ran for the quayside and their ships. Thesiger had held his command at two hours’ notice for sailing and soon the first vessel left the harbour. It was the destroyer HMS Vendetta; as she passed Caradoc the cruiser’s crew cheered her on. Shortly afterwards Vortigern followed her and then Wakeful, which had lived up to its name. Calypso and Thesiger were immediately behind and Caradoc weighed and went to full speed at 1205, by which time Vendetta had already opened fire.

When Raskolnikov saw the smoke of the three destroyers leaving port he immediately turned Spartak away, heading for Kronstadt, perhaps intending to hide in the Finnish Skerries or find protection under the guns of Oleg.

Wakeful opened fire on Spartak at around 1220 and Wulf Island was passed fifteen minutes later. There was chaos on board the Russian ship. Shells were falling around them, a blast damaged the charthouse and bridge, charts were lost, and the engines proved unreliable. Then with a sudden bang she ran aground on the Divel shoal and stranded. Raskolnikov despatched a final signal to his base; ‘All is lost. I am chased by English’. At 1245, Spartak ran up the white flag.

Thesiger put a boarding party on board. She was leaking badly, with her propellers and rudder torn off. The ship was filthy and the crew generally happy to be prisoners. Vendetta towed her back to port. Once anchored, Spartak was still filling with water so the crew were instructed to raise steam for the pumps; they decided to hold a ship’s Soviet meeting to decide if they should. Armed Royal Marines convinced them of the necessity. As for the Soviet Navy’s commissar and mission commander, Raskolnikov was discovered hiding under twelve sacks of potatoes and taken prisoner. It was rumoured that he had on his person photographs of himself ‘torturing and murdering the old aristocracy’.

Around 1700 the British ships landed their ‘entertainment parties’ and the banquet, delayed but nonetheless mightily enjoyed, took place.

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When Thesiger returned from the festivities, he had an interpreter tell him what information the papers captured with Spartak revealed. This informed him that Oleg was at Hogland (an island in the Gulf of Finland about 112 miles west of Petrograd) with orders to bombard Reval. This gave him the usual problem; the squadron’s orders, vague as they were, did not directly give permission to attack enemy ships. But he also found in the captured papers a transcript of a message from Trotsky saying the British ships should be sunk. This seemed to Thesiger to be a sufficient casus belli and he gave orders for an immediate departure.

At 0050 on the 27th Calypso weighed anchor and, in company with Caradoc and Wakeful, set out to find the enemy. Around 0500, Thesiger observed a destroyer passing on the reverse course; it did not see the British ships and Thesiger resisted pleas to open fire, for he thought that in the dark the destroyer may well be able to mount a torpedo attack unobserved. But he did order Vendetta and Vortigern to depart Reval and find her.

Hogland was a disappointment; there was no sign of the Red cruiser. Thesiger set up a patrol line, Caradoc to the north, Calypso south and Wakeful in the middle and in that formation began to cruise back to Reval; if the destroyer sighted earlier turned around she would run into his line of advance.

The plan worked. The Soviet destroyer, which was the Avtroil, seeking Spartak, ran into Vendetta instead, fled from her and came across Vortigern. She then turned east for Kronstadt and met Wakeful, went north and ran into Caradoc and finally south where she was intercepted by Calypso. Thesiger had previously ordered that he wanted to capture the Russian vessel; Caradoc had fired on her at 1135 and Calypso at 1150; ten minutes later, now surrounded by five Royal Navy ships, the Soviet destroyer hoisted a white flag. A prize crew took her back to Reval.

The Estonian navy to that point had comprised one vessel, an ex-Russian gunboat Bobr, now the Lembit, capable of only 12 knots and armed with two 4.7in guns and four 11pdrs. Päts had pleaded with Alexander-Sinclair for two Royal Navy destroyers, a request refused by the admiral. But Thesiger was now able to oblige him. He presented the two captured Russian destroyers to Johan Pitka, a former merchant seaman and owner of a small chandler’s shop in Reval. In the 1914–18 war his son had been sent to Siberia for subversive activities amongst the British and Imperial Russian sailors in the Baltic but the family now seemed unconcerned about the past. Pitka had been appointed the Estonian naval commander-in-chief. At a stroke he gained two modern, fast ships and an actual navy to command; he named the new recruits Wambola (ex-Spartak) and Lennuk (ex-Avtroil).

But the Gulf was freezing over; Reval would soon be ice-bound, as would Petrograd, locking the Soviet fleet harmlessly in the base. In Reval, the next two days were spent refuelling and embarking refugees; Britons, Danes and the wife and family of the British consul, together with some prisoners of war and Raskolnikov.

Meanwhile Cardiff docked at Reval, inbound from Copenhagen, with Alexander-Sinclair and a further consignment of arms for the Estonian arsenal; 1,960 rifles and 1,380,000 rounds of ammunition. There also arrived some 200 Finnish soldiers on board an icebreaker, the first of an expected force of 2,000.

Back in London, Fremantle was concerned for the safety of the Baltic ships. At the 31 December 1918 War Cabinet meeting the minutes noted that:

Admiral Fremantle wished to know whether the Imperial War Cabinet wished to withdraw the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron, or to face intervention on a larger scale. There was a danger of our being drawn into operations from which it would be difficult to disentangle ourselves. A decision would have to be come to quickly, as the ships would have to leave Riga before the middle of January if they were not to be ice-bound there. From the Admiralty point of view, it was certainly desirable to get the ships away from the whole of that area, both because of the damage they would suffer from the ice, and because of the danger that the ice would obliterate the navigation marks through the minefields. In this connection he mentioned that the port of Libau, further south, was ice-free, and, as there was no Bolshevik trouble there, as at Riga and Reval, there was not the same danger of entanglement if a ship stayed there. He wished to add, however, that it was probable that if we withdrew the ships from Riga the local Bolsheviks would massacre all their political opponents.

6th Light Cruiser Squadron, under R/Adm Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair, aboard his flagship HMS Cardiff, sailed from Rosyth for the Baltic & the newly independent republics there “to show the British flag & support British policy as circumstances dictate”

Eventually, the Cabinet decided that ‘the Admiralty should instruct the Admiral in Command of the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron to withdraw his ships from Riga and Reval, owing to the danger of their being shut in by the ice, but that one ship might be left at Libau ready to be withdrawn at short notice’.

Thesiger thought that they should give one last piece of assistance before leaving. Firstly, on 3 January he took two cruisers and two destroyers to transport refugees to Helsingfors and bring Finnish troops back. Caradoc embarked 100 troops and landed them in Reval on the 4th. The ice was already too thick for the destroyers to complete the journey. Indeed, an icebreaker had to be used to take the British ships in and out of Helsingfors port, the ice being 6in thick in places. Stuart Stapleton found it ‘rather funny to see men walking on the ice about 50 yards from the ships, as we were proceeding up harbour’.

Then, after returning to Reval on the 5th, Thesiger took his cruisers and a destroyer on a patrol close to the Russian island of Hogland, expecting the Russians there to report the ships’ presence to Kronstadt such that the Russian ships might be deterred from venturing out. Finally, on the way back to Reval, he made a further bombardment of the Bolshevik positions to the east of the city. ‘This time we managed to blow up a row of houses and set them on fire, otherwise we don’t know what result our fire had,’ noted Stapleton. Caradoc returned to Reval long enough to pick up more refugees and then set out to join the admiral.

As per his orders, Alexander-Sinclair assembled his ships and departed for home, via Copenhagen and thence to Rosyth, where they arrived between 8 and 10 January 1919. They would not return.

PREPARING FOR “BIG WEEK”

As far back as November 1943 the Americans had planned a massive new attack on the German aircraft industry by both the Eighth and Fifteenth air forces. The RAF agreed to join by launching area attacks on the cities in which the aircraft plants were located. The plan was expected to be costly and needed a week of clear weather over Germany, as well as reasonable weather over England and Italy. But the weather over Germany remained miserable for almost all of the first seven weeks of 1944. Until late February the Eighth was able to carry out just two visual missions over Germany, and one of these was partly abortive and the other a lucky accident. The Fifteenth Air Force was tied down, hitting nearby targets in support of the Anzio beachhead, which was in grave danger from a German counteroffensive.

The Eighth continued radar bombing. Some radar missions were effective; the IG Farben chemical plant at Ludwigshafen was damaged twice. And the fighter escort did better. In November and December, the P-51s and P-38s of the target-area escort had often been hard pressed to defend their charges and sometimes suffered lopsided losses themselves to the Germans. In early 1944 the bombers still suffered dreadfully sometimes, but even small forces of American fighters usually inflicted disproportionate losses on the attackers.

On January 11 conditions in Germany seemed promising for visual attack, and the Eighth put up 663 bombers. While the 1st Bombardment Division’s B-17s would bomb the Oschersleben Focke Wulf plant and a Junkers plant at Halberstadt, the other two divisions would hit aircraft components and assembly plants that were building the Me-110s around Brunswick. If weather hid the targets, Brunswick itself would be bombed. With long-range fighters still few, only the 1st Division would be escorted all the way to the target. The Germans were expected to concentrate against it. Its target was farthest in, and it might seem to be going to Berlin. The other divisions would have to fend for themselves as they neared Brunswick.

The meteorologists had been overoptimistic; as the bombers flew into central Germany the weather deteriorated. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions were recalled, but the 1st was so close to its target that it was allowed to proceed. The commander of the 3rd Division’s leading wing decided he too might as well go ahead, and he ignored the recall signal. Weather had interfered with the rendezvous of the escort (this was before the change in policy), and only one P-38 squadron and the 354th Fighter Group accompanied the 1st Division. The Germans reacted violently, and the biggest air battle since Schweinfurt resulted. The P-51s had rendezvoused late and were short of gas, and most left shortly after the bombers reached Oschersleben and Halberstadt. The Germans inflicted heavy losses on the bombers, although failing to disrupt a very accurate attack. In all, 60 bombers went down for 39 German fighters, even though the fighter-versus-fighter clashes were thoroughly in the Americans’ favor.

One of the Mustang pilots on this mission was Major James H. Howard. He was already an ace and a highly experienced fighter pilot, having shot down six Japanese aircraft while flying P-40s with the American Volunteer Group in Burma. Now, high over Germany, Howard found himself alone, the only Mustang accompanying a group of Fortresses which was about to be attacked by over thirty Messerschmitt 110s.

Howard went straight for the enemy fighters in a head-on attack, destroying one Bf 110 immediately. Disconcerted, the rest broke in all directions as the Mustang sped through them. The Germans formed up for a second attempt and once again Howard broke them up, sending another fighter down in flames. It was only the beginning. Three more times the enemy attacked, and three more times Howard fought them off single-handed. During the two final attacks, only one of the Mustang’s guns was working, but Howard managed to shoot down a third enemy fighter and damage at least three more. At last, probably short of fuel or ammunition, the Germans broke off the action and dived away.

For his exploit, Major Howard later received the Medal of Honor. He was the only British-based fighter pilot to win the highest US decoration for valor during the Second World War. He later increased his score to twelve. He remained in the USAF after the war, reaching the rank of Brigadier-General. He then became a successful businessman, eventually retiring to Florida.

The Oschersleben mission, with its heavy losses, was hardly an Allied success, but on top of the Battle of Bremen it should have warned the Nazis that they would be in big trouble when the escorts became more numerous, and that the writing was on the wall for the twin-engine fighters. If anything, they were even more vulnerable to single-engine fighters than the B-17s.

Then the weather closed in. For two weeks the Americans could not strike Germany at all; then they resumed radar bombing. When the weather proved worse than expected, an attempted visual mission to Brunswick on January 30 had to fall back on H2X. Two groups passing Hannover saw a hole in the clouds and sensibly seized a chance to bomb the rubber plant there. This and the Oschersleben mission were the only visual attacks on German targets between October 14, 1943, and February 20, 1944.

2020 Nigeria Hostage Rescue

Dissecting The U.S. Hostage Rescue Operation In Nigeria: Here Are All The Assets That Took Part In The Raid

During the early hours of 31 October 2020, United States Navy SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), parachuted from Air Force Special Operations aircraft, and conducted a successful rescue operation of an American hostage in northern Nigeria killing six of the seven captors. The hostage, 27-year-old Philip Walton, had been kidnapped in front of his family at his home in the village of Massalata in neighboring Niger on 26 October by armed gunmen, who intended to sell him to armed terrorist groups in the area.

In 2020, Niger experienced a multitude of attacks by extremists linked to both Islamic State (IS) groups and Al-Qaeda. About two months prior to the kidnapping of Walton, IS-linked militants killed six French aid workers and their Niger guide while they were visiting a wildlife park near the capital Niamey. Additionally American aid worker Jeffery Woodke was kidnapped from Abalak in October 2016, and is believed to be held in Mali.

Philip Walton is an American citizen and the son of missionaries, who has lived in Massalata with his wife and child for two years. His father lives in Birni-N’konni, and has lived in Niger for about 30 years.

Walton was kidnapped by six men armed with Kalashnikovs, from his farm in Massalata in southern Niger in the early morning of 27 October 2020. The kidnappers initially demanded money from Walton, but abducted him after he was only able to offer US$40. The kidnappers then demanded a US$1 million ransom from Walton’s father via a phone call.

The Nigerian Interior Ministry announced the incident via a statement read on national radio, which claimed that the kidnappers had searched Waltons home before fleeing with him. The country sent additional security reinforcements to the area and began efforts with the United States to secure the release of Walton.

Walton was rescued on 31 October 2020, in northern Nigeria. Officials from the US Department of Defense and US Department of State have not linked the kidnappers to any terrorist organization.

US President Donald Trump hailed the operation and the rescue team on Twitter, where he said that the operation was a “big win for our very elite U.S. Special Forces” and added “[…] we got our young man back.” Trump also referenced the rescue at a campaign speech in Pennsylvania stating; “The kidnappers wished they had never done it.” and “…we got our young man back.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reacted on Twitter where he described the operation as “outstanding.” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany spoke on Fox & Friends about the rescue and stated that the president prioritizes the safety of American citizens.

Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired CIA officer, said “These types of operations are some of the most difficult to execute. Any mistake could easily lead to the death of the hostage. The men and women of JSOC, and the CIA should be proud of what they did here. And all Americans should be proud of them. “ Eric Oehlerich, a retired Navy SEAL, said, “Men in these top-tier special forces units train their entire adult lives to be ready when called upon, hostage rescue operations are inherently dangerous. Those men put someone else’s life above their own, they do so selflessly….it’s an illustration of utter commitment.”

Niger kidnapping signals Salafi-jihadis’ growing influence in West Africa

Salafi-jihadi groups’ strengthening in West Africa is incentivizing attacks on foreigners, even in areas where Salafi-jihadi groups have a limited presence. Six criminals kidnapped an American farmer, Philip Walton, in southwestern Niger near the Nigerian border on October 27. The kidnappers, who were not themselves members of a Salafi-jihadi group, demanded nearly $1 million and threatened to turn Walton over to Salafi-jihadi militants if the ransom was not paid. US Special Operations Forces rescued Walton on October 31. The kidnappers’ threat reflects the growing influence of Salafi-jihadi groups in the border region of northwestern Nigeria and southwestern Niger.

Salafi-jihadi groups are increasingly active in and around the region of northwestern Nigeria and southwestern Niger where Walton was kidnapped. Three groups are active in this area. The Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWA) has two branches: one based in northeastern Nigeria and its environs, and one based in the tri-border area of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The latter group is commonly referred to as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Al Qaeda–linked Ansaru also operates in northwestern Nigeria.

All three groups have recently resumed activity in or advanced toward northwestern Nigeria. On August 9, ISGS killed eight French aid workers in southwestern Niger’s Giraffe Zone, expanding its operations to an area previously considered safe. ISWA is already active in southeastern Niger and regularly claims attacks in Niger’s Diffa region and in northern Nigeria. ISWA’s area of operations may be expanding westward, and the group is active in regions outside its control.

ISWA may also be competing with Ansaru, an al Qaeda–linked group that resurfaced in northwestern Nigeria in 2019. ISWA and ISGS have recently stepped up attacks targeting foreigners and aid workers. US security forces rescued Walton in Nigeria, which may indicate the kidnappers’ intent to transfer him to ISWA.

Two major areas of Salafi-jihadi activity may be merging across northwestern Nigeria. ISGS’s eastward shift and ISWA’s westward advance could connect the two main areas of Salafi-jihadi activity in West Africa and increase interaction between the two groups. This interaction could include sharing tactical and strategic guidance, accessing each other’s safe havens to weather counterterrorism pressure, or even coordinating joint attacks.

Salafi-jihadi groups will likely benefit from lucrative illicit economic activity along the Niger-Nigeria border. The area of Walton’s kidnapping is a key crossing point for trafficking and smuggling, including the moving of migrants toward the Maghreb and Europe. A greater presence along the Niger-Nigeria border may allow a Salafi-jihadi–criminal nexus to exploit these routes for transit and profit-making. Salafi-jihadi groups may also expand ties with local criminal groups to facilitate their expansion into new areas. 

Rising Salafi-jihadi threats in West Africa will increasingly strain Niger, a US partner. Niger is already fighting Salafi-jihadi groups on two fronts and may now confront the merging of these two theaters along its entire southern border. Niger is a key player in counterterrorism efforts in West Africa and contributes troops to counterterrorism missions in Mali and Nigeria. Niger also hosts US and French forces. A serious uptick in Salafi-jihadi activity in Niger could worsen its already struggling economy by disrupting tourism and targeting the significant humanitarian presence in the country.

Scapegoat: Brigadier George Taylor DSO and Bar Part I

A British Centurion tank similar to those used at Maryang San

George Taylor, C.O of 5/DCLI seen here as a Major with the Worcester Regiment.

The Battle of Maryang San

October 1951

‘Am writing these notes in a special aircraft. Felt very important when it was sent until I remembered that the last special aircraft was to remove a Brigade Commander who was getting the sack!’ Thus wrote Brigadier William Pike in a letter home from Korea on 10 November 1951. He was commander of the 1st Commonwealth Division artillery and had escorted Brigadier Taylor to Major General Cassels for his final interview, from which he did not return.

After the Second World War, Korea, a Japanese colony since 1910, was to be occupied north of the 38th parallel by Soviet Russia. The South would be under United States administration. In the North, the Soviets backed a Stalinist regime under Kim Il-sung and created the North Korean People’s Army, equipped with Russian tanks and artillery. The American-trained South Korean Army was limited to a lightly armed gendarmerie, with no tanks or combat aircraft and only a small amount of field artillery. After several years of frontier incidents along the 38th parallel, the Republic of Korea was invaded by the North Korean People’s Army on 25 June 1950.

As the North Koreans swept south, overwhelming all opposition, the US successfully called on the United Nations Security Council to invoke the United Nations Charter and label the North Koreans the aggressors. Member states were urged to send military assistance. American troops were immediately deployed to stiffen the resolve of the South Koreans. The British responded similarly with ships of the Far East Fleet. The North Koreans advanced rapidly south, aiming to take the vital port of Pusan. American troops initially fared badly against the North Koreans, but General Walton Walker, commanding the Eighth United States Army, managed to hold the Pusan perimeter securely enough to allow reinforcements to arrive. In August 1950, the first British troops—the 1st Battalion The Middlesex Regiment and 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders—landed at Pusan and were immediately sent into action.

In mid-September, General MacArthur, in a spectacular indirect approach, landed two divisions behind enemy lines at the port of Inchon. The landing was a decisive victory, and X (US) Corps quickly overcame the few defenders and threatened to trap the main North Korean army in the south. MacArthur recaptured Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and the North Koreans, virtually cut off, rapidly retreated northwards. A few weeks later, following the landing at Inchon, UN forces broke out of the Pusan bridgehead and quickly advanced north. Joined by the 3rd Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment, the British units formed the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and took part in the pursuit of the enemy into North Korea. Meanwhile, a strong brigade had been mobilised in England and several thousand reservists were recalled to active service. The 29th Brigade set sail in October 1950, reaching Korea a month later.

The Eighth (US) Army, with the South Koreans, drove up the western side of Korea and captured Pyongyang in October. By the end of the month, the North Korean army was rapidly disintegrating and the UN took 135,000 prisoners. MacArthur ordered pursuit across the 38th parallel and deep into North Korea. As UN forces drew near the Manchurian border, there were strong indications that Communist China would intervene to defend its area of influence. The Chinese, with some justification, did not trust MacArthur to stop on the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China. Indeed, many in the West thought that spreading the war to China would be necessary and that since North Korean troops were being supplied from bases in China, they should be attacked. In October, MacArthur met President Harry Truman to persuade him that a massive UN effort would conclude the war by Christmas.

No sooner had this offensive been launched in November than the Chinese strongly reacted by invading North Korea on a massive scale. The 27th Brigade held them off from their positions on the river Chongchon but the Chinese broke through elsewhere. In freezing conditions, the UN forces carried out a fighting retreat across extremely difficult terrain. On 25 December 1950, the Chinese entered South Korea and in early January they captured Seoul. The 27th Brigade was now joined by the 29th Brigade, comprising the 1st Battalions, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, The Gloucestershire Regiment (Glosters) and The Royal Ulster Rifles, together with the tanks of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars and the guns of the 45th Field Regiment Royal Artillery. The two brigades acted as a rearguard until a defensive line was established on the river Han. The UN forces withdrew in disorder and, by New Year 1951, were defending a line well to the south of Seoul. Morale sank to a dangerous level but the new US commander, General Ridgway, revived spirits and, encouraging his army, advanced slowly north. In March 1951, a UN counter-offensive pushed the Chinese back and recaptured Seoul. As winter cleared, the UN forces dug in close to the 38th parallel and in early spring advanced a few miles north in order to create a buffer in front of Seoul. On 22 April, the Chinese counter-attacked, aiming to break through to the South Korean capital. They were held by the 27th Brigade near Kapyong and by the 29th Brigade on the Imjin River, where the last stand by the Glosters helped to break the Chinese advance but resulted in heavy casualties. The UN line held, then moved north again, the position stabilising in the general area of the 38th parallel.

Armistice negotiations began at Kaesong in July 1951. Largely static fighting then followed. British troops were deployed on a rotational basis, defending hill positions and carrying out patrols. However, set-piece operations did from time to time occur, as both sides sought to control key areas of terrain and win a success that might improve their negotiating position. On 28 July, the 1st Commonwealth Division, comprising the 28th Commonwealth Brigade, 29th Brigade and 25th Canadian Brigade, was formed under the command of Major General James Cassels.

Cassels was an inspired selection. He had fought during the Second World War in north-west Europe, being awarded a DSO for his leadership of a brigade in operations around Le Havre, the Ardennes, the Reichswald, the crossing of the Rhine and the advance into northern Germany. After the war, he commanded the 6th Airborne Division in counter-insurgency operations in Palestine. As a major general, he was appointed Chief United Kingdom Liaison Officer in Melbourne, Australia, in December 1949. With a tall, commanding presence, ‘Gentleman Jim’ got on easily with his Australian colleagues and soldiers, often through his love of and skill at cricket.

Despite his natural good manners, he found the Americans in Korea difficult, mainly through the differences in planning and procedures. Often the poor relation, his division lacked numbers of men, serviceable equipment and robust transport, much of which dated from the last war. Thus he was forced to rely on American largesse and boost his numbers with South Koreans. His relations with corps commander Lieutenant General John W. ‘Iron Mike’ O’Daniel were uneasy. Cassels once described him as a ‘“Two-Gun Patton” type . . . always wanting to undertake foolhardy stunts which had no serious military purpose. . . . On many occasions I was ordered, without any warning, to do things which I considered militarily unsound and for which there was no apparent reason. . . . I am being harassed and ordered by Corps to produce a prisoner every third day, regardless of cost. As we know quite well what enemy divisions are in front of us I cannot see the point in this and have said so.’ On 4 September 1951, O’Daniel addressed his divisional commanders and staff in the following terms, ‘Everyone must continue to be alert, sharp. Men must be made to eat, sleep, live “killing” so as to be able to destroy this barbaric, cunning enemy whose wish is to “distribute poverty”. This enemy will bring us down to his level if he can.’ O’Daniel was later reassigned to a less stressful appointment.

It was vital to deny the enemy access to ground strategically important to the armistice talks. Cassels’s orders were to ‘restore international peace and security in the area’. To do this he decided to establish patrol bases on the far side of the Imjin River. Once he had secured the crossings, he moved the division across and established defensive positions from which he could dominate no-man’s-land with patrols. Unfortunately, the Chinese 191st Division was able to maintain observation not only over the crossings and no-man’s-land but also all along the front held by the US I Corps. It became essential therefore to occupy the entire area up to and including the line of ridges from which the Chinese could overlook the area. This ridgeline contained two formidable hills—Kowang San at 355 metres (1,165 feet) and Maryang San at 317 metres (1,040 feet). To take these objectives, Operation Commando was planned with some urgency.

But what of the man who was to not only lead his brigade in this operation but also be sacked as a result? George Taylor was born on 17 September 1905, the fourth of six sons of Colonel Thomas Taylor. In 1929 he was commissioned in the West Yorkshire Regiment, then stationed in Northern Ireland. Taylor went with the West Yorks to the Caribbean, then Egypt and on to Quetta, where a massive earthquake occurred in May 1935. Throughout the 1930s Taylor, very fast for his bulk, played rugby for the army, for Lancashire and finally for the Barbarians, which brought him an England trial. At the outbreak of war in 1939, he joined the BEF in France. In 1940 he became embroiled in the ill-fated Norwegian operation. He was a staff officer in 1942 in Madagascar with the Combined Operations Reserve Force, which was soon sent to the North-West Frontier.

This was a frustrating period until, to his delight, he managed to get himself posted as second in command to the 1st Worcestershire Regiment in the 43rd Wessex Division, which landed on the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. He was still in his thirties, experienced but never having been under fire until then. His moment came after four weeks, when two commanding officers of the 5th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (5 DCLI) were killed and the battalion decimated. Taylor became their third commanding officer since landing in Normandy. His priority now was to absorb reinforcements, galvanise the survivors and create an effective fighting force from disorder. Taylor, an experienced trainer of men and a charismatic leader, set about the task with vigour and panache. He then led 5 DCLI with an outstanding record until the end of the war. The Wessex Division lost thirty-six commanding officers during that time, but he was never a day out of the line until the Armistice. Taylor’s intelligence officer, David Willcocks MC, who had been with 5 DCLI since 1940 described ‘not only his great courage and inspiring leadership, but also the care with which we reconnoitred and planned every attack or defensive engagement, in order to minimise casualties . . . his courage and concern called forth in all ranks a deep loyalty and affection’.

The first Tiger tank ever to fall into British hands was captured by 5 DCLI in one of Taylor’s initial night battles, conducted with cunning after careful daylight reconnaissance. German self-propelled guns, tanks and personnel fell into 5 DCLI hands. Taylor was awarded an immediate DSO and began to acquire a reputation for coolness under extreme stress, and for communicating that coolness to his men. Taylor’s second immediate DSO came through his actions in Arnhem in September. Working furiously to close the gap between its own column and the beleaguered parachutists, 5 DCLI ultimately linked up with the Polish Parachute Brigade, after being infiltrated by German Tiger tanks. Despite this, the Battalion managed to supply the Poles with much-needed rations, ammunition, petrol and medical stores.

Taylor was a man of drive and daring rather than caution but knew what he could ask of his men, and they responded to that. Interestingly, this was not just confined to his own battalion—his fellow commanding officers also held him in high regard and had great respect for him. His delightful autobiography of his wartime experiences, Infantry Colonel, demonstrates a straightforward, uncomplicated man with a love of soldiering and a deep respect for his men.

In 1950 Taylor was promoted temporary brigadier to command the 28th Infantry Brigade in Hong Kong; from there, in April 1951, he took the brigade to Korea where it became the 28th Commonwealth Brigade in the 1st Commonwealth Division. General Sir Brian Horrocks, Taylor’s old corps commander in the drive for the Arnhem bridges back in 1944, wrote to him on 17 July on being told of Taylor’s promotion to command the brigade, ‘I can think of no better choice, as nobody knows more about the sharp end of the battlefield than you.’ The brigade then consisted of the 1st King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (1 KSLI) (Lieutenant Colonel Barlow), the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers (1 KOSB) (Lieutenant Colonel MacDonald) and the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) (Lieutenant Colonel Hassett).

Taylor had an unusual relationship with Field Marshal Sir William Slim, then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, with whom he exchanged personal letters. Nowadays, senior officers might find it irksome to the chain of command for a commanding officer to write directly to the chief but no harm was done and Bill Slim, of course, being very much a ‘front line’ soldier himself probably relished the direct and unvarnished reports from the fighting edge. However, it might be relevant to what happened later. The following is an extract from a letter Taylor wrote to him on 18 May 1951:

My Dear Field Marshal,

I took over the Commonwealth Brigade in the closing stages of the Kapyong battle, when the 27th saved the day for the 9th Corps.

My two Battalions, 1 KOSB and 1 KSLI, have joined us from Hong Kong and we are now 28th British Commonwealth Brigade. Both Battalions are finding their feet and morale is high, and they will soon be as good, or even better, than the fine 3 Royal Australian Battalion, who fought like tigers in the last action (One Section killed 55 Chinese).

We are under command 24 Division and get on well with the Americans, but there is something the matter with them. They have as an Army lost confidence in themselves and it is rather pathetic to see the trust and confidence they have in our two small Brigades. Van Fleet seems a good man and a sound General, and there are other good fighting men in the ranks, but not enough. We seldom get a ‘Warning Order’ and they have little conception of the time and space factor. They are apt also often to be ‘Yes men’ and they do not query unsound orders from above.

As regards ourselves, these are some of the conclusions I’ve rapidly come to:

1.   No unit should be asked to serve more than nine months in this theatre, or an individual more than a year.

2.   Carriers are of little use, they are always having track trouble. The Jeep and trailer is the answer for this boulder strewn country.

3.   (a) The Sten is too unreliable to trust men’s lives to. The Australian Owen’s gun is a much better weapon.

(b) We require in defence an extra 4 Brens per company to meet the Mass Night Attacks. This is based on the Australians experience, who have extra weapons.

4.   I require a Deputy Commander. I am fairly fit and robust, but the physical strain, not to mention the mental side, is very great. I insist on seeing the forward companies and the ground in some detail. This means a lot of hill climbing, even though one tries to cut this down by flying in a light plane or helicopter. He should be on the young side, under 40, have been a Commanding Officer in World War II.

5.   Half of our transport inherited from 27 Brigade is in a very poor condition owing to hard usage.

We expect to fight a big battle in a few days time. There are signs of the enemy’s approach. He is about 10–20 miles to the north. I’m confident that the Brigade will do well. I am getting the Battalions to go in for night patrolling which people seem afraid of doing. With skill and luck hope to catch the mass night attacks forming up, with our artillery. The enemy put in a strong attack last night on the US Regt on our right.

With every good wish

Yours most sincerely

George Taylor

Field Marshal Sir William J. Slim GCB. GBE. DSO. MC.

Chief of the Imperial General Staff

The War Office

P.S. Please do not from the above remarks consider I’m Anti-American, far from it, my personal relations with them are good. In spite of expressing my opinions in an outspoken way, where operational matters are in dispute. We must as two Nations stick together. Aubrey Coad who arrives home early June would give you valuable information about the Korean campaign.

Characteristically, on 31 May, Slim replied: ‘I have heard excellent reports of your Brigade and am glad all goes well’, with assurances that he would take up Taylor’s points.

To return to Operation Commando, Cassels’s plan was to carry out the attack with the Commonwealth and Canadian Brigades, each reinforced with a battalion from the 29th Brigade, the remainder of which was to be kept in reserve. The Commonwealth Brigade would lead the assault on the northern flank to take the ridgeline including Kowang San (Point 355) on D day (3 October). The following day, the Canadians would take the lower-lying hills overlooking the Sami-chon valley. By having two phases, Cassels could support both brigades on each day with the complete divisional artillery. On D+3, both brigades would secure the remaining features which, for the Commonwealth Brigade, included Maryang San (Point 317). The Brigade was to be reinforced for Operation Commando by elements of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars (8 H) (Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Lowther) in Centurion tanks and the 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (1 RNF) (Lieutenant Col Speer). Indirect fire support was to be provided by the 16th Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery (16 RNZA) (Lieutenant Colonel Moodie).

In outline, Taylor’s brigade would take Points 210 (689 feet) to 355 on D day, with 1 KSLI on the left, 1 KOSB centre and 3 RAR on the right. On D+1, they would take Point 317.

On what was to become, as described by Professor Robert O’Neill, the official historian of Australia’s involvement in the Korean War, probably the greatest single feat of the Australian Army during the Korean War, it is instructive to hear the views of the Commanding Officer (CO) of 3 RAR prior to the attack:

I thought the Brigade plan was good tactically, if ambitious. I kept my reservations to myself as there was no point in disturbing others. Not so my fellow battalion commanders.

In later years the Brigade Commander told me that each had separately protested, one claiming that the Brigade would suffer a thousand casualties. I thought the Brigade Commander to be an experienced infantryman and skilled tactician. If he set ambitious tasks then one had the comfort of knowing that he knew what it was all about and would not ask for anything that he was not prepared to do himself.

This is a good illustration of the isolation of command. The Brigadier had been told to take 355 (Little Gibraltar) and 317 (Maryang San). He had given his plan. Nobody came up with anything different. He had two concerned COs. The third, myself, was still a ‘new boy’, still under scrutiny. In the event, the matter was sorted out with the British COs. I was not involved.

At first light on 3 October, 1 KSLI moved to secure the ridgeline between Points 210 and 227 (745 feet). The battalion initially made good progress but their supporting tanks trailed behind due to the difficult going. Taylor told them to push on without them; they were always considered a bonus anyway. By the end of the day they had covered 12,000 yards in twelve hours. Taylor was disappointed but told them to go firm and complete their tasks the following day. In the centre, 1 KOSB was not so lucky in trying to capture two intermediate features to cover the eventual assault on Kowang San. This resulted in one of its companies having to withdraw in order to resume the attack later in the day. Well forward as was his style, Taylor visited both commanding officers in their command posts to give them direction and encouragement. Additionally, he managed to speak twice to Cassels on the telephone but not over the radio. By the evening the south-west spur of Kowang San had been captured and 1 KOSB was able to reorganise and rest before continuing the next day. 3 RAR had set off at three o’clock in the morning to capture Point 199 (653 feet) as a preliminary to assaulting Maryang San on 5 October. It took five hours to go 3 miles but success was achieved when it deployed its reserve company and could then support the KOSB attack on Kowang San with its heavy machine guns. The accompanying Centurions of 8 H could bring fire to bear on the two 220 Points (722 feet).

Taylor issued clear orders for operations on 4 October by signal at 6.20 that evening. But Kowang San was still in the hands of the enemy by D+1, making life difficult for the Canadian Brigade, so, at Taylor’s request, Cassels delayed their start time by five hours to enable his artillery to continue to support the Commonwealth Brigade in its final push onto its objective. Under pressure of time, Taylor ordered 3 RAR to take the twin Points of 220 on 4 October to assist 1 KOSB in its attack on Kowang San. This was not popular. Hassett wanted to preserve his battalion’s energies for the attack on Maryang San on 5 October, which he knew was going to be a struggle. However, he did not want to approach Maryang San with Point 355 still occupied by the Chinese artillery observation posts, which could bring fire down on his assault troops. So at three in the afternoon on 4 October, the Australians advanced to the north-east to the first of the two 220 Points and, having taken that, moved onto the second.

Meanwhile, one company of 1 KOSB had pushed up the spur south-west of Kowang San by first light on 4 October. Unknown to them, the Australians having successfully dealt with Points 220 had established themselves on the eastern slope of Kowang San and cleared the enemy from there by 1215. So, although not entirely planned like that, the outcome was a highly successful pincer movement. 1 KSLI had taken Point 210 by 1010 hours and Point 227 by the evening. Taylor thought it was slow but said, ‘after the battle I let the cloak of victory obscure this stickiness’. The Commonwealth Brigade’s occupation of Kowang San (Point 355) was now complete. At the same time, the Canadian Brigade had a relatively easy time in the Sami-chon valley.

Maryang San (Point 317), as everyone anticipated, was going to be a very difficult task. The feature was steep, riddled with spurs and ravines and false crests. The Chinese had dug themselves in well, making much use of reverse slope positions, in order to catch their enemy coming over the crest. They had considerable artillery and mortar support and were known to have brought up large quantities of ammunition. This, clearly, was going to be too much for one battalion, so Taylor reinforced 3 RAR with 1 RNF.

Dawn on 5 October was heavy with mist, making direction-finding difficult, and life was made more stressful by unreliable radios. The two leading companies of 3 RAR came under heavy effective fire and, at one stage, when he could get through to his commanding officer, one company commander had to admit he was lost. Hassett realised the threat to his men and reinforced with his reserve company. This enabled the exhausted battalion to get onto a feature about 1,000 yards east of the objective, which finally fell to the Australians at five in the evening.

The Chinese were still in possession of the south-west spur, however, and forced 1 RNF back under heavy fire onto its original start line, carrying its casualties with it. Consequently, the men had to reorganise themselves and Taylor ordered them to take Point 217 (712 feet) on 6 October. He then instructed Speer to pass one company through 3 RAR and exploit to the head of Point 217 spur from the north. The commanding officer realised this would mean a very difficult approach through deep gullies and ravines and raised his objections. Taylor accepted his view and the order was rescinded.

The Chinese put in strong counter-attacks onto the Australian positions on 6 October and early the following morning Hassett ordered an attack on the Hinge, a feature directly above Point 217. This achieved success, with heavy artillery and tank support, by 0920 hours. One Australian was heard to comment, ‘I’ll never be rude about Gunners again.’ Possession of the Hinge was vital—without it the Chinese would not be able to recapture Maryang San.

1 RNF again had a go at Point 217 but was forced back without success, sustaining heavy casualties when caught in the open once the mist cleared. While the least effective of the battalions in the brigade in this particular operation, the Fusiliers had been in Korea a long time and were on the point of going home which may have made them, understandably, more cautious. Nevertheless, they had, although repulsed, occupied a significant number of Chinese for two days, who, without their attacks, would have been deployed elsewhere. On 9 October, 1 KOSB relieved the weary 3 RAR on Maryang San and then realised the Chinese had abandoned Point 217, so sent a company to occupy it. The final tally was 58 killed and 257 wounded against the Chinese of 474 killed, 241 wounded and 93 taken prisoner.

Scapegoat: Brigadier George Taylor DSO and Bar Part II

Maryang-san (right), Korea

Enemy positions overlooking the Imjin River, October 1951

Operation Commando had been extremely hard-fought and was a great success. Taylor was rightly proud of his troops and issued a congratulatory letter on 9 October to all ranks of the brigade. This was endorsed by the American corps commander in a fulsome letter to Cassels. Like many battles though, as time goes on, it has become forgotten. American commentators do not mention it and some British historians reduce it to a mere footnote. For the Australians however, it became the Battle of Maryang San and a significant battle honour that has gone down in legend and a lesson in how to fight this sort of war. The commanding officer of 3 RAR, Frank Hassett, was awarded an immediate DSO in the field and much later became the Australian Chief of the General Staff.

On 22 October, both the American corps commander and divisional commander, Cassels, visited Taylor’s headquarters. Was there any indication from either of them that they were in any way dissatisfied with Taylor after what was, by any standards, a resounding victory? Yet, on 25 October, Brigadier Taylor was relieved of his command and replaced by Lieutenant Colonel MacDonald, CO 1 KOSB. MacDonald was not even a full colonel, let alone a brigadier. The Australians were sorry to see ‘this fine soldier fall victim to the intrigues and undermining of a few British officers within the Brigade. . . . This unforeseen change of command could not have come at a worse time for the Brigade.’ Maryang San was shortly recaptured by the Chinese. To add insult to their disgust over the loss of what they had fought so hard for, the Australians learnt that the new brigade commander had issued a Special Order of the Day, effusively praising his old battalion, the KOSB, without a mention of anyone else.

What prompted Cassels to make this emergency appointment with no reference to the Army Board or Military Secretary’s department? If the problem (of Taylor continuing in command) necessitated this immediate action, why did Cassels not put Brigadier Pike, the highly experienced artillery commander, in to command the brigade? Pike had all the confidence of the Commonwealth allies and, although a gunner, that did not preclude him from commanding an infantry brigade.

Then, as now, an officer receives an annual confidential report, initiated by his immediate superior and then commented on by the next rank up. It grades the officer, comments on his performance and recommends him for promotion, or not, and future employment. He sees it and initials it. When an officer is removed from his appointment for misconduct or inadequacy, an interim ‘adverse’ report is raised. The officer can appeal against this right up to Army Council level. Unsurprisingly, this is what happened here. On 24 October, Major General Cassels wrote the following adverse report on Taylor:

When I first visited 28 British Commonwealth Brigade in May ’51 I found Brig Taylor in the middle of a battle. It struck me at the time that he did not have real control of his battalions and his plan and explanations were somewhat vague. It was also clear that his Brigade H.Q. was not a happy one. However as I was not his commander at the time I said nothing. When I assumed operational command of the Division on 28 July ’51, 28 Bde was in a static defence role and the only operations were patrols and small raids over the IMJIN. Therefore, during this period, I had no opportunity of judging whether my previous impressions were right. At the same time, I still got the feeling that he was vague in his plans and, though he may have known exactly what he wanted, he could not clearly explain it. I could not pick a specific instance and therefore did not talk to him about it.

It was not until October that I really had a chance to see him in action when his brigade took part in a divisional attack. The brigade played its part extremely well but I felt at the time, and have since had confirmation of this, that this was due to the coordination and planning of three first-class battalion commanders aided by an excellent Brigade Major and Field Regiment commander. Brig. Taylor did not really make or coordinate the plan and, in the battle, he spent far too much time out of touch with the big picture and his H.Q., and interfered with the battalion commanders. Meanwhile the Brigade was virtually being commanded by the Bde Major and the gunner C.O.

After the battle it was quite clear that all was not well in the Brigade and many rumours came to my ears which I have now investigated. I have found that the three battalion commanders, the affiliated Field Regt. C.O. and many other officers have no confidence in Brig. Taylor as a brigade commander. From all I have heard and from my own impressions I confirm this. In my opinion he is militarily stupid but at the same time he is vain and either pays no attention to advice or brushes it aside. He lacks forethought and, though personally very brave, is liable to make illogical and unthinking decisions in a crisis. He is determined and knows what he wants to do but cannot produce clear and intelligible plans or orders to his subordinates who have to guess what he wants. I consider he is not capable of commanding a brigade.

I wish to emphasise that he is a most gallant, sincere and good-hearted officer who is well liked by everybody. Nevertheless he has not got the characteristics required in a brigade commander and I must reluctantly recommend he be replaced.

This was supported by the Australian Lieutenant General Sir Horace Robertson, the Commander-in-Chief British Commonwealth Forces in Korea, in a letter of 30 October:

A very gallant officer with plenty of drive, enthusiasm and likeable qualities. In view of his previous record, had there been another Division available, I must have considered posting him there for confirmation of this report. I feel and I felt before the Division was formed that a very gallant and forceful Battalion Commander had been moved past his sphere but I was careful not to prejudice the Division Commander as I wanted him to decide for himself. The type of operations at present in progress in Korea demands a careful and skilled planner in all grades of command, for there is scope for and need for good planning and manoeuvre with carefully worked out co-operation of all arms. Without all this disaster is almost inevitable and casualties can be overwhelming. I believe that Brigadier Taylor’s qualities might enable him to command a brigade in trench warfare where plans in meticulous detail were made at Army and Corps level, but I do not consider he has the planning capacity to command a brigade in any war of manoeuvre.

He is a staunch man, afraid of nothing and would die gallantly rather than give up an inch of ground to the enemy, and his personal example to the rank and file would be inspiring. However, I am convinced the Division Commander took the right decision.

Taylor initialled the report on 25 October and forwarded an appeal to the Army Board through the Military Secretary. Cassels then commented on the appeal on 28 November:

I would like to make clear the circumstances immediately prior to my decision to write an adverse report on Brig Taylor. Immediately after the battle I naturally congratulated Brig Taylor and his brigade having won it, but some time later it came to my ears, NOT through RA channels, that all was not well and that the three infantry COs were not happy. This was most disturbing news but, as the COs themselves had not said anything, I had no positive proof one way or the other. I was considering what to do when, the next morning, Lt Col Moodie, OC 16 NZ Fd Regt, saw Commander Royal Artillery [Brigadier William Pike] and told him categorically that he knew that the three infantry COs had no confidence in their Brigadier and were even contemplating asking that they should be relieved of their commands. The CRA, naturally and rightly, told me.

It seemed to me that the first thing I had to establish was whether Lt Col Moodie’s statement was, in fact, correct. After considerable thought I ordered the CRA to go and see Lt Cols MacDonald and Barlow and find out. He did this and brought back full confirmation of Lt Col Moodie’s statement.

It was then clear that either the Brigadier or the COs would have to go. I did not think that any useful purpose would be served by ‘putting the cards on the table’ with Brig Taylor as, whatever happened at any such discussion, the result would still have been that one or the others must go.

On the other hand, if the CRA had found that Moodie’s allegations were quite wrong then I would of course have told Brig Taylor of all the facts and would have removed Moodie. In this case I maintain that Brig Taylor’s stock would have risen with his COs and not fallen as he suggests.

I had a high opinion of the COs and, as stated in my report, I already had my doubts of Brig Taylor’s capacity to command a brigade. I therefore decided that he must go and, as the current state of affairs was obviously unsatisfactory, that it must be done quickly. After personally talking to Lt Cols MacDonald and Barlow to confirm what I heard, I wrote an adverse report on Brig Taylor.

Since Brig Taylor has left I have taken particular pains to confirm all I said in his report because I wanted to be quite certain that I was not doing him an injustice. My inquiries included a discussion with Lt Col Hassett, OC 3 RAR, to whom I had not previously spoken on this subject. I regret to say that everything has been fully confirmed, and there is nothing in Brig Taylor’s appeal which causes me to change my opinion.

The papers now went the rounds of three Army Council members: the Adjutant General (AG), Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff (VCIGS) and the Quartermaster General (QMG). They commented:

Clearly the removal of this officer from Command of 28 British Commonwealth Brigade must be confirmed.

The more I read the case, however, the less I am certain as to why the Divisional Commander relieved Brigadier Taylor of his Command. Taylor’s background is excellent and his record as a soldier should have made him in every way fit to Command his Brigade. The Brigade which he, Taylor, has trained and commanded for some time appears to have put up a first-class performance in its first major action in Korea, and as Taylor was in command during this action, to him must go the major share of the credit.

His methods may not have appealed to General Cassels but they would seem to have been effective.

Apart from all this I am not entirely happy in regard to General Cassels’ handling of the case. I should have thought that the simple and correct approach was for Cassels to have told Taylor of what he, Cassels, thought Taylor was doing wrong and to have told him to put it right. If after a reasonable trial Taylor failed to put it right then there would have been a case for removal.

It is impossible not to feel that some clash of personalities has been at any rate a contributory cause to the incident.

I consider that the report should stand and the appeal fail insofar as it is against that report, but that Brigadier Taylor should be given Command of another brigade (not in Korea) at the earliest possible date.

17 Dec 51

General Sir John Crocker AG

I agree with AG’s view. I suggest that he should, if possible, be appointed to command a Regular brigade, where he will have an opportunity of proving his worth.

20 Dec 51

Lieutenant General Sir Nevil Brownjohn VCIGS

I agree with AG’s minute but not the last paragraph. I am very unhappy at the way Cassels has handled this case. Quite apart from the fact that he says he had misgivings, unsupported by any specific instances, in May 1951, it seems to me inconceivable that during, anyway the first day and perhaps the whole of an important engagement a Div Comdr should only speak to his leading Brigadier on the phone. Cassels ought to visit his Brigadiers during a battle, and doubly so if he suspects their abilities. I deduce this from [the papers], and from the absence of any mention of a visit. Here, apparently, Cassels thought the Brigade HQ were ‘unhappy’ over a period of some five months (even though he states that the Brigadier is ‘good hearted and liked by everybody’), and yet he did nothing about it.

You cannot handle, and dismiss, Brigadiers on rumours, hearsay and enquiries. You must go and see for yourself.

I know Brigadier Taylor very well indeed. He is the finest type of fighting soldier—and that type will always repay a little ‘stringing along’ from their more intellectual seniors.

Clearly, his removal from command of 28th Brigade must be confirmed, and to that extent the appeal must fail. But I believe that the circumstances of his removal demand that the report should be expunged from his record. He should be given command of a Regular Brigade.

21 Dec 51

General Sir Ivor Thomas QMG

As there was disagreement between the members, the Military Secretary forwarded the papers to the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff (DCIGS) and the senior civil servant on the Army Board, the Permanent Under Secretary (PUS). The DCIGS agreed with the last paragraph of the QMG’s note, without further comment and the PUS minuted the following:

I restrict my remarks to the point which is not agreed, i.e. whether the report should stand or be expunged.

In a case of this kind, I cannot see how the report can be effectively expunged even if it were considered desirable to do so. The officer has been removed from command and if his records do not show why, they will be incomplete. It is hardly in the officer’s interest that the facts recorded in the Report should not go on record. Indeed I personally regard the report with the discussion of it that has followed as on balance to his credit and I do not agree that it should be washed out.

Generally I have assumed that a report which is an honest expression of opinion ought to stand even though we do not agree with it; and that we only expunge records which are untrue or grossly unfair.

1 Jan 52

Sir George Turner PUS

In cases of disagreement such as this, the Military Secretary forwards the papers to the Secretary of State for War (in this case, Sir Anthony Head) for a decision. Here, the Miliary Secretary reminded him that there were two issues: the officer’s future employment and whether or not the adverse report should be expunged from his record. He also added that Sir Anthony Head might like to discuss the case with the CIGS, ‘who knows about this case’ before giving a final decision. Sir Anthony Head responded, on 23 January, that Taylor should be given another brigade and the report should not be expunged, and Taylor was informed by letter on 28 January. Taylor was subsequently appointed to command the 49th Infantry Brigade, which went on to deal successfully with the Mau Mau in Kenya.

Clearly, in the view of Army Council members, Taylor had been badly and unfairly handled by Cassels and, although the report remained on his record, they saw to it that his career was not ruined. Indeed, after retirement he became a sought-after lecturer on leadership in battle to up and coming army officers. His subject covered his experiences in the Second World War rather than Korea.

So why did this happen? If Taylor was a scapegoat, who was to gain? First of all, Cassels. He behaved uncharacteristically badly in his handling of Taylor. He acted against all the conventions of warning an officer as to his future conduct by sacking him without any prior indication of dissatisfaction. There is no record that he even spoke to him about it, let alone gave a formal, recorded rebuke, which should have happened. He failed to give proper reasons for doing so and his response to the challenge in Taylor’s appeal was weak and relied on hearsay, rumour and innuendo. He utterly misunderstood and misjudged Hassett, who, if anyone, would have made his views abundantly clear if he thought Taylor was inadequate. Cassels only spoke to Hassett after he had sacked Taylor. Cassels’s last paragraph of his response to Taylor’s reaction is simply not true.

In a letter to Taylor on 14 May 1987, Hassett wrote:

I thought we got on well together and I was very sorry when we said goodbye. To have to leave when the Brigade had just achieved a resounding success was a shattering experience for you.

The Brigade plan for Operation Commando was a very good one. Moreover, the Brigade and Divisional support given my Battalion was excellent. Most noteworthy were the artillery and tank support (which you controlled) and the supply trains bringing up ammunition and carrying out the casualties. Had the attack failed, you would have been blamed. Since it succeeded brilliantly, you must get the credit.

I think one of your senior officers was very ambitious. Perhaps that was part of the trouble.

I shall watch out for any information about anyone making allegations about you and speak up for you, if it is necessary.

On 12 June 1991, Hassett wrote to Captain Eaton who was writing a history of 3 RAR:

The Korean chapters are quite the best I have read so far. I was particularly pleased to note they demonstrated well the tactical skill of Brigadier Taylor. Of course, the whole Divisional action was extremely well planned and executed. The timing of the attacks in series so as to make maximum fire support available to battalions at any given time, is one example. As a battalion commander it was comforting to go into an attack with the knowledge that over 120 guns and mortars, as well as tanks, were in support and that any administrative or other back up would be quickly forthcoming. I particularly appreciated the senior commanders being well forward, fully in touch with progress of the battle and able to make the right decisions quickly.

I also suggested, and I understand it is agreed, that the History include the comment ‘George Taylor was a most able tactician’.

Hassett then wrote to Taylor on 27 February 1992:

Here is the 3RAR version of the battle of Maryang San by Lt Col Breen, drawn on Eaton’s writings.

There is criticism of some British units, the KOSB in particular. Much of this flows from the KOSB having MacDonald as its CO. He disliked Australians, a sentiment they returned in full measure. I consider him a poor CO and a worse Brigade Commander.

I have taken pains to ensure that your own part in Commando is recognised as a valuable contribution from an experienced and able commander. This may be some belated consolation for the harsh treatment given you and the enormous hurt you must have felt. Of course, it is a 3RAR view as seen by junior officers and soldiers. Always forthright, they have called the shots as they saw them! Mostly, they were not in a position to appreciate the enormous support the Battalion was given at the Brigade and Divisional level. I recognised it and have said so.

When Taylor returned to England, he was given lunch at the House of Lords by his old friend General Horrocks, now Black Rod, who was dumbfounded when he learned what had happened. Horrocks told him that Cassels, as a brigadier before the Rhine crossing, was at the point of being sacked but his divisional commander was killed by a mortar bomb and Cassels was saved.

Cassels was not the sort of man to enhance his own career by stepping on the necks of others. He did not need to; he had a good record, was eminently capable and went on to great things later, including becoming Chief of the General Staff. Was he frightened of a rebellion by his battalion commanders? Were they anxious that Taylor was too robust for them? Peace talks had already started so no one wanted to expend life unnecessarily at this stage. Hassett was the star but, contrary to what Cassels thought, he had no problem with Taylor. With the possibly inadequate and unpopular New Zealand artillery commander, Moodie, did Cassels fear a falling out among the Commonwealth allies? Cohesion was important, particularly under intense American scrutiny. Cassels found the Americans difficult yet had to rely on them for much materiel. They would have been quick to drive a wedge into the fledgling Commonwealth Division if they thought it was not up to it.

Cassels then made MacDonald the brigade commander. Was it he who fomented disloyalty and distrust among his fellow commanding officers to further his own ambitions? Hassett had no time for him but he did appear to achieve that ambition, if that is what it was, by commanding a brigade as a lieutenant colonel. Barlow was a pessimist and possibly thought he would have an easier ride under a softer brigadier. He had to be pushed and prodded, so would have been no friend of Taylor’s. Possibly he resented Taylor’s earlier criticisms. Speer was at the end of the road, having completed a gruelling tour with his battalion in Korea. They had not done well on the operation and all he would have wanted was to return home as intact as possible; not for him a possibly gung-ho brigade commander.

Clearly, a key figure was Brigadier William Pike, the divisional Commander Royal Artillery. He was a fine officer and would have undoubtedly been Cassels’s closest confidant. As we have seen, he was charged by Cassels to find out what was going on and then escorted Taylor to Cassels for his final interview. Sadly, the family papers, well researched by his son, Hew, in his excellent From the Front Line are silent on the matter.

So there was a nasty brew in the cauldron and Taylor was thrown out. Whether he satisfies the definition of a scapegoat as the price to be paid for the cohesion of the 1st Commonwealth Division, or was more the victim of some disruptive disloyalty by his subordinates and blatant mishandling by his commander, we shall probably never know. If, however, he was a scapegoat, there must have been another or others to benefit.

‘Cui bono?’1 Cassels possibly; easier for him to sack a brigadier than all the commanding officers, if that was the alternative? Or was it to demonstrate his strength in the face of the Americans? The commanding officers? Taylor was not popular, except with the Australians, so they would have been glad to see him go. MacDonald? He certainly boosted his career by Taylor’s dismissal but Regimental Headquarters of the KOSB was unable to throw any light. What is not in doubt, as agreed by the Army Council, was that Taylor was wrongly dismissed. If he was not a scapegoat, then why? The reader must decide.

The weight of responsibility on the shoulders of the battalion commander is enormous. Only he can make the decision where to move his men and when. His superiors can give him orders to do so, but he has to make them work. In the next chapter, Lieutenant Colonel Bevan receives orders, but very late—they are so delayed, in fact, that he arrives at his objective too late to catch the French. But should he have moved earlier? What were the problems in doing so and would it have made a difference?