ARMORED CAVALRY IN VIETNAM

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A wire screen protects this M113. The crew can take cover in their bunker. (111-CC-64235)

Each infantry division had an Armored Cavalry Squadron responsible for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and security missions. (Note: The cavalry squadron was the equivalent of an infantry battalion, while the cavalry troop equated to an infantry company; both arms used the term platoon.)

CAVALRY DEPLOYMENT

DIVISION SQUADRON: 1st Infantry 1/4th Cavalry, 23d Infantry 1/1st Cavalry, 4th Infantry 1/10th Cavalry, 25th Infantry 3/4th Cavalry, 9th Infantry 3/5th Cavalry, 101st Airborne 2/17th Cavalry, 1/1st Cavalry served with Task Force Oregon before joining 23d Division

SQUADRON ORGANIZATION

The squadron had twenty-one officers, two warrant officers and 240 enlisted men organized into a headquarters troop and three armored cavalry troops, A, B and C. The troops were equipped with M113A1 armored personnel carriers (APCs) for reconnaissance and M48A3 tanks (replaced by the M551 Sheridan) for firepower. Troop D was an Air Cavalry Squadron armed with observation, transport and helicopter gunships for aerial reconnaissance.

The headquarters troop rode in six M577 command carriers and ten M113 personnel carriers; four M132 flamethrower carriers dealt with bunkers. Ten 6-ton cargo carriers distributed ammunition while two M88 recovery vehicles and three 5-ton wrecker trucks recovered disabled vehicles. Ten 5-ton, fifteen 2½-ton, seven ¾-ton trucks and eighteen ¼-ton utility trucks provided transport.

THE ARMORED CAVALRY TROOP

The Troop was organized into a headquarters and three platoons and although organization often varied, it had around five officers and 192 enlisted men. Twenty-two M113s acted as command vehicles and personnel carriers. Nine M48 tanks gave direct close support while three M125 81mm mortar carriers gave indirect support. Transport was provided by one 2½-ton, one ¾-ton and three ¼-ton utility trucks; an M88 recovery vehicle recovered damaged vehicles.

The troop headquarters had four M113s. A captain ran his troop from the headquarters (APC) while the forward artillery observer, a lieutenant, kept in contact with the divisional artillery through the radio operator. The crew of the communications APC controlled the radio net while two radar APCs could set up ground surveillance radar to cover the troop’s perimeter.

Each platoon was led by a lieutenant and he led six M113s, one mortar carrier and three tanks. The scout section had four APCs organized into two squads to locate targets, so the tank section and the infantry APC could move in to engage it, while the mortar APC gave indirect fire support or fired smoke.

In action the driver continued to operate the M113 while the vehicle commander fired the .50-cal M2 and the two observers fired the M-60 machine guns (one acted as loader if he had no targets on his side). Each crew member had an M16 rifle and the vehicle carried an M79 grenade launcher. The platoon usually rode on and fought from their vehicles, however, the infantry APC carried a squad to search inaccessible areas. The M125A1 81mm Mortar Carrier provided indirect fire support for the platoon.

The tank section had three M48A3s and it was led by the lead tank’s commander; his two tanks were controlled by tank commanders. All three tanks had a driver, a gunner and a loader. The M48s were replaced by the lighter and faster M551 Sheridan, starting in 1969.

Mines were a constant worry for the cavalry troop and the APC crews often reinforced the floor of their vehicles with sandbags. Four-man engineer teams were often assigned to each troop to sweep for mines.

Each troop had a medic team when it was on operations and they either rode with the radar M113s or the squadron loaned them an M113 as an armored ambulance. A casualty clearing station would usually be set up next to the communications M113 so the medics could call in helicopters to retrieve the wounded.

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The commander of an M113 receives new orders as it breaks through the undergrowth during one of 4th Division’s operations in the Central Highlands. (111-CC-59146)

The M113, and its variants, was a lightweight aluminum armored personnel carrier and its low ground pressure allowed the carrier to operate in many areas of South Vietnam, even during the monsoon season. It was able to cross paddy dikes and small streams, while crews were trained to recover their vehicles with winches, cables and beams. The M113s gave squads greater mobility while the armor protected anyone inside from small arms fire and shell fragments. However, the carriers were vulnerable to mines and men often preferred to sit on top of their vehicle rather than sweat it out inside. Some squads stacked sandbags inside to absorb an explosion but the added weight reduced speed and range.

The standard M113 was armed with a 12.7mm [50 Caliber M2] machine gun and a 7.62mm [M60] machine gun and it could carry up to 2,000 rounds of ammunition. It was 4.46m long, 2.33m wide, 2.16m high and weighed nearly 11.5 tons. The gas (petrol) engine in the A1 version had a maximum speed of 40mph but they were vulnerable to enemy fire and most M113s in Vietnam were the A2 variant fitted with a diesel engine.

Several M113 variants were deployed and the body of the M577 command variant was higher to allow the staff inside to work at map tables and operate their communications equipment while the M114A1 reconnaissance version was smaller and only weighed 7.5 tons; the unarmed M548 cargo carrier could carry up to 6 tons of equipment or ammunition for the rest of the platoon. Two variants carried mortars for providing indirect support. The M125A1 variant was armed with a 81mm mortar and it had an effective range of 3,650m. The M106A1 was armed with the heavier 107mm (4.2in) mortar with an effective range of 5,500m. A variety of field modifications were made to the M113 to suit the conditions in Vietnam, including a portable scissor bridge and fire-fighting equipment.

UPGRADING THE M113

Once it became clear that the M113 was as effective fighting vehicles, upgrade kits were deployed to armored cavalry units. Gun shields, pintle mounts and hatch armor gave the crew extra protection. Kit A allowed a .50in machine gun to be fitted to the commander’s cupola and two 7.62mm [M60] machine guns either side of the troop compartment. Modified versions allowed miniguns, recoilless rifles or grenade launchers to be fitted above the commander’s cupola. Kit B fitted a .50mm [50 Caliber M2] machine gun mounting to the mortar variants.

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M551 ARMORED RECONNAISSANCE VEHICLE (SHERIDAN)

The M551 was a high-speed, yet heavily armed, armored reconnaissance vehicle capable of operating in swampy areas. It was developed to replace the heavy M48 tanks operating with the divisional and regimental cavalry squadrons (11th Armored Cavalry continued to use their M48). The main weapon, a 152mm M81 gun/missile launcher, was equipped with advanced night-vision equipment; the tank also had a .50in [50 Caliber M2] machine gun and a 7.62mm [M60] machine gun. The tank had a four-man crew and the diesel engine had a maximum speed of 43mph. It was 6.30m long, 2.79m wide, 2.95m high and weighed 16.7 tons.

The first Sheridans were delivered to 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry and the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in 1969 but confidence in the new tank was undermined when a mine ruptured the hull and detonated the ammunition inside one. There were reliability issues with the missile electronics and the caseless ammunition but the combination of the night sight and the 152mm canister round proved to be effective. Over 200 Sheridans were in action by the end of 1970.

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Greek Civil War (1946–1949)

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The leadership of the National Army after the successful operations in Grammos sector (Operation Pyrsos/Torch).

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Organisation and military bases of the “Democratic Army”, as well as entry routes to Greece (legend in Greek).

Conflict fought between the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and anticom- munist Greek nationalists. Greece’s civil war was rooted in age-old divisions within Greek society and was complicated by the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States. The nationalists were strongly supported by Britain and the United States. The war was one of the earliest Cold War tests of will between East and West and claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000 Greeks, a fatality rate that surpassed the suffering of that nation in World War II. Both sides committed atrocities and tried to settle old scores under the guise of conflicting ideologies. The conflict’s greatest legacy was the Tru- man Doctrine, which committed the United States and its allies to come to the aid of any nation threatened by communist takeover. This set the stage for President Harry S. Truman’s containment policy.

In the early years of the twentieth century, conservative and liberal parties in Greece struggled for power, engaging in a series of bloodless purges that heightened political instability and created great anger and bitterness. This atmosphere provided fertile ground for authoritarianism, and in 1936 General Ioannis Metaxas established a fascist-style dictatorship, further polarizing the country.

Metaxas’s death in 1941 and the flight of the Greek government to Egypt after the German invasion left Greece in virtual chaos. The KKE, persecuted under Metaxas, stepped into the power vacuum by creating the National Liberation Front (EAM), dedicated to the liberation of Greece. By 1944 the EAM boasted nearly 2 million members, and its military arm, the National Liberation Army (ELAS), had enlisted 50,000 fighters.

In October 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, fearful of a communist takeover in Greece and the loss of control over the eastern Mediterranean, met with Soviet Premier Josef Stalin in Moscow and struck a deal over control of the Balkans. In return for Soviet dominance in Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland, Stalin ceded Greece to Great Britain and vowed not to directly support the KKE after the war.

Relations between the British-backed Greek monarchy and the EAM quickly soured as the communists suppressed dissent and tried to assert control over the country. In retaliation, the British rehabilitated the collaborationist police, returned monarchist military units to the nation, and demanded that the ELAS disarm. On 2 December 1944 collaborationist police fired on antigovernment demonstrators, triggering the Battle for Athens. It resulted in a victory for the nationalists and the disarming of the ELAS. The EAM splintered as moderates and socialists abandoned it, while KKE membership plummeted from its peak of more than 400,000 to only 50,000. KKE leader Nikos Zachariades attempted to impose tighter party discipline but was stymied by the strength of the nationalist forces.

In an attempt to maintain order, the British strengthened the Greek National Guard and turned a blind eye as security forces conducted a campaign of repression against the communists. In the Greek parliamentary elections of March 1946, the rightist candidates won a landslide victory. The allegedly rigged elections prompted the KKE to declare a state of civil war and reorganize ELAS units as the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE). The DSE won notable gains in the first year of fighting due in part to support from the communist governments of Yugoslavia and Albania.

Fearing that the nationalists might indeed lose the war against the DSE, the British appealed for help from the United States. Previous British requests for American assistance in Greece had been rebuffed, but by 1947 American attitudes had begun to change. President Truman’s growing antipathy toward the Soviets and their tightening of control in Eastern Europe hardened his stance. On 12 March 1947, he addressed a joint session of Congress, enunciating the Truman Doctrine and requesting a $300 million aid package to support the Greek nationalists and anticommunists in nearby Turkey.

The KKE did not take the Truman Doctrine seriously, believing that the nationalists would capitulate even with U. S. support. By 1948, however, it was becoming clear that the DSE was in dire straits as the American-backed nationalist army grew exponentially. In January 1949, KKE leaders foolishly declared that the goal of the civil war was no longer the restoration of parliamentary democracy, as they had previously stated, but rather the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship. The DSE then shifted from a mobile war of attrition to a campaign to defend territory, a tactical miscalculation that played into the hands of the revitalized nationalist army.

In the spring of 1949, the nationalist army cleared the communist rebels out of southern Greece and launched a two-pronged offensive designed to drive them completely out of the country. As the fighting reached its climax, Yugoslavia closed its border and ended arms shipments that had kept the DSE insurgency viable. After sustaining more than 2,000 casualties in the summer of 1949, DSE fighters withdrew into Albania during the night of 29 August 1949, effectively ending the civil war. Although sporadic DSE raids continued into 1950, the victory of the nationalist forces was by then complete.

References: Clogg, Richard. A Concise History of Greece. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Close, David H. The Greek Civil War, 1943–1950: Studies of Polarization. London: Routledge, 1993. ———. The Origins of the Greek Civil War. New York: Longman, 1995. Gerolymatos, Andre. Red Acropolis, Black Terror: The Greek Civil War and the Origins of Soviet-American Rivalry. New York: Basic Books, 2004. Iatrides, John O. Greece in the 1940s: A Nation in Crisis. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1981.

The Sloop Of War

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The growth in the size of sloops (drawings to the same scale). Many of the Merlin class sloops of 1745 were converted to ship rig in the 1750s, although this was under consideration in the 1740s.

The year 1727 saw the death of George I and the coronation of his son who, like his father, would preside over a generally peaceful period, at least until 1739 when war would erupt again, this time with Spain in the Caribbean. This war later widened into the War of the Austrian Succession, which brought France into the conflict on the side of the Spanish. In the meantime the areas of tension affecting British possessions and trade overseas remained centred on the Caribbean and the Western Mediterranean. It was protection of these areas, particularly the Caribbean and the transatlantic trade, that was to result in the ever-increasing demand for sloops and small Sixth Rates.

The pivotal point in the history of the sloop of war was undoubtedly 1732, for it was in that year that the Admiralty and the Navy Board recognised a need to establish standard requirements in terms of measurement, burthen, armament and crew for general-purpose sloops. From this time onwards the size and number of cruising and bomb sloops in the Royal Navy was set to increase massively. Why this was so, during a period of comparative peace, is the central question: the answer, putting it broadly, was that the time was ripe. British naval capabilities and responsibilities were expanding, the transatlantic trade with the Caribbean was growing, the colonies themselves were becoming better established and the Mediterranean continued to be a region of potential instability. This all added up to an environment where a small, fast and handy vessel would be of great use, one that would work under the umbrella of British naval superiority and whose employment was economical but adequate for the job in hand. In broad terms the size was to remain close to 200 tons throughout the 1730s rising to 250 tons in the 1740s when there was an increase in gun calibre from 4pdrs with the introduction of the short 6pdr. This weapon was to remain the preferred armament for the sloop until the coming of the carronade in the late eighteenth century. From the late 1740s onwards ship rig would be increasingly common, either by conversion or through new-building, and burthen would eventually rise to 350 tons.

These increases in number and size reflect the nature of the wars that were about to engulf Europe and its overseas possessions. These started with the ‘War of Jenkins’ Ear’ in 1739 between Britain and Spain. The unusual name for this war points up the root cause of the problem. Jenkins was the captain of a merchant ship which in 1731 was apprehended by the infamous Spanish Guarda Costa for dubious reasons relating to trade. In the ensuing fracas Jenkins had his ear cut off. Eight years later this incident was to become a retrospective ‘last straw’ in the British determination to harry and assault Spanish possessions and trade in the greater Caribbean.

It was essentially a war about trade and the licence that allowed Britain to provide slaves to the Spanish colonies of Central America. The conflict lasted until 1748, being subsumed in 1740 into the greater War of the Austrian Succession. Although France and Britain were engaged against each other on land from the outset, France did not declare war until 1744, following this with an attempted invasion that failed whilst still at sea. In 1740, the Royal Navy under Vernon was initially successful, capturing the small poorly defended Spanish port of Porto Bello in what is now Panama. But thereafter almost all the amphibious operations against Spanish possessions failed, not least due to the sickness and disease that invariably accompanied a long operation in the tropics, but also due to the difficulty of establishing harmonious inter-service relationships. Much of this was on the personal level.

The war in the Americas continued with the failure of British amphibious operations, largely through the afore-mentioned disease but also due to the well-defended nature of the Spanish ports. The element of surprise had been lost and the targets selected by Britain’s admiral in the region proved to be too hard a nut to crack. At sea privateers on all sides, French, Spanish and British, attacked each other’s trade, but only the British regularly used naval ships to provide escort to commercial shipping. Once again the sloop of war had the opportunity to engage her arch-enemy, the privateer.

In the Mediterranean 1744 saw a combined Franco-Spanish fleet sail from Toulon. There followed an indecisive engagement with the British fleet, based at Mahon but with orders to blockade Toulon and prevent the Spanish, with French assistance, from reinforcing their forces on the Italian peninsular. Britain, although only minimally involved in the plethora of land battles that punctuated this war, was an ally of Austria and its Hapsburg rulers and therefore as part of that alliance was committed to using its power at sea to support the Austrian cause in Italy. The Spanish interest in Italy lay in their desire to repossess the inheritance of their last Hapsburg king. The question arose over the right of a woman, Maria Theresa, to succeed to the Hapsburg Austrian Empire, an outcome unacceptable to many and providing Spain with an opportunity to grab parts of Italy.

At home, a Channel fleet under old Admiral Norris kept an eye on French moves for an invasion across the Channel or through a Jacobite rebellion in the North. In the event the invasion failed at sea and the rebellion, initially successful with Prince Charles Edward’s forces reaching Derby, turned into a rout at Culloden near Inverness.

The few naval successes in this period, apart from Porto Bello, came towards the end with the foundation of a new strategy that kept the British fleet at sea in the Western approaches when at war with France. From this position Britain could guard the Channel, since the seaborne element of any French invasion force must make use of Brest. It also allowed the British to attack French squadrons and convoys from an up-wind position; it also guarded any approach to Ireland and the Irish Sea, often a vulnerable point in the past. The difficulty was to sustain squadrons in waters that were habitually rough and gale-blown. However, Torbay, on the South Devon coast, offered a reasonable refuge in all winds except from east to south. The last major engagements of the war were fought off Finisterre, on the west coast of France, against French convoys, and both were successful. At the second Battle of Finisterre the British squadron was commanded by a young rear admiral named Edward Hawke. He destroyed the escort but the convoy escaped towards the West Indies, so immediately following the engagement he sent the fastsailing sloop Weazle III to Jamaica to warn of the arrival of an unescorted French convoy. The necessary action was taken to ‘welcome’ them.

The series of engagements of this war – at home, in the Americas, the East Indies and in the Mediterranean – can be seen as providing the British Navy and Army with experience that they would put to good use in the Seven Years War of the following decade. They also supplied the incentives to establish defensible bases capable of sustaining a large naval force and a victualling and logistic system to keep those bases and their ships in a condition to dominate their region.

At times the Royal Navy had been severely overstretched but by the conclusion of this war some hard lessons had been learned, and it had just about re-affirmed its position as the most powerful in the World. This was to be challenged in the next conflict, the Seven Years War (1757–1763), by a revitalised French Navy. Spain elected to remain neutral for most of the war, but very unwisely decided to enter it in 1761 on the side of France, which allowed a British Navy, at the height of its success and confidence, to seize both Havana and Manila. In this war Britain was to secure a dominant position in the Indian subcontinent, in North America and Canada and in the greater Caribbean. It left Britain with a global empire to protect but it provided her navy with bases from which she could dominate the seas.

Exocet in Stanley

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Exocet – Land-based firing by MM38 battery at Hooker’s Point, near Stanley, that hit and damaged HMS Glamorgan 12th June. Stanley airfield in the background. DANIEL BECHENNEC

By this time the general intelligence assessment was that Argentina had accepted that the military defence of the Falklands was inevitable and that Great Britain must be dragged to the negotiating table by staging a high-profile incident, for instance targeting HMS Hermes or Invincible. But the Argentinian Navy had lost the maritime battle. Strengthening its military presence on West Falkland to threaten San Carlos and sandwich the British between Stanley and West Falkland with the airborne Strategic Reserve was another option. The Air Force had sufficient transport with its C-47s Dakotas, F-27 Fellowships and C-130 Hercules for a mass drop. The Navy could help with its three L-188 Electras, as could the Army with its three G-222 transports. But the Air Force could not guarantee a lengthy period of air superiority unless the two British aircraft carriers were neutralized, either by the weather or attack.

Soon after the start of British attacks on 1 May the Argentine Navy evaluated the possibility of installing an Exocet surface-to-surface system at Stanley to deter the Royal Navy from bombarding military positions. Transporting a shipboard system would take at least forty-four days and when a simple system needed to be devised, an engineering officer, Commander Julio Perez, and two civilians were tasked to come up with a solution, which they did within ten days. Christened the ‘Do-It-Yourself Firing Installation’, Perez’s development consisted of a generator, supporting hardware and two ramps for the Exocet box launchers all mounted on two trailers. The launchers themselves were cannibalized from two of Argentina’s A-69 corvettes. Perez’s team designed a firing sequence from a box with four telephone switchboard switches; these were manual to save time. Each had to be thrown in specific order timed by a stopwatch. This land-based system was ready in mid-May, but an attempt to fly it and Perez to Stanley on 24 May was thwarted by British air activity. Eventually, in early June, the system was landed, but by this time very wet weather had set in and since there was a danger of the Firing Installation trailer becoming bogged down in the mud, a short stretch of the tarmac road between the town and airport was selected as the firing point. Each night at 6pm the system was dragged from beneath camouflage netting and placed behind a 16-foot high bunker. It had to be ready by 8.30pm when British ships tended to begin their bombardments. The Air Force Westinghouse radars with the 2nd Air Surveillance and Control Group swept a 60-degree arc to the south of Stanley Common for long-range search. The Army provided fire control with its AN-TPS 43 Early Warning radar. Three Exocet missiles were sent. The first one proved to be defective, the second was wasted when a connection to the transformer was incorrectly fitted and veered to the right, as opposed to the left. The third was more successful.

On the night of 27/28 May a large projectile hurtled across the flight deck of HMS Avenger while she was on the gun line south of Port Harriet and out of range of conventional artillery. It was then correctly assessed that Argentina might well have installed an Exocet system on the Falklands and to minimize the risk, Rear-Admiral Woodward created a 25-mile sanitized circumference from the suspected launch pad that no ship was to enter. It is significant that Exocet is a sea-skimming missile and therefore it is suggested that the Argentinians would have some difficulty hitting anything to the west because of the landmass. The problem for the Royal Navy was that Exocet was a weapon widely used by NATO and consequently a counter-measure had not been developed. The sinking of HMS Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyor led to some Royal Navy commanders becoming pre-occupied with it almost to the exclusion of risk-taking.

Four more missiles arrived by C-130 during the night of 5 June, but it was not until about 2.35am on the night of 12 June that a target presented itself. At 2.15am HMS Avenger and the County-class destroyer HMS Glamorgan had both completed the night’s mission of providing naval gunfire support to 3rd Commando Brigade attacking Mount Longdon, Two Sisters and Mount Harriet and left to return to the Carrier Battle Group. Unfortunately for her Commanding Officer of HMS Glamorgan, Captain Michael Barrow, his destroyer clipped the sanitized area and when her radar footprint was detected by the Exocet launch team, a missile launched. Originally mistaking it for a 155mm shell, HMS Avenger recognized the radar configuration to be an Exocet and the target to be HMS Glamorgan. Barrow held his fire and then, when the missile was within a mile and half, he opened up with a Seacat but missed. However, the incoming missile was deflected sufficiently upward to miss the hull of the destroyer, but it slithered across the pitching deck into the hangar and exploded. Burning fuel from a wrecked Wessex helicopter spilled down a hole in the deck into the galley area, causing a major fire, and a fireball ripped into the gas turbine gear room. An officer, six air maintenance crew, four chefs, a steward and a marine engineer, totalling thirteen men, were killed and fourteen injured. Very many of those ashore witnessed the glow of the missile and the tiny explosion on the horizon as the Exocet exploded. Although HMS Glamorgan had an 8-degree list from the weight of water needed to fight the fires, she maintained a steady 18 knots and remained fully operational in spite of the damage.

Italian 15th Century Warfare I

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The battle of Caravaggio and the other battles were the set pieces of Italian warfare. Such battles were relatively rare, although it was naturally on these that the chroniclers concentrated. The administrative documents of military life rarely mention the battles except as an aside to explain casualties and losses of equipment. In this they are more realistic and more informative than the chronicles, but neither succeed in telling us what military life was really like. Fifteenth-century military diaries have yet to be discovered, but still an attempt must be made to get below the surface and look at the realities of military practice, the day-to-day activities of Italian soldiers.

One man who was a conscientious writer of diaries, at least during his official missions, was the Florentine Luca di Maso degli Albizzi. He was the brother of Rinaldo degli Albizzi, the leading Florentine statesman who was overthrown and exiled by the Medici in 1434. Luca, like many Florentines of his class, spent much of his life on missions as representative of the Florentine Republic, and in May 1432 he was dispatched as special envoy to the camp of the Florentine captain general, Niccolò da Tolentino, near Arezzo. For about three weeks he was with the army and his account of those days is an interesting insight which is worth looking at in some detail.

Luca degli Albizzi left Florence on 18 May with a junior assistant, Bernardetto de’ Medici, and fifteen followers. He spent the first night at Castel S. Giovanni in the upper Arno valley where he was met by the civilian commissary with the army and a group of condottieri who were also on their way to join the captain general. The 200 men of these condottieri were billeted some miles further on in Montevarchi, and it was agreed that Luca would pick them up there the next morning and they would all go on together to the camp. Luca was an early riser and the next morning he arrived at Montevarchi to find the soldiers still in bed. They were clearly billeted in houses all over the town, and it took until mid-day to get the squadrons assembled and on the road. They arrived at the camp in mid-afternoon to find that Niccolò da Tolentino had gone out the previous evening with a force of 700 men to try and catch the Sienese under Francesco Piccinino in a night ambush. As he was not yet back, Luca waited for a couple of hours and then rode to Arezzo to spend the night in comfort. Niccolò had in fact failed to catch the Sienese who had received warning of his intentions, but he had ridden all the way to Montepulciano which was being besieged by the Sienese and had sent supplies and more troops into the town before returning. This itself meant that Niccolò da Tolentino had ridden over 50 miles in the 24 hours, but this was not considered in any way extraordinary.

On the 20th Luca returned to the camp and spent six hours with the captain general and his senior officers. They drew up written plans for the campaign, and Niccolò outlined his immediate needs. The troops needed pay, but even more important he wanted 60 mules to carry provisions behind the army as he planned to move fast and did not want to waste time collecting food. He also wanted two or three bombards and some stonemasons to make balls for them. He thought that a few hundred militia auxiliaries would be useful, including 50 pioneers with spades and axes. Luca got off a messenger immediately to Florence with these requirements, and he himself began to ride round collecting the militia.

The strategic position which Luca and Niccolò da Tolentino faced was that a number of contingents of allied Sienese and Milanese troops were operating in southern Tuscany occupying castles and towns and damaging crops. Another Florentine army was camped near Pisa under Micheletto Attendolo, but the needs of the campaign were speed rather than great strength, so it was decided not to try and link up with Attendolo. Niccolò da Tolentino was very anxious to get on with it and declined an offer from Luca that he should postpone operations until the normal ceremony for handing him the baton as captain general had been arranged. News had come that the Sienese were besieging Linari and Gambassi in the Valdelsa, and speed was vital if these towns were to be saved. However, it was bound to take three or four days to collect what was needed and break camp.

After three days of intense activity, the militia, provisions, and munitions had been assembled, and at dawn on 24 May Niccolò da Tolentino moved off with his army of about 4,000 men. He had about 50 miles of difficult country to cover to reach the besieged towns, and as half of the force was made up of infantry and militia it could not move very fast. A messenger met them on the first day with the news that Linari had surrendered, but that the enemy forces were still divided into two camps, one commanded by Francesco Piccinino and the other by Bernardino della Carda. On the evening of the 26th the army reached Poggibonsi and there heard that the Sienese had united, taken Gambassi, and were now moving to meet Niccolò’s army. The night was one full of alarms and false alarms, in one of which Niccolò’s eldest son, Baldovino, was shot in the leg by a jumpy Florentine archer. Luca marvelled at the Captain’s self control when he heard of this incident.

The next day, Tuesday, Niccolò da Tolentino detached some of his infantry and militia north-westwards to begin the siege of Linari, and he himself went southwest to try and cut off an enemy march towards Siena. But again either he had received false information or the Sienese got word of his movements, and they doubled back and headed towards the Arno valley taking Pontedera on the way. This left Niccolò with the task of retaking Linari before he could move on in pursuit. He tried negotiations with the defenders, threatening to hang them all if he had to take the town by storm, but this proved useless. There were only 100 Milanese and Sienese infantry defending it, but it had good walls and they believed that Niccolò would not waste time over them. Indeed he did not plan to waste time; he wanted to get on and bring the enemy to battle, but he was determined to deal with Linari first. He only had small bombards and the weather was blazing hot, but nevertheless he ordered an assault at dawn on the morning of the 30th. Four breaches were made in the walls and Niccolò’s dismounted men-at-arms surged into the assault. After three hours of bitter fighting the town was taken and sacked. There were a number of casualties; all the professional infantry in the defence were held as prisoners, but the local defenders were allowed to go free; a number of women were also taken by the Florentines. Finally the walls of Linari were pulled down and half the town burnt. Linari was a Florentine town; the treatment of it was harsh but effective; this was partly a reflection of basic Florentine attitudes towards the subject towns, partly a matter of military necessity. The place had to be made useless to the Sienese otherwise this sort of warfare could go on indefinitely.

The next day Niccolò da Tolentino turned northwards to join up with Micheletto Attendolo and seek out the enemy in the Arno valley. By now the militia had melted away; they were getting far from their homes near Arezzo and the few days’ campaigning had been tough. On 1 June the army came out into the Arno plain. It was a Sunday and normally in Italian warfare this was regarded as a day of rest when little activity was expected. It was perhaps for this reason that Niccolò da Tolentino succeeded at last in catching the enemy. The Sienese had begun to besiege Montopoli, and Niccolò, moving rapidly now that his troops were out in the open country, came up on them fast. He and Luca went ahead with 30 cavalry and Luca who knew the area well pointed out the lie of the land. Niccolò felt however that he still did not have a clear enough idea of the enemy’s dispositions and so, while Luca stayed with the main body and gave an oration to the troops, he went on further ahead with a few men and thoroughly explored the enemy position. Then without further delay he launched his attack. The battle was short but hard fought, and Luca commented on the useful role of the infantry. The arrival of Micheletto Attendolo from the other direction completed what appears to have been a thoroughly well-planned and organised operation. The Sienese were completely routed, a number of captains and 150 men captured and 600 horses taken. Some of the prisoners escaped the next day as they were being escorted to Empoli, but were quickly rounded up. This battle, described by Luca degli Albizzi, was in fact the Rout of S. Romano later made famous by the series of paintings executed by Paolo Uccello for the Medici palace. Luca’s eye-witness account is somewhat different to traditional descriptions of the battle, which suggest that Niccolò da Tolentino was surprised with a handful of men and held out against enormous odds for eight hours until Attendolo arrived. No doubt a desire to glorify Niccolò’s achievement played some part in the distortions which have crept into the story, but Luca’s account of Niccolò leading a carefully planned attack does the condottiere no less credit in a different way.

The Florentine army got its rest day on Monday and then began to besiege Pontedera. This was, however, a more formidable task than the siege of Linari and without good artillery was likely to take some time. After a fortnight’s intense activity, during which the army had covered many miles of difficult country, taken a town by assault, and won an important victory, there was inevitably a lull. Luca degli Albizzi returned to Florence on the 6th to urge on the provision of supplies and artillery. He confessed that he felt completely exhausted.

This is an instructive glimpse into the life of an army and one which is all too rare in the fifteenth century. The mobility of Niccolò da Tolentino’s force, although half its strength consisted of infantry, is indicative of one of the major features of the warfare of the period. Luca degli Albizzi remarked at one point that only 300 of the 2,000 infantry in the army were concentrated together in one column and the rest were divided up amongst the cavalry squadrons. Does this perhaps mean that many of these infantry rode behind the men-at-arms on their horses when on the march? This could well be the explanation of the speed with which small armies could move. Niccolò da Tolentino’s army of course had very limited artillery and apparently no carts in the baggage train, but it did have 60 mules with provisions and was not living off the country. A larger army, and particularly later in the century, would inevitably have been much more encumbered with munitions and baggage. But it was usually the case that the heavy baggage was detached from the fighting elements of an army and moved on different routes in the rear.

We can get an impression of the activities of the other Florentine army in 1432 under Micheletto Attendolo from the letters written by Micheletto and his attendant commissaries to Florence. It had moved out of its winter quarters outside Pisa in late March and did not return to these quarters finally until mid-December. During the nine months, the army marched all over the Arno valley and deep into the hills on either side; it conducted at least four sieges and numerous skirmishes, but fought no major battle other than its tardy intervention at S. Romano. In 1440 Baldaccio d’Anghiari marched with a small force from Lucca to Piombino in two days—a distance of over 100 miles.

However, some of the most striking evidence for the mobility of mid-fifteenth-century armies comes from the campaigns of 1438–9 in Lombardy. The march of Gattamelata around Lake Garda in the autumn of 1438, when he escaped with his Venetian army from Brescia, became almost legendary in the annals of Italian warfare. Brescia was being closely besieged by the Milanese under Niccolò Piccinino and the direct route eastwards was well blocked. But it was essential to extricate Gattamelata’s main army, both because its size was creating serious provisioning problems in the beleaguered city and because without it the defence of the rest of the Venetian state, and particularly Verona, was dangerously weak. The only feasible escape route was over the mountains around the north of Lake Garda. It was a route which had never been used by large bodies of troops and was therefore thinly guarded by the Milanese. It was over this route that Gattamelata marched his army of 3,000 cavalry and 2,000 infantry, brushing aside the Milanese opposition and reaching Verona in five days. Piccinino was astonished by the feat, but he himself in the next year almost equalled it. Brescia was still being besieged and Gattamelata and Francesco Sforza marched to relieve it by the same route through the mountains. Piccinino moved north from Brescia to meet them and was badly beaten at Tenno. It was said that he escaped from the town, as the Venetian troops swarmed into it, carried in a sack on the back of a German soldier. However, he quickly rallied his forces and marched them around the south shore of the lake to attack Verona, while the Venetian army was still in the mountains. His forced march took Verona completely by surprise, and he occupied the city, although failing to take its two fortresses. Anxious messengers rode through the night to carry the news to Gattamelata and Sforza, and they, again acting with remarkable speed, marched back over the by then familiar road. It was once again the turn of Piccinino to be surprised; thinking that the Venetian army was still on the other side of the lake, his troops were contentedly looting Verona when Sforza and Gattamelata arrived outside the walls. Once more they had done the long march through the mountains in unbelievable time and the Milanese were in no position to defend their new possession. Piccinino and his men were bundled unceremoniously out of Verona having been its masters for less than three days.

Italian 15th Century Warfare II

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The mobility of these armies around Lake Garda was the result of military necessity, but often the errant characteristics of Italian armies were dictated by the search for provisions. Particularly in the first half of the century, it was rare for camp to be pitched in the same place for more than two or three nights, even when the army was on the defensive. After 1450 the growing use of field fortifications and the improvement in provisioning organisation made camps much more permanent affairs. In 1479 the camp established by the Florentines and their allies at Poggio Imperiale was the base for the combined army throughout the summer.

It was Gattamelata and Sforza in 1439 who issued one of the best known sets of army regulations for this period. It was probably normal practice from early in the fifteenth century for a captain general to lay down regulations for the conduct of his army, particularly when in camp, but very few have survived. Such regulations were fairly stereotyped and clearly there were conventions about such things which soldiers accepted without question. In fact Italian army regulations differ little from those which have survived from English military administration of the same period. Gattamelata and Sforza were in a slightly unusual position in that they commanded a joint army; Gattamelata as Venetian captain general commanded the Venetian forces, Sforza was captain general of the League and commanded his own very large company and a certain number of Florentine-employed troops. Their regulations therefore had some peculiar features when they laid down the order of march; the two armies took turns day by day to lead and to be responsible for the defence of the marching column. Otherwise the regulations were conventional in their emphasis on not breaking ranks, on all provisioning companies being properly protected by cavalry, on the formation of a special billeting squadron consisting of representatives of each company, on the role of camp marshals, and on the procedure in the event of a sudden attack on the camp.

The one major omission from these regulations as compared with contemporary English ones was any reference to women in the camps. This was a distinction often noted by observers: Italian armies were encumbered (or perhaps inspired?) by the presence of large numbers of female camp followers. Niccolò da Tolentino’s army in 1432 took women from Linari after the assault and presumably added them to its following. But English regulations were quite specific that no women should be kept in the camp. Anyone finding a harlot about the camp could take all her money, break her arm, and drive her from the army. Niccolò de’ Favri, a member of the Venetian embassy in London, reported on Henry VIII’s 1513 expedition: ‘They did not take wenches with them and they were not profane swearers like our soldiers. Indeed there were few who failed daily to recite the office and Our Lady’s rosary.’ The second distinction observed by the Venetian seems to place the English army in a somewhat unreal light, although it is true that Italian army regulations were less concerned about blasphemy than contemporary maritime regulations. However, the distinction on the role of women in the camps was a true one, but one which reflected totally different social attitudes. Prostitution was an accepted feature of Italian society and so was the military brothel; the Florentines licensed brothels outside the walls of Pisa and used the proceeds from the taxes on them to repair the walls. The 211 prostitutes captured by the Paduans in the defeat of the Veronese army at the Brentelle in 1386 were escorted with great honour to Padua and entertained at the Lord of Padua’s table.

Given the seasonal nature of Italian warfare, camp life was only a part of the soldier’s life. The side about which we know even less is the conditions of troops in winter quarters. The Borgo S. Marco outside the walls of Pisa was often the winter quarters of Florentine armies and there Micheletto Attendolo spent the winter of 1431–2. It served the same purpose as the serragli of the Venetian cities, but one suspects that in the Borgo S. Marco troops were billeted in private houses, whereas in the serragli there were probably some form of permanent encampments. The bulk of the troops of a condottiere prince like Federigo da Montefeltro probably returned to their homes in and around Urbino in the winter, parading perhaps at infrequent intervals to receive pay. Even in the Venetian cities, where the companies had the same winter quarters for years on end, it seems likely that many of the soldiers had their families to which they returned when the campaigning season was over. But certainly, as the century advanced, there is increasing evidence that armies were held together and paid, at least in a rudimentary fashion, in the winter. Nor indeed was it always the case that campaigning stopped in the winter, and the winter break could certainly be very short; December and March were months in which there was often plenty of military activity. The summer break, still common in the first half of the century, was becoming less standard after 1450, although the Venetian army in the sixteenth century still held its manoeuvres in peacetime in spring and autumn.

The emphasis on active campaigning in spring and early summer, and again in the autumn, was not only the result of these being the more clement seasons for military operations. They were also the seasons when armies could do the most damage to crops, and this was always one of the prime aims of Italian warfare. Devastation and organised looting was economic warfare of a most effective kind; if carried out systematically it could have a much greater impact on a small Italian state than the defeat of its army in the field. The conscript pioneers attached to Italian armies were known as guastatori (devastators); their first function was breaking down and burning crops, and only subsequently did they become increasingly important as diggers of field fortifications and other constructive work.

Devastation and looting were therefore by no means necessarily to be linked with ill-discipline, although they were operations which could easily lead to loss of control and bad discipline. There were in fact two totally different sides to this problem. When an army was operating on friendly soil there was of course no question of systematic devastation. All provisions were in theory bought and, as far as possible, troops were kept under control. There were inevitably clashes between troops and civilians, but the condottieri were responsible for the discipline of their men and could be fined if these men inflicted damage on civilian property. The behaviour of troops in this situation was often the subject of complaints from the local populations, but the volume of individual complaints which have survived is not such as to suggest that the increasingly permanent armies were a positive scourge to their own civilians. After a defeat, when an army was in retreat, was the most dangerous time, and it was not uncommon for serious damage to be inflicted on the friendly local population. The other situation was that of an army operating in hostile territory when the whole outlook was totally different. Such armies lived as far as possible off the land and were committed to a policy of devastation. Both the collection of supplies and the ravaging were organised, and there were usually instructions that the property of the Church was to be spared. The condottieri were still concerned to see that their men did not get out of hand and that booty was divided up fairly.

Francesco Guicciardini, who was certainly no friend of the Italian mercenary system, remarked: ‘Ever since the times of antiquity in which military discipline was severely exercised, the soldiery had always been licentious and burdensome to the people, yet they never gave themselves loose to all manners of disorders, but lived for the most part on their pay, and their licentiousness was restrained within tolerable bounds. But the Spaniards in Italy were the first that presumed to maintain themselves wholly on the substance of the people.’ After 1494 the large French and Spanish armies in Italy were living permanently on hostile soil and behaved accordingly. The average Italian army of the fifteenth century spent most of its time billeted or camped on friendly soil, and this was when its ‘licentiousness was restrained within tolerable bounds’. Discipline depends to a large extent on long service under respected and responsible leaders; the peculiar and increasingly permanent condotta system of the fifteenth century provided these conditions to a greater extent than we sometimes imagine. It is significant that Luca degli Albizzi in the three weeks he was with the army in 1432 said not a word about bad discipline except to report that all the militia had deserted. Linari was sacked, but the impression given is that this was a calculated affair, a reprisal for resistance.

The possibilities of booty and at the same time a breakdown of discipline were always at their greatest when a town surrendered or was stormed after a siege. As in northern Europe, it was accepted practice in Italy that a town was formally summoned to surrender before a siege started. It was at this moment that a town could expect to secure the best terms before time, patience and lives had been lost in a siege. However, the terms of a surrender were by no means necessarily related to the length of the siege or the effort involved in it, nor indeed were the terms agreed necessarily honoured once the gates had been opened to a besieging army.

The Western Squadron

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HMS Royal George, right, shown fictitiously at the launch of HMS Cambridge in 1755 by John Cleveley the Elder (1757)

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Admiral Sir Edward Hawke defeating Admiral de Conflans in the Bay of Biscay
Artist: Thomas Luny

In 1758 and 1759 British fortunes had sharply improved in most parts of the world except in home waters. The Western Squadron spent much of 1758 under Anson’s command once more, but scurvy and victualling problems limited him to six weeks at sea, though he once victualled at sea from transports on the coast of Brittany. In October 1758, now under Saunders, the squadron again failed to intercept French ships entering and leaving Brest. It was clear to British ministers that the Western Squadron had to do better. It was all the more clear as it became evident that the French government, with its naval strength and colonial position weakening fast, had decided to solve its troubles at a stroke by invading Britain. Once again the English Jacobites were to play their part, and again there were unrealistic hopes of Spanish, Swedish and even Russian participation. By unorthodox financial manoeuvres enough money was borrowed to keep the French navy at sea for another summer. The plan was for the invasion force to sail with the main fleet, which had to come from Brest and Rochefort. It was, however, impossible to assemble the army at Brest, which always depended on food and raw materials imported by coastal shipping from the rest of France, and which by the spring of 1759 was already severely short of timber and unable to feed extra mouths. It was therefore decided to assemble the army around Vannes, in southern Brittany, where it could be fed, and where the inland sea of the Morbihan provided anchorage for transports. It followed that the Brest fleet had to sail down to collect the transports before returning to the English Channel.

It followed for the British that Brest was now the key point. Intermittent cruises in the Western Approaches would not suffice; it was necessary for the Western Squadron to be continually off Brest or very near it. Never before had the Royal Navy faced the dangers of a close blockade of Brest, and the geographical situation needs to be explained, for wind, tide and navigation were as always the limiting factors in naval operations. Brest dockyard lies on a narrow river, the Penfeld, issuing on to a huge enclosed roadstead, which itself communicates with the sea by a narrow channel, the Goulet, lying almost east and west with high ground on both sides. Outside the Goulet are two anchorages, Berthaume Bay on the north and Camaret Bay on the south side, themselves screened from the open Atlantic by extensive reefs and islands through which there are three passages. To the westward the Iroise is open but scattered with dangerous pinnacle rocks. To the northward the narrow and rock-strewn Four with its formidable tide-race leads into the English Channel. To the south the Chaussée de Sein, a long chain of reefs and islands (known to the English as the ‘Saints’ or ‘Seams’), stretches westwards into the Atlantic. Through it there is one deep but very narrow channel, the Raz de Sein, with the Tevennec rock in the middle of the channel at its northern end. The tide runs through the Goulet at three knots, the Four at four and a half knots and the Raz at seven knots. None of them could be passed except with the tide, and as it is twenty-five miles from the Goulet to the Raz it required exact timing to pass both on the same ebb (or, inward-bound, on the same flood), so that squadrons often had to anchor at least one tide in Berthaume or Camaret Bay. The distances are such that there is no one position from which a fleet could watch all three channels out of Brest except close in with the Goulet where they meet, but neither is there any ground high enough for watchers on the mainland of Brittany to see far enough out to sea to locate a blockading squadron in the offing.

In the prevailing south-westerlies it was easy for French ships to enter the Goulet, but to leave required an easterly or northerly wind; commonest in the late winter and spring, between January and May. At other times of the year the chance to sail from Brest usually came when one of the regular depressions blew in from the Atlantic over the British Isles, causing the wind in the Channel to veer northerly and easterly. Overall it is possible to sail from Brest on about 40 per cent of the days in the year. Because they were often sailing in northerly winds, and because they often wished to avoid the British, the French tended to use the Raz de Sein more often than the other channels.

For a different reason inward-bound squadrons often came the same way. It has been explained why Ushant was a dangerous landfall. No sane navigator, unsure of his position after weeks at sea, would head straight for Brest – least of all a navigator plotting on the Neptune François, the official French chart atlas from 1693 until 1822, which lays down the port thirty-five miles out of position. Instead French ships usually came in from the Atlantic on the parallel of Belle Isle, an excellent bold landfall, from which a south-westerly wind would carry a ship on the port tack to Lorient and Brest, or on the starboard to Nantes, Rochefort and Bordeaux. Alternatively they might first make Cape Finisterre or Cape Ortegal to fix their position and then strike north-eastward across the Bay to Belle Isle. From Belle Isle ships approached Brest from the south-east, past the headland of Penmarc’h and through the Raz de Sein. For the British this meant that any close watch on Brest required a squadron between the Seams and the Penmarks (to use English names), in which position the Breton coast is a deadly lee shore and the only possible escape in a westerly gale would be down into the Bay of Biscay, away from home. The only reasonably safe position for a British squadron watching Brest is west or north-west of Ushant, with the Channel open to leeward, but from here it is impossible to see the Raz de Sein.

These were some of the difficulties Sir Edward Hawke faced when he sailed with the Western Squadron in May 1759 under orders to keep as close to Brest as possible. There he developed a system by which the main squadron was kept in relative safety to seaward of Ushant, but in constant touch with an inshore squadron of two small ships of the line under a bold and skilful captain (Augustus Hervey) lying off the Black Rocks at the inner end of the Iroise, near enough to the Goulet to see anything coming in or out of Brest. Another small squadron was detached into the Bay to watch Rochefort and the French transports in the Morbihan. Initially Hawke was to return at intervals to Torbay for victuals and water, but by August he had thirty-two sail of the line, enough to take turns to visit port and still keep twenty or so on station permanently. At the same time a regular system of replenishment with fresh provisions at sea was developed, with transports carrying live cattle, vegetables and beer. This presented many practical difficulties, with deep-laden merchantmen beating up from Plymouth to the blockading station dead to windward, and coming alongside to trans-ship their cargoes in exposed anchorages or even the open sea. Great determination and expense were necessary, but as a result Hawke was able to keep his ships continually healthy and on station throughout the summer and autumn. The naval physician James Lind, like all professional observers, was astonished at what was now possible.

It is an observation, I think, worthy of record – that fourteen thousand persons, pent up in ships, should continue, for six or seven months, to enjoy a better state of health upon the watery element, than it can well be imagined so great a number of people would enjoy, on the most healthful spot of ground in the world.

It had never been possible for a fleet at sea to remain healthy for so long.

With the French fleet commanded by the comte de Conflans believed to be ready to sail, Hawke remained at sea throughout the autumn, but was repeatedly blown off station by gales, to the alarm of the government – but not of Hawke. ‘Their Lordships may depend upon there being little foundation for the present alarms,’ he wrote from Plymouth Sound on 14 October. ‘While the wind is fair for the enemy’s coming out, it is also favourable for our keeping in; and while we are obliged to keep off, they cannot stir.’ A month later he was blown into Torbay by another gale, and on the same day he sailed, so did Conflans from Brest, 200 miles away. On 16 November, approaching Ushant, Hawke met the victualler Love & Unity who told him that the French were at sea. They were unlucky with the wind, which blew them not only out of Brest but far to the westward before they could shape a course for the Morbihan. On their own account, they were also suffering cruelly from a shortage of seamen, with only 70–80 per cent of their established number of able seamen, and a third of those mere novices, equivalent to British ‘ordinary seamen’. In fact most of Hawke’s captains would have thought themselves very well off with that manning: the real difference was between ships which had been continuously at sea for many months during which they had worked up their crews to a high state of efficiency, and those which had not left port.

The Morbihan, where the French transports lay, is itself within the great bay of Quiberon, which is screened from the open Atlantic by the Quiberon Peninsula, prolonged by a chain of islands ending at the southern end in the rocks called the Cardinals (les Cardinaux), with the bulk of Belle Isle further to seaward providing more shelter. On the 20th Conflans’ twenty-one ships of the line were approaching Belle Isle when their lookouts sighted Hawke’s twenty-three ships astern. The scene was dramatic. Both fleets were driving eastwards before a rising gale, the French shortening sail, Hawke’s ships shaking the reefs out of their topsails. Before them in the fading light of a winter’s afternoon lay a dangerous coast of which they had no reliable charts. Conflans was confident that the British would not dare to follow him into Quiberon Bay, underestimated the rate at which Hawke’s ships were closing, and chose to lead a headlong escape rather than form a line of battle. By mid-afternoon the leading British ships were already in action against the French rear as Conflans rounded the Cardinals to lead into the bay, when the wind suddenly veered two points, heading the French and throwing them into confusion. As the night came on, a fierce battle was fought in heavy seas. Trying to open her lower-deck gunports, the Thésée flooded and went down. The Superbe was sunk by two broadsides from Hawke’s flagship the Royal George. The final reckoning the following morning was one French ship taken and six (including Conflans’ flagship the Soleil Royal) wrecked or sunk, with the survivors scattered up and down the coast and six trapped in the Vilaine river with their guns thrown overboard. Two British ships were wrecked, but their crews were rescued. ‘When I consider the season of the year,’ Hawke reported,

the hard gales on the day of action, a flying enemy, the shortness of the day, and the coast we are on, I can boldly affirm that all that could possibly be done has been done. As to the loss we have sustained, let it be placed to the account of the necessity I was under of running all risks to break this strong force of the enemy.

No British admiral ever ran such navigational risks or gained so dramatic a victory. The threat of invasion vanished, and French sea officers fell into rage and despair. ‘I do not know everything about it,’ Captain S. F. Bigot de Morogues of the Magnifique wrote, ‘but I know too much. The battle of the 20th has annihilated the navy and finished its plans.’ ‘This is a consequence of what we have seen for a long time,’ another survivor wrote, ‘blunders, proofs of ignorance and then folly, plenty of zeal but no ability, plenty of gallantry but no sense, arrogance without prudence. That sums up what has just happened.