South Mountain I


Ultimate General Civil War– (South Mountain)

On September 4, 1862 Lee readied the army for the movement into Maryland. He reduced the number of wagons to those absolutely needed for each regiment. In the artillery unfit horses were removed, crews reassigned to other batteries, and battalions transferred to Jackson’s and Longstreet’s commands. In all, seventy-eight regular batteries and three horse artillery batteries accompanied the army. Lee appointed Lewis A. Armistead to command of the army’s provost guard, with the duty of rounding up stragglers. In the same order Lee warned stragglers that they would be punished and enjoined “the gallant soldiers” to aid “their officers in checking the desire for straggling among their comrades.”

The main body of the army, led by Jackson’s veterans, began crossing the Potomac at White’s Ford on September 5. “The water being limestone,” wrote a soldier, “it was as clear as crystal. The men removed their shoes, socks, and ‘britches.’” Staff officer Thomas G. Pollock watched as the men, in ranks of four, waded into the river. “I never expect as long as I live to witness such a spectacle.” “No body spoke,” he explained, because “it was a time of great feeling.” Pollock rode into the current, then turned in his saddle and looked to the rear. The column of marchers stretched as far as he could see. He confided to his father, “I felt, I was watching what must be the turning point of the war.”

When the men reached the Maryland riverbank, they cheered. A band played “Maryland, My Maryland.” Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s topographer, boasted to his wife in a letter, “The passing of the Rubicon was not more memorable for we were really advancing.” Jackson, wrote Hotchkiss, was “more than usually attentive to all that passed.” Writing the day before, a Virginian had observed, “Jackson next to Lee is the favorite here and I think Jackson inspires more enthusiasm in the men than Lee.” Hotchkiss thought that there was “fewer straggling than I almost ever saw.”

In Leesburg, meanwhile, at the residence of Henry T. Harrison, a distant kinsman of Lee, the commanding general had a letter prepared for Davis. “As I have already had the honor to inform you,” he stated, “this army is about entering Maryland, with a view of affording the people of that state an opportunity of liberating themselves. Whatever success may attend that effort, I hope, at any rate, to annoy and harass the enemy.” A local physician visited the Harrison home and attended to Lee’s injured hands, applying new splints and giving him slings for his arms.

The next morning, September 6, Lee, Longstreet, and the wing commander’s troops headed toward the Potomac crossings. “You may expect to hear of wonders performed by the consolidated, veteran armies of Longstreet and Jackson,” predicted a soldier with the column. In his memoirs Longstreet affirmed that the army “was then all that its leaders could ask, and its claim as master of the field was established.” A Georgian noted, however, “Many of our men did not cross the river for want of shoes.”

By September 7 the campsites of the Army of Northern Virginia sprawled south and east of Frederick, Maryland, by the Monocacy River. Farther to the east Jeb Stuart’s three cavalry brigades and three batteries of horse artillery, about 4,500 officers and men, strung a cordon of vedettes, or picket posts, from New Market on the army’s left flank, through Hyattstown in the center, to the Urbana-Barnesville area on the right. Stuart had orders to confuse the Federals by threatening Baltimore and Washington and closely watching their movements. The horsemen remained on the broad arc until September 11.

Lee had established army headquarters at Best’s Grove, a stand of oak trees about two miles south of Frederick. The Confederate commander issued a proclamation to the people of Maryland, announcing that his army had entered their state to assist them “in throwing off the foreign yoke” of Federal authority. In this pro-Union section of the state, however, the reaction was decidedly mixed. Some of the soldiers purchased shoes and clothing with Confederate money, but many Marylanders “turned the cold shoulder every where,” in the view of one officer. The hoped-for a influx of recruits from the state amounted to fewer than 200.19

Stonewall Jackson arrived at army headquarters on the afternoon of September 9; most likely Lee had requested a meeting with the subordinate. An artillerist who saw the famous Stonewall in Maryland remarked, “Jackson looks as if wading the Potomac and other streams has in no wise improved his appearance.” Three days earlier Jackson had been “stunned and severely bruised” when he spurred a “gigantic gray mare,” given to him by a Marylander, and rider and horse fell to the ground. The general’s favorite mount, Little Sorrel, had been stolen recently and was not yet recovered. The injury forced Jackson, like Lee, to use temporarily an ambulance.

Lee informed Jackson that the army would march west, cross South Mountain, and operate in either the Hagerstown or Cumberland valleys. His intent was to draw the Army of the Potomac farther away from the Federal capital before possibly engaging his opponent in a battle. The Confederates’ supply line would be relocated from east of the mountains to the Shenandoah Valley, with its base at Winchester. To secure the flow of supplies Lee proposed the capture of the 13,000-man Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. He had expected the isolated enemy force to withdraw from the indefensible town, which lay at the bottom of a bowl formed by three heights. In Washington, however, it had been determined, over the opposition of George McClellan, to defend Harper’s Ferry.

Lee proposed dividing the army, assigning a force to the Harper’s Ferry movement, while the remaining units crossed South Mountain and halted around Boonsborough. Jackson objected to the plan. “At the council held at Frederick,” he told Harvey Hill months later, “I opposed the separation of our forces in order to capture Harper’s Ferry. I urged that we should all be kept together.” Jackson argued further that the army should remain east of the mountains. Evidently Jackson had asserted to Hill days earlier that the Confederates should advance into Pennsylvania and “give them a taste of war.”

Whether Lee explained his reasoning to Jackson is unknown, but the commanding general presented his thinking in his report: “The advance of the Federal army was so slow at the time we left Fredericktown as to justify the belief that the reduction of Harper’s Ferry would be accomplished and our troops concentrated before they would be called upon to meet it.” Lee expected that the capture of the Union garrison could be completed by September 12 or 13.

The two generals discussed the details of the operation. When they completed the work, Lee heard the voice of Longstreet outside the closed headquarters tent and asked his other wing commander to join them. During their march together to Frederick, Lee had broached the plan to Longstreet. “I objected,” Longstreet later recounted, “that the move would be very imprudent as we were then in the enemy’s country, that he would be advised within ten or twelve hours of our movement, and would surely move out against us in our dispersed condition.” Both of them left it at that for the present.

Once inside the tent, Longstreet heard the specifics of the plan. “They had gone so far,” he wrote of Lee and Jackson, “that it seemed useless for me to offer any further opposition.” Instead he suggested that the entire army be used in the movement to Harper’s Ferry. When Lee rejected the recommendation, Longstreet countered that Richard Anderson’s division be added to the five divisions assigned to the detached force and that his two divisions and Harvey Hill’s command be kept together. Lee agreed to this and said written orders would be issued. The meeting—one of the most momentous in the army’s history—concluded.

The commanding general incorporated his operational ideas in Special Orders No. 191, distributed to the army later, on September 9. The orders directed Jackson, with three divisions and artillery, to recross the Potomac upriver from Harper’s Ferry and to close the western approaches to the town. The divisions of Lafayette McLaws and Richard Anderson were ordered to march down Pleasant Valley and to seize towering Maryland Heights, across the river from the site of John Brown’s failed October 1859 raid. Like Jackson’s command, John G. Walker’s division was to reenter Virginia and occupy Loudoun Heights, east of the Shenandoah River. Longstreet’s two divisions were to cross South Mountain with the reserve, supply, and baggage trains and halt at Boonsborough. Trailing Longstreet, Harvey Hills’s five brigades were to act as the army’s rear guard. Stuart’s cavalry would cover the route of march and gather up stragglers. The army would move the next day, September 10.

In a postwar article Longstreet asserted, “The division of the army to make this attack on Harper’s Ferry was a fatal error.” The old warrior went even further in another piece, declaring that Lee’s decision was “not only the worst ever made by General Lee, but invited the destruction of the Confederate army.” Longstreet’s criticisms benefited from the clarity of hindsight, but the operation was a potentially dangerous gamble, predicated on a timely capture of Harper’s Ferry and a ponderous advance of McClellan’s army. Unquestionably the discovery of a copy of Special Orders No. 191 by the Federals altered the campaign’s course. Nevertheless, Lee compounded the boldness of the advance into Maryland with the dispersal of his divisions, based on an optimistic, and ultimately unrealistic, timeframe for the “reduction of Harper’s Ferry.” In his fine campaign study Joseph Harsh concluded: “The decision Lee made on the 9th put at risk his campaign in Maryland and possibly even the safety of his army. It did so at the time he wrote Special Orders, No. 191, and long before events prevented these orders from a timely execution—or before they fell into the hands of his enemies.”

Before daylight on September 10, coming from the north, east, and south, the Confederates started passing through the streets of Frederick, heading west. Jackson’s troops led the march on National Road, followed by the veterans of Longstreet, McLaws, Anderson, and Harvey Hill. “Much speculation as to our destination,” jotted an officer in his diary. When Longstreet’s men filed past the civilian onlookers, a regimental band played “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” With the entire army, except for Walker’s division and the main body of Stuart’s cavalry, on the single road, the column stretched for thirteen miles.

Throughout the next two days the various commands marched toward their assigned destinations. By nightfall on September 12 units of the army lay scattered, dozens of miles apart, with Lee’s timetable in shambles. His orders anticipated the capture of Harper’s Ferry on this day, but none of the three columns had closed on the Union garrison. After swinging farther west in an attempt to bag a Federal detachment at Martinsburg, Virginia, Jackson had halted several miles west of Harper’s Ferry. On Maryland Heights McLaws’s advance had stalled before enemy defenses and the rugged terrain. After marching and countermarching, Walker’s small division had bivouacked eight miles from Loudoun Heights.

In Maryland, meanwhile, Harvey Hill’s five brigades guarded Turner’s Gap in South Mountain and rested at the mountain’s base around Boonsborough. To the east, across the mountain range, Stuart’s cavalrymen were receding before mounting Union pressure. “I do not wish you to retire too fast before the enemy,” Lee instructed Stuart on this day, “or to distribute your cavalry wide apart.” But it was too late, as the Federals had entered Frederick. Finally, a report of an enemy militia advancing from Pennsylvania toward Hagerstown had brought Longstreet’s two divisions north from Boonsborough. During the march to Hagerstown Lee and Longstreet rode together. At one point, with evident frustration, Longstreet grumbled to Lee, “General, I wish we could stand still and let the damned Yankees come to us!”

Time pressed against the Confederates, they were behind schedule, and the vanguard of McClellan’s army had reached Frederick. Most critically the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia had been thinning with each successive mile during those three days. While in Frederick Lee had written to Davis: “I need not say to you that the material of which it [the army] is composed is the best in the world, and, if properly disciplined and instructed, would be able successfully to resist any force that could be brought against it. Nothing can surpass the gallantry and intelligence of the main body.” He noted, however, “One of the greatest evils, from which many minor ones proceed, is the habit of straggling from the ranks. The higher officers feel as I do, and I believe have done all in their power to stop it. It has become a habit difficult to correct.”

The straggling had begun during the Seven Days, worsened on the roads to Second Manassas, and swelled into a flood in Maryland. As Lee indicated, the efforts of officers could not stanch the bleeding. Hunger, exhaustion, and illness pulled men from the ranks in droves, human eddies flowing away from the marching columns back across the Potomac into Virginia. Their letters at the time and memoirs later were frank in discussing “a great curse of the army.” Officers and men foraged and even plundered for food. A South Carolinian recalled that he and his comrades chewed tobacco to alleviate hunger pangs. For barefoot men, claimed a Virginian, the state’s rocky roads were “more than most of us were used to.” A North Carolinian believed that every regiment in the army lost soldiers to the “curse.”

The extent of the straggling and desertion was staggering. Before the army had crossed into Maryland, thousands had abandoned the ranks. A newspaper correspondent with the army described the situation beyond the Potomac, “Candor compels me to say that the straggling and desertion from our army far surpasses anything I had ever supposed possible.” An Alabamian believed that “the army then was little better than a mob.” Writing in early September, a soldier averred, “I would not have believed without actual experience, that flesh, blood and muscle could stand what we have stood.” In fact too many could no longer withstand the marching in bare feet, the lack of food, and the cumulative strains of weeks of campaigning. At least 20,000, probably closer to 30,000 Confederates either remained behind in Virginia or returned there during the campaign. Their absence put at risk the entire army.

The consequences for a depleted and divided Confederate army loomed graver on Saturday, September 13. At Harper’s Ferry Jackson’s troops approached from the west and deployed before Union defenders on Bolivar Heights. To the east, across the Shenandoah River, Walker occupied Loudoun Heights with infantry but needed another day to haul artillery to the crest. After an all-day struggle McLaws’s veterans wrested Maryland Heights from the Federals and closed the road from the town at its eastern end. Like Walker, McLaws could not place cannon on the 2,000-foot-high Loudoun Heights until September 14. The operations against the garrison at Harper’s Ferry took on the characteristics of a siege.

At Frederick meanwhile George McClellan rode into the community. On September 6 Lincoln had restored him to command of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia. McClellan then integrated John Pope’s corps into the Army of the Potomac and assigned dozens of new regiments to brigades. Within days of his reappointment to command, he started his 95,000-man army in pursuit of the Rebels. When he entered Frederick, throngs of civilians cheered him, even holding up children for him to kiss. Before noon an officer handed the general a copy of Lee’s Special Orders No. 191, which had been discovered by a soldier in the 27th Indiana in a field outside of town. The copy was addressed to Confederate Major General D. H. Hill and wrapped around three cigars. Who lost the copy remains unresolved.

When the Union commander received the copy, he was addressing a group of local citizens. He stopped to read it and then exclaimed, “Now I know what to do.” One of McClellan’s staff officers attested to the document’s authenticity; having served with Robert H. Chilton in the antebellum army he was familiar with the handwriting of Lee’s chief of staff. McClellan wrote to Abraham Lincoln: “I have the whole Rebel force in front of me but am confident and no time shall be lost.… I think Lee has made a gross mistake and he will be severely punished for it. The Army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for great success if the plans of the Rebels remain unchanged.… I have all the plans of the Rebels and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency.… Will send you trophies.”

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South Mountain II

The orders did not reveal either the strength of Lee’s army—McClellan’s cavalry commander had put the number at an unrealistic 120,000—or whether the Confederates had followed the routes specified by Lee. Consequently, McClellan spent the afternoon seeking further corroboration of the order’s details. He directed Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, the cavalry commander, “to ascertain whether this order of march has thus far been followed by the enemy.” The sound of gunfire from Harper’s Ferry indicated that the garrison had not surrendered. It was in the early evening when Pleasonton reported that the evidence indicated that the enemy had complied with Lee’s orders.

To relieve the troops at Harper’s Ferry, McClellan decided to advance on Turner’s Gap, Boonsborough, and Crampton’s Gap, eight miles south of Turner’s Gap. Eighteen hours passed, however, from the time McClellan was handed the copy of Lee’s order until his units marched on the morning of September 14. His efforts to obtain additional intelligence on the afternoon of September 13 were reasonable, but the situation clamored for aggressiveness. He should have, with minimal risk, pushed his infantry columns closer to the gaps. At no time, however, could McClellan have struck a contingent of the Confederate army unless Lee chose to stand and give battle. Although fortune had given McClellan the strategic initiative, Lee could still dictate whether there would be an engagement at a time and place of his choosing.

It was past nightfall when a courier delivered a message from Jeb Stuart to Lee at Hagerstown. Hours before, a Southern sympathizer had found Stuart at the eastern base of South Mountain. Stuart’s cavalrymen had been skirmishing with their mounted opponents in the valley around Middletown since early morning. Approaching Stuart, the Marylander related that he had been standing outside of McClellan’s tent when the Union general read a document and exclaimed that he now knew what to do. It remains uncertain whether Stuart surmised that McClellan possessed a copy of Special Orders No. 191. Although his message to Lee has not been found, Stuart apparently concluded that the Federal commander had learned that Lee had divided his army and that the enemy was moving to the relief of the Harper’s Ferry garrison.

Shortly after Lee received Stuart’s dispatch a message arrived from Harvey Hill at Boonsborough, reporting that the entire Federal army appeared to be bivouacked on the valley floor east of Turner’s Gap. Lee had spent the day waiting anxiously on news from either Jackson or McLaws on the seizure of Harper’s Ferry. Now the threat to his dispersed army was critical. Lee admitted later that McClellan’s change in tactics had surprised him.

Lee summoned Longstreet to the headquarters tent, gave him the messages from Stuart and Hill, and then stated that they would defend the South Mountain gaps. He wanted Longstreet to march at daylight with his two infantry divisions and artillery to Boonsborough, thirteen miles to the south. Longstreet disagreed, arguing that his command and Hill’s should withdraw to Sharpsburg, where they could threaten the flank and rear of the Federals as they marched down Pleasant Valley toward Harper’s Ferry. Lee “would not agree,” said Longstreet, and ordered the advance. Returning to his tent Longstreet put his argument in writing and sent the note to army headquarters. Lee did not reply.

Sometime after midnight on September 14 a second message from Stuart arrived at army headquarters. In it (the dispatch is missing) Stuart either implied or stated positively that McClellan had obtained a copy of Special Orders No. 191. The dispatch confirmed for Lee why his opponent was acting with unaccustomed aggressiveness. Whether or not McClellan possessed a copy of the orders, the campaign turned against the Confederates when the Union army reached Frederick. Lee could not abandon the campaign and retreat into Virginia, as he believed he had come too far to do so. He was thus left with one choice: buy time for the completion of the Harper’s Ferry operations and the reuniting of his army by slowing the Federal passage through South Mountain.

Lee’s instructions to Stuart and Hill were unequivocal: “The gap must be held at all hazards until the operations at Harper’s Ferry are finished. You must keep me informed of the strength of the enemy’s forces moving up by either.” Although “the gap” was unspecified, Lee meant Turner’s Gap, where he expected Stuart and Hill to conduct its defense. The cavalry commander was convinced, however, that the main Federal thrust would be at Crampton’s Gap and the road into Pleasant Valley in the rear of McLaws’s and Anderson’s troops. Soon after daylight on September 14, Stuart rode south toward the mountain defile, apparently without notifying Hill. The defense of Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap, a mile to the south, fell to Harvey Hill, of whom Porter Alexander said, “There is not living a more honest fighter.”

Hill rode to the crest of South Mountain before sunrise on September 14. Colonel Alfred H. Colquitt’s brigade of Georgians and Alabamians had spent the previous day and night on the mountain at Turner’s Gap. Hill ordered them down the eastern face to the mountain’s base and into line. Before long Brigadier General Samuel Garland Jr.’s North Carolinians arrived and were deployed at Fox’s Gap. Hill’s other three brigades were miles to the rear. In all, Hill commanded fewer than 5,000 officers and men.

A North Carolinian wrote of Hill, “The clash of battle was not a confusing din to him, but an exciting scene that awakened his spirit and his genius.” One of his veterans observed in a postwar letter to the general, “If you had a fault as a division-commander, it seems to us to have been the fortunate one of excess of determination and pugnacity in the face of appalling difficulties and danger.” The former soldier did not specify a particular engagement, but this day on South Mountain fit the description.

Union Ninth Corps troops advanced on Fox’s Gap at about nine o’clock, clashing with the 5th Virginia Cavalry and a battery of horse artillery, left behind by Stuart, and Garland’s North Carolinians. South Mountain rose 1,300 feet in elevation, and its scarred face, with wooded hollows and knolls, thick underbrush, and entangled patches of mountain laurel, aided the defenders. But the Federals kept pushing back the beleaguered Rebels. While standing with the 13th North Carolina on the front line, Garland was struck and killed. Hill described the brigadier in his report as “the most fearless man I ever knew.” The attackers scattered the North Carolinians and reached the crest, where the Old Sharpsburg Road passed through the gap.

Fortune intervened for Hill. The Union attack stalled on the crest before the fire of the horse artillery and a pair of cannon sent in by Hill. A patchwork force of Rebels supported the guns. Amid the smoke and tangled underbrush the Federal officers, believing they had encountered another battleline, asked for reinforcements. To the north, at Turner’s Gap, Colquitt’s men awaited a slowly developing assault by the Union First Corps.

With Garland’s ranks broken and Colquitt’s line facing an overwhelming enemy force, Hill ordered forward his three brigades from Boonsborough. Brigadier General George B. Anderson’s North Carolinians arrived first and were shifted to the right. Behind them the Alabama regiments of Brigadier General Robert E. Rodes moved over the crest in support of the left flank of Colquitt’s troops, who were now engaged in a fierce struggle along National Road. When Brigadier General Roswell Ripley’s brigade came up, Hill directed it toward Anderson’s command. In Hill’s words, he had “played the game of bluff” until these units reached him.

After a grueling march from Hagerstown in which hundreds of men fell exhausted in the heat and dust, the two leading brigades of Longstreet’s divisions arrived at Turner’s Gap at midafternoon. Hill sent them toward Fox’s Gap and assigned Ripley to overall command of the action. The fighting there dissolved into a bungling, confusing affair. The Yankees renewed their attacks, piercing a gap in the Confederate ranks and driving them rearward. Ripley’s brigade became disoriented in the wooded terrain and angled away from the combat. Hill declared to Longstreet in a postwar letter that Ripley “was a coward and did nothing.” A Georgia colonel stated, “Ripley gave himself but little concern about what was going on.”

The situation at Fox’s Gap stabilized at last with the appearance of John Hood and his redoubtable fighters. Hood had been placed under arrest by Longstreet in a dispute with Shanks Evans over captured ambulances at Second Manassas. When Hood’s men reached the western foot of South Mountain, they saw Lee, who had preceded the troops in an ambulance, and shouted to the commanding general, “Give us Hood!” In response Lee temporarily suspended the brigadier’s arrest. When the Texans heard the news, they yelled, “Hurrah for General Lee! Hurrah for General Hood! Go to hell, Evans!”

Hood’s presence on the crest solidified the Confederate right flank. To the north, at Turner’s Gap, Colquitt’s and Rodes’s veterans clung to the ground against mounting odds. The fighting lengthened into the night, the opposing lines marked by musket flashes. A Yankee attested that the “sides of the mountain seemed in a blaze of flame.” The enveloping darkness ended the clash. Longstreet had joined Hill on the crest and informed Lee that he could not hold the position another day without reinforcements. Lee had none and ordered a withdrawal. According to Moxley Sorrel, it was “a bad night” on the mountain as the Rebels filed down the western face, leaving behind their dead and wounded. Confederate cavalry formed a rear guard and remained on the mountaintop.

The defense of Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap had cost the Confederates 1,950 in killed, wounded, and captured; the Federals, about 1,800. In his report Hill praised his troops’ stand “as one of the most remarkable and creditable of the war.” He deserved blame, however, for not sooner ordering forward the brigades of Anderson, Rodes, and Ripley. The Federals’ hesitation to press the advance on the crest at Fox’s Gap and their slowly developing attack at Turner’s Gap spared Hill from a likely defeat. The stubborn fighting by Colquitt’s and Rodes’s men and the timely arrival of Longstreet’s troops salvaged the day for the Confederates.

Longstreet, Hill, and Hood rode off the mountain ahead of the troops and met with Lee. Almost certainly they discussed the condition of the officers and men and the likely enemy movement across South Mountain in the morning. “After a long debate,” in Hood’s words, Lee decided that the retreat should proceed through Sharpsburg to the Potomac River and into Virginia, the campaign in Maryland would be abandoned. After the meeting Lee sent messages written by Robert Chilton to Jackson and McLaws, dated 8:00 P.M., September 14. In them Lee directed Jackson to withdraw from Harper’s Ferry and to proceed to Shepherdstown, where he could cover the retreat of the units with Lee across the Potomac. The dispatch to McLaws read: “The day has gone against us and this army will go by Sharpsburg and cross the river. It is necessary for you to abandon your position to-night.”

Two hours later Lee learned of the Federal’s seizure of Crampton’s Gap and their advance into Pleasant Valley. As noted, Jeb Stuart rode to the defile, where he had sent Wade Hampton’s cavalry brigade on September 13. On that day the gap had been manned by Colonel Thomas Munford with 400 troopers, 300 infantrymen, and six cannon. When Stuart arrived, he learned “that the enemy had made no demonstration toward Crampton’s Gap up to that time.” The inactivity by the Federals persuaded him that they were marching directly along the Potomac River, bypassing South Mountain, to Harper’s Ferry. He dispatched Hampton’s 1,200 horsemen to cover the roads along the river and instructed Munford to “hold it [the gap] against the enemy at all hazards.” Once again Stuart had misjudged the Yankees’ intentions. Leaving the defense of Crampton’s Gap to Munford’s small force, he rode on to Maryland Heights.

The Federals were marching, however, to Crampton’s Gap. They did not reach Burkittsville, east of the gap, until after midday. McClellan had instructed Major General William B. Franklin, Sixth Corps and acting wing commander, “to attack the enemy in detail & beat him.” McClellan expected Franklin to act energetically; instead he halted the march in violation of orders until a trailing division joined his corps. When they appeared before the gap, one of Munford’s men noted: “As they drew nearer, the whole country seemed to be full of bluecoats. They were so numerous that it looked as if they were creeping up out of the ground.” Only a few hours of daylight remained when Franklin’s infantrymen attacked.

For two hours the Confederates valiantly resisted the enemy assaults. Munford described the fighting as “the heaviest I ever engaged in, and the cavalry fought here with pistols and rifles.” When McLaws heard the sounds of battle, he sent Brigadier General Howell Cobb’s brigade to Munford. Cobb’s Georgians and North Carolinians arrived in time to be swept to the rear with Munford’s broken ranks. McLaws and Stuart rode toward the gap and tried to rally the men. Darkness prevented a Union pursuit, giving McLaws time to patch together a defensive line across Pleasant Valley. McLaws did not like Stuart personally, and he remarked to the cavalry commander, “Well General, we are in a pen, how am I to get out of it?”

The news from Crampton’s Gap temporarily altered Lee’s plans. Instead of Longstreet’s and Hill’s divisions, one-third of the army, marching through Sharpsburg to the Potomac, now they would halt at Keedysville, a small village three miles southwest of Boonsborough on the road to Sharpsburg. From there they could move against the enemy flank if the Federals crossed South Mountain and turned south toward McLaws’s and Anderson’s position on Maryland Heights. The security of those two divisions was foremost in Lee’s plans.

The withdrawal from Boonsborough began minutes past midnight on September 15. The bone-weary Confederates stumbled through the morning’s darkness. Overcome with exhaustion, uncounted numbers lay down in the fields and slept. Some managed to rejoin their comrades; others were captured hours later by the trailing Yankees. While en route Lee received a dispatch, dated 8:15 P.M., September 14, from Jackson, who wrote that he expected “complete success to-morrow.” With the morning’s light Lee saw that the terrain around Keedysville provided no good, natural defensive position. He ordered the column on to Sharpsburg.

As the Southerners crossed Antietam Creek, less than a mile east of Sharpsburg, they filed to the north and south, deploying into line on a string of ridges and hills. When Lee in his ambulance passed a group of soldiers, he reportedly said to them, “We will make our stand on those hills.” He stated in his report that the halt and deployment on the western side of Antietam Creek “reanimated the courage of the troops.” A staff officer said likewise, noting in his diary on this day, “Men in a grand humor for a fight.”

BOOK: THE FIRST CASUALTY

BOOK: THE FIRST CASUALTY

The Untold Story of the Falklands War

April 2nd 1982 – the day that the Falklands War erupted. Just sixty Royal Marines stood in the way of an armada of Thousands, 8,000 miles from home and with no support. The story that followed was one of a shameful defeat and ignominious surrender. A story which has lasted for 35 years. Now, with first-hand accounts from the Royal Marines themselves, from the Argentine Marines who fought against them and from the people of Stanley who watched the battle rage on their very doorsteps, a new history has emerged. It is the story of an epic and heroic defence on a scale with Rorke’s Drift; a story which neither the British nor the Argentine governments wanted told. It is a battle denied; the battle of Stanley, a battle which, we are told, never happened. In 2017, history is about to change.

The First Casualty is now available on pre-order for delivery in April 2017. It has been decided by both the author and the men concerned to launch this through a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign. We want YOU to be a part of changing this history as much as we all are and have been, and we want this story to carry far and wide. Kickstarter provides the perfect medium for not just pre-order, but for a number of other special deals and exclusive offers as well as well-wishers and supporters who can even donate anonymously to ensuring the greatest coverage of this story around the world. From our first exclusive print run, provided by YOU, we aim to take this story back and make it what it should be. Not the story of cowardice and defeat, but the true story of the battle and the heroism you were no meant to know about. Order your copy of The First Casualty and be a part of a movement which is changing history.

A gripping story of action and heroism

Ricky D Phillips has kept the faith with the Royal Marines of NP8901 and given them a voice. Let us hope that the British people and indeed all people of goodwill will now value the efforts made by this band of brothers in 1982 to defend the democratic rights of Falkland Islanders in the face of overwhelming force, without any guidance or military support whatsoever. In all, a gripping story of action and heroism, denied for political convenience and which, I hope, shall change the face and the history of this fascinating conflict for good.’

Declan Power

Author of ‘Siege at Jadotville’

Paul von Hindenburg

Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg (painting by Hugo Vogel)

Fully expecting a short war, Paul von Hindenburg paced restlessly in Hanover as seven German armies swept into France, Luxembourg, and Belgium in August. As the Schlieffen Plan unfolded in the west, Russia mobilized weeks earlier than predicted and in mid-August invaded East Prussia with two armies. The cry of Kossaken kommen! sent tens of thousands of villagers onto the roads, no matter that the Russian army’s actual Cossacks were on the whole thoroughly domesticated: often no more than farm boys mounted on plow horses, with officers who wore glasses and sported paunches. Nevertheless, the image of savages who raped, killed, and plundered at will was strong enough that even officers groveled for their lives when they fell into Cossack hands.

Streams of German refugees reached near flood tide when the Russian First Army, the northern arm of the invasion’s pincers, administered a sharp local defeat to the Germans at Gumbinnen on August 20. When the German Eighth Army’s commanding general and his chief of staff suggested a general withdrawal to the west bank of the Vistula, a panicky Moltke the Younger sacked them. Moltke and the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, or Army High Command) then had to select a new command team to stabilize Germany’s eastern front.

Moltke’s selection of Erich Ludendorff as the new chief of staff of the Eighth Army was easily made. Ludendorff had overseen the general staff’s prewar blueprint for mobilization until outspoken advocacy of army expansion landed him in political hot water. Exiled to a socially second-rate regimental command in the industrial city of Düsseldorf, when war came he distinguished himself within days. Attached as deputy chief of staff to the Second Army, Ludendorff assumed command of a leaderless brigade, stormed the Belgian fortress of Liege, and boldly demanded its surrender by hammering on the citadel’s door with the hilt of his sword. For this act the Kaiser decorated the “hero of Liege” with the Pour le Mérite (the coveted Blue Max). Audacious and technically brilliant though Ludendorff was, he was known to be a hothead; he suffered from nerves when plans went awry; and his social origins were not quite top-drawer. Ludendorff would make an excellent chief of staff, Moltke concluded, but someone higher ranking was needed to take command and provide stability and aristocratic presence.

As Moltke debated the choice, a distant relative of Hindenburg attached to OHL recalled that Hindenburg stood ready in Hanover, conveniently centered on a major rail line. The telegram went forth, the retired general replied “Ready,” and a special two-car train carrying Ludendorff from Coblenz made a stopover at Hanover in the early morning hours of August 23. Lacking a regulation field gray uniform, Hindenburg improvised with black trousers and a peacetime Prussian blue tunic let out by his wife to accommodate a postretirement paunch. Ludendorff stepped forward, saluted his oddly garbed commander, and stood respectfully aside as the newly promoted Generaloberst (colonel general) bid adieu to his wife. Together Hindenburg and Ludendorff readied themselves for the journey to East Prussia. It was their first meeting and the beginning of a remarkable strategic partnership.

Hindenburg’s new chief of staff was born on April 9, 1865, two days after Hindenburg had been commissioned a second lieutenant. Son of a bourgeois father and an aristocratic mother, Ludendorff reflected the new wave of general staff officers distinguished more by military proficiency than by aristocratic lineage. He was, in Basil Liddell Hart’s telling phrase, a “robot Napoleon.” He had Napoleon’s work ethic, endurance, and capacious mind, but none of his charisma or inspirational qualities. Peering through a monocle, a sternly self-important expression animating a bulky and somewhat flaccid frame, Ludendorff in peacetime had moved expertly from crisis to crisis. Irascible, humorless, indefatigable, he was the stereotype of a Prussian officer. His main flaw was unbridled ambition. Subordinates respected him but feared his sarcastic tongue and dictatorial ways. In his unrefined bossiness and mastery of minutiae, he was the antithesis of what the Kaiser looked for in his senior officers (der Feldwebel, or that sergeant major, the Kaiser was heard to call him), but no one else in August 1914 had Ludendorff’s combination of tactical skill, operational insight, and boundless energy.

On the train Ludendorff summarized the military situation in East Prussia. After half an hour, Hindenburg nodded his agreement and then set the standard for their relationship by calmly going to sleep. As Hindenburg explained in his memoirs, there was little they could do until they reached Eighth Army headquarters at Marienburg. Hindenburg’s calm confidence reassured the excitable Ludendorff. Already these men had begun to form a symbiotic relationship.

In their postwar memoirs, both men celebrated the Hegelian synthesis they had forged during the war. Ludendorff gushed that he and the field marshal had worked together “like one man, in the most perfect harmony.” Hindenburg’s account was more measured and telling. He described their bond as a “happy marriage” in which they became “one in thought and action.” More to the point, Hindenburg admitted that he gave “free scope to the intellectual powers, the almost superhuman capacity for work and untiring resolution” of his “brother warrior.” That last phrase suggests the most appropriate trope for their relationship. Hindenburg was like an older, shrewder, but less gifted, brother who, as the war progressed, found himself eclipsed by the unbounded ambition of a younger sibling.

At first the older comrade provided much needed stiffening to the younger. Recalled to active duty at the age of sixty-seven, Hindenburg had little left to prove. Having already served with distinction during the German wars of unification, he only wanted to be of service for a week, a month, or however long it took Germany to win this war. Having assiduously studied the geography of East Prussia and having been committed since the 1890s to the idea of repulsing a Russian offensive with aggressive counterattacks, he quickly grasped and approved Ludendorff’s concepts for redeploying the Eighth Army.

Arriving at Eighth Army headquarters in the late afternoon, Hindenburg’s commanding physical presence and emotional imperturbability proved a tonic. Few commanders possessed the force of will to steady not only an inexperienced army whose previous commander and chief of staff had been summarily cashiered, but also a skillful but anxious chief of staff whose imagination plagued him with paralyzing visions of catastrophic defeat and failure. Teaming with Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Max Hoffmann, a highly capable and equally arrogant officer of the army staff, Hindenburg and Ludendorff confirmed plans to concentrate Eighth Army’s strength against the Russians advancing from the south.

Facilitated by the Russians’ failure to follow up their victory at Gumbinnen, the Germans took advantage of their road and railroad networks to bring the equivalent of five army corps against a Russian Second Army suffering from overextension and disrupted communications. On August 27, First Corps crushed the Russian left wing. Two more corps, reaching their positions by hard marching in the brutal August heat, drove in the Russian right. The Russian commander sought to restore the situation by attacking forward with the five divisions of his center and came closer to success than is generally realized. By the evening of August 28, however, German forces advancing on the flanks had closed an unbreakable circle around the Russians.

Victory, the saying goes, has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan. After the fact, many self-proclaimed “victors of Tannenberg” stepped forward. But as Hindenburg himself noted, only he would have taken the blame if the battle had gone the other way. Tannenberg was Hindenburg’s victory. He knew what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. By restoring calm at headquarters, he created an environment in which officers could get on with their jobs. Meddling or micromanaging was simply not his way. Instead, he provided the force of command by holding his nerve and calling Russia’s bluff. An overly ambitious Russian advance, launched prematurely to aid France, was almost fated to fail if German forces moved expeditiously to outflank and outmaneuver their less mobile Russian counterparts. Tannenberg was nevertheless a stunning victory. It marked the destruction of the Russian Second Army, the suicide of its commander, and the capture of ninety-two thousand men and nearly four hundred guns. Yet, it did not even come near to driving Russia from the war-Schlieffen’s criterion for decisive victory. In this it was ironically similar to the Carthaginian victory at Cannae, which only reconfirmed Rome’s determination to resist. Tannenberg’s legacies were nonetheless important. Together with the victory over the Russian First Army at Masurian Lakes in September, it reinvigorated a German war effort seeking to cope with a conflict of unexpected length and dimensions. Even more importantly, Tannenberg created a new national hero.

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Paul von Hindenburg reached maturity as the Second Reich emerged triumphantly from the Franco-Prussian War. As Germany sought to cohere as a nation-state in fin de siecle Europe while simultaneously reaching out for its own imperial place in the sun, the Junker-dominated officer corps in which Hindenburg proudly served provided the glue that enabled Wilhelm II to maintain a semiauthoritarian rule into the twentieth century. In return, Hindenburg and his brother officers earned the enviable status that came with serving in imperial Germany’s most visible and admired institution, an army that had earned its spurs by producing decisive victories on the battlefield. Even professors were known to flaunt reserve commissions and when introduced, chose to have their military rank announced first, academic credentials second.

Hindenburg’s retirement in 1911 marked a fitting end to a respectable military career. It certainly did not weaken the feudal bond he felt to his liege lord, the Kaiser. Recalled to active duty in the opening weeks of the war, Hindenburg won acclaim and celebrity with impressive victories at Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes. With Ludendorff by his side, in two years Hindenburg rose from command of an army, to field marshal and overlord of Germany’s eastern front, and eventually to chief of the imperial general staff. By 1917 these men became virtual military dictators of Germany, and by extension Austria-Hungary as well as Germany took over a faltering Hapsburg war effort.

Excessive power and near-universal adulation exposed Hindenburg’s shortcomings. The wooden statues that became his wartime symbol unintentionally captured a certain woodenness of character. Strength and fortitude Hindenburg possessed; dexterity and breadth of vision he did not. Effective as an army commander, he was out of his depth as a coalition commander and especially as a soldier-statesman. Rejecting negotiated settlements to the war as dishonorable and pusillanimous, Hindenburg and Ludendorff agreed that all-out offensives in every sphere, military, political, and intellectual, were the answer. Unrestricted submarine warfare, however, failed and inexorably dragged the United States into the war, restoring the morale of faltering Entente forces. Meanwhile, overweening ambition in the east prevented concentration of force in the west. Bewilderment and strategic overstretch combined to produce all-or-nothing attacks on the western front from March to July 1918 that ended in exhaustion and widespread disillusionment on both the battlefront and the home front.

Together, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had failed to honor their promises to the soldiers wearing field gray, ultimately betraying their trust. Instead of taking their share of the blame, Hindenburg and Ludendorff sought scapegoats. Defeat marked an acrimonious split of the so-called marriage between these men. Recrimination and betrayal replaced cooperation and mutual respect. Their bitter divorce was a minor, if telling, manifestation of the totality of the Second Reich’s moral collapse.

Austria’s last Turkish War 1788–1790

Clash between Russo-Austrian and Turkish troops in the Battle of Rymnik

The Crimea was not the only trouble spot in the strained relations between St. Petersburg and Constantinople; and its annexation certainly did not quench Russia’s thirst for expansion. The Caucasian kingdom of Georgia, which had submitted to Russian suzerainty in 1783–84, was another problem area. A major offensive by Catherine and Joseph II against the moribund Ottoman Empire was widely expected. To many observers it seemed an ill omen that in spring 1787 the Emperor undertook a second journey to Russia to accompany the Czarina on her inspection tour through the Crimea which she had been able to annex not least thanks to Austrian backing. Vienna did its very best to restrain Russia: as long as Prussia had not been dealt with, the Austrians argued, the Turkish question could not be tackled without the risk of a wide-ranging war.

In the end, it was the Porte that in August 1787, after numerous Russian provocations, declared war on Catherine II. Despite all its sabre-rattling and partition plans, Russia was unprepared for the decisive confrontation, but at least the conflict could now be presented to the European public as a defensive war against an aggressor. Turkish aggression also made it much more difficult for France to continue its traditional role as the Sultan’s protector against Russian rapacity.

In view of the beginning of unrest in Belgium (p. 387), war could not have come at a more inopportune moment for the Emperor, who in accordance with the 1781 alliance was obliged to assist the Russians with his full might, and Vienna felt that it had to act promptly so as not to annoy the Czarina. What Joseph had to make sure this time was that Austria did not come away empty-handed again, as over the Crimea in 1783–84. In essence, Austria’s only vaguely defined war aims corresponded to Joseph’s counter-demands as presented in his response to Catherine’s ‘Greek Project’ back in 1782: the re-establishment of the borderline as defined by the peace of Passarowitz in 1718 (with Belgrade, northern Serbia and Little Walachia), the whole of Bosnia and the fortress of Khotin – not forgetting the Venetian possessions, especially Dalmatia. This would limit Russian gains in the region and secure maximum expansion at Turkish cost.

By September 1787 mobilization throughout the Habsburg Monarchy was in full swing but the relatively cautious strategy adopted for 1788 stood in stark contrast to the Emperor’s extremely ambitious war aims. According to a plan devised by the unpopular military reformer Lacy, Joseph’s éminence grise in all matters military, no fewer than six armies of varying strength were to cover the whole stretch of the Habsburg-Ottoman frontier, from the Adriatic to the Dniester: first, the main army under the personal command of Joseph II (assisted by Lacy) concentrating around Semlin opposite Belgrade; second, the Una army in Croatia; third, an army corps operating along the Sava in Slavonia; fourth, a corps to cover the Banat; fifth, another corps protecting Transylvania; sixth, an army under Friedrich Josias of Sachsen-Coburg deployed in Galicia and the Bukovina. All in all some 245,000 men with 898 field guns and 252 siege guns were mobilized along the Turkish front; later, the number was to rise further to 294,000 men but a sizeable proportion of the army had to stay behind in the north to guard the frontier with Prussia.

The main army was to capture Belgrade first, while by means of a pincer movement the Croatian and Slavonian corps were to invade Bosnia via the Una and Sava. Together with the corps in Transylvania, Sachsen-Coburg’s Bukovina army was to undertake diversions towards the Danube further east and capture Khotin on the Dniester. It was hoped rather naively that after the first campaign the left bank of the Danube would be under Austrian control as far as its confluence with the river Aluta; that done, the road to the Ottoman capital would be open. But soon the usual problems of coalition warfare surfaced once again. Cooperation was made difficult by differing strategic emphases and subsequent problems of coordination fuelled by mutual distrust; in the absence of any significant synergy the partnership’s respective operations each appeared mere diversions. While Joseph II placed the main strategic emphasis on the Danube between Belgrade, Orşova and Vidin, the Russians – once Oczakov, the first goal of the campaign, had been captured – would concentrate on the lower reaches and the estuaries of the rivers Dniester, Pruth and Danube.

Accordingly, the Russians assembled two operating armies: the main force under Prince Potemkin was to advance towards Oczakov in the Dnieper estuary, while a second corps was to cover the main army’s flank in the Ukraine and, joining the extreme Austrian left wing in Galicia and the Bukovina, could invade Moldavia. Although goaded on by Vienna, Russia was very slow to mobilize fully. It was not until summer 1788 that Potemkin really began the siege of Oczakov – time enough for the Turks to concentrate on repelling the Austrian attack on Belgrade. Fearing as much, the Emperor had tried to put off his formal declaration of war until his army would be ready to strike. In December 1787 and again in January 1788 the Austrians even tried to capture the fortress of Belgrade by a treacherous coup de main. In both cases, however, the attempt was thwarted by bad weather and poor visibility. Attempts to incite and support revolts against Turkish rule in the Balkans, especially in Montenegro, were also of little avail: the Russians no doubt were in a better position to win the hearts of their Orthodox brothers. At the beginning of February 1788, the formal Austrian declaration of war was handed over at Constantinople.

In the first campaign the Austrian forces at first did not fare much better either. Little progress was made along the Una and Sava, while the main army under Joseph II dug itself in around Belgrade but without seriously starting the siege; with 200–300 men falling ill per day, disease and summer heat were already taking their toll. Meanwhile, the Turkish vanguard had reached the Danube at Vidin in July 1788. At the beginning of August the Turks crossed the river and broke into the Banat, driving back the Austrian army corps there. Accompanied by some 20,000 soldiers from his main army, Joseph II hurried to the relief of the retreating Banat corps and took up a defensive position in the upper valley of the Temeş to stop the Ottoman advance. By mid-September, however, most checkpoints on the Danube’s northern bank had been lost: the whole river as far as Belgrade was now under Turkish control and the Banat thus lay wide open to Turkish incursions. On top of all that the enemy threatened to attack Joseph’s rear through Transylvania. At the end of September 1788 Joseph ordered his troops to withdraw to Caransebeş, while a false alarm sufficed to make the nervous army flood back in panic as far as Lugos. The Emperor returned to his camp before Belgrade in late October. By the end of the year, he was back in Vienna, demoralized by the withdrawal of September and visibly exhausted by what was to prove a fatal pulmonary disease.

The Turks in their turn did not advance further but rather began to clear the Banat after mid-October 1788, wreaking enormous havoc, as they moved: in the immediate border zone alone, 36,000 civilians were said to have been killed, abducted or forced to flee. Much of the laborious colonization work of the past decades had thus been destroyed within a few months; what was more, firmly based at Orşova north of the Danube the Turks might repeat their work of destruction whenever they wished.

Success in other theatres of war could hardly compensate for the embarrassing loss of face in the Banat. On the Una, at least, Dubica was taken in summer 1788, after Laudon had assumed command in Croatia and Slavonia. Novi followed in October, though it was not until July 1789 that Berbir finally surrendered to the Austrians. The army in Transylvania had initially gone on the offensive, invading the Turkish tributary principalities of Moldavia and Walachia. But soon, massive enemy counter-attacks directed against the mountain passes forced the Austrians on to the defensive. The most spectacular successes were achieved by the army in Galicia and the Bukovina under Sachsen-Coburg, who – ignoring the Emperor’s orders – took the offensive. Between April and July 1788, and again after September, Austrian troops occupied the Moldavian capital of Iaşi. In cooperation with Russian forces Sachsen-Coburg forced Khotin to capitulate in September 1788. St. Petersburg suggested that for the next campaign the Austrian troops in Transylvania should join the corps under Sachsen-Coburg and try to march further south towards the Danube. The underlying idea was to tie down Ottoman forces in that area in order to take pressure off the Russian operations against Bessarabia, which was expected to be the focus of a Turkish counter-attack. Joseph II, however, was furious: he had expected the Russians to occupy Walachia as far as the river Aluta and thus give the Austrians more freedom to capture Belgrade.

The weakened Emperor was unable to join his troops for the campaign of 1789, and so the 79-year-old field marshal Hadik, president of the Aulic War Council, assumed supreme command over the Austrian main army. Yet in spite of his past as a dashing leader of light troops he was no longer the man to capture Belgrade (which the Emperor desired as a pledge for peace negotiations with the Porte) and in late July 1789 the 72-year-old Laudon superseded him, despite his disappointing performance during the War of the Bavarian Succession. After pressing orders from Vienna, Laudon stormed Belgrade in mid-September. 62,000 Austrian soldiers faced a Turkish garrison of some 9,000 men, who finally capitulated on 8 October 1789.

Even in the other theatres of war, things went well that year. Renewed Turkish attacks on the Banat and Transylvania were repelled in the summer, while further east, in Moldavia, thanks to efficient cooperation, the allies had held the initiative ever since 1788. On 1 August 1789 Russians under Suvorov and Austrians under Sachsen-Coburg defeated the Turks at Focşani, followed by another decisive victory over the main Ottoman army under the grand vizier at Martineşti (22 September 1789). Thus, while Austrian forces were advancing down the Danube from the west, Walachia also lay open to invasion from the east. Even without the Russian auxiliary corps called away to the siege of Bender Sachsen-Coburg from the east and the Transylvanian corps from beyond the north occupied Walachia marching into Bucharest in November 1789. Meanwhile, the Russians secured the Dniester line by taking Akkerman (October 1789) and Bender (November 1789).

A high price had to be paid for these successes, which were impressive but not decisive: enormous war costs, heavy casualties among the civilian population of the Banat and equally high losses in the army decimated principally by illnesses and epidemics. Between June 1788 and May 1789 alone there were 172,000 sick and wounded on the army lists, 33,000 of whom died. By contrast the storming of Belgrade in autumn 1789 cost only 300 dead and 750 wounded. As a consequence of the steadily-rising demands of recruitment, unrest was growing in various Habsburg provinces. The exemptions granted to large sectors of society under the Konskription system had to be reduced in order to guarantee a regular supply of recruits, and this began to arouse resentment.

Kaunitz was at a loss to understand why, despite its modern equipment and high standard of training, the Austrian army found it so difficult to drive back ‘those barbarians’, as he called the Turks, into the recesses of the Balkans. No doubt psychological aspects still played a major role. The Turks remained the most dreaded enemy, and warfare in the Balkans continued to be markedly more savage than in a normal ‘cabinet war’ between Christian powders, the fate of Christian prisoners being particularly oppressive. The over-cautious and formalized western-style way of warfare proved woefully inadequate against charging hords of Turkish warriors whenever the undeniable superiority of drill and firepower on which the army’s self-confidence was essentially based could not be brought to bear. On principle, Lacy had strongly recommended a defensive posture and extreme caution: Spanish riders for the infantry, cuirasses and even the long-discarded helmets for the cavalry were once more produced from the armouries; fighting in large squares (en carré) was adopted for better safety in the open field. For the superiority of modern fighting methods to develop to the full, the rough terrain along much of Austria’s Turkish front was indeed considerably less suited than the wide open plains of Bessarabia or Moldavia, where the Russians but also Austrian forces under Sachsen-Coburg won spectacular victories over numerically far superior Turkish armies.

Austria’s rather bureaucratic way of waging war, very much concerned with preserving men and materiel, could not compete with the Russian variety of warfare merging modern western military organization with atavistic traits of ‘Asiatic’ ruthlessness (both against one’s own men and the enemy) which repeatedly shocked Europe. Moreover, unlike Russia, the Habsburg Monarchy was not separated from the Ottoman Empire by vast steppe zones that protected the more densely populated heartlands. Joseph II was thus forced to protect developed lands against immediate Turkish incursions along the immense common frontier with the Sultan and could not bring his military potential to bear on one point. In a further respect, Austria’s last Turkish war was clearly different from all former confrontations with the Ottoman Empire: it was a war conducted solely for power political reasons and aims and was not a defensive battle in the interest of Christendom. Hence neither the Reich nor individual German princes sent auxiliary troops, and some European states actually sympathized with the Turkish cause. Certainly the Sultan had started the war, but more in self-defence than anything else.

Development of British Tanks WWII

As a result of the differences in attitude, policy and design which existed prior to it, when the Second World War broke out in September 1939 the tanks of the various armies differed considerably in their characteristics and in their intended method of employment. In consequence, when they were put to test their performance varied a great deal.

So far as British tanks were concerned, the 40mm guns of the early cruiser tanks, from the Mark I to the Mark VI Crusader, and of the Matilda infantry tank, were superior in terms of armour penetration to the 37mm gun of the original Pz. Kpfw. III and almost equal to its short 50mm gun.

However, no attempt was made in Britain to develop a tank with a larger calibre dual-purpose gun like that of the Pz. Kpfw. IV. What was developed were only close support versions of the cruiser and infantry tanks armed with 76.2mm howitzers, which were limited-purpose weapons with no armour piercing capability and which were in no way comparable to the dual-purpose guns of similar calibre mounted at the time in Soviet as well as German tanks.

A larger, 57mm gun was mounted in 1942 in the Crusader III cruiser tank and Churchill III and IV infantry tanks. Its armour-piercing capabilities were considerably greater than those of the 40mm gun and almost the same as those of the long 75mm with which Pz. Kpfw. IV had been rearmed by then. But it was still inferior to the latter, and other 75 or 76mm guns, so far as high explosive shells were concerned. Moreover, there was no British tank with a more powerful gun that could match the 88mm gun of the Tiger, which had appeared in 1942.

In fact, cruiser and infantry tanks continued to have exactly the same main armament, in spite of the considerable differences in their weight. This meant that the heavier, infantry tanks could not play a role equivalent to that of the heavy tanks of the German and Soviet armies, which were not merely more heavily armoured than the medium tanks but which were also armed with much more powerful guns. As it was, they were never expected to be a more powerfully armed complement to the cruiser tanks. Instead, they were intended to form a separate category of tanks for close cooperation with the infantry and for this purpose they were much more heavily armoured than the cruiser tanks but not more heavily armed. Thus, as a contemporary War Office publication put it, “The main differ ence between the infantry and cruiser tanks lies in the thickness of armour”

The concentration on armour protection in the development of the infantry tanks paid off at first in the case of the Matilda, which enjoyed a high degree of immunity when it was used in 1940 and 1941 in Africa against ill-equipped Italian forces. But, based as it was on armour protection, its success was cut short, like that of the Soviet KV, by the appearance of more effective anti-tank weapons. Thereafter it had to rely more on its armament and in this respect it was no better than the contemporary cruiser tanks. The same was true of its successor, the Churchill infantry tank, whose armour was progressively increased to a maximum of as much as 152mm but which, in spite of it. did not distinguish itself as a fighting vehicle.

In 1943 it was finally recognised that tank guns should not only be armourpiercing weapons but dual-purpose guns capable of delivering effective high explosive fire as well as perforating the armour of enemy tanks. Thus the final, 40 ton version of the Churchill and the 28 ton Cromwell cruiser tank were both armed with medium velocity 75mm guns. But when these tanks went into action in 1944 their armament was two years behind that of the Pz. Kpfw. IV and three behind that of the T-34. Moreover, they were no longer powerful enough to fight effectively the latest types of the opposing tanks, such as the Panther or, even more, the Tiger.

The official attitude towards this situation was that “the tank is designed with the primary object of destroying or neutralizing enemy unarmoured troops”. This may have been true during the First World War but the view implied by this statement that tanks should not normally fight enemy tanks was no longer realistic when both sides were using tanks on a large scale and fighting them could not be avoided. Nevertheless, such views persisted and so did the policy, of which they were an expression, of developing and using the two separate categories of infantry and cruiser tanks.

This policy was, in fact, the root cause of the inadequate attention given to the gun-power of British tanks and of their shortcomings during the Second World War. How serious these shortcomings were is indicated by the fact that, in spite of the relatively large number of tanks produced in Britain, in 1943 and 1944 British armoured formations had to be equipped to a large extent with US built tanks. Yet in 1941 British tank output was already considerably higher than the German and at its peak of 8611 in 1942 it was more than double the latter.

Having developed the concept of the tank to the point where it had some effect on the outcome of the First World War, you might be forgiven for thinking that Britain would have had the edge in tank design. Sadly, this was not the case! During the early years of the war, British tanks were generally not as well armed nor as well protected as their German counterparts. Rather than concentrating on a small number of designs, and developing these to the point where they were reliable, the British tank factories produced a multiplicity of often outdated and unreliable machines that reflected the questionable strategy of producing separate ‘cruiser’ and ‘infantry’ tanks.

An extreme example of tanks designed for such special roles were the infantry and cruiser tanks which the British Army employed right up to the end of the Second World War in spite of their serious deficiencies. However, in 1944 while British troops were still fighting in Normandy, their commander, General Montgomery, proposed the abolition of the division between infantry and cruiser tanks and the adoption instead of a single type of ‘capital’ tank. As it happens, the latter was eventually developed into a heavy gun tank, which was used in small numbers between 1955 and 1966. But in the meantime the policy of using a single type of battle tank was put into effect with the adoption as such of the Centurion tank in 1949.

After 1942 attempts were made to rationalise their production by the use of common components but there were still two types of tanks which differed from each other in the amount of armour and weight but not in what mattered most, namely the main armament. The final outcome of this was the A. 41 ‘heavy cruiser’, six prototypes of which were completed just as the war ended in Europe. Its engine and transmission were much the same as those of the earlier Cromwell and Comet cruiser tanks and its Horstmann bogie-type suspension was inferior to the earlier cruisers’ Christie-type independent suspensions. But its 76.2mm 17 pounder gun represented a significant advance in the main armament of the cruiser tanks and its armour protection was also considerably better. The latter included, at last, a single sloping glacis plate. The design of the A. 41 also very sensibly dispensed with the hull machine gunner, so that it had a crew of four men, which was to become general practice.

The A. 41 ‘s main armament, armour and general characteristics put it on a par with the German Panther and it was deservedly produced and put into service in 1946 as the Centurion medium tank.

In 1946 the British Army also decided at long last to abandon the policy of having infantry and cruiser tanks, which did so much harm to the development of tanks in Britain, and adopted instead the concept of a ‘universal’ tank. Unfortunately, this concept implied not only a single type of battle tank but also one which could be readily adapted to a wide variety of special roles such as flame-throwing, mine flailing, bridge-laying and bulldozing, and which would also be capable of swimming with the aid of a collapsible flotation screen. The requirement that the universal tank be adaptable to all these roles grew out of the attention which the British Army came to devote during the war to various special-purpose versions of tanks. This led to the development of several ingenious devices but it also diverted attention and effort from the basic type of gun tank. How large a proportion of the available resources was devoted to the special-purpose versions of tanks is indicated by the fact that in the closing stages of the war they accounted for a special armoured division, the 79th, when the British Army only had a total of four other, normal armoured divisions.

Between 1939 and 1945, the British Army had access to some twenty indigenous tank designs, some of them so poor that they were never to see combat, together with Lend-Lease supplies of the American Stuart, Lee/Grant and Sherman tanks. Most numerous of the home-grown tanks was the Valentine, a private venture from Vickers-Armstrongs which accounted for almost one quarter of British tank production during the war years. Others procured in large numbers included the Churchill, the Cromwell and the outdated Matilda. The standard British anti-tank gun in 1939 was the 2-pounder (40mm) and when this proved to be inadequate against the better-armoured German tanks, it was replaced by either the British 6-pounder (57mm) or the American 75mm gun, both of which packed more punch. However, none of these could compare with the German 75mm and 88mm guns and it was not until 1944, when the Comet was fitted with a 77mm gun, that a British tank could finally face the Germans on a more-or-less equal footing . . . and just 1,186 Comets were constructed, all of them too late for D-Day and the battle for Normandy!

Nevertheless, the British continue to exhibit a love of the underdog and it is our knack of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, against all the odds, that makes British tank design so fascinating.