The Way of the Warrior


As the Japanese imperial court gradually lost power to military authorities in the countryside, a further distinctive feature of Japanese civilization emerged in the celebration of martial virtues and the warrior class—the samurai—that embodied those values. From the twelfth through the mid-nineteenth century, public life and government in Japan was dominated by the samurai, while their culture and values, known as bushido, expressed the highest ideals of political leadership and of personal conduct. At least in the West, the samurai are perhaps best known for preferring death over dishonor, a posture expressed in seppuku (ritual suicide). But there was much more to bushido than this, for the samurai served not only as warriors but also as bureaucrats—magistrates, land managers, and provincial governors—acting on behalf of their lords (daimyo) or in service to military rulers known as shoguns. Furthermore, although bushido remained a distinctively Japanese cultural expression, it absorbed both Confucian and Buddhist values as well as those of the indigenous Shinto tradition.

The Kojiki is Japan’s oldest extant book. Written in 721, it contains passages about Yamato Takeru, the son of the Emperor Keiko. It provides an indication of early Japanese military values and literary self-image, including references to the use and admiration of the sword by Japanese warriors.
This early concept is further found in the Shoku Nihongi, an early history of Japan written in 797. The chapter covering the year 721 is notable for an early use of the term “bushi” and a reference to the educated warrior-poet ideal. The Chinese term bushi had entered the Japanese vocabulary with the general introduction of Chinese literature, supplementing the indigenous terms tsuwamono and mononofu. It is also the usage for public placement exams.
An early reference to saburau—a verb meaning to wait upon or to accompany a person of high rank—appears in Kokin Wakashū, the first imperial anthology of poems published in the early 10th century. By the end of the 12th century, saburai (“retainer”) had become largely synonymous with bushi, and closely associated with the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class.
Although many of the early literary works of Japan contain the image of the warrior, the term “bushidō” does not appear in early texts like the Kojiki. Warrior ideals and conduct may be illustrated, but the term did not appear in text until the Tokugawa period (1600-1868).




Battle of Nördlingen


This contemporary painting by Pieter Meulener conveys a good impression of the often confused fighting of most 17thcentury battles.


The Victory of Nördlingen by Cornelius Schut, 1635.This typical early Baroque painting shows the youthful Ferdinand triumphing with divine assistance.



September 6, 1634


Nördlingen in Bavaria, southern Germany


  • Imperialists and Spain
  • Sweden and allied German states


  • King Ferdinand of Hungary; Cardinal Infante (Prince) Ferdinand of Spain
  • Count Gustav Horn (Swedes); Duke Bernard von Weimar (allied Germans)

Approx. # Troops

  • 33,000
  • 25,000


The battle almost wipes out the Swedish Army, reverses the Swedish victory at Breitenfeld, and leads to the recapture of southern Germany for Catholicism. In this situation France openly enters the war on the side of the Protestants.

The Battle of Nördlingen on September 6, 1634, between Swedish and German forces and Imperial and Spanish forces was one of the major battles of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) in Germany. Following the death of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in the Battle of Lützen on November 16, 1832, his chancellor Axel Oxenstierna ably continued the Swedish war effort. The divisions in Germany were more pronounced than ever, and the devastation of a decade and a half of civil war encouraged outside states to intervene and take what lands they could.

With the death of Gustavus, Albrecht Wenzel von Wallenstein became the dominant figure on the German scene. As Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II’s preeminent field commander, it is unclear exactly what Wallenstein intended, but indications point to him favoring a peace plan that involved toleration of the Protestants. Believing that Ferdinand II and his Jesuit advisers would never accept such a scheme, Wallenstein opened secret negotiations with the Protestant military commanders Hans Georg von Arnim and Duke Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, in effect committing treason. His effort came to naught. Wallenstein, an unscrupulous man, made the mistake of not doubting the integrity of his own lieutenants. This proved his undoing. Secretly encouraged by the emperor, they murdered Wallenstein in Eger in Bohemia on February 24, 1634.

Meanwhile, the Swedes soldiered on. On September 6 at Nördlingen in western Bavaria some 25,000 Swedish and German forces under Gustav Horn and Duke Bernard met 35,000 Imperial and Spanish forces commanded by King Ferdinand of Hungary and his cousin Cardinal Infante (Prince) Ferdinand of Spain. The Protestant plan called for Horn to attack the Imperial right, while Bernard pinned the Imperial left and prevented it from reinforcing the right. Occupying an excellent defensive position, the Imperial and Spanish forces easily turned back the poorly coordinated Protestant attack. Imperial attacks on Bernard’s forces then routed the Protestant right and wheeled into the Swedes. More than 6,000 Swedes died, and only 11,000 men of the combined Protestant force escaped. The Catholic side sustained only 1,200 casualties.

Nördlingen almost wiped out the army created by Gustavus and, in effect, reversed the Swedish victory at Breitenfeld. Following the battle, King Ferdinand of Hungary, the son of Emperor Ferdinand II and himself the future Ferdinand III (r. 1637–1657), recaptured southern Germany for Catholicism. Although Swedish forces did take the offensive in northern Germany in 1637, the situation after Nördlingen appeared sufficiently dire that the chief minister of France, Cardinal Richelieu, brought his nation openly into the war. Following Nördlingen the war saw France and Sweden fighting Bavaria, Spain, and the emperor.

The French or Franco-Swedish period of the war began in 1635 when French forces invaded Germany. At first the fighting did not go well for France. Finally, on May 19, 1643, at Rocroi in the Ardennes region of north-eastern France the 22-yearold French general Louis, Duc de Enghien, with 22,000 troops, won a brilliant victory over Spanish general Francisco de Melo’s army of 27,000 men. Cavalry and massed artillery shattered the formerly invincible Spanish infantry. Spain lost 7,000 men killed and 8,000 captured in the battle. French casualties were only 4,000.

With all sides urging peace and Germany utterly exhausted, peace negotiations opened in 1644. The talks dragged on because the fighting itself continued. Not until 1648 was the Peace of Westphalia ending the long war concluded. France secured the Lorraine bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun as well as most of the province of Alsace. The Swedes received western Pomerania, including the city of Stettin. Bavaria was elevated in stature and secured the upper palatinate. Brandenburg gained eastern Pomerania and Magdeburg, important steps forward in the rise of what would become the Kingdom of Prussia. The United Provinces (Dutch Republic) and Swiss Confederation were both recognized as independent.

In terms of religion, the Peace of Westphalia reaffirmed the terms of the Peace of Augsburg of 1SS5 that allowed each state to determine the religion of its inhabitants but raised the number of faiths from two to three: Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. In terms of church lands, those holding them on January 1, 1624, received possession, an arrangement that generally worked in the Protestants’ favor.

Most important perhaps was the constitutional arrangement. The more than 300 German states were recognized as virtually sovereign, with each having the right to conduct its own diplomacy and make treaties with foreign powers. This arrangement was an open invitation to intervention in Germany by outside powers, particularly France, which with Sweden became a guarantor of the treaty. Thus, while much of the rest of Europe was being welded into strong centrally directed nation-states, Germany descended into chaos.

Germany had been devastated by the war. Cities were taken and sacked multiple times. Agriculture and crafts both fell into ruin. Pestilence and disease spread, and perhaps half the German population died of these and simple starvation. In consequence, it was the Atlantic peoples—the Dutch, the English, and the French— who now took the lead in world affairs. Only over time did new power complexes begin to form around Brandenburg-Prussia in the north and Austria in the south. In 1740 they began a 126-year-long struggle to see who would control Germany.

References Clark, G. N. The Seventeenth Century. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1950. Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years’ War. New York: Military Heritage Press, 1988. Rabb, Theodore K. The Thirty Years’ War. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1981. Wedgwood, C. V. The Thirty Years’ War. London: Jonathan Cape, 1944.

Battle of Ramillies


The Queen’s Regiment of Horse breaking through on the right flank; seen here capturing the kettle-drummer of the Bavarian Electoral Guards.


Initial attack at the Battle of Ramillies, 23 May 1706. To the south, between Taviers and Ramillies, both commanders positioned the bulk of their cavalry. It was here where Marlborough made the breakthrough.


Map of the Low Countries during the War of the Spanish Succession. The village of Ramillies lies near the Mehaigne, a tributary of the Meuse.


May 23, 1706


Ramillies, north of Namur in the Spanish Netherlands (today Belgium)


  • British, Dutch, Danes
  • French


  • John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough
  • Marshal François de Neufville, Duc de Villeroi

Approx. # Troops

  • 62,000
  • 60,000


Allows the allies to overrun much of the Spanish Netherlands

The Battle of Ramillies was an important allied victory against the French during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) and a personal triumph for the principal allied general, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. Following the splendid allied victory at Blenheim in August 1704, a stalemate developed in the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), where Marlborough saw his desire for offensive operations frustrated by caution on the part of the Dutch. Operations along the Rhine and in northern Italy were inconclusive. This situation prevailed throughout 1705.

In May 1706 French marshal François de Neufville, Duc de Villeroi, believing that Marlborough intended to seize Namur in the province of Brabant in the Spanish Netherlands, moved there with about 60,000 men. Villeroi’s army was intercepted north of Namur at Ramillies by Marlborough’s allied force of about 62,000 British, Dutch, and Danish troops. The French took up position on high ground and partially entrenched, their center on Ramillies. The French position, however, was dangerously overextended.

The battle occurred on May 23, 1706. Marlborough feinted an attack on the French left. To meet this threat, Villeroi shifted his reserves and pulled some units from his right wing, whereupon Marlborough launched his main attack on that weakened sector. Although the French soldiers on the right flank fought well, the men were simply outnumbered and overwhelmed.

Sensing that the entire French line was near collapse, Marlborough ordered a general advance, aided by the aggressive action of the Danish cavalry. The French fled in disorder. Marlborough ordered a vigorous pursuit, and indeed his forces inflicted most of the casualties in this phase of the battle. The pursuit ended some 20 miles from Louvain. Total French casualties amounted to some 13,000 killed or wounded and 6,000 captured. Allied losses were only 1,066 dead and 3,633 wounded.

The Battle of Ramillies had significant consequences, allowing the allied forces to overrun the Spanish Netherlands. During June–October, Marlborough took a dozen important fortresses in the Netherlands and north-eastern France, including Antwerp, Dunkirk (Dunkerque), Menin, Dendermonde, and Ath. The allies also captured an additional 14,000 prisoners. In August, King Louis XIV ordered Marshal Louis Josef, Duc de Vendôme, north from Italy to replace Villeroi and also put out tentative peace feelers.

References Chandler, David G. Marlborough as Military Commander. London: Batsford, 1973. Churchill, Winston S. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Vol. 2. London: Harrap, 1934. Hugill, J. A. C. No Peace without Spain. Oxford, UK: Kensal, 1991. Jones, J. R. Marlborough. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

German Naval Airship Division


Peter Strasser with Gen.-Lieut. Ferdinand Count von Zeppelin (centre) and Hugo Eckener (left).

Created in 1912 to exploit a new weapon: the rigid airship. The brainchild of Ferdinand von Zeppelin, these giant lighter-than-air craft served two purposes. The more valuable, though less colorful, task performed by airships was fleet reconnaissance. The long endurance of airships provided an uninterrupted aerial platform and a third dimension to naval operations, lengthening the range of view to unprecedented distances.

The other mission was the bombing of England. This campaign, the obsession of Commander Peter Strasser, counts as history’s first attempt at strategic bombing. Results achieved were less than impressive, a final accounting documenting slightly more than £1.5 million in damage and minimal loss of life. The losses incurred and the expense of the Zeppelins led to their being abandoned as a primary weapon and replaced by large bombing aircraft. Zeppelins conducted almost 1,000 reconnaissance missions over the North Sea in support of the Imperial German Navy.

A vital lesson that was not learned from the failure of the bombing—by both Zeppelins and aircraft—was that civilian morale rises to the occasion rather than breaking under attack. This hard lesson was learned a second time in the 1940 Battle of Britain.

References Raleigh, Sir Walter, and H. A. Jones. The War in the Air: Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922–1937. Robinson, Douglas. The Zeppelin in Combat. London: G. T. Foulis, 1962.

Schnellboote at Dunkirk

auslaufen kanalhafen

40-06-01 bourassque

Sirocco (Lt.Cdr. Guillaume Rons Cristophe Marie Joseph Michel de Toulouse-Lautrec) was sunk off Dunkerque on 31 May 1940 by the German motor torpedo boats S-23 and S-26.

The French destroyer Cyclone was hit by a torpedo fired by the German motor torpedo boat S-24. She was badly damaged but was able to sail at a speed of 5 knots. The French Commanding Officer asked the Polish destroyer Blyskawica for escort. The Polish destroyer answered and provided the cover requisted. Both ships then met the French destroyer Sirocco that was loaded with soldiers. She passed nearby and dissapeared in the darkness. After one hour Sirocco was torpedoed and sunk by the German motor torpedo boats S-23 and S-26. Blyscawica left Cyclone. She picked up 15 survivors from the Sirocco. Then she returned to Cyclone and acompanied her to Dover.


The S-boat really came into its own at Dunkirk. Britain’s ignominious retreat was at least partly due to the heavy damage caused to Allied shipping by S-boats. First to suffer was the French destroyer flotilla which was inflicting considerable damage on the Wehrmacht in ship-to-shore actions at Boulogne. Lieutenant Gotz von Mirback in S21 and Lieutenant Christiansen in S23 torpedoed and sank Jaguar on the night of 23-24 May 1940. Few days afterwards-on 31 May-Christiansen and Lieutenant Fimmen in S26 crippled the Sirocco, leaving her to be finished off by dive-bombers.

Probably the hardest blow suffered by the Royal Navy during the evacuation was struck by Lieutenant Zimmermann in S30 in the early morning of 29 May. Zimmermann blew apart the old destroyer Wakeful. The minesweeper drifter Comfort went to the rescue but only managed to pick up a handful of the 700 soldiers stranded in the water. Worse was to come. A U-boat and S25 moved in to attack the modern destroyer Grafton. She was hit and sunk by a torpedo from the U-boat. In the near-darkness the sinking Grafton and the minesweeper Lydd mistook the low-lying Comfort for an E-boat. They unleashed a savage barrage of heavy fire on her, and even started machine-gunning her survivors in the water after Lydd had finished the job by ramming.

The sinking of the unarmed liner Meknes became a grisly sequel to Dunkirk. On the night of 25 July 1940, she was carrying 1,100 French sailors for repatriation to Vichy, France. She cleared Portland Bill with all lights blazing to proclaim her neutrality when she was torpedoed and sunk. Lieutenant Klug in S27 was responsible. The Germans claimed they were in strict accordance with international law as they had not been told of the sailing. Some 400 men died.

Prussian Fortifications I


Spandau Citadel (Merian, 1633)

The three major states of the Empire were rarely in a condition to give a lead in engineering matters. Brandenburg-Prussia was already one of the prominent powers of north Germany, yet its engineers displayed little skill or originality until the middle of the eighteenth century. Bastion fortification first came to Brandenburg in 1537, when Margrave Johann commissioned an unknown Italian to fortify Küstrin on the Oder. The citadel of Spandau, another essay in the same style, was designed in 1559 by the Italian Giromela and the native master Christoph Romer. In 1602 we hear for the first time of a Dutch engineer, in the person of one Nicolas de Kemp. The Netherlandish fortification rapidly supplanted the Italian, and the new works that were carried out in the duchy of East Prussia, which was acquired in 1618, were all executed in the new style. The foremost examples were the earthen enceintes of Konigsberg and Pillau, which were begun in 1626. The leading native exponent of Netherlandish fortification was Matthias Dogen, who learnt the manner while he was serving as the Brandenburg resident in The Hague. His massive treatise Heutiges Tages Obliche Kriegs Baukunst was published in German and Latin in 1646 and 1647, and in French in 1648.

That most formidable ruler the Great Elector Frederick William (1640-88) called on the services of Dogen to help him to carry out a comprehensive scheme of national defence. Berlin, which had been girdled with an enceinte as recently as 1624, was refortified from 1658 according to the designs of Dogen, with contributions thrown in by Field Marshal Sparr and the Great Elector himself. Fortification work was in progress at the same time at Lippstadt, Kolberg, Magdeburg, and at Konigsberg, where the Great Elector had crushed civil liberties and was in the process of building the citadel of Friedrichsburg to overawe the townspeople.

Prussian officers went forth to help Peter the Great of Russia and his immediate successors in their sieges and fortress-building, which is one of the few instances in which we find that German experts were numerous and well-qualified enough to be in a position to help foreigners. The Prussians got on much less well with the Dutch, when they were allies in the War of the Spanish Succession. The Prussian officers were inclined to be patronising and boastful, and their gunners were such careless shots that the cannon-balls used to fly right over the besieged fortresses and land in the Dutch trenches on the far side.

Prussian Fortifications II


Siege of Prague. The city and its defences. 1742

The Second Silesian War 1744-5

Recent history ought to have convinced Maria Theresa that Frederick would be content to remain within his borders only so long as the Austrians were doing badly against the French and Bavarians. The spectacular Austrian successes in Germany duly incited Old Fritz to invade Bohemia on a broad front in the summer of 1744. The Austrians were taken unawares, and Prague fell on 16 September, after the feeblest of defences.

After the reduction of Prague, on Frederick’s own admission, he committed an endless catalogue of mistakes. He spread his forces all over southern Bohemia, but in his excitement he neglected to bring up his rearward magazines or consolidate his position in the north. The veteran Austrian Field Marshal Traun proceeded to clear the countryside of people and cattle, and his well-timed flanking movements (together with Saxony’s declaration in favour of Austria), forced Frederick to begin a painful retreat from Bohemia.

The Prussians had to abandon all hope of making a stand at Prague, thanks to the eccentric behaviour of Frederick’s chief engineer, General Walrave. During the Prussian occupation this aptly nicknamed General Voleur shamelessly plundered the Gallas Palace in order to fit out his own Schloss Liliput at Magdeburg, and he wrote to Frederick for permission to take some leave ‘so that I can make arrangements to show off the beautiful furnishings from Prague to the best advantage in my own house’ (ibid., VII, 238). Having thus outraged the citizens, the least he could have done would have been to strengthen the fortifications. Instead, he ‘devoted all his efforts to constructing some impossibly ambitious outworks which demand a garrison of 20,000 men. All the fortifications are consequently useless’ (quoted in Grosser Generalstab, 1890-1914, Zweite Schlesische Krieg, I, 230). This episode began Frederick’s disenchantment with the first of his long line of engineer chiefs. Prague was evacuated on 26 November 1744.

However, Frederick was still unbeatable in the open field, and in 1745, after two defeats in battle, Maria Theresa had to sign over the whole of Silesia in perpetuity. The balance of power in Central Europe was now heavily weighted in favour of the Prussians.