As World War I bogged down in the trenches, each side sought a means of breaking the stalemate. Germany’s first attempt was a weapon developed in secret more than a decade earlier.

In 1901 Richard Fiedler rolled out a prototype of what he called a Flammenwerfer (“flamethrower”). Fiedler’s early design centered on a vertical tank divided into two compartments. The lower section held compressed gas, usually nitrogen, which forced flammable oil from the upper section through a rubber tube and past a simple ignition device in the steel nozzle. A stationary form of the weapon, the grosse Flammenwerfer, or Grof, was capable of throwing fire as far as 120 feet. Its smaller cousin the kleine Flammenwerfer, or Kleif, could project flames only half as far but was portable, small enough to be operated by two men.

The German army adopted the Kleif in 1906, and by 1912 the Guard Reserve Pioneer Regiment boasted its own regiment of Flammenwerfer troops. The weapon and its units largely remained a secret, however, until the Germans finally unleashed it at Verdun on Feb. 26, 1915. Shaking off their initial terror, the French counterattacked, retook the lost ground and managed to capture a Kleif, which its weapons researchers promptly disassembled.

At the Second Battle of Ypres, a half-dozen Kleif operators so terrified British soldiers on the night of July 29-30, 1915, that the Germans were able to capture several trench lines. But its material effectiveness seldom exceeded its psychological effect, as the fuel lacked a thickening agent to make it stick to its target-a shortcoming remedied by World War II. Regardless, the Allies soon developed their own versions of the weapon, canceling out what little advantage the Flammenwerfer had briefly granted its inventors.

Once adopted by the Germans, it was copied to a lesser extent by the French and British. The British Army, in particular expended much effort in attempting to develop large static flamethrowers for defensive purposes, but with little success. After the war it was quickly discarded, since most armies considered it to have been a specialized device for the peculiar conditions obtaining in the trench warfare in Flanders. It reappeared in Italian hands in the Abyssinian campaign of 1935, when a tank-mounted flamethrower was employed and also in small numbers in the Spanish Civil War, in both man pack and tank-mounted versions.

During the Second World War, the German army used flamethrowers in the Polish campaign and also in the advance into France and Belgium in 1940, particularly against the Belgian forts such as Eben Emael. After this, they saw little use since they did not fit in with the tactics of open war. The British Army, on the other hand, began development later in the war with the intention of using flame during assault operations against the coast of Europe.


McClellan versus Lee



The essential difference between Lee and McClellan was that the former established cordial relations with his political masters, and that Lee’s military outlook was offensive, not defensive. Although his methods have often been compared by historians to those of Napoleon, Lee was essentially Scott’s pupil. He took the latter’s methods and developed them further in scale and intensity. Given the Confederacy’s overall strategic, industrial, and logistical weakness when compared with the Union, Lee appreciated that time was not on its side. He was therefore prepared to accept great risks, was keen to disperse his force (sometimes for logistic reasons) and then concentrate at the decisive point, making the most of mobility. He would maneuver near the enemy to demoralize and confuse him rather than withdraw, as Johnston invariably did. Consequently, Lee was prepared to fight for the initiative, not wait for the inevitable accumulation of massive Union numerical and material superiority that, McClellan calculated, would overwhelm weaker Southern armies. Lee sought a decision in the Confederacy’s favor; he did not believe the Confederacy could enjoy the luxury of attempting just to avoid defeat.

These dynamic methods imposed great physical and psychological strain on Lee. His chief of staff, Colonel R. H. Chilton, who had served under Lee on the Great Plains, was an amiable nonentity who simply issued orders. This placed more work on Lee’s shoulders, and it is perhaps not surprising that he relied heavily on oral orders. He never shied away from taking decisions, placed himself at the most convenient point where he could take them, and disdained councils of war. He had inherited Scott’s view that, once the commanding general had issued orders, subordinates should carry them out in their own way. Over the next year he would modify this approach. For instance, in September, 1862, he personally directed Confederate tactics at the battle of Antietam. Soldiers largely responded to his cool leadership and record of success; aware of the effect of his presence at the front, he tended to ration his appearances to increase their tonic effect during dire emergencies. But, unlike McClellan, Lee actually enjoyed the intellectual and moral challenges posed by field command.

The contrasting fortunes of Lee and McClellan indicate how important field command was for contemporaries in estimating the abilities of a commander. McClellan, for all his talents, was temperamentally unsuited for the moral challenges posed by the command of an army. He could plan but not carry through his ideas into practice. He was timorous and hesitant and was gripped by an obsession that he was greatly outnumbered by the Confederates; such a misconception led to the greatest possible misappreciation of the potential of his army by comparison with the Confederate, and fatal misjudgments about the current of battle. Certainly, the view that he was outnumbered was an important self-justifying link in the circular argument that underwrote his defensive schemes. In a very real sense, McClellan did not command. His interpretation of Scott’s methods was simply to abandon his subordinates to fight their own battles. During the Seven Days’ battles (June 26-July 1, 1862) Fitz-John Porter’s Fifth Corps was left unsupported to bear the main burden of the fighting. Moreover, McClellan absented himself from the battlefield. While the battle of Malvern Hill was raging, it was rumored that he was on board a river steamer on the James River. His admirers dismissed rumors circulating in Washington, DC, to this effect as a vicious calumny. Yet although he was not relaxing (as critics claimed), he had virtually abandoned the battlefield, abdicated any semblance of responsibility for its movements, and was preoccupied with administrative trivia. During the Seven Days’ battles Union forces won a number of tactical successes, notably at Mechanicsville and Malvern Hill, but, lacking a directing intelligence which could relate them to an overarching operational design, the result was a major strategic defeat for the Union cause, and the dashing of the high hopes for McClellan’s “grand campaign.”

Nor did McClellan learn from experience. In the Antietam campaign in September, 1862, he enjoyed the inestimable advantage of discovering Lee’s entire plan and the distribution of his forces from the famous “lost order.” Yet, due to laggard movements, overcaution and wasted time-not least the unaccountable waste of an entire day before McClellan launched his attack at Antietam on September 17-Lee was allowed to concentrate his army and prepare for the Union attack. McClellan’s disjointed efforts were repulsed and the opportunity to destroy Lee’s army was frittered away through inertia. McClellan simply lacked the moral qualities of decisiveness and faith in his own judgment that contribute to dynamic action. He failed to harness the fighting power at his disposal and employ it to secure his military objectives. As a battlefield commander McClellan still remained an ambitious captain bewildered by his weighty responsibilities; field command was not as easy as Scott had made it look in 1846-47. McClellan’s two campaigns neither restored his fortunes nor resulted in his reappointment as general-in-chief. On July 11, 1862, that position had been offered by Lincoln to Henry W. Halleck after the fall of Memphis, Tennessee. Halleck accepted, but admitted that he did not know what his duties involved.

Lee’s experience was exactly the opposite. Success at field command resulted in the Army of Northern Virginia enshrining the hopes of the Confederacy, and Lee became influential as a result. The reason for his success was simple; he commanded confidently, although not as effortlessly as he sometimes made it look. He is sometimes criticized by historians for a certain meekness, yet Lee was a skillful manager of men. His loose leadership style suited the strong personalities of his subordinates. Although tensions existed within his army, for instance between his two corps commanders, Stonewall Jackson and Longstreet, and between Jackson and his subordinates (especially with A. P. Hill), Lee managed to persuade his rather vain subordinates to work together. The Army of Northern Virginia was not crippled, as the Army of Tennessee had been throughout 1862, by petty and factious disputes between the commanding general, Braxton Bragg, and his subordinates, Leonidas Polk and William J. Hardee. In October, 1863, most of the army’s generals signed a petition asking for Bragg’s dismissal. This curious affair prevented the Army of Tennessee from benefiting from the success of the Chickamauga campaign, and demanded the personal attention of Jefferson Davis to sort out, which he did by siding with Bragg, who began an ill-advised purge of his critics. Southern generals-and here the experience of Scott’s many quarrels was salutary-needed to be directed with tact. Lee had tact in abundance, but Bragg (and Stonewall Jackson, for that matter) sorely lacked it.

Lee’s force of character, and determination to secure the objectives he set himself, demonstrated that Scott’s system could be made to work even with untrained staffs and much larger armies (that were more difficult to command) than the small force that Scott himself had directed in Mexico. Nevertheless, Lee would modify it. In June, 1862, Lee briefed his subordinates on his plans to relieve Richmond by striking at McClellan’s lines of communications by a turning movement that would involve a junction with Jackson’s troops from the Shenandoah Valley on the battlefield, among a number of other complex movements. Having outlined this concept, Lee then left the room so that his subordinates could discuss his plan and work out the movement details among themselves without reference to him. The errors that frustrated Lee’s scheme to destroy McClellan’s army proved to him such a degree of latitude was excessive, and Lee never repeated the exercise.

Moreover, the campaign indicated (despite an uncharacteristic lassitude) that Lee had found in Jackson an executive officer of incomparable talent. If McClellan had found a subordinate of similar energy his generalship might have prospered, but McClellan’s protégés tended to mirror his own weaknesses. Jackson thrived when given responsibility and a long rein. Although very different in character from Lee, Jackson shared his military outlook, and the conviction that daring, deception, and demoralizing maneuvers that resulted from surprise could splinter Union numerical strength, and allow much more skillful Confederate forces to achieve local operational superiority and defeat Union forces in detail. In 1862 Confederate forces commanded by Lee and Jackson had the nerve to undertake operations based on calculated risks. Throughout the Seven Days Lee never once convened his subordinates in council. Such councils tend to take a cautious view and expend precious time, as Jackson discovered when he convened his only council of war in the Shenandoah Valley. “That is the last council of war I will ever hold!” he exclaimed. Jackson could have spoken for Lee when he once snapped at an anxious staff officer, “Never take counsel of your fears.” In 1862-63 Lee was able to frame audacious plans, guessing (correctly as it turned out) that Union commanders invariably took such ill-advised counsel.

The results for the Confederacy were a string of operational successes in the East but these could not be translated into a strategic dividend. The command system was part of the reason for this failure. Lee’s victories increased his influence (which reached its height in May/June, 1863) but not his power within the circles of the Davis administration. (His suggestion, for example, that Beauregard command a new force on his right was ignored.) By 1863 and 1864 Davis came to rely on his advice; and needless to say, it was heavily influenced by his perspectives and responsibilities as an army commander. The appointment of Braxton Bragg as Davis’s advisor “Commanding the Armies of the Confederate States” in February, 1864, only accentuated the muddle and ambiguity of the Confederate command system. Bragg’s power did not extend to Lee (who was his senior) or the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee was not general-in-chief, and Davis’s informal methods of working while retaining all powers of decision in his own hands meant that Lee did not have the time to devote to matters outside his department. Davis’s requests could also be importunate. For instance, at the height of his anxieties as to whether Grant had crossed the James River on June 15, 1864, Davis asked Lee to recommend a successor to Leonidas Polk, who had been killed at Pine Mountain, Georgia, the day before. Lee declined, pleading lack of knowledge. Such opinions, expressed in his correspondence, used to be adduced by some historians as evidence of Lee’s parochialism. But it was the system that was at fault. It overemphasized field command and expected too much of its practitioners, and neglected to provide for the coordinating duties of higher levels of command. Significantly, neither Joseph E. Johnston nor P. G. T. Beauregard did more than Lee (in many ways did much less) when given command of the Department of the West in 1863 and 1864 respectively. They assumed that their duties were purely advisory. Given such constraints, Lee could not fulfill a role that the system was not designed to carry out.

McClellan and Limited [Civil] War


Would Meade and Grant had have their victories with the Army that McCellan built?

When McClellan was called to Washington, DC, on July 26, 1861, he was treated like a conquering hero and feted by all. During the next six months his reputation would be gradually eroded. Nonetheless, during this period he built up a record of substantial achievement. He proved himself a brilliant trainer of troops, an effective organizer, a tireless administrator, and a charismatic leader. He built the Army of the Potomac, impressed his personality on the command, and was adored by his troops. However, these qualities in themselves did not guarantee success in high command, and once he moved into the field McClellan revealed a number of significant deficiencies that were to contribute to his downfall. In November, 1861, McClellan replaced Scott as general-in-chief. This promotion represented the apogee of McClellan’s formal authority, but only served to weaken his position.

McClellan was a fitting heir to Scott, even though he had intrigued to bring about the latter’s downfall. Although McClellan was a Democrat (while Scott had been a Whig) they both shared conservative views about the war’s nature. McClellan believed that operations under his command should be undertaken in a gentlemanly spirit with a minimum of interference in civilian affairs and property. He intended to insulate Southern civilians from the movement of his armies. The aim was the restoration of the Union and a reconciliation of the sections, and this was to be achieved in the shortest possible time. Scott’s Anaconda Plan had envisaged moving the main Union strategic thrust away from the political core of the Confederacy towards the Mississippi basin. McClellan’s plan brought Virginia (which was Scott’s native state) firmly into focus as the primary theater. McClellan argued that all other operations were subsidiary to the Virginia campaign. He intended to make this truly decisive. It would demonstrate the futility of secession and the “utter impossibility of resistance”: his great army would advance on the Confederate capital and, in siege operations comparable to those at Sevastopol (1854-55) during the Crimean War, seize Richmond, and then the Confederacy would collapse, as Russia had shortly after the fall of Sevastopol. It was within the context of this outlook that McClellan’s concern with increasing the professionalism of his army should be understood. While Lee would latch on to Scott’s offensive outlook, McClellan developed Scott’s interest in detailed planning and took it a stage further. Preparations would be so intricate, staff procedures so perfect, and the men so well trained, that his advance would be irresistible. McClellan would be able to control the battlefield and the object for which he was fighting: there would be no foolish temptation to consider any revolutionary steps such as the abolition of slavery, and the status quo would be restored with a minimum of destruction, discomfort, and death.

The only problem with this elegant scheme and stately view of the war’s progress was that McClellan did not have the time necessary to put it into practice. McClellan was under considerable political pressure to defeat the Confederacy at the earliest possible moment. In addition, McClellan reflected and shared some of the widespread illusions about the nature of the Civil War. For instance, he could never shake off the misconception that the war could be brought to an end by one strategic thrust. Here was an example of how his operational and tactical preferences were shaped by his political views or aspirations. The policy of conciliation could succeed only if McClellan and those like him (such as Don Carlos Buell, the commander of the Army of the Ohio) were able to win rapid and complete victories. However, they were both temporarily incapable of seizing the opportunities that were offered to them on the battlefield.

In short, McClellan’s tenure of command experienced a continuing tension between his role as general-in-chief and his role as field commander which was exploited by his enemies. The most important critical forum established by his critics was the formation in December, 1861, of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. This served as a focal point for all the discontent with McClellan’s performance that had bubbled up during the previous months. Harnessed by congressional (and administration) critics, it blew towards McClellan like a hurricane by January and February, 1862. It was clear that politicians of both parties had little sympathy with McClellan’s efforts to impose professional standards on his army. Yet his problems were accentuated by the command structure that he had inherited from Scott. When Abraham Lincoln, the President, had queried whether McClellan could undertake the simultaneous duties of both field command and general-in-chief, the latter had replied confidently, “I can do it all.” Time would show that he could not.

The organization of an army is an immensely intricate task, and McClellan became absorbed in its detail. He neglected his duties as the government’s principal strategic advisor. He produced no plans, and the President, dissatisfied with the general-in-chief, claimed that the war effort was “stalled on dead center.” McClellan’s health suffered because of overwork and he succumbed to typhoid. Lincoln convened councils of war and issued general orders in January and February, 1862, in an attempt to get the Army of the Potomac to move, but to no avail. Nonetheless, McClellan’s refusal to discuss his plans on the grounds of operational secrecy was high-handed and his credibility was damaged in the resulting controversy.

In truth, McClellan was not acting as a general-in-chief should, but it is difficult to see how he could concentrate on these important duties when he was distracted by his tasks as a field commander. Everybody (including the President) persisted in judging him by his performance as commander of the Army of the Potomac-and it was this latter consideration that brought him the most criticism. Nevertheless, McClellan had the intellect and vision to propound a grand strategic view and work out an operational method for fulfilling it. When eventually in February, 1862, he drew up plans for the administration’s perusal, they were impressive. He sought to launch “combined and decisive operations” and not “waste life in useless battles.” He argued in favor of an indirect approach on Richmond by shifting the Army of the Potomac to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers, and advancing on the Confederate capital from the east. By avoiding the bulk of the Confederate main body in northern Virginia, he hoped to “demoralize the enemy” and force him to come out of his defenses and attack the Army of the Potomac. While standing on the defensive, McClellan hoped to inflict an “American Waterloo” on the rebels. Yet it is noteworthy that McClellan hoped that such a decisive outcome could be produced with a minimum of fratricidal bloodshed. He seems to have unconsciously reflected anxieties among some Northern generals about the casualties resulting from any move into Southern territory because his plans are couched in and justified by sound military reasoning. But McClellan’s cool military analysis was underwritten by looming fears that denote both a nervous lack of confidence in Northern troops compared with a romanticized notion of Southern martial ability and a lack of self-esteem which transformed an avoidance of defeat into a triumph. McClellan’s limited expectations of his army reinforced the limited aims he set himself both strategically and politically. Certainly, the compound of technical military reasoning and personal predilection lent a distinctly defensive tenor to his plan.

McClellan did not gain any credit for the successes achieved on other fronts during his tenure as general-in-chief. These seemed to augur that the Confederacy would collapse by the summer. McClellan himself shared this ambivalence. His reaction to criticism was to further centralize the system, and thus to add to the burdens weighing on himself; it took longer to get decisions on urgent matters. He declined to appoint corps commanders, hoping to be able to direct twelve divisions himself, unaided, and these appointments were eventually forced on him by the President. He neglected to appoint a commander of the Washington garrison, and Lincoln moved to install James S. Wadsworth, one ofMcClellan’s critics. This dithering reduced McClellan’s influence as general-in-chief, and Lincoln removed him on March 11 in Presidential War Order No. 3 on the grounds that he should concentrate on directing the Army of the Potomac.

The Confederacy had experienced problems comparable to those of the Union. Jefferson Davis had resolutely refused to appoint a general-in-chief. His experience with Scott, when Secretary of War during the Pierce administration (1853-57) had not been a happy one, and he believed that the powers of the general-in-chief were an unconstitutional encroachment on the presidential war powers. The Confederacy’s senior general was the Adjutant General, Samuel Cooper, whom Steven E. Woodworth accurately judged as the President’s “chief military clerk.” Davis thus dealt with Confederate generals himself without an intermediary. The commander of the Confederate forces in Virginia, Joseph E. Johnston, resembled McClellan in his uncommunicativeness and unhelpfulness to politicians. If he had any plans, he did not divulge them. That Union generals were not alone in failing to comprehend the intricacies of offensive operations was shown in June, 1862, in Johnston’s overelaborate, poorly coordinated and thoroughly muddled counter-offensive at Seven Pines (Fair Oaks). Johnston was wounded and was replaced by the President’s military advisor, Robert E. Lee. Lee had only ever held staff positions before and had never commanded troops in battle.


Fourth Century Rome – A `New Model’ Army Part I




Diocletian and Constantine presided over a major restructuring of the army, alongside their reform of civil administration. Troops were now divided into two distinct grades, the comitatenses and limitanei. The latter received less pay and had lower physical requirements, but were still full-time professional soldiers. The root of the name was the word for military road (limes), although there is some dispute as to the precise significance of this. The limitanei were also sometimes called riparienses, which came from ripa (the banks of a river). They were stationed in provinces, usually in frontier areas, and were commanded by duces. Their role was to patrol and police the area around their garrisons and deal with relatively small-scale attacks, such as raiding bands numbering a few dozen or at most a couple of hundred warriors. One study has noted that we never hear of raiding bands of less than 400 men and suggested that smaller groups were routinely stopped by the limitanei.

The comitatenses had an entirely separate command structure and were more likely to be moved from one region to another. The name was derived from comitatus (the imperial household), and the original idea was clearly that they should be at the emperor’s disposal. It is possible that under Constantine they were organised as a single army, ready to follow on campaign wherever he went. When his three sons divided up the empire in 337, the comitatenses were divided into three separate armies. Over time, more distinct armies stationed in specific regions would be created. In practice, the comitatenses were usually commanded by generals with the title `Master of Soldiers’ (MagisterMilitum), such as Silvanus and Ursicinus. Variants of the title included `Master of Horse’ (Magister Equitum) and `Master of Infantry’ (Magister Peditum), neither of which commanded exclusively infantry or cavalry, but a mixture of both. As subordinates, the Masters of Soldiers had officers with the rank of comes (count, pl. comites). Again, the word had its root in the personal companions who had traditionally accompanied an emperor on a journey or campaign. In some cases counts were given small-scale independent commands.

The Masters of Soldiers regularly commanded substantial numbers of troops, although it is unlikely that these forces were bigger than the army controlled by a senatorial legate in a major military province in the first or second century. There were only three of them – the number would double by the end of the century, but never increase beyond that – and this made it easier for the emperor to keep a close watch on them. Yet the Silvanus episode had shown that this might not be enough. More important in ensuring the emperor’s security were the complex divisions of responsibility and power throughout the provinces. The army was divided into two, with comfortably over half of its units being limitanei. However, co-operation between limitanei and cornitatenses does appear to have been common, and senior officers could in practice find themselves with troops of both types under their command during a campaign. A much bigger division was maintained between the army hierarchy and the civil administration.

The army depended on the civilian bureaucracies to supply it with pay, food and clothing. Even weapons and other equipment, which in the early empire had been made in the legions’ own massive workshops, were now provided by state-run arms factories under the supervision of the praetorian prefects. A Master of Soldiers planning to challenge the emperor had to secure not just the support of his soldiers, but the cooperation or replacement of large numbers of bureaucrats. It was much harder for one man to know, and win over, everyone who was important. At the same time, there were many people serving in independent hierarchies able to send real or fabricated reports of the disloyal behaviour of others. The system offered some protection to the emperor, at the cost of making it more difficult to get things done. Campaigns could be delayed or hindered by lack of supplies over which the commanders had no control.’

The Roman army in the fourth century was large, its manpower still dwarfing that of the swollen bureaucracy. The vast majority of the men paid and under the control of the emperors were soldiers. Yet we do not know how big the army was. Most scholars assume that it was larger than the second-century army, perhaps 50 per cent or even 100 per cent bigger, but the evidence is inadequate and inevitably the calculations involve a good deal of conjecture. We do know that the fourth-century army contained many more units and we have a complete list of those in existence at the very end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth century. Some units had disappeared since Constantius II’s time, others had been created, but this list gives us a fair idea of the overall shape of the army in his day. Unfortunately, we have no certain evidence for the size of each unit so cannot calculate the army’s theoretical total size from this.

The limitanei included a very broad range of unit types. Some were survivals from the time of Marcus Aurelius and even earlier. There were legions, as well as auxiliary cohorts and cavalry alae. Others were new creations. Overall, there was a higher proportion of cavalry units in the limitanei than in the comitatenses, no doubt because they were useful for patrolling. There were no units including both infantry and cavalry, equivalent to the mixed cohorts of the early empire. Legions were sometimes stationed in several outposts. Several were split amongst five garrisons, while in the early fifth century the Legio XIII Gemina provided five garrisons on the Danube, another in Egypt and also had a unit amongst the comitatenses. Even so, they were certainly far smaller than the 5,000-man legions of the early empire. It is also more than possible that most units were smaller than the roughly 500-man cohorts and alae of the auxiliaries in the second century. Very many of the forts occupied by the limitanei were tiny, most a small fraction of the size of earlier auxiliary forts. An Egyptian papryus dating to the start of 300 also suggests some very small units. It mentions a cavalry ala with 116 – just over a year later this had risen to 118 – a vexillatio of legionary cavalry with 77 men and a unit of mounted archers with 121. A number of units of legionary infantry averaged around the 500 mark, but a camel troop seems to have had just a couple of dozen men.

The situation with the cornitatenses is no clearer, although there was less variety of unit types. Infantry consisted of legions and a new type of unit known as auxilia. All of the latter and some of the former were rated as palatina, a title that carried much prestige and some tangible advantages in pay and bonuses, but no difference in function. Cavalry units were all called vexillationes and were smaller than the infantry regiments. A common estimate is to give cavalry units a strength of boo and the infantry somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200. However, the few mentions of regimental strengths in our sources suggest smaller numbers, averaging around 350-400 and 800 respectively. What we do not know is whether such lower figures represent actual campaign strengths, reduced by disease and casualties, or theoretical sizes. A couple of sources mention commanders who kept non-existent men on their unit’s role so that they could draw their pay and rations. Infantry units of colnitatenses were brigaded in pairs, and seem to have permanently operated together. This obviously adds an extra complication since we cannot be sure whether numbers in our sources refer to a single regiment or a pair that the author naturally assumed would be together!

Overall, it is fair to say that the units of the fourth-century army were smaller than their first- and second-century predecessors. Going much further than this quickly becomes conjectural. We cannot even be sure that all units of a particular type had the same theoretical size. Infantry regiments of all types in the field army were probably somewhere between 500 and 1,000 men strong, cavalry units about half the size of infantry. Many units of limitanei may have been a good deal smaller, and perhaps we should think in terms of 50 to 200 men, which would make them more like companies than battalions by modern standards. It is possible that on paper the total strength of the army was larger than in Marcus Aurelius’ day, but we cannot be sure of this. Its actual strength on a day-to-day basis is even harder to assess.’

The evidence is equally poor for the army’s recruitment. Some men were volunteers and others conscripts, but the balance between the two is unknown. Sons of soldiers were legally obliged to join the army. Landowners had to supply a set number of recruits as part of the taxation system, but were often able to commute this duty to a money payment or avoid it altogether. There was also a steady supply of drafts for the army from the groups of barbarians settled by treaty within the empire and obliged to provide soldiers for the army. Tribesmen from outside the empire also came as individuals or as groups to enlist in the army. The old idea that this influx of Germans `barbarised’ the Roman army and over time reduced its efficiency has been discredited. There seems to have been no real difference in reliability and performance between recruits from inside or outside the empire. As we have seen, the senior ranks included many men of barbarian descent who behaved exactly like colleagues of more traditionally Roman stock.

Fourth Century Rome – A`New Model’ Army Part II



The army took recruits wherever it could get them, and there are clear signs that many people went to drastic lengths to avoid service. In real terms army pay was of less value than it had been in the first and second centuries, while discipline and punishment remained brutal. Repeated laws punished the practice of self-mutilation to avoid being conscripted – potential recruits cut off their thumbs so that they would be unable to hold a sword or shield properly. There was a famous case of an equestrian who had done this to his sons during Augustus’ reign, so the practice was not new, but it does seem to have become more common. The frequency of legislation dealing with the problem suggests that the laws were not effective. A letter from a clergyman to a garrison commander in Egypt asked that he exempt a widow’s son from conscription or, failing that, at least enlist him in the local limitanei so that he could stay near home instead of sending him away to join the comitatenses. The fourth-century army did not have massive resources of manpower and this factor played a significant part in shaping its operations.

Whatever the actual size of the fourth-century army, more units certainly meant more officers to command them. Regimental commanders were usually called tribunes, although other titles such as praepositus were also used. Such a post gave a man considerable status – even if, once again, his pay and social importance were somewhat less than those of an equestrian officer in the second century. In comparison to the early Principate, the Late Roman army was top heavy in its command structure. It is more than likely that the desire to reward supporters with high rank – and in some cases their own independent commands – had as much to do with the multiplication of units as any practical concerns. We hear of unattached tribunes, sometimes serving in a staff capacity, and it is more than likely that there were significantly more men with commissions than there were units for them to command. Some tribunes may well have been promoted after service in the ranks. A much more common route was to be commissioned from special units at the imperial court. The candidati (candidates) acted as personal bodyguards of the emperor during court ceremony. The protectores domesticiserved as junior staff officers either with the emperor or a Master of Soldiers. Ammianus was one of these. Promotion was officially the emperors’ prerogative, but in practice he had to rely on recommendations of senior officers, officials and courtiers. There was no formal system for training these officers or for selecting on the basis of talent. As always in Roman society, patronage played an important role in determining a man’s career.”

Modern scholars conventionally refer to the comitatenses as mobile field armies, and often they go further and dub them elite troops. They are seen as a necessary response to the greater external threats facing the empire. In the past, wars requiring the removal of troops from one frontier zone weakened defences there and left the region vulnerable to attack. In the fourth century the limitanei remained permanently in place. They were not as numerous as the forces on the frontiers in the early empire and could not hope to defeat major incursions. Yet their bases were strongly fortified, as were towns and cities, and they were expected to hold out for as long as they could and harass the enemy. A sizeable army of comitatenses could then be sent to the region to confront the invader. In essence, they formed the mobile reserves that it is claimed the earlier deployment lacked.”

Much of this analysis has been called into question, particularly the sense in which they acted as reserves. Nothing of this sort is ever implied by the ancient sources. No army could ever move faster than an infantryman could march, and more often than not its speed was reduced to that of the plodding draught oxen that pulled its baggage train and carried its food supply. Given the size of the empire, talk of reserves makes little sense, since unless they were fairly close to the theatre of operations then it would take them a very long time to get there. In spite of such criticism, the `mobile field army’ tag has stuck, so that it is worth making a few points about the actual deployment and use of the cornitatenses.

Unlike the lilnitanei, the colnitatenses did not occupy permanent garrison posts. When not on campaign they were stationed within the provinces and not on the frontiers. However, they were not kept concentrated as large army corps ready to take the field at a moment’s notice, since this would have made it difficult to supply them. Temporary camps, the men living in tents or roughly built shacks, were unhealthy in winter, and in any case it was dangerous politically to keep armies concentrated during the winter months of inactivity in case they rebelled. The army did not build large bases in this period, and even many of the existing legionary fortresses designed to accommodate 5,000 men in the second century were now abandoned or substantially run down. At the beginning of the sixth century the historian Zosimus claimed that Diocletian had kept the empire secure by stationing the whole army along the frontiers in strongly fortified posts. `Constantine abolished this security by removing the greater part of the soldiery from the frontiers to cities that needed no auxiliary forces.’ Once there, he claimed that the soldiers became a burden on the communities and were themselves softened by the pleasures of urban life.”

When not on campaign – and even at the most intensive periods of operations these were rarely conducted over winter – the comitatenses were dispersed in towns and cities within the provinces. It is doubtful that more than a brigaded pair of units were often stationed in one place. This spread the burden of feeding them and made it harder for the units to join together and back a usurper. In addition, it provided trained soldiers to man the city walls in the case of a sudden threat from a foreign enemy or a rival for imperial power. There was nothing especially new about stationing troops in or near towns. This had been common in the eastern provinces in the first and second centuries, although there was a well-established literary cliche that maintained it had an enervating effect on them.

Yet in the earlier centuries army units had normally lived in their own barracks within or near to cities. This does not seem to have been the case with the cornitatenses – although admittedly the archaeological evidence for the layout of most towns in the fourth century is extremely limited. Instead, they were billeted in civilian houses, and legal documents talk of officials painting on the door posts the number of men and the unit from which they should come. Throughout history billeting has frequently caused friction between soldiers and civilians. From a military point of view, the dispersal of units in small groups over many separate dwellings was not conducive to good discipline. In their purposebuilt barracks the units of the first- and second-century army had been concentrated in one place under the close eye of their officers. They were provided with good sanitation, exercise and bathing facilities, as well as hospitals for their sole use, and had parade grounds and training areas readily available. Facilities in cities and towns were far more limited and not for the exclusive use of the military. Even the largest city might well struggle to find good stabling for the 500-1,000 horses mustered by a couple of cavalry regiments.

Distributing the comitatenses in cities was the easiest solution for the government, but was scarcely the best way to keep them in good condition. Military training was and is not a simple thing, permanently instilled once it is learned, but something that must be constantly repeated. As important was physical fitness – essential for the marches required on campaign, let alone actual combat. Both were harder to maintain when the army was split and billeted in civilian settlements. There was also inevitably a delay in concentrating the units before a campaign could be begun. The army may have maintained some pack and baggage animals permanently – and if so these were an extra burden to the communities on top of the cavalry mounts – but still needed to requisition or purchase many more to carry its food and other stores in the field. All this took time and faced the added complication of much of it being controlled by bureaucracies entirely separate from and with different priorities to the army.

It is reasonable enough to call the comitatenses field armies. They were more mobile and should usually have been more effective fighting units than the limitanei, at least for large-scale operations. Yet, on the whole, there was nothing particularly innovative about them, certainly nothing that would justify calling them elite. The physical requirements were the same as for service in the earlier army, and later in the century even these would be reduced. Over the course of time, some units of limitanei were attached permanently to the field forces, receiving the halfway status of pseudocomitatenses. This suggests that there was no stark distinction in the military potential of the two grades of troops. In the end, troops were as effective as their training, leadership, tactics and equipment allowed. Only the Persians came close to matching the army tactically, and barbarian armies were markedly inferior. The factory-produced equipment of the fourth-century army has a more functional look than the armour and weapons of the early empire. Both the pilum (heavy javelin) and short gladius (sword) had fallen out of use. Instead, the standard weapons were a long-bladed spatha (sword) – previously only used by cavalrymen – and simpler spears suitable for both thrusting and throwing. As an individual, the Roman soldier was still a well-equipped fighting man. Infantry tactics were probably a little less aggressive, but remained effective. The fourth-century army won the great majority of the battles it fought.

The standards of training and quality of leadership of the fourth-century Roman army inevitably varied – as indeed they had done in earlier periods. On average standards may have been a little lower, but it remained the only professional army in the known world. The demise of the 5,000-man legion removed one command level useful for operating and controlling very large armies in the field. It also meant that it was harder to support large numbers of specialists – engineers, architects, siege specialists, artillerymen etc. – within the army and pass on their experience to successive generations. The comitatenses had no permanent bases to act as depots and to maintain records of personnel, their postings, equipment and mounts. Records were still kept, but had to be moved continually if they were to remain useful to the unit. The same was true of soldiers. New recruits, convalescents or detached men returning to normal duty would have to travel to rejoin the parent regiment wherever it happened to be. The frequency with which a unit went on campaign would have steadily worn it down. Some men would be lost to enemy action, many more to sickness or detachment. This meant that large numbers of men may have existed and been rightfully paid by the state, but would not actually be present with their unit when it went on campaign. The probability that most units were heavily under strength most of the time makes it all the harder to estimate their full theoretical complement.”

We should not exaggerate the efficiency of the fourth-century Roman army, but neither should we forget just how unique it was in its day. For all the complexity of arranging supplies, the Romans did possess a system for organising these things on a massive scale. The fourth-century army was far from perfect, but still enjoyed marked advantages over all its opponents. We need always to remember that it had been shaped by almost a century spent fighting itself. Diocletian and Constantine did not create an army according to a coldly logical design, changing the military system of the second century because it was obsolete. Instead, they patched together a unified force from the badly dislocated debris left by generations of civil wars. Their first priority was always to protect themselves from challengers, and every other consideration was secondary to this. The immediate threat of civil war never went away and continued to dominate the thoughts of their successors. Given this context, the fourth-century army was highly effective, and it is worth now looking at it in action.

Hassan Al Rammah


It was invented by Arab inventor named Hassan Al Rammah between 1270 and 1280, who worked in Syria after the Mongol destruction of Baghdad. He wrote a treatise on gunpowder and rockets called “The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices”. This book included more than 100 recipes for gunpowder, as 22 of them could be used as rocket fuel. Experts state that at least one of these recipes is extremely close to the modern ideal mix for gunpowder. Al Rammah also designed an early torpedo, probably the first of its kind.

Hassan Al-Rammah describes various kinds of incendiary arrows and lances and describes and illustrates what has been supposed to be a torpedo. This is called ‘the egg, which moves itself and burns’ and the illustration and text suggest at least that it was intended to move on the surface of water. Two sheet iron pans were fastened together and made tight by felt; the flattened pear-shaped vessel was filled with “naphtha, metal filings, and good mixtures (probably containing saltpetre), and the apparatus was provided with two rods (as a rudder?) and propelled by a large rocket.

The torpedo was named Al-Rammah and it was a point-and-fire weapon far cheaper and more efficient than a fire ship. When activated, the torpedo’s built-in pair of rockets would push it through the water, and tail stabilizers would direct it to the target. A spear on the front would impale itself in the hull of an enemy ship, and then the whole first-of-a-kind torpedo would explode.

The published work of Professor Ahmad Y. Al-Hassan and Donald R. Hill in their book, Islamic Technology (Cambridge University Press and UNESCO, 1986), and the more recent edition in paperback, 1992, further illustrates the importance of the man and his achievements.


Hasan Al-Rammah’s torpedo, from Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History, by al-Hassan, Ahmad Y., and Donald R., Hill.

These sources make it clear the birth of torpedo warfare and water-borne explosive devices did not happen in 1585 during the Dutch Eighty Years War as is commonly believed, but 300 years previously in Syria during the Mamluk period. (Hasan al-Rammah was a Syrian engineer living in the 13th century. At that time, Syria was part of the Mamluk Kingdom.)

This is a great discovery that has been at last brought to light.

Antonov An 22 Antei





The mighty Antei was once the world’s largest airplane and established several weight and altitude records that still stand. Despite its sheer bulk, it handles well and operates easily from unprepared airstrips.

Russia is characterized geographically by huge distances and varied topographical features that can make surface travel difficult, if not impossible. Air transportation is a possible solution, but this means that equipment must ferry huge quantities of cargo and supplies in order to be meaningful. In 1962 the Antonov design bureau was tasked with constructing a huge transport plane to facilitate the shuttling of military goods and services around the country and the world. In only three years, a functioning prototype emerged that stunned Western authorities when unveiled at the Paris Air Salon in 1965. The massive An 22 Antei (Antheus, after a huge son of Neptune in Greek mythology) was a well-conceived enlargement of the previous An 12. Like its predecessor, it was circular in cross-section and possessed wheel fairings under the fuselage. It also sports a capacious cargo hold and a pressurized crew and passenger cabin. To facilitate operations off wet and unprepared airstrips, pressurization of the six pairs of wheels is controllable from the flight deck and can be changed in midair to suit any landing surface. The secret to the An 22’s prodigious hauling ability is found in the trailing-edge flaps. These are designed to utilize the powerful prop wash flowing over the wing from the four contrarotating turboprop engines and provide added lift. Its military implications were obvious, and since 1969 an estimated 100 of the giant craft have been built and deployed. The NATO code name is COCK.

The An 22 was the world’s biggest airplane following its debut and established many useful world records. The only Soviet transport capable of freighting a T-72 tank, it was employed by the USSR as a propaganda machine during many “humanitarian” flights abroad.

After entering service, the An-22 set 14 payload to height records in 1967, the pinnacle of which was the airlift of 220,500 pounds (100 metric tonnes) of metal blocks to an altitude of 25,748 feet (7,848m). It also established the record for a maximum payload, 221,443 pounds (104,445kg), lifted to a height of 6,562 feet (2,000m). A number of speed records were also set in 1972, including a speed of 328 knots (608.5km/h) around a 540 nautical mile (1,000km) closed circuit with a 110,250 pound (50,000kg) payload. Several other speed-with-payload records were established in 1974 and 1975.

This giant reigned supreme until 1968, when an even larger craft, Lockheed’s C-5A Galaxy, premiered.



Prototypes built at Kiev-Svyatoshino with glass nose, three built.


Initial production variant with external start system, 37 built at Tashkent.


Improved variant with air-start capability, modified electrical system, and updated radio and navigation equipment, 28 built at Tashkent.


Conversion of two An-22s to carry wing centre sections or outer wings of Antonov An-124 or An-225 externally above fuselage. Fitted with third centreline fin.




Four 11,185kW (15,000shp) Kuznetsov (now Kuibyshev) NK12MA turboprops driving eight blade counter rotating propellers.


Max level speed 740km/h (400kt). Range with max fuel and 45 tonne (99,200lb) payload 10,950km (5905nm), range with max payload 5000km (2692nm).


Typical empty equipped 114,000kg (251,325lb), max takeoff 250,000kg (551,160lb).


Wing span 64.49m (211ft 4in), length 57.92m (190ft 0in), height 12.53m (41ft 1in). Wing area 345m2 (3713.0sq ft).


Flightcrew of up to six, comprising two pilots, navigator, flight engineer and a communications specialist. Up to 29 passengers can be accommodated on the upper deck behind the cockpit. The unpressurised main cabin can house a range of oversize payloads such as main battle tanks. Total An-22 payload is 80,000kg (176,350lb).


Approximately 70 have been built, of which approximately 50 have been operated in Aeroflot colours. A few dozen remain in commercial and military service.