Scandinavian Prelude 3 September 1939 to 8 April 1940 Part I

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The autumn of 1939 declined into a severe winter as the year wore out. Hitler’s armies faced the Allies across the Maginot line at the start of what was now called the phoney war. The governments of both Britain and France were accused in some sections of the Press of having a ‘First War Mentality’. In this static phase none of the protagonists seemed anxious to extend the theatre of operations.

Adolf Hitler, in conferring with his Italian associates, had been reported as saying that Scandinavia should not fear an attack from any source. Nor would the Scandinavians, in his view, attack Germany. They valued their neutrality too highly, with Russia on one flank and the powerful Reich on the other.

The Second World War was two weeks old when the British Government declared that an attack on Norway would meet with the same resistance as an attack on Britain itself. It seemed obvious that both sides wanted to preserve Norway’s neutrality, hoping to benefit from it in some way. Britain wanted to blockade Germany’s sea-borne supplies, hoping that Norway would offer no serious resistance to British naval measures for controlling the passage of the long, narrow stretch of water known as the ‘Leads’.

The Leads lie between the Norwegian off-shore islands and the mainland, running for hundreds of miles southward along the deeply-indented coastline towards the Skagerrak. Kept clear of ice by the Gulf stream, they were an asset to Norway’s large, modernised merchant fleet.

They also provided one of the two sea-routes by which Germany received high-grade Swedish iron ore for her armaments. This travelled by rail from large deposits in North Sweden, either to Lulea for shipment across the Baltic or to Narvik for passage along the Norwegian sea lane. The latter route was the only one available in winter months, when Lulea was closed by ice. Reliable sources estimated that out of the yearly German intake of eight million tons of iron ore, six million tons came from Sweden.

If this supply could be interrupted or cut off, the German war economy would be seriously affected. In September, 1939, Winston Churchill, now First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the War Cabinet, proposed mining the northern approaches to the Leads with a view to preventing the flow of ore to Germany.

The German leaders were well aware of this danger. Their senior naval advisers, Admirals Raeder and Doenitz, privately disagreed with Hitler’s view of the Scandinavian problem. On 9 October Doenitz submitted a paper to Raeder, now Chief of the Naval War Staff, proposing the establishment of a naval base in north Norway, hopefully with the concurrence, albeit reluctantly, of the Norwegian government.

This base should have good port facilities, be a railhead and remain ice-free throughout the winter. Two areas only met these requirements, Trondheim and Narvik. The latter was considered too far north. It stretched communications and it was outside the range of German fighter planes in the event of trouble. At this planning stage Trondheim was selected.

Hitler was preoccupied with events on the Western front, where the possibility of a German break-through in the Low Countries was already being considered. He shelved the plan for Norway, promising to give it his personal consideration. This project was later to form part of the German Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway.

Churchill’s plan was also postponed. The Foreign Office took the view that the practical difficulties were insurmountable at this stage of the war. They pointed out the necessity of complying with International Law. But in November, 1939, the Cabinet decided to lay a barrage of anti-submarine mines across the North Sea and this led to a tacit understanding that mine-laying in the Leads would eventually follow.

The First Lord received unexpected support on 19 December, when, at a meeting of the Allied Supreme War Council, the French produced a memorandum from Herr Fritz Thyssen, one of Hitler’s earliest supporters among German industrialists but now living as an anti-Nazi exile in Switzerland. Thyssen, formerly a successful steel manufacturer on a large scale, stated authoritatively that Swedish iron ore was absolutely essential to This eased the pressure on Churchill from old political enemies and some Cabinet colleagues who were against direct involvement in Scandinavia. The spectre of Gallipoli, which had haunted Churchill for so long, reappeared. British public opinion would never accept the enormous losses for so little gain suffered in the First World War. The Narvik fiords were being compared with the hazardous beaches of the Gallipoli Penninsula. Churchill himself wrote, ‘I also pondered a good deal on the lessons of the Dardanelles’ (The Second World War, Vol 1, p. 490).

Prior to the Thyssen disclosure, the Ministry of Economic Warfare had informed the Supreme War Council that the stoppage of Narvik ore alone was of doubtful value. They now changed their stance, saying that if the supply of ore was cut off the Germans would be caused acute embarrassment. Such ambiguity irritated Churchill, who was already hampered by the uneasy relationship between the Chiefs of Staff and their civilian masters.

The position of the Chiefs of Staff was itself ambiguous. Their dual function was to act as individual and collective advisers to the War Cabinet and its Military Co-ordination Committee. But, in Civil Service terms, they were ‘high departmental officials serving their three respective Ministers’. And, in the nature of things, they held the welfare of their own particular Service to be paramount.

In reality they worked as a separate and largely independent body. They received no guidance from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, nor did they have effective guidance from the supreme executive power directing the war. On page 495 of his book Churchill explains the dilemma:

The leaders of the three Services had not yet got the conception of the war as a whole, and were influenced unduly by the departmental outlook of their own Services. They met together, after talking things over with their respective Ministers, and issued aide-memoires or memoranda which carried enormous weight. Here was the fatal weakness of our system of conducting war at this time.

This situation changed shortly before Churchill became Prime Minister. He reduced the power of the Chiefs of Staff and brought them more directly under his control by using Major-General H. L. Ismay as a Senior Staff Officer co-ordinating the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Ismay reported directly to Churchill in his capacity as deputy to Chamberlain in the chair of the Military Co-ordination Committee.

On 30 November, 1939, Russia launched an unprovoked attack on Finland. This event pushed the Allies towards the Scandinavians. The Supreme War Council met on 19 December and agreed on positive steps to materially assist Finland. A force of one hundred thousand was envisaged, including one hundred and fifty RAF planes from the sparse Home Defence quota. The French were particularly keen to set up a field of operations around Scandinavia and proposed a naval blockade of the Russian port of Murmansk.

But it was not until the Council’s meeting on 5 February, 1940, that the British finalized their plans. The advance elements of the equivalent of two Allied brigades were to leave for the Finnish front in mid-March. Significantly, they were to land at Narvik and advance along the railway through the heart of the Swedish ore fields to the Baltic port of Lulea.

A separate force would occupy Bergen and Trondheim. Stavanger would also be taken and held until Sola airfield was put out of action. This force would consist of five British Territorial battalions who would defend the Norwegian bases against a possible German attack. A considerable buildup would follow with the British contributing up to one hundred thousand men and the French half that number. A strong naval contingent would sustain the land forces.

The British public in general sympathized with the Finns and this interest was intensified on 16 February when HMS Cossack, commanded by Captain P. L. Vian, RN, attacked the German auxiliary Altmark, which was suspected of carrying British prisoners.

Acknowledging that the Altmark was within Norwegian territorial waters, Vian parleyed briefly with the commander of an escorting Norwegian torpedo boat before boarding the German vessel. Almost three hundred British prisoners, mainly Merchant Navy men, were freed. The British public, bored with the phoney war, was ecstatic. A popular song, ‘The Navy’s here’, was written about the incident and Vian was the hero of the hour.

Churchill’s supporters, numerically weak, now pressed for quick action in aid of Finland. The French strongly advocated an immediate landing at Narvik. But the British Cabinet, under Neville Chamberlain, feared active resistance from the Swedes and Norwegians. They claimed that an uninvited invasion would push the Scandinavians towards the Germans and that the latter would seize the opportunity of marching into Norway and Sweden.

About this time (21 March) M. Paul Reynaud replaced M. Daladier as Prime Minister of France. Adopting a more aggressive stance he demanded positive action, pointing out that Allied inactivity provided good propaganda for the enemy. The Finns had surrendered to the Russians on 13 March and a new initiative was needed.

Predictably, the first move was diplomatic. The Allies delivered to the Swedish and Norwegian legations in London and Paris a strongly-worded note protesting against the brazen violation of Scandinavian waters by German warships and merchant vessels. There was a sting in the tail; the note warned that steps would now be taken to lay mines in Norwegian territorial waters.

Paul Reynaud, urged on by French ‘hawks’ hoping to shorten the war, offered the immediate services of the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Scandinavie, a special force which had been standing by in France since 16 February. Some fifty thousand strong, it contained elements of the Chasseurs Alpins, the Poles and the Foreign Legion, with full supporting arms. Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff welcomed this offer but the Cabinet turned it down.

But the tide of war was running towards Scandinavia. The mining of the northern approaches to the Leads, (christened Operation Wilfred by Churchill as it was ‘minor and innocent’), was now scheduled for early April. Linked with this was a military plan, code-named R4, set to be activated ‘the moment German forces set foot on Norwegian soil, or there is clear evidence that they intend to do so’.

The so-called ‘Big Plan’, for which the British Fifth Division, (a Regular force), had been earmarked, was much modified as the two main Allies moved towards agreement. It seemed that the major thrust would come from the Navy and the Royal Marines in the initial stages.

Since severing their Union with Sweden in 1905 the Norwegian nation had looked inwards to its own particular problems. Professor Riste has written of the obsessive concern with neutrality that flourished between the two world wars. The popular catchphrase was ‘We want no foreign policy’. This seemed apposite enough, as, apart from the inevitable interruption of trade, the Norwegians were relatively unaffected by the 1914–18 war. Her merchant fleet had been chartered to Britain and, although it suffered devastating losses, had revived between the wars and was the fourth largest in the world. (This agreement was repeated in November, 1939, when the Norwegian Shippers’ Association chartered their merchant ships to Britain).

Friendship with Britain over many years had been cemented by the closeness of the respective Royal Families. Britain’s continuing naval presence in the North Sea (Scapa Flow was ‘just across the water’ from Stavanger) kept alive the belief that Britain still ruled the waves.

These rather naive convictions lessened the latent fear of Germany as the ever-present aggressor. But as the winter of 1939 waned the incessant pro-German propaganda in the Quisling-owned newspaper The Free Nation, and the added anxieties caused by the Russo-German pact, caused Norway to look to her defences.

When Russia invaded Finland the Norwegians aligned themselves with Britain and France to support the Finns. But when the Allies sought permission to take the short route into Finland both Norway and Sweden refused to allow Allied forces to cross their territories. Suspicion of the Allies was deepened by the Altmark incident on 16 February, 1940.

Preparation for defence centred around the Royal Norwegian Navy, which had been mobilized at the outbreak of war. Resources were scarce as the defence budget had always been modest (one pound sterling per head in 1938). Most of the ships were obsolescent and the training of the conscript sailors had been reduced to just thirteen weeks in the year, the lowest in Europe.

Unlike Britain, Norway had no independent airforce. There were five airfields scattered around the country and on these were eighteen scout aircraft and just six fighters. At the seven naval coastal stations there were thirty seaplanes, used primarily for the co-ordination of naval vessels. Since November, 1939, a brigade of the Norwegian Army’s 6th Division had been stationed along the border with Russia, establishing a military presence as far south as Narvik. Partial mobilization was ordered in the early morning of 9 April, 1940, when the Germans were already occupying the chief mobilization centres. Some thirteen thousand soldiers stood-to in defence of Norway’s neutrality. Many Norwegians now looked to their British friends for help.

 

Scandinavian Prelude 3 September 1939 to 8 April 1940 Part II

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In October, 1939, the German Naval War Staff instructed Grossadmiral Raeder to place before Hitler a strongly-worded recommendation that (with the Russians) Germany should put pressure on Norway in order to obtain bases for ‘a fundamental improvement in our strategic and operational situation’. They named certain ports which were ice-free, including Narvik and Trondheim.

Raeder reported that Hitler, though hesitant, had shown some interest. The Service chiefs bided their time. They knew too well that the Führer preferred to dictate his own strategy and regarded any initiative other than his own with suspicion. His current obsession was a breakthrough in the West involving a surprise attack through Luxembourg and the Low Countries.

The aim was to capture northern France, thus providing the necessary bases for an attack on Britain. At this stage Hitler, on the advice of Ribbentrop, (the former German Ambassador to Britain), was convinced that the British lacked the will to fight, leaving him to concentrate on the Masterplan, the subjugation of Russia.

But in mid-December his attention was re-directed to Norway through a visit to Berlin by Vidkum Quisling, a former Norwegian Minister of Defence. On the nth he was interviewed by Admiral Raeder, who knew that Quisling was an ardent disciple of National-Socialism and had founded a political party called Nasjonal Samling, based on the Nazi philosophy. Quisling occupied a position in Norway in the 1930s somewhat similar to Sir Oswald Mosley’s in Britain. His aim was to establish a Hitler-type régime but his followers were few.

Raeder reported to Hitler next day in the presence of Generals Keitel and Jodl, when he claimed that Quisling appeared to be a reliable person, though caution was needed. It was always difficult with such (unsolicited) offers of co-operation to know how far the persons concerned were pushing their own interests or to what extent they had Germany’s interests at heart. On the other hand, Norway must not fall into the hands of the British. Accordingly, on 13 December a working party was set up for ‘Studie Nord’, (a Besetzung [occupation] of Norway by peaceful or other means). This secret study was restricted to fewer than ten participants at its inception.

Quisling in person was brought before Hitler on 14 December and again on the 18th. It appeared that the Führer considered the occupation of Norway as a preventative measure, preferably with the consent of the Norwegians. Hitler publicly professed his admiration for this Nordic race, stressing the long-standing friendship and trade links between the two peoples. In private he despised them for their ‘spineless neutrality’. But Quisling seriously considered himself to be the saviour of Norway and seemed confident that its people would, in the event, prefer his leadership to that of King Haakon and his democratically elected government.

By the end of January, 1940, ‘Studie Nord’ had developed into a project with a very small planning staff, a code name (Weserübung), and a scope which might include action against Denmark. But Hitler’s naval advisers wanted quick action in Norway which, to them, posed a worsening political, military and economic problem. In this their thinking paralleled that of Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff, (but not Prime Minister Chamberlain and the majority of the Cabinet).

The German Naval War Staff were determined to keep the Leads clear for the transport of Swedish ore. Privately they criticized Hitler’s reluctance to move against Scandinavia. They accused him of following a strategy opposed to the great German tradition of Bismarck, of lack of experience, of wishful thinking. Professor Walther Hubatsch, the German historian, lecturing at London University in 1958 on the problems of the Norwegian Campaign said: ‘Hitler behaved in a fashion which the entire system of European states had persistently combated since the days of William of Orange’. That is to say that the Führer believed in the Divine Right of Kings, seeing himself privately as the Kaiser incarnate.

On 1 March, 1940, possibly influenced by the famous Altmark incident, Hitler issued a formal directive for the occupation of Norway and Denmark. Two days later, acting in character and against the advice of Hermann Goering, the Luftwaffe chief, he reversed his military priorities and decreed that Weserübung should now precede any German initiative in the West.

General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, an apolitical Infantry commander in his early sixties, was appointed as overall co-ordinator of the top three Service directors. As far as Norway was concerned Falkenhorst’s brief was to occupy Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik, employing six divisions. The Luftwaffe now emerged, for the first time, as a fully independent branch of the Wehrmacht, with its own operational role. This included the mass transportation of troops for the initial assault.

For reasons probably connected with scarce resources, Falkenhorst was specifically debarred from occupying certain minor ports, including Namsos and Aandalsnes, (ironically, weeks later, both ports became British beach-heads). Transportation of such a huge mass of men and material presented the German Staff with a major problem. Speed and secrecy were essential. Falkenhorst decided against slow and vulnerable troop transports in favour of naval vessels. Complementing the air-lift the first nine thousand men would travel in warships, accepting the risk of a handicap if a sea-fight developed.

The bulk of the vast amount of equipment, ammunition and stores needed in Norway would be ferried in by merchant vessels. Narvik, in the far north, was served by the German tanker, Jan Willem, working out of Murmansk with Russian connivance. She would provide fuel oil for the warships and supplies for the German garrison when it arrived. In a largely sea-borne enterprise of this kind much thought was given to the selection of the commander but it was not until two days before the first echelon sailed that Admiral Carls was chosen. He summed up the chances of success in these words:

I think we can achieve the vital part of our task, and therefore we shall achieve it if we carry it through with ruthless determination and unrestrained vigour. The risk is considerable, bad enough during the first part of the operation and even greater in the second, on the return journey home. We shall incur losses. But the operation is so important that they would not be too heavy even if the greater part of the surface fleet were lost. We must reckon from the outset on a total loss of 50 per cent unless particularly favourable conditions obviate both Norwegian and British intervention. (Hubatsch, 1958)

The warship echelon to transport the maritime operation was organized with Teutonic thoroughness. There were six groups. Group One was for Narvik, escorted by the warships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. It carried two thousand men of the 3rd Mountain Division. The next group was meant for Trondheim, in central Norway, carrying the remainder of the Mountain Division. The escort was the heavy cruiser Hipper, accompanied by four destroyers. They would travel with group one until the latitude of Trondheim was reached. The third group headed for Bergen, carrying almost two thousand men of the 69th Division. Their main escort was the light cruiser Köln and also the Königsberg, supported by fast patrol boats.

The fourth group, having less seaway to cover, had a lighter escort, the cruiser Karlsruhe and five fast patrol boats. The troops came from the 163rd Division and were to land at Kristiansand and Arendal. The attacking force for the Oslo area came from the same division and was about two thousand men with a strong escort because the fort at Oscarborg in Oslofiord had to be passed. There were the pocket battleship Lutzow, the heavy cruiser Blücher and the light cruiser Emden with eight minesweepers and two torpedo boats. The last group was a small force with the task of taking the cable station at Egersund. It carried a company of bicycle troops about 150 strong and was escorted by minesweepers.

Many of the troops had been assembled at short notice. With the exception of the Mountain battalions they were not fully trained. In quality they can perhaps be compared with the best of the British Territorial Divisions, for example the 51st Highland or the 53rd Welsh. Like their British counterparts they were woefully short of equipment and heavy support weapons. In contrast the German 3rd Mountain Division was fully trained for snow and mountain warfare, with some battle experience in Poland.

Although inexperienced in combined operations, the Germans carried out their preparations for the invasion with efficiency and guile. The three Services conformed to the overall provisions of Weserübung free of many of the constraints experienced by the Allied planners. In the propaganda war, with an eye to the implications of international law, they justified their invasion by referring to the mining of the Leads by the British. They stressed ‘the necessity of forestalling an Anglo-French action against Norway’.

The German intelligence build-up in Scandinavia had been going on long before the outbreak of war in September, 1939. A scattering of German refugees had found temporary homes in Norway after 1918. Some of their children had grown up speaking Norwegian. Later, after suitable training, some of these had returned to Norway as ‘tourists’ with intelligence-gathering as their main role.† German merchant seamen were familiar with the main Norwegian port facilities.

The German invasion plans included elaborate and ingenious arrangements for using the names of British warships when communicating by wireless in Norwegian waters. To further confuse port officials some of the German ships were to fly the British flag. German naval representatives actively paved the way for the invaders, working with Quisling’s sympathizers, while the German Air Attaché at Oslo, having requisitioned the necessary transport for the first wave of parachutists, actually guided them to their first objective.

Herr Hagelin, a Norwegian accomplice of Quisling based in Berlin, used his widespread trading activities to observe and report on the British military build-up after the Russo-Finnish war. In retrospect the value to Germany of the traitor Quisling’s ‘Fifth column’ was much exaggerated. But in the days preceding the invasion their activities added to the uncertainties that beset the Norwegian people, who were totally unprepared for war.

At 8.15 p.m. on 7 April, 1940, the Home Fleet, keeping strict wireless silence, sailed from Scapa Flow in the north of Scotland for Norwegian waters. That same evening the First and Second Cruiser Squadrons left Rosyth and turned north. The destroyer Glowworm, part of the screen for the battle cruiser Renown, was forced to stop in heavy weather to pick up a seaman fallen overboard. She had been alerted by signal to look out for a German expedition believed to be heading for Narvik. She sighted and engaged two German destroyers, who broke off and wirelessed the Glowworm’s position to the German heavy cruiser, Hipper.

The Glowworm was hopelessly outmatched. The German warship opened fire at about ten thousand yards, hitting the Glowworm squarely on the bridge. The British destroyer replied with a salvo of torpedoes, putting up a smoke screen as part of her defence. The Hipper came through the smoke into the destroyer’s path and the ships collided, tearing away about a hundred and forty feet of Hippel’s outer armour. Glowworm was able to signal the enemy ship’s position to the main flotilla before blowing up and sinking with heavy loss of life.

Further south the Polish submarine Orzel was patrolling the mouth of the Skagerrak. She sighted and challenged the German transport Rio de Janeiro off Lillesand. When the transport failed to stop, the Orzel sunk her. About one hundred survivors were picked up by Norwegian fishermen. On landing, they turned out to be uniformed German soldiers, who, when interrogated, said that they were part of a fully armed expedition sent to ‘protect’ the Norwegian port of Bergen.

This information alerted the British ships guarding the mine-layers off Bodö, near the Vestfiord. Among them was HMS Renown. In the early dawn of 9 April she sighted ‘two heavy German warships’. They turned out to be the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, two of the enemy’s most formidable armoured ships. Hampered by poor light and heavy seas the Renown engaged both enemy ships at a range of some ten miles. As the range shortened Gneisenau’s main gunnery control centre was hit by a 15-inch shell from Renown. In the running fight which followed the Gneisenau sustained further damage while the Renown, though hit by three of the German ship’s heavy shells, came through comparatively undamaged. At about 6.15 a.m. the enemy ships broke off the engagement and ran for cover. The Gneisenau eventually got to Wilhelmshaven where she was repaired.

Conflicting intelligence reports were flooding in to the Admiralty on 8 April, 1940. When analysed, checked and verified there was no doubt that the expected German invasion of Norway was under way. The dispositions of the Home Fleet were quickly revised in the hope of locating and bringing to battle the German warships heading for Narvik. Yet, when the Chiefs of Staff were roused from their beds for an early meeting, it was decided that we could still ‘peacefully occupy’ Narvik, but not until ‘the naval situation had been cleared up’.

The Allied Supreme War Council, with its committees, revised their own military organization to cope with the new emergency. Meanwhile the Germans had achieved that most important element, surprise.

Scandinavian Prelude 3 September 1939 to 8 April 1940 Part III

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The British preparation for events in Scandinavia roughly paralleled that of Germany. But a democracy, by its very nature, lacks the clear-cut direction of a dictatorship. The alliance with France had its centre on the Western front. The French were regarded as equal partners in the Supreme War Council, but in Scandinavian matters seem to have delegated executive power to the British. Nevertheless, they pressed strongly for quick action in Norway.

The Expeditionary Force of Chasseurs, Poles and Foreign Legionnaires, originally assembled for service in Finland, stood ready for action. On 28 March, 1940, the Council, without enthusiasm, agreed to assemble a force in readiness to act against a possible German attack on Norway. Churchill expressed the hope that the German battle fleet, if it emerged, would be promptly engaged and decisively defeated. At this stage of the war the Allied command structure was inexperienced, unwieldy and complicated. In any organization where uncertainty exists, a form of leadership, either individual or collective, will emerge. In this case the Admiralty, with Churchill as First Lord, acted impulsively when intelligence reports confirmed that elements of the German fleet had left Kiel and other northern ports on 4 April. Orders were issued by the First Sea Lord, by-passing the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.

The Admiralty continued to get intelligence reports of German naval activity in the Wilhelmshaven Roads, including a sighting by the RAF of the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst. On 7 April the Admiralty sent a telegram to the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet:

Recent reports suggest a German expedition is being prepared; Hitler is reported from Copenhagen to have ordered unostentatious movement of one division in ten ships by night to land at Narvik, with simultaneous occupation of Jutland. Sweden to be left alone. Moderates said to be opposing the plan. Date given for arrival at Narvik was 8 April.

The warship echelon to transport the maritime operation was organized with Teutonic thoroughness. There were six groups. Group One was for Narvik, escorted by the warships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. It carried two thousand men of the 3rd Mountain Division. The next group was meant for Trondheim, in central Norway, carrying the remainder of the Mountain Division. The escort was the heavy cruiser Hipper, accompanied by four destroyers. They would travel with group one until the latitude of Trondheim was reached. The third group headed for Bergen, carrying almost two thousand men of the 69th Division. Their main escort was the light cruiser Köln and also the Königsberg, supported by fast patrol boats.

The fourth group, having less seaway to cover, had a lighter escort, the cruiser Karlsruhe and five fast patrol boats. The troops came from the 163rd Division and were to land at Kristiansand and Arendal. The attacking force for the Oslo area came from the same division and was about two thousand men with a strong escort because the fort at Oscarborg in Oslofiord had to be passed. There were the pocket battleship Lutzow, the heavy cruiser Blücher and the light cruiser Emden with eight minesweepers and two torpedo boats. The last group was a small force with the task of taking the cable station at Egersund. It carried a company of bicycle troops about 150 strong and was escorted by minesweepers.

Many of the troops had been assembled at short notice. With the exception of the Mountain battalions they were not fully trained. In quality they can perhaps be compared with the best of the British Territorial Divisions, for example the 51st Highland or the 53rd Welsh. Like their British counterparts they were woefully short of equipment and heavy support weapons. In contrast the German 3rd Mountain Division was fully trained for snow and mountain warfare, with some battle experience in Poland.

Although inexperienced in combined operations, the Germans carried out their preparations for the invasion with efficiency and guile. The three Services conformed to the overall provisions of Weserübung free of many of the constraints experienced by the Allied planners. In the propaganda war, with an eye to the implications of international law, they justified their invasion by referring to the mining of the Leads by the British. They stressed ‘the necessity of forestalling an Anglo-French action against Norway’.

The German intelligence build-up in Scandinavia had been going on long before the outbreak of war in September, 1939. A scattering of German refugees had found temporary homes in Norway after 1918. Some of their children had grown up speaking Norwegian. Later, after suitable training, some of these had returned to Norway as ‘tourists’ with intelligence-gathering as their main role. German merchant seamen were familiar with the main Norwegian port facilities.

The German invasion plans included elaborate and ingenious arrangements for using the names of British warships when communicating by wireless in Norwegian waters. To further confuse port officials some of the German ships were to fly the British flag. German naval representatives actively paved the way for the invaders, working with Quisling’s sympathizers, while the German Air Attaché at Oslo, having requisitioned the necessary transport for the first wave of parachutists, actually guided them to their first objective.

Herr Hagelin, a Norwegian accomplice of Quisling based in Berlin, used his widespread trading activities to observe and report on the British military build-up after the Russo-Finnish war. In retrospect the value to Germany of the traitor Quisling’s ‘Fifth column’ was much exaggerated. But in the days preceding the invasion their activities added to the uncertainties that beset the Norwegian people, who were totally unprepared for war.

At 8.15 p.m. on 7 April, 1940, the Home Fleet, keeping strict wireless silence, sailed from Scapa Flow in the north of Scotland for Norwegian waters. That same evening the First and Second Cruiser Squadrons left Rosyth and turned north. The destroyer Glowworm, part of the screen for the battle cruiser Renown, was forced to stop in heavy weather to pick up a seaman fallen overboard. She had been alerted by signal to look out for a German expedition believed to be heading for Narvik. She sighted and engaged two German destroyers, who broke off and wirelessed the Glowworm’s position to the German heavy cruiser, Hipper.

The Glowworm was hopelessly outmatched. The German warship opened fire at about ten thousand yards, hitting the Glowworm squarely on the bridge. The British destroyer replied with a salvo of torpedoes, putting up a smoke screen as part of her defence. The Hipper came through the smoke into the destroyer’s path and the ships collided, tearing away about a hundred and forty feet of Hippel’s outer armour. Glowworm was able to signal the enemy ship’s position to the main flotilla before blowing up and sinking with heavy loss of life.

Further south the Polish submarine Orzel was patrolling the mouth of the Skagerrak. She sighted and challenged the German transport Rio de Janeiro off Lillesand. When the transport failed to stop, the Orzel sunk her. About one hundred survivors were picked up by Norwegian fishermen. On landing, they turned out to be uniformed German soldiers, who, when interrogated, said that they were part of a fully armed expedition sent to ‘protect’ the Norwegian port of Bergen.

This information alerted the British ships guarding the mine-layers off Bodö, near the Vestfiord. Among them was HMS Renown. In the early dawn of 9 April she sighted ‘two heavy German warships’. They turned out to be the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, two of the enemy’s most formidable armoured ships. Hampered by poor light and heavy seas the Renown engaged both enemy ships at a range of some ten miles. As the range shortened Gneisenau’s main gunnery control centre was hit by a 15-inch shell from Renown. In the running fight which followed the Gneisenau sustained further damage while the Renown, though hit by three of the German ship’s heavy shells, came through comparatively undamaged. At about 6.15 a.m. the enemy ships broke off the engagement and ran for cover. The Gneisenau eventually got to Wilhelmshaven where she was repaired.

Conflicting intelligence reports were flooding in to the Admiralty on 8 April, 1940. When analysed, checked and verified there was no doubt that the expected German invasion of Norway was under way. The dispositions of the Home Fleet were quickly revised in the hope of locating and bringing to battle the German warships heading for Narvik. Yet, when the Chiefs of Staff were roused from their beds for an early meeting, it was decided that we could still ‘peacefully occupy’ Narvik, but not until ‘the naval situation had been cleared up’.

The Allied Supreme War Council, with its committees, revised their own military organization to cope with the new emergency. Meanwhile the Germans had achieved that most important element, surprise.

The British preparation for events in Scandinavia roughly paralleled that of Germany. But a democracy, by its very nature, lacks the clear-cut direction of a dictatorship. The alliance with France had its centre on the Western front. The French were regarded as equal partners in the Supreme War Council, but in Scandinavian matters seem to have delegated executive power to the British. Nevertheless, they pressed strongly for quick action in Norway.

The Expeditionary Force of Chasseurs, Poles and Foreign Legionnaires, originally assembled for service in Finland, stood ready for action. On 28 March, 1940, the Council, without enthusiasm, agreed to assemble a force in readiness to act against a possible German attack on Norway. Churchill expressed the hope that the German battle fleet, if it emerged, would be promptly engaged and decisively defeated. At this stage of the war the Allied command structure was inexperienced, unwieldy and complicated. In any organization where uncertainty exists, a form of leadership, either individual or collective, will emerge. In this case the Admiralty, with Churchill as First Lord, acted impulsively when intelligence reports confirmed that elements of the German fleet had left Kiel and other northern ports on 4 April. Orders were issued by the First Sea Lord, by-passing the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.

The Admiralty continued to get intelligence reports of German naval activity in the Wilhelmshaven Roads, including a sighting by the RAF of the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst. On 7 April the Admiralty sent a telegram to the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet:

Recent reports suggest a German expedition is being prepared; Hitler is reported from Copenhagen to have ordered unostentatious movement of one division in ten ships by night to land at Narvik, with simultaneous occupation of Jutland. Sweden to be left alone. Moderates said to be opposing the plan. Date given for arrival at Narvik was 8 April.

All these reports are of doubtful value and may well be only a further move in the war of nerves.

In fact the first two groups of German warships had left port and at 8 p.m. on 7 April were off the Norwegian coast between Egersund and Bergen. Within twenty-four hours HMS Glowworn had been sunk and the long-awaited encounter with the German fleet had begun.

The British plan R4 was abandoned. New dispositions, both naval and military, were set in motion. The four cruisers lying at Rosyth, packed with troops for Bergen and Stavanger, hastily disembarked the soldiers and sailed north to rejoin the fleet. The proposed frontal attack on Trondheim was off and the third phase of the minelaying operation in the Leads was abandoned.

This critical step, which involved the abandonment of a carefully considered military expedition, seems to have been taken by the Admiralty independently and to the surprise of the Prime Minister. The First Sea Lord issued the order; the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, who already had superior forces at his disposal, was not consulted. Thus the measures adopted to secure the traditional object of a decisive encounter at sea, which was not secured, deprived us of our last chance to restore the position on land.

The forces earmarked for Norway were again re-shuffled. The 24th Guards Brigade, made up of the 1st Scots Guards, 1st Irish Guards and 2nd South Wales Borderers, were still in the Clyde, awaiting sailing instructions. This Regular Brigade was experienced and well trained, having seen service in either the Palestine ‘troubles’ or the insurrections on the North-West Frontier of India. It was commanded by Brigadier the Hon. W. Fraser, and destined for Narvik.

The French contingent, who were to join them later, included the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion (two battalions); the 13th, 53rd and 67th Battalions of Chasseurs Alpins, trained as ski-troops; and the Polish Highland Brigade of mountain troops. In the event, the Chasseurs were diverted to Namsos, where they were commanded by the French General Audet.

The British attempt to capture Trondheim was now envisaged as a pincer movement coming from Namsos, in the north, and Aandalsnes, to the south of Trondheim. The force to land at Namsos was 146 Brigade, consisting of ¼th Royal Lincolns, ¼th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and ¼th York and Lancasters (the Hallamshire battalion). The Territorial soldiers who made up this brigade had been denied the training and experience of the Regular force earmarked for Narvik. They were poorly equipped and lacked the essential support of tanks and artillery. The 5th Demi-Brigade, Chasseurs Alpins, would join them later. 146 Brigade was commanded by Brigadier C. G. Phillips with the legendary hero, Major-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, V C, in overall command of the force.

Another Territorial force provided the troops to land at Aandalsnes. 148 Brigade had only two battalions, 1/5th Royal Leicesters and 1/8th Sherwood Foresters. Their commander, Brigadier H. de R. Morgan, had transformed them in a few months from ill-trained amateurs into someting resembling a competent fighting force. Again, they were unsupported by heavy weapons and, in common with the others, lacked anti-aircraft cover. This contingent was later to be joined by 15 Brigade, then serving in France. They were the 1st Green Howards, 1st King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and 1st York and Lancasters, all Regular soldiers, commanded by Brigadier H. E. F. Smyth.

The Chiefs of Staff, under pressure from the French to continue to reinforce the British Expeditionary Force in France, were unable to find the resources to back up the expedition to Norway. The Territorial brigades were from the start looked upon as second-line troops, responsible for garrison and line of communication duties, and they were equipped accordingly.

Churchill had been at odds with most of the planning staff over the dispersion of the limited forces available for Norway. To him Narvik seemed to be the focal point of the Allied attack and he had consistently opposed an attack on Trondheim. ‘Left to myself I would have stuck to my first love, Narvik …’ Then, later, ‘Although Narvik was my pet I threw myself with increasing confidence into this daring adventure, and was willing that the Fleet should risk the petty batteries (at Trondheim).’

But, as we have seen, the direct assault on Trondheim was dropped and the very ports that the German Staff had forbidden General von Falkenhorst to occupy (Namsos and Aandalsnes) were chosen instead. In the event what appeared at the time to be a logical choice turned out to be disastrous. Both landings were short-lived.

German Army 1914-18

TRENCH WARFARE, 1915–1917

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The trench systems of 1915, 1916 and early 1917 became increasingly sophisticated as time, the lack of any significant advances or withdrawals and lengthy periods of inactivity allowed the soldiers abundant opportunities to improve the environment in which they lived and fought. Emplacements were routinely dug to depths of ten or twelve metres and included command and observation posts, bombardment shelters, sniper, machine-gun and sentry positions and suchlike, as well as field kitchens, medical aid posts and all manner of storage facilities (including often large quantities of ammunition and explosives). In early 1915 a typical basic dugout or shelter was constructed up to one metre wide (but no wider, in order to minimize the consequences of a direct hit by a shell), their sides reinforced with planks, and with a roof constructed of logs surmounted by three to four metres of earth, and finally a layer of earth mixed with straw. There were also chambers or rooms for resting, sleeping and eating, many of which were developed to remarkable levels of innovation and relative comfort behind the front-line trenches; such innovative and elaborate constructions often appeared in the second and third-line trench systems of quieter sectors too. In 1916 Victor Archard, a soldier of C Company, Heavy Branch of the British Machine-Gun Corps, and some of his comrades took the opportunity to investigate a recently captured German dugout ‘No 34A’ on the Western Front, where they found:

It was entered by between twenty-five and thirty stairs, boarded above and on the sides. The stairs gave place to a landing, then a sharp turn and an ascent of about nine steps. The first room contained a table, chairs, lamp, shelves and a large clock, while an exit led from the opposite wall. The room was papered and evidently well kept. From the middle of either side a passage led to a kitchen and store respectively, while the passages were of sufficient width to allow bunks with spring mattresses to be erected. On these beds were numerous expensive valises and new uniforms, also ammunition, tins of dubbin [waterproofing dressing for boots], boot polish etc. One bunk contained a dead German who had probably been killed there, or had crawled there to die. In the stores were several cases of lager beer and mineral waters, and a fair quantity of tinned meat of superior quality. There were also supplies of matches, some cigars and various articles of kit.

The same year, Lieutenant Carrol Whiteside of the 7th Battalion of the British army’s Border Regiment recorded his visit to a German brigade commander’s dugout in Fricourt Wood, when he observed that, ‘The place was sixty feet beneath the surface, down a steep flight of steps all boarded on the walls and roof and moreover distempered white. There were about eight fair-sized rooms, including an orderly room and servants’ rooms.’ On 29 November 1914, German gunner Herbert Sulzbach of the 2nd Battalion of the 77th Field Artillery Regiment, XIX Corps, wrote in his diary that, after a month occupying them, the dugouts of his battery in the area of Armentières had ‘tables and stoves and one even has a piano in it.’

While all sides engaged on the Western Front exhibited great ingenuity and skill in developing their defences, it is probably true to say that the German defensive positions of 1916 and 1917 achieved a greater degree of permanence and sophistication than those occupied by the Anglo-French troops. In part this reflected the general staff’s new commitment to a defensive strategy, with the German troops required primarily to hold the line in the west while their comrades on the Eastern Front dealt with the Russians. For the French and British governments however, nothing less than a capitulation and the removal of the German army from France and Belgium would do, which in turn meant that the French and British forces were necessarily committed to offensive action to break the stalemate.

As the two accounts above indicate, the German dugouts were regularly excavated deep underground, often accessed via stairways or ladders, all served by a network of interconnected communication trenches, pathways and tunnels. These routes gave ready access to the frontline defensive positions as well as providing a multiplicity of exits, escape routes, ventilation shafts and so on – making it possible for individuals and groups of men to move easily and quickly from position to position was one of the highest priorities. Many of these earthworks were set so far underground that even the heaviest shells could not affect them. There was a disadvantage to this, however, due to the time that it might take to get to the surface in case of an alarm, with as many as forty steps sometimes being the principal means of access to a relatively unsophisticated dugout, with the way into some others being described as the equivalent of ‘the stairs of a four-storeyed house’. Electric light illuminated most of these underground caverns, and telephone cables linked them with other positions in the line. Extensive revetting, concreting, floorboards, duckboards, ladders and stairways all added to the security and comfort of the thousands of men for whom the trenches had become their home. Barbed wire was laid to a width of 50 metres in front of the German trenches, and wooden knife-rest barriers (comprising a horizontal beam supported by a cross-piece at each end) laced with barbed wire were set across every approach route. Forward outposts and machine-guns covered every area from which an enemy patrol or larger-scale attack might approach, while along the front many hundreds of sentries were constantly on alert. This defensive shield led Ernst Jünger to describe everyday life in the trenches as ‘splendid days when, as a young officer, one could venture to sleep in pyjamas, and the automatic that lay to hand beside the ash-tray was only used when it was desired to break the monotony by going on patrol’, while, ‘one could traverse one’s whole front like a mole without once coming to the surface’.

Inevitably, the static nature and intermittent tempo of operations on the Western Front involved long periods of inactivity and monotony, but this in turn produced masterpieces of creativity as the soldiers constantly improved their living arrangements. Individual sleeping bays, wood-panelled walls, shelves, basic furniture, ‘pictures in colour from [the magazine] Jugend’, doors, curtains and suchlike were but a few of the more straightforward refinements that proliferated in the earthworks just behind the forward lines. So-called ‘trench art’ also became popular, with expended bullets and the brass cases of bullets and shells turned into matchbox covers, pens, cigarette lighters, ash trays, pipe cleaners and letter openers. During long hours spent in the trenches officers and soldiers also produced carved sets of chequers (draughts), dominoes and chess pieces, other board games, sketches and paintings, all sorts of carved wooden and metal souvenirs, models of military aircraft, guns and vehicles, as well as children’s toys. Meanwhile, hygiene, de-lousing and trying to keep body, clothing and equipment clean while in the trenches presented a constant battle – one frequently lost on a day-to-day basis, although units in the line usually managed to provide the soldiers with an opportunity to clean up, bathe, or at least have a proper wash with hot water somewhere to the rear of the front line every ten days or so.

At the same time the risks inherent in occupying such well-made dugouts set deep underground became very evident, as many of the obstacles erected in no-man’s-land when the lines were first established were gradually fragmented or destroyed by artillery and machine-gun fire, with little prospect of repairing or replacing them due to that same fire. In theory, no-man’s-land was an open space separating the two armies, but in many cases both lines of trenches were linked by communication trenches, saps (earthworks designed to undermine those of the enemy), tunnels and excavations dug in earlier times. In addition, where the lines might have moved a few hundred metres east or west, the residual earthworks that had originally been entirely within one side’s defences were sometimes left straddling no-man’s-land, with parts of that trench system now occupied by both sides. Virtually any of these dual-owned, old, redundant or disused trenches could provide routes by which a small number of attackers could infiltrate into the opposing side’s main trench system, and such considerations prompted the German army’s ‘front fighters’ on the Western Front to modify their tactics, weapons and equipment accordingly.

With the passage of time, both sides became technologically more innovative, as well as more aggressive and daring in their patrolling activities. As the tactics of trench warfare changed and the technology of death and destruction advanced, so the grenades of the trench raiders, the clouds of poison gas, the fire of flamethrowers, and the burning phosphorous of artillery shells and bombs took an ever greater toll of those troops who, while largely secure from artillery bombardment in their underground fortresses, were nevertheless unable to reach the surface in time to repel a surprise attack or trench raid, or to escape the noxious effects of gas or fire. Accordingly, the German high command eventually directed that forward trenches and dugouts were to be no deeper underground than two metres, thereby accepting the likelihood of greater casualties from artillery and mortar bombardment while reducing the risks of a surprise attack and of mass casualties underground caused by gas or flame. In recognition of the reduced level of protection such forward trenches would afford, they were provided with two-man ‘Siegfried shelters’ – semicircular holes dug into the side of the trench and extending some three metres, with a curved, corrugated iron roof supporting up to two metres of overhead protection. They gave the front-line troops some protection from artillery bombardment but virtually none from a direct hit and little if any from a shell landing within the trench close to the shelter.

Slightly forward of the main trench or built into its side were the observation, sentry and sniper positions, these often protected by steel plates into which loopholes had been set. The practice of occupying such positions well forward of the main trench line and accessed by a buried sap or tunnel was largely abandoned during the first year of the war because their isolation and vulnerability outweighed their ability to provide early warning of an attack. Even when they were located close to the main trench line, these positions were dangerously exposed. More often than not they lacked any sort of overhead cover apart maybe from a sheet of canvas or possibly a few pieces of wood to protect the occupants from some of the worst ravages of the sun in summer and the snow and rain in winter.

Although a post-winter thaw or heavy rainfall usually affected the forward positions more than those sited farther to the rear (i.e., in depth), inundations of the trenches were always thoroughly demoralizing. Carefully constructed and otherwise apparently sound earthworks were undermined and collapsed, dissolving into a mixture of mud, bits of timber and lumps of chalk or stone. At the same time, seemingly unstoppable rivers of mud and water flowed freely along walkways and into dugouts, stores and sleeping bays. These torrents frequently disinterred corpses hastily buried after earlier battles as well as uncovering the mouldering bodies of long-lost soldiers posted as missing in action weeks, months and even years before. Meanwhile, the countless shell holes and craters that pock-marked the battlefield rapidly filled with water, several of these often coalescing into great expanses of filthy, muddy water. Every one represented a potential death trap for any soldier or horse unlucky or careless enough to fall into its unfathomable depths.

Inevitably the years of trench warfare prompted many technological innovations, improved and new weapons, while tactical developments influenced specific events and tactical engagements to varying degrees. Probably no more than two of these new weapons truly had the potential to unlock the stalemate on the Western Front – poison gas, used by the German army in 1915, and tanks, deployed by the British from 1916. However, apart from facilitating some tactical successes, the army’s deployment of poison gas against Franco-Algerian and British troops in April and May 1915 simply heralded the arrival of an additional threat and new form of unpleasantness for those soldiering on the Western Front during the months and years that followed. The tank was a British invention, with its first appearance from 1916 and then in greater numbers in 1917 eventually making a major contribution to breaking the stalemate on the Western Front. The failure of the Germans to develop and exploit this particular weapon early enough meant that its battlefield success advantaged the Allies rather than the Germans and the other Central Powers.

THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY, 1914–1918

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As the months and years passed, the formidable German army that took to the field in 1914 continued to evolve and modernize in response to changing operational situations; to take advantage of technological advances by Germany; and to counter those by the Franco-British and other Allied forces ranged against the Central Powers. By 1917 the old divisional organization with four regiments had been reduced to three, and battalion strengths also reduced in order to enable the creation of new divisions. A host of special-purpose combat and support units were created to deal with particular aspects of the new forms of warfare. At the same time the size and capability of the artillery increased significantly. Machine-gun units also proliferated, including specialist machine-gun units for mountain warfare and anti-aircraft defence, and for operating with cavalry and cyclist units. The development of light machine-guns and automatic rifles also resulted initially in the creation of special units to man these weapons, but they were later categorized as general-purpose weapons. Protective technology for the individual soldier advanced in parallel with weapons technology, the most visible evidence of this being the iconic ‘coal-scuttle’ Stahlhelm steel helmet, which replaced the traditional Pickelhaube spiked helmet from 1916. From 1915 ever more efficient anti-gas respirators also became an indispensable part of every soldier’s equipment.

Many other changes were precipitated by the rapid advances in military technology as the army sought new weapons and tactical solutions with which it might break – or at least predominate in – the deadlock on the Western Front. The war of attrition and emphasis upon defensive operations on the Western Front meant that the army had to be able to hold and regain ground while also maintaining its offensive spirit and flexibility. The high command’s publication in December 1916 of the new operational doctrine set out in The Principles of Command in the Defensive Battle in Positional Warfare was but one of the more significant such documents among various doctrinal and tactical papers and publications. Field engineering in particular became a growth industry, and in addition to their existing engineering functions the army’s pioneers took on responsibility for flamethrowers, trench mortars, mining, poison gas apparatus and projectors, pontoon and other bridging equipment and searchlight operating. All forms of electronic communication moved on apace, with the responsibility for telegraph communications eventually allocated to a newly-created signals organization from January 1917. Meanwhile, the command and control of all ground transportation units and movement functions were centralized under the quartermaster general’s department.

Above the battlefield, meanwhile, advances in airship and aeroplane design – including innovations such as Anthony Fokker’s system of synchronization that allowed pilots to fire their machine-guns forward through an aeroplane’s propeller – opened up a whole new arena for war-fighting. In 1916 the army’s pre-1914 airship battalions were grouped with its aviation (aeroplane-equipped) units and established as the Luftstreitkräfte (Air Service) as a separate branch of the army; the army later transferred its airship capability to the navy. In due course, Germany’s use of Zeppelin airships and (later on) long-range heavy bombers for the strategic bombing of London and other suitably prestigious targets heralded an extension of the conflict far beyond the armies in the field. Long-range bombing together with unrestricted submarine warfare challenged many of the traditional rules of warfare, as had several core aspects of the doctrine set out in the general staff’s Kriegsbrauch im Landkriege ever since August 1914.

From late 1916 the appearance of the first British tanks on the battlefield dramatically reduced the dominance of the machine-gun, introducing new tactical opportunities and beginning to restore a degree of fluidity and unpredictability to the battlefield. For German troops not directly in contact and serving in the front-line positions, the Allied tank threat changed what had become a comparatively safe and relatively comfortable troglodyte existence into an unacceptably risky daily lifestyle. Although German operational planning on the Western Front had been dominated by defensive imperatives ever since late 1915, it was nevertheless surprising that the army high command failed fully to appreciate the significance of the tank before their more general use by the British, or that Germany had failed to develop an equivalent combat vehicle in anticipation of resuming the offensive in the west once Russia had been defeated. On the other hand, the premature use of tanks by the British in relatively ineffectual penny-packets may well have belied their true potential in the view of the German general staff, at a time when the army’s mechanization programme was already suffering considerable practical and raw material constraints. In any event, despite the army’s traditional emphasis upon offensive rather than defensive action, the general staff’s preferred response to the threat posed by Allied tanks was to concentrate upon developing anti-tank weapons and tactics rather than developing a German tank. This was indeed ironic in light of the fact that tanks heralded the resurrection of manoeuvre warfare, which was something that the high command had strived to achieve ever since 1914.

By 1917 it was clear that the Franco-British forces had an unassailable lead in tank development. The German army adopted the expedient of using suitably converted tanks (Beute-Panzerkampfwagen) captured from the Allies, and more than fifty of these vehicles (suitably emblazoned with the German Iron Cross or similar identifying markings) were being used by the end of the war. Despite this pragmatic action to redress the situation and Germany’s late entry into the business of tank warfare, a German-designed tank was eventually manufactured. This prototype armoured vehicle was first demonstrated to senior commanders and members of the general staff in May 1917, less than a year after Allied tanks first appeared on the battlefield. The demonstration and associated trials were judged successful, and in due course a total of twenty production models of the 33-tonne Type A7V tank were deployed with the field army. It had a crew of eighteen and mounted a 5.7-centimetre gun plus six 08 pattern machine-guns.

The A7V was first used in action in the St. Quentin canal area on 21 March 1918, where five tanks under the command of Hauptmann Greiff were deployed. Three of the vehicles broke down before they could engage the British forces, the other two playing a relatively minor part in preventing a British breakthrough. Meanwhile the first recorded tank battle took place towards the end of an engagement involving eighteen A7Vs at Villers-Bretonneux on 24 April 1918. There the massed German tanks had successfully brought about a withdrawal by British and Australian infantry when three of the A7Vs were unexpectedly confronted by three British Mark IV tanks south of the town. After a short tank-versus-tank battle the Mark IVs forced the German tanks to withdraw. Overall, the A7V tanks were less capable and less mobile than the Allied tanks; whenever A7Vs were captured by the Allies they were not usually taken into service by their forces. The introduction of a successor to the A7V was already under way in mid-1917, with the development of the more heavily armed 165-tonne (subsequently reduced to 120-tonne) Type K Großkampfwagen super-heavy tank. This armoured leviathan had four 7.7-centimetre guns plus seven machine-guns, and when the war ended it was already in the final stages of development, with two prototypes almost completed.

Despite ever-increasing mechanization within the army, this process was unavoidably constrained by strategic factors and was therefore much slower and on a smaller scale than the general staff might have wished. Consequently, the army’s critical reliance upon horse-drawn field artillery and transport and (although much reduced since 1914) a mounted cavalry capability continued throughout the war, which in turn meant that the veterinary services expanded in size and importance to maintain this essential form of mobility. The medical services had also grown rapidly in size, expertise and complexity in order to deal with the huge numbers of casualties sustained as the war progressed, utilizing a comprehensive organization of regimental aid posts, field ambulance units, motorized ambulance columns, ambulance trains and military hospitals. Thus the organization, equipment, weapons and appearance of the army at the beginning of 1918 were in many ways very different from those with which it had gone to war in August 1914.

THE RUSSIAN NAVY WWI

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Novík was a destroyer of the Russian Imperial Navy, commissioned in 1913 where she served with the Baltic Fleet during World War I. She joined the Bolsheviks in November 1917 and was later renamed Yakov Sverdlov.

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Hostilities came too soon for the Imperial Russian Navy, which had a target of 1917 to achieve a fully operational state. The nine years that followed the end of the disastrous war with Japan had been a long haul for the Baltic Fleet. Dispatched as reinforcements to the Far East, its most modern ships had been sunk or captured at Tsushima. While it did not experience violence on the scale of the mutiny in the battleship Potemkin and other Black Sea units in 1905, the rump of the Baltic Fleet was wracked by the popular upheavals of the day. Rebuilding was slow. Many of the units interned in Far Eastern ports during the war made their way back to the Baltic by 1906, but Russia’s financial situation and the disruption following the aborted revolution of 1905 practically paralyzed the shipyards for years. The battleship Slava, completed too late in 1905 to deploy, was the only modern capital ship in the Baltic until the return of Tsesarevich the following year and the completion of Imperator Pavel and Andrei Pervozvanny at the end of 1910. These ships had been modified in the light of war experience, but their pre-dreadnought design meant that they were no match for the first line of the High Sea Fleet. The cruiser force was in similar shape. Although completed in France and Russia between 1908 and 1911, Admiral Makarov and her two sisters were obsolete by the time of their commissioning. The only really useful heavy unit was the powerful armored cruiser Rurik, commissioned in Britain in 1908, but she was outclassed by the German battle cruisers, which possessed not only much more powerful broadsides, but also several knots’ speed advantage.

There was a building program under way, but its shape and size had taken years to settle. Even when funds became available as the economy expanded rapidly after 1906, the naval effort was divided between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, since Russia had to consider both theaters. Indeed, the Turkish threat became progressively more serious after 1910 as the Turks embarked on their own effort to acquire dreadnoughts. The first four battleships, which were to be the core of the future Baltic Fleet, were not laid down until 1909. Two, Sevastopol and Poltava, were complete but not yet fully operational. The second pair was not far behind, but all would require several months’ work before they were ready for combat. Four battle cruisers were at a less advanced stage of construction and the first could not be available until at least 1915. She would never be completed.

Russia’s limited ability to produce modern warships had been recognized by the order of two light cruisers from German yards, but these were now lost to the Imperial Russian Navy and would soon enter German service. None of the four light cruisers under construction in the Russian Baltic shipyards would be finished before the end of the war. The submarine force consisted of only eight obsolescent and unreliable boats in the frontline brigade and three even more elderly craft as training units. The Bars class were building, but their completion would be delayed because much of their machinery had been ordered from Germany. In fact, the only product of the new fleet plan already in service was the fast destroyer Novik, forerunner of what was intended to be a large class of the fastest and most heavily armed destroyers in the world.

The deficiencies reflected the difficulties of reforming the navy. Despite the starkness with which the service’s inadequacies had been demonstrated during the Russo-Japanese War, its reorganization was protracted and too dependent on individual personalities. While many, particularly in the junior ranks, were determined not to repeat the mistakes of 1904–5, there remained highly conservative vested interests, both within the navy and in the civil bureaucracy and a system dominated by committees whose accountability was, at best, ambiguous. Soon after the end of the Russo-Japanese conflict, the younger officers set up “study groups” to agitate for reform, paralleling a similar Young Turks movement in the army. They gained an important ally in the tsar himself. Nicholas II had received some naval training, including a period at sea, and his understanding of naval matters was more sophisticated than many of his advisers. The antique office of General-Admiral, usually occupied by a member of the royal family, was replaced by a minister of the navy shortly after the battle of Tsushima. With the tsar’s approval, a Naval General Staff was formed in 1906 to conduct long-range planning. The Naval General Staff’s numbers rapidly expanded from fifteen to forty. Its activities eventually subsumed much of the efforts of the study groups, probably because it involved the same officers.

At the same time, political developments following the establishment of the Russian parliament, the Duma, in 1906 put a spotlight on naval and military reform. From 1907 liberal elements within the Duma became increasingly vocal, but it was not until 1911 as a result of their pressure that the energetic Vice Admiral Ivan Grigorovich took over the navy portfolio and momentum developed for real reform elsewhere in the naval administration. In that year the Naval General Staff was placed under the minister, which meant that the navy’s planning and administrative elements were under one authority. Similarly, although he was a key figure within the Baltic Fleet as a junior flag officer from 1906 onward, it took the accession of Vice Admiral Nikolai von Essen to the post of commander in the Baltic in 1908 to bring about really substantial improvements within the fleet itself. One of the relatively few senior officers to distinguish himself in the war with Japan, von Essen’s dynamism put new life into his people and ships.

There were other factors. Apart from the tsar’s continuing strong personal support, the Duma found the navy’s officials much more cooperative than those of the War Ministry and was thus more inclined to provide them money. Grigorovich himself proved particularly adept at working with the Duma’s financial committees. By 1911 the navy was receiving more funding for new ships than was the army for its reequipment. The funding was not only official: in this more hopeful environment, popular support also grew. A National Committee was formed that raised enough subscriptions to pay for a substantial number of extra destroyers and submarines.

The Russian navy and its design elements were not unsophisticated. It is arguable that the technical and innovative capacities of its expert personnel were considerably greater than the ability of Russian industry to support their intent. This forced the Russians to purchase much of their equipment overseas, which allowed them to acquire emergent technology, such as the new fire control systems being developed in Britain, and combine it with their own devices, but left them hostage to situations in which a supplier such as Germany became an enemy. The effect in 1914 on the shipbuilding program would be devastating. It was also awkward for torpedoes, since substantial Russian purchases were made from the Whitehead factory at Fiume (modern Rijeka) in Austria-Hungary, and much of the Russian local effort to that point had been the licensed assembly of components. Nevertheless, Russian torpedo and gunnery standards were not behind those of their adversaries and some of their thinking, such as automatic torpedo salvo firing and triple torpedo tubes, the provision of higher gun elevation to extend the range, triple turrets, and the quality of weapon design were in the forefront of development. The Russians were also acutely aware of their industrial vulnerability and had made substantial efforts to establish local armament works, including a cooperative venture with the British firm of Vickers, as well as improving their shipyards. This work had consumed almost as much money as the shipbuilding programs themselves.

The Baltic Fleet had its own difficulties. There were formidable challenges for training in the eastern part of the sea. The key challenge was environmental. As the Baltic iced up from December—and sometimes earlier—navigation became impossible and remained so until at least April. This meant that the ships had to remain at their bases, with limited opportunities for practical training, a situation exacerbated by the cold and hours of darkness. Admiral von Essen did his best to train all year round, operating in ice-free waters to the west for as long into winter as he could, but it was no easy matter. The problem was partly solved, particularly for basic training, by the dispatch of squadrons to cruise in southern European waters over the winter months, but this alternative was not available to the torpedo craft and submarines, which were lucky to experience a seven-month window of operations annually. Even the long daylight hours of summer caused problems, since they limited the ability of the torpedo forces and the offensive minelayers to practice in tactically realistic settings. Climate had another effect, since the more temperate Black Sea was a better location for experiments. This meant, among other things, that the bulk of the early aviation effort was not available to the Baltic Fleet, although an aviation element was formally established in the Baltic in 1912.

Many of the ratings had limited education and this, combined with the lack of modern equipment in the fleet, created difficulties in developing collective expertise. There were too many conscripts and the annual turnover of ratings represented another challenge for the maintenance of unit efficiency. Efforts to encourage junior sailors to reengage and to recruit boy seamen as future long-service petty officers helped, but were not enough. There also remained great gulfs between officers and sailors, and there is evidence that the gap widened in the decade after the 1905 disturbances, perhaps because of mutual uncertainty and suspicion. The events of 1905 had highlighted the potential of the navy as a seedbed of dissidence to the revolutionary forces in Russia and there was constant concern as to the possibility of internal subversion. Although many of the younger officers possessed a much more professional outlook than their predecessors and their training curriculum had greatly improved since 1905, the system of discipline remained harsh and the disparity between the living conditions of the wardroom and the lower deck was extreme—the sailors appearing to exist on “bowls of soup and black bread.” Just as in the other navies, relationships in the small ship and submarine forces were much closer than in the battleships and cruisers, but a British submarine officer in 1914 was horrified to see “the [Russian] officer of the watch spit in a rating’s face when he was brought up as a defaulter.”

The key Russian advantage was in mine warfare. Russian mines caused the majority of Japanese losses in 1904–5. Von Essen had been appointed to command the Baltic mine and torpedo craft force in 1906 and continued to oversee its improvement after he assumed leadership of the whole Baltic Fleet. Systematic development of new and increasingly effective mine types continued until the outbreak of war, together with regular purchases of additional war stocks—5,000 in 1912 and 4,200 in 1914, of which 1,800 were intended for the Baltic. By the outbreak of war, there were some 7,000 mines available in theater. Von Essen was not satisfied with a purely defensive role and agitated for years for minelaying raids into the southern part of the sea to be an integral component of the fleet’s operational concept. This had yet to be formally incorporated into the war plans, but high hopes were held for the offensive capabilities of the new large destroyers, such as Novik, that combined the capacity to lay mines with a formidable gun and torpedo armament, as well as the new submarines.

There was another strength. The Russians had already developed relatively sophisticated techniques in signals intelligence, with ships’ radio personnel being trained in interception and simple analysis. Basic direction finding and interception had been practiced during the prewar maneuvers. Realizing its vulnerability, the Russians, like the British but unlike the Germans, were relatively circumspect in their own employment of wireless. Organizational capacity for higher-level work came in the form of the Observation and Communications Service established by Captain A. I. Nepenin, who was to be one of the key figures in the Baltic conflict. This was intended as a control and observation system to link the coastal defenses at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland with the seagoing units, particularly the minesweepers, but it also included a signals intelligence element to support the higher command. This would prove extremely useful when the major German code books passed into Russian hands after the grounding and capture of the light cruiser Magdeburg.

Much would depend for the Russians on the success of their land campaigns. The defensive mindset of the Russian high command in the theater could be overcome only if there was reasonable confidence as to the security of Saint Petersburg. This had yet to be achieved and the absence of that security would restrict fleet operations for months to come.

Alexander’s Invasion of India I

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Alexander’s invasion of India had begun in the winter of 327–326 BCE. Over the preceding twenty months he had destroyed Darius, the last Achaemenid emperor, and proclaimed himself king of kings in his stead. He had hunted down and executed the rebel Bactrian satrap Bessos, who had killed Darius. Wherever he set foot he had planted new cities named after himself, including Alexandria in Arachiosa (modern Kandahar, more properly Iskandahar), Alexandria under Kaukasos (modern Begram, south of the Hindu Kush), and Alexandria Eschate, or ‘Furthest’ (in modern Tajikistan). But it was not enough, and his thoughts had turned to India – according to the historian Herodotus, the most populous nation in the known world and the richest.

No army had ever been so well educated as that which marched to Alexander’s drum, particularly those cavalry officers known as the Companions who commanded the royal wing and the eight other squadrons of horse, and the infantry commanders known as the Shield-Bearers who spearheaded the right phalanx of Alexander’s army. Some had been friends of Alexander since childhood and had attended the school at Mieza at which the philosopher Aristotle of Stagira had presided over Alexander’s education, tutoring him from the age of thirteen in philosophy, morals, logic, science, mathematics, medicine and art. At Mieza Alexander had learned that what distinguished Greeks and Macedonians from other men was the spirit of enquiry. But his education had been cut short when his father King Philip went away to wage war against Byzantium. From that time onwards Alexander had been too busy either defending or enlarging Philip’s kingdom to give much thought to Aristotelian ethics.

There was nothing morally uplifting about Alexander’s extraordinary advance into Asia but it did at least accord with Aristotle’s assertion that ‘All men by nature desire to know’. No less than sixteen of those who accompanied Alexander are known to have written accounts of that extraordinary journey eastwards. None of these eyewitness accounts have survived in the original but enough material was still accessible in the days of late republican and imperial Rome for Greek and Roman historians to plunder them for their own versions of Alexander’s eastern adventure, of which five survived to be read by Sir William Jones, together providing a detailed, if contradictory, account of Alexander’s invasion of India.

Having made his decision to press on, Alexander had sent envoys to all the local rulers calling on them to submit to his authority. Those whose territories lay in the plains had had ample time to reflect on Alexander’s relentless advance across Asia and responded with alacrity. There were even protestations of the warmest friendship from an Indian king whom the Greeks came to know as Omphis of Taxila, whose territories extended east from the River Indus to the River Hydaspes (the modern Jhelum). So eager was King Omphis to show his goodwill that he crossed the Indus to meet Alexander, bringing offerings that included twenty-five war elephants – no mean gift, for these were the battle tanks of the day.

However, the mountain tribes of the Aspasioi and Assakenoi – names probably derived from Sanskrit aswa, or ‘horse’, and aswa-senis, ‘horse-fighters’, thus ‘horse-people’, and ‘horse-warriors’ – refused to submit. Alexander thereupon divided his army, sending one force down through the defile known today as the Khyber Pass to the winter capital of Gandhara at Peukelaotis (Pushkalavati, now Charsadda, just above the confluences of Swat River and Kabul River) while he himself led the best of his troops on a more northerly route into the mountains.

The winter campaign that followed was swift and brutal in the Alexandrian manner. The first Aspasian town that lay across Alexander’s path failed to surrender and every inhabitant was put to the sword; the second held out only briefly before opening its gates. The Greeks renamed this second city Nysa, because it was overlooked by an ivy- and vine-covered mountain that reminded them of the mountain sacred to their god Dionysus. The historians Arrian, Justin and Curtius all tell the same story, which was that Nysa stood at the foot of a mountain called Meros, the summit of which was then occupied by Alexander’s forces for ten days of bacchanalian revelry. With his men thoroughly rested, Alexander continued his mountain campaign, which ended with his assault on the great rock of Aornos, a supposedly impregnable mountain that was said to have defeated Heracles himself. Here the last of the Aspasioi and Assakenoi had gathered to make a final stand.

The name given to this great massif may come from the Greek aornos, ‘birdless’, but more probably derives from the Sanskrit awara, meaning ‘stockade’; thus the Fortress Mountain. Described by Arrian as ‘a mighty mass of rock … said to have a circuit of about 200 stadia [1 stadium = 607 feet] and at its lowest elevation a height of 11 stadia’, the Aornos massif overlooked the plains of Gandhara and the River Indus at its most northerly crossing-point. It meant that Aornos had to be taken before Alexander could contemplate going any further east.

Alexander duly set about besieging the Fortress Mountain, building up an earthwork to bridge a ravine on one side while a party led by Ptolemy, one of the commanders of Alexander’s Shield-Bearers, set about scaling the cliffs at a second point. By the third day the earthwork was complete and Alexander himself led the main assault, resulting in a rout and a massacre. ‘Alexander thus became master of the rock,’ declares Arrian. ‘He sacrificed upon it and built a fort, giving the command of its garrison to Sisikottos, who long before had in Bactria deserted from the Indians to Bessos, but after Alexander had conquered the Bactrian land served in his army, and showed himself a man worthy of confidence.’

The Indian deserter deputed to govern Aornos ‘Greekified’ by Arrian as Sisikottos is Romanised by Curtius into Sisocostus. The two are clearly one and the same, for the Roman historian ends his account of the taking of Aornos in much the same way as the Greek: ‘Upon the rock the king erected altars dedicated to Minerva and Victory. To the guides who had shown the way … he honourably paid the stipulated recompense … The defence of the rock and the country surrounding was entrusted to Sisocostus.’

All the surviving accounts record that Indian mercenaries were employed by the Aspasioi, Assakenoi and other mountain peoples and showed no scruples in switching sides. Alexander made extensive use of their military skills before coming to see them as a threat, at which point he disposed of them so ruthlessly as to lead Plutarch to accuse him of an act of treachery: ‘As the Indian mercenary troops, consisting, as they did, of the best soldiers to be found in the country, flocked to the cities which he attacked, he thus incurred serious losses, and accordingly concluded a treaty of peace with them; but afterwards, as they were going away, set upon them while they were on the road, and killed them all.’

Sisikottos/Sisocostus was one such Indian mercenary, initially fighting for the Persian satrap Bessos in Bactria against Alexander before switching sides to soldier for the Greeks, where his qualities of leadership evidently recommended him to Alexander as ‘a man worthy of confidence’. The significance of his name was missed by Sir William Jones, as it was by many students of Indo-Greek history who came after Jones.

With Mount Aornos taken and his line of supply secured, Alexander was able to reunite his forces and cross the Indus, where he made the customary sacrificial offerings before marching on to Taxila, a ‘great and flourishing city, the greatest indeed of all the cities which lay between the river Indus and the Hydaspes’. Here he and his Macedonians were made welcome by King Omphis and his people, the Indian king showering upon Alexander gifts that included another fifty-six elephants, a number of sheep of extraordinary size, three thousand bulls, quantities of corn, gold crowns and eighty talents of coined silver. So gratified was Alexander by the Taxilan king’s generosity that he returned his gifts with thanks and added ‘a thousand talents from the spoils which he carried, along with many banqueting vessels of gold and silver, a vast quantity of Persian drapery, and thirty chargers from his own stalls’ – an act of statesmanship that, according to Quintus, caused ‘the deepest offence to his own friends’.

Alexander’s Invasion of India II

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For all Alexander’s ruthlessness, his wine-soaked rages and his growing megalomania, he was still a student of Aristotle, as the historian Arrian conceded in describing how he went out of his way to learn about the several different kinds of religious sects in Indian society, of which the most important were said to be the Brachmanes and Sarmanes. The former were held in the highest esteem and William Jones had no difficulty in identifying them with the Brahman priestly caste. However, the Sarmanes were less easy to understand (the word being derived from the Sanskrit shramana, or ‘wandering ascetic’, a term covering all sorts from Buddhists and Jains to Hindu saddhus and atheistic Ajivikas). Unlike the Brachmanes, these Sarmanes were celibate and the most respected among them lived away from centres of population, dressing in rags and living on leaves and wild fruits.

With Omphis secured as his local ally, Alexander continued his eastward advance to the banks of the River Hydaspes, beyond which lay the great plains ruled over by the Indian king known to the Greeks as Poros. His response to Alexander’s order to meet him on the banks of the Hydaspes and make his submission was to say that he would indeed meet him there – but with an army many times mightier than Alexander’s. Not in the least discouraged, Alexander outmanoeuvred Poros into concentrating his troops at one point while his own main force crossed the river at another under cover of a rainstorm. This gave him time to draw up his battle line and attack before the Indian king could reorder his troops. As the Greeks advanced, the sight of Poros’s war elephants caused some wavering in the ranks. However, the real threat came from Poros’s front line: four thousand cavalry and a hundred four-horse chariots, each carrying two archers, two shield-bearers and two charioteers armed with darts. But it soon became clear that the chariots were too heavy to move over the wet ground, whereupon Alexander’s cavalry saw their chance and charged, forcing the Indian cavalry back upon the elephants.

Whenever the elephants tried to break out Alexander’s cavalry harried them with darts, forcing them to fall back. Their retreat allowed Alexander to bring his infantry phalanxes forward, their shields linked together. First the Indian cavalary and then the infantry were cut to pieces, ‘since the Macedonians were now pressing upon them from every side. Upon this all turned to flight.’

Among those who fled was King Poros, wounded in the shoulder. Seeing his elephant leaving the field, Alexander sent King Omphis of Taxila after him as a peace-maker, as Arrian recounts: ‘Taxiles [Omphis], who was on horseback, approached as near the elephant which carried Poros as seemed safe, and entreated him to stop his elephant and listen to the message he brought from Alexander. But Poros, on finding that the speaker was his old enemy Taxiles, turned round and prepared to smite him with his javelin.’ Despite this rebuff, Alexander continued to send one messenger after another to King Poros, ‘and last of all Meroes, an Indian, as he had learned that Poros and this Meroes were old friends’.

It was Meroes the Indian who finally won King Poros over and persuaded him to surrender. All the surviving accounts relate how the king’s dignity in defeat so moved Alexander that he not only appointed Poros governor of his former kingdom but added to his territory.

Nothing more is heard of the Indian Meroes. However, his name can be read as the genitive ‘of Mero’, suggesting that he was an Indian mercenary from the mountain region of Meros, the scene of the Greeks’ ten-day long bacchanale. And as Meroes the Indian disappears from the battlefield so the Indian mercenary Sisikottos reappears, for as Alexander regrouped after the battle, he received news of a revolt in the mountain country he had only recently subdued. This report came from Sisikottos, the Indian mercenary appointed local administrator of the Mount Aornos country. Alexander’s response was to send a military column under one of his best generals, Philippos, to restore order to the province.

The Assakenian revolt failed to weaken Alexander’s resolve to continue eastwards until he had reached the furthest sea. But as he prepared to push on across the Punjab he was warned that the entire country beyond the River Hyphasis (the modern Beas) was ruled over by a single all-powerful monarch, named by the Sicilian-Greek historian Diodoros Siculos as Xandrames and by Curtius as Aggrames. He ruled over two peoples, the Gangaridae and the Prasii, who lived on either side of the River Ganges, and he maintained a vast standing army: ‘20,000 cavalry and 200,000 infantry, besides 2000 four-horsed chariots, and, most formidable of all, a troop of elephants which he said ran up to the number of 3000’.

When Alexander asked Poros for his opinion, Poros declared the information to be correct, adding this all-powerful Indian king was ‘a man of quite worthless character, and held in no respect, as he was thought to be the son of a barber’. This barber had become the lover of the queen and had conspired with her to murder the king and seize the throne, after which he had murdered all the royal princes. He had then been succeeded by his son Xandrames.

After his Macedonians refused to cross the Hyphasis, Alexander sulked Achilles-like in his tent for two days before emerging to order twelve altars of squared stone to be erected as a monument of his expedition. He then embarked his army aboard a fleet of ships built by his admiral Nearchos to begin his return journey by way of the Hydaspes and Indus Rivers. ‘Designing now to make for the ocean with a thousand ships,’ writes Plutarch, ‘he left Porus and Taxiles … in friendly relations with each other, strengthened by a marriage alliance, and … he confirmed each in his sovereignty.’ He also left behind two of his best fighting generals: his old friend Philippos as governor of Gandhara, and Eudemos, senior commander of his Shield-Bearers, to support King Omphis of Taxila and, no doubt, to keep an eye on him.

More Indian tribes had to be subdued and more cities sacked before Alexander and his men reached the (Arabian) sea, at which point Alexander made the near fatal decision to march his men through the deserts of Gedrosia (modern Sind), suffering great loss of life, so that it was a thoroughly demoralised army that finally reached the safety of Karmania (modern southeast Persia) in the last months of the year 325 BCE.

Despite the revels with which his men marked their return to Persia, Alexander had few reasons to celebrate. From every quarter came news that the Greek satraps he had left behind as local governors had either abused their authority or had declared themselves independent rulers. But the worst news was that his old friend Philippos, governor of Gandhara, had been killed: ‘The satrap of the Indian country’, writes Arrian, ‘had been plotted against by the mercenaries and treacherously murdered.’ Alexander then wrote to Eudemos and King Omphis of Taxila, directing them to assume the administration of Gandhara. He also wrote to all the governors and military commanders throughout his empire, ordering them to dismiss all the mercenaries in their pay immediately.

One of these mercenaries was the Indian Sisikottos, who had been serving as local administrator of Aornos under Philippos and may well have been involved in his death.

As Alexander made his way westwards through Persia his column was swelled by many of the military contingents he had earlier left behind as garrisons. At Persepolis he revisited the remains of the royal palace and expressed his regret at the destruction he had earlier caused there. He then marched on to Susa, greatest of the three Persian capitals, where in the late spring of 324 BCE he organised a mass wedding in the Persian manner for himself and his Companions in a bid to integrate his Macedonian officers into the Persian nobility. Alexander himself married the eldest daughter of King Darius, Roxane, and his closest companion Hephaeston married a younger sister. Other daughters of the Persian and Medean royal families and related aristocracy were married to no less than eighty of Alexander’s Companions. Macedonian soldiers who had married local wives were ordered to come forward to have their marriages registered, and no less than ten thousand did so.

Among those who participated at the mass marriage at Susa was the Macedonian general Seleukos, by every account a strong and courageous man who had fought alongside Alexander in many of his fiercest engagements and, by Arrian’s account, had led the Shield-Bearers against King Poros. Seleukos’s reward was to be given the hand of Apama, daughter of Spitamenes, the most formidable of the Persian chiefs to have opposed Alexander in the Oxus and Jaxartes campaigns.

Alexander was now no more than thirty-one but already showing marked signs of physical and mental decline, brought about as much by his heavy drinking as the many wounds he had suffered. Within fourteen months he was dead, his death at Babylon in the summer of 323 BCE most likely due to malaria or typhoid. Perdiccas, commander of the Companions’ cavalry, then appointed a number of his colleagues to govern various provinces in the name of Alexander’s heir, Alexander IV, born to Roxane two months after his father’s death. These satrapies became the power bases from which each general launched his own bid for ascendancy. With the assassination of Perdiccas in 321 BCE by his own officers, all semblance of Macedonian unity collapsed, and the forty-year Wars of the Diadochi, or ‘Successors’, began.

Meanwhile, on the eastern border of Alexander’s empire Eudemos remained in power in Gandhara, initially sharing control of the Punjab with his ally King Poros before securing Poros’s death by treachery. He and his fellow Macedonian Peithon, satrap of the lower Indus region, hung on but with each passing year their authority diminished until finally both generals withdrew with their armies into Persia in order to participate in the ongoing power struggle for Alexander’s empire.

The winner in the east was Seleukos, afterwards known as Nikator, or ‘the Victor’. In 305 BCE, having secured ‘the whole region from Phrygia to the Indus’, Seleukos the Victor felt strong enough to proclaim himself king of Mesopotamia and Persia. He then set about reclaiming Alexander’s territories beyond the Indus, which had long since reverted to Indian rule.

What followed is summarised by the historians Appian, Justin and Plutarch. According to the first: ‘He [Seleukos the Victor] crossed the Indus and waged war with Androkottos, king of the Indians, who dwelt on the banks of that stream.’ Justin gives a slightly longer account: ‘He first took Babylon, and then with his force augmented by victory subjugated the Bactrians. He then passed over into India, which after Alexander’s death, as if the yoke of servitude had been shaken off from its neck, had put his prefects to death. Sandrocottus was the leader who achieved their freedom.’ Plutarch has more to add on this new Indian ruler: ‘Androkottos, who had by that time mounted the throne, presented Seleukos with 500 elephants, and overran and subdued the whole of India with an army of 600,000 … Androkottos himself, when he was but a youth, saw Alexander himself, and afterwards used to declare that Alexander could easily have taken the country since the king was hated and despised by his subjects for the wickedness of his disposition and the meanness of his origin.’ Clearly, Androkottos and Sandrocottus are one and the same.

It is at this juncture, after a lapse of some twenty years, that the Indian mercenary Sisikottos/Sisocostus and the more shadowy Meroes give way to Sandrocottus (Justin), Androkottos (Appian and Plutarch), Sandrakottos (Pliny the Elder), Sandrokottos (Strabo), and – most accurately of all – Sandrocoptus (mentioned by the third-century CE Greek philosopher Athenaios in a fleeting reference) – referred to hereafter by the core name of Sandrokoptos, no longer a mercenary but king of India.

Of this new ruler Sandrokoptos, king of the Ganderites and Praesians, and his relations with the Macedonian Seleukos the Victor, king of Mesopotamia and Persia – no one is more forthcoming than Justin, even if he adds some fanciful details about the latter’s rise to power:

He [Sandrokoptos] was born in humble life, but was prompted to aspire to royalty by an omen significant of an august destiny. For when by his insolence he had offended Nandrus, and was ordered by that king to be put to death, he sought safety by a speedy flight. When he lay down overcome with fatigue and had fallen into a deep sleep, a lion of enormous size, approaching the slumberer licked with its tongue the sweat which oozed profusely from his body, and, when he awoke, quietly took its departure. It was this prodigy which first inspired him with the hope of winning the throne, and so, having collected a band of robbers, he instigated the Indians to overthrow the existing government. When he was thereafter preparing to attack Alexander’s prefects, a wild elephant of monstrous size approached him, and, kneeling submissively like a tame elephant, received him on to its back and fought vigorously in front of the army. Sandrocottus, having thus won the throne, was reigning over India, when Seleukos was laying the foundations of his future greatness.

Here the Indian king whom Sandrokoptos offended is named not Xandrames or Aggrames (as given by Alexander’s historians) but more correctly as Nandrus. By this account – and ignoring the giant lion and elephant, ancient symbols of royalty and strength – Sandrokoptos offends King Nandrus and flees for his life. He then collects allies, themselves outlaws, and subsequently turns the local Indian population against Alexander’s local satraps in Gandhara – Alexander’s murdered governor Philippos and his successors Eudemos and Peithon – before going on to win the throne of India. All this is achieved before Seleukos the Victor had secured his position as basileus; that is to say, some years before 305 BCE, when Seleukos launched his attack across the Indus.

That attack took Seleukos deep into the Gangetic plains, perhaps even as far as Sandrokoptos’s capital, known to the Greeks as Palibothra or Palimbothra. The latter’s forces then counter-attacked and drove Seleukos back across the Indus and deep into his own territories. The war was then concluded with a peace treaty, under the terms of which the Macedonian king relinquished all claims to India in return for five hundred war elephants, cemented with a marriage. The Greek historians are unusually taciturn on the finer details of this treaty, and only Pliny admits to the loss of Greek territory: ‘The Indians afterwards held a large part of Ariane [a satrapy of the Persian empire encompassing what is now eastern Iran, south-western Afghanistan and Baluchistan] which they had received from the Macedonians, entering into marriage relations with him, and giving in return five hundred elephants, of which Sandrakottos had nine thousand.’

The Red Army vs. the Mujahideen, 1980–1989 Part I

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Few could have imagined that jihadist insurgents would prove so powerful when the Soviet Union launched its textbook takedown of Afghanistan. The Soviet assault began on Christmas Eve 1979—exactly fifty days after the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran—with more than a division of paratroopers landing at Kabul airport and at the Bagram airbase thirty-five miles away. A day later, on December 25, a Motorized Rifle Division rumbled across the border from Soviet Turkestan and began racing south toward Kabul. Ostensibly these troops were only responding to pleas of assistance from a communist regime that had taken power in a coup the preceding year. The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, as the communists were known, had immediately begun to alienate the population by challenging age-old social customs and landownership patterns. Landlords and mullahs were arrested, women ordered to unveil. Even the color of the Afghan flag was changed from Islamic green to communist red. The government tried to repress the resulting unrest by sending aircraft to bomb civilian neighborhoods and soldiers to massacre entire villages. Such excesses only drew more recruits into a burgeoning holy war. By the end of 1979 more than half of the Afghan army had deserted and 80 percent of the country had fallen out of the central government’s control.

The inner core of the Politburo in Moscow, led by the ailing eighty-year-old general secretary, Leonid Brezhnev, concluded that unless the USSR intervened, a “fraternal” regime would be toppled. They believed that the revolution was particularly imperiled by President Hafizullah Amin, a ruthless communist who had taken power just three months earlier by deposing and killing his predecessor. Amin, who had been educated at Columbia University, spoke English and expressed a desire for better relations with Washington. This led the KGB to suspect him, improbably enough, of being a CIA agent.

On December 27, 1979, KGB commandos wearing Afghan army uniforms and backed by the Red Army were ordered to assault the Tajbeg Palace, on the outskirts of Kabul, where Amin was holed up with 2,500 guards. Ironically, as the assault was about to start at 7:30 p.m., Amin was inside being treated for food poisoning (a KGB plot) by doctors from the Soviet embassy who had not been informed of the plan to eliminate their patient. When told that his palace was under attack, Amin asked an aide to contact the Soviets to save him, only to be told that the attackers were Soviets.

The KGB men were given a few shots of vodka and told “no one should be left alive” in the palace. The assault force encountered heavier than expected resistance from Amin’s guards, who greeted them with heavy machine-gun fire and fought them from room to room. Dozens of KGB officers were killed and almost all of the rest wounded. But, firing automatic weapons and throwing grenades, the commandos finally gained control of the palace and killed Amin. One Russian recalled that “the rugs were soaked with blood” by the time they were done.

Elsewhere in Kabul, other Russian troops were occupying the government ministries, the radio and television stations, and other strategic points. They were aided by embedded Russian advisers who tricked Afghan soldiers into taking the ammunition out of their tanks and the batteries out of their trucks. It was a model takedown not only of the capital but of the entire country—faster and less costly than the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Within a few weeks, eighty thousand Red Army troops were deployed across the country and a new president had been proclaimed: Babrak Karmal, a communist who had been a rival of Amin’s.

Western leaders were afraid that this was only the start of a Communist offensive toward the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. In fact Soviet leaders had no such plans. They were only trying to buttress a shaky ally, and they expected a quick in-and-out operation like that in Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. They had no idea that they had just launched a war that would last nine years, kill 26,000 Soviet soldiers, help bring about the downfall of the Soviet empire, and give a considerable boost to the global forces of jihad.

Perhaps if Soviet leaders had studied the annals of guerrilla warfare more closely—to include the hardships endured by the “bourgeois” British forces in Afghanistan in 1839–42 and 1878–80—they might not have been so confident about the outcome. But even the most thorough survey of history would not have fully prepared them to confront an Afghan enemy far more dangerous than any the British had ever faced. Like their nineteenth-century predecessors, the rebels who were to fight Soviet invaders were inflamed by nationalist and religious zeal. But they were to enjoy advantages undreamed of by Akbar Khan or Sher Ali: namely, the provision of secure bases next door in Pakistan where they could receive arms and training. It would not take long for the Red Army to find out that in Afghanistan’s vast and difficult terrain those advantages counted for more than all the modern weaponry at its disposal. It was in essence the same lesson learned by the American armed forces in Vietnam, and it would prove just as painful.

The Red Army’s education began in the Panjshir Valley, a narrow gash in the towering Hindu Kush mountains. Located forty miles north of Kabul, it is seventy miles long and runs in a northeasterly direction. The valley walls are sheer gray rock, the floor so narrow that at its widest point it is only a mile across. Travel in the 1980s was by a single dirt road, “no more than a stony path,” which ran alongside the “blue-green,” rapidly flowing Panjshir River. Here, before the coming of the Soviets, lived eighty thousand ethnic Tajiks, who scratched out a living raising chickens and goats, apricots and wheat. By 1980 the entire valley was under the control of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of numerous mujahideen commanders who had taken up arms to resist the Soviet invasion.

Actually Massoud, like many of the “holy warriors,” had begun fighting before the arrival of the Russians. Born in 1952 to an Afghan army officer, he had attended a French high school in Kabul followed by the Russian-built Kabul Polytechnic Institute, where he showed his mathematical ability. Like numerous other university students in the 1970s, Massoud became active in politics, but his politics were not of the secular leftist variety. Rather he became an adherent of the Muslim Youth, a militant movement inspired by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Their activities ran afoul of President Mohammad Daoud, a leftist who took power in 1973 from his cousin King Zahir Shah. (He, in turn, would be toppled by his communist allies five years later.) Massoud had to flee to Pakistan, where the government provided him and thousands of other fundamentalist Afghans with military training. After an aborted foray back into Afghanistan in 1975, he returned for good three years later to fight the new communist regime. He started, noted a journalist, with “fewer than 30 followers, 17 rifles of various makes, and $130 in cash.” Within a few years he had created a force of 3,000 mujahideen. They would become the nucleus of the most formidable guerrilla movement the Soviets had ever faced.

This achievement was all the more remarkable considering that Massoud received considerably less outside assistance than other muj commanders who were based in Pakistan and were close to its Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Moreover in a country that revered age Massoud was not yet thirty at the time of the Soviet invasion. That he was able to thrive largely on his own was a tribute to his shrewdness and charisma. “He had an energy, an intensity, a dignity that was immediate and powerful and had an effect on everyone around,” recalled the journalist Sebastian Junger. “When he was talking, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Something about him was just captivating.”

Massoud was a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day, but he did not display the same dogmatism and extremism as the more hard-line muj commanders. He had “a kind of gentle fragility and a disarming sense of humor,” a tolerance for others, and an interest in poetry and Sufi mysticism. He encouraged women to become educated and treated Soviet prisoners with “such compassion that Soviet soldiers preferred to surrender to him over anybody else”; one of them even became his bodyguard. (Other muj commanders, by contrast, were known for torturing captives.) He won the devotion of his men by displaying a complete lack of pretension and a genuine interest in their well-being. His fellow mujahideen remembered that “he washed his own clothes, even his socks,” prepared his own food, and took his turn on guard detail at night. When he was given a new pair of shoes by a foreign visitor, he handed them to one of his men even though his own “toes were sticking out of one of his shoes.”

The mujahideen were natural guerrillas like Shamil’s Chechens or the Greek klephts—“ornery backwoodsmen” with a strong religious faith who had been fighting foreign interlopers (and one another) for centuries. Massoud was better educated than most, even if he had forgotten most of the French he had learned. He had read the classics of guerrilla warfare—Mao, Che, Giap—even books on the American Revolution, and he set out to apply what he had learned. Hawk-nosed and wispy-bearded, typically seen in a pakol (flat woolen hat) and safari jacket, his visage would soon became almost as famous as the men whose exploits he had studied. Within a few years he would be recognized, in the judgment of the travel writer Robert Kaplan, as “among the greatest guerrilla fighters of the twentieth century.”

He not only used the Panjshir Valley as his base but, unlike other muj, also administered it as a “liberated zone” with its own schools, courts, mosques, prisons, a French-operated hospital, and a military training center. He was among the first of the muj to divide his forces into mobile groups of full-time fighters (moutarik) and a local militia of part-time helpers who would defend their villages (sabet). The moutarik, organized into companies of 120 men, wore olive uniforms and black army boots. They were armed with a motley assemblage of weapons either captured from the Red Army or bought in Pakistan, including AK-47 assault rifles, RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades, DShK 12.7-millimeter machine guns, and even ZPU-2 antiaircraft guns. They posed a particular menace to the occupiers because the Panjshir Valley ends just a few miles from the Salang highway running from Kabul to the Soviet border. This was the main Soviet supply artery, and Massoud’s men were constantly raiding it. At one point they even hijacked a black Volga sedan destined for Afghanistan’s defense minister. Massoud’s fighters disassembled it, hauled it to their valley, and put it back together for their commander to ride in.

As early as the spring of 1980, the Soviets launched their first offensive against the Panjshir—to little effect. By May 1982 they were preparing for their fifth assault with 8,000 Russian and 4,000 Afghan troops backed by a formidable array of airpower. Thanks to his excellent intelligence network, Massoud got wind of what was coming and staged a spoiling attack against the Soviet airbase at Bagram on April 25, 1982, damaging or destroying at least a dozen aircraft on the ground. This delayed the start of the weeklong bombing campaign that preceded the Soviet ground offensive. When the invasion finally came on May 17, the Soviets put their Afghan allies in the lead. Massoud let the Afghan soldiers proceed unharmed; many wound up defecting. But as soon as a Soviet armored column began entering the valley, his men dynamited the gorges to create a rockslide that blocked its advance. This held back the invaders but not for long. Not only did they break through the roadblock; they also sent forces into the northern end of the valley to catch Massoud in a pincer. At the same time six battalions, some 1,200 men, air-assaulted into the middle of the valley in Mi-6 and Mi-8 helicopters, while MiG-21 fighters and Su-25 ground-attack aircraft pulverized anything that moved.

“From dawn to dusk, they doggedly came,” wrote Edward Girardet of the Christian Science Monitor, who witnessed the assault while embedded with Massoud’s forces.

First, one heard an ominous distant drone. Then, as the throbbing grew louder, tiny specks appeared on the horizon and swept across the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush. Like hordes of wasps, the dull grey helicopter gunships came roaring over the towering ridges that ring this fertile valley. Soon the hollow thuds of rockets and bombs resounded like thunder as they pounded the guerrilla positions. . . . From one vantage point halfway up the Panjshir we could distinctly see the Soviet and Afghan government forces as they moved in dust-billowing columns of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and trucks along the single dirt road. . . . Through our binoculars, we could distinguish formal rows of BM-21 “Stalin organs,” each capable of firing 40 rockets altogether carrying 4½ tons of explosives, and giant self-propelled howitzers pointing menacingly in our direction.

Massoud was caught off guard by this multipronged assault—but only temporarily. He was an “excellent chess player,” and like all great chess players he learned to analyze a situation dispassionately. A British journalist who spent time with him found that he “never seemed to panic . . . he didn’t seem to lose his cool.” A fellow muj recalled that “he was always smiling” and “you would feel when you saw him smile . . . that we were winning.” That upbeat attitude came in handy when the odds were stacked so heavily against him, as they were in 1982.

Along with most of the valley’s residents, he and his men took refuge in the small side valleys adjacent to the Panjshir. Safe in caves and stone shelters that had been constructed “amid the nooks and crannies of towering bluffs,” they could dash out at any time to strike the immobile army below. The Soviets could not reach their tormentors. They bombed and rocketed one guerrilla machine-gun position all afternoon until only one small tree was left standing. The next day the gun was firing again. “At first the Russians only set up tents on the valley floor,” wrote Edward Girardet. “Later, when mujahideen firing became murderous, they were forced to dig trenches.” By July the trenches were abandoned. The offensive had petered out, and the Soviets had to pull most of their forces out.

By the end of the war the Red Army had mounted nine major offensives, which cost it thousands of casualties, yet Massoud still controlled the Panjshir. His resilience in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of undoubted skill and savagery was every bit as impressive as that of Toussaint Louverture in Haiti, Francisco Espoz y Mina in Spain, and Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia.

The battles of the Panjshir were typical of the entire war. The Red Army conducted many big, blundering offensives but, as its own general staff later conceded, most “were wasted effort”—“more appropriate for the Northern European plain than the rugged mountains of Afghanistan.” Most of the country, from the towering peaks of the east to the barren deserts of the south, remained forever outside its grasp. The only exceptions were the major cities and the highways that connected them.

Frustrated by their inability to come to grips with the insurgents, whom they called dukhi (ghosts) or dushman (enemy), Soviet troops unleashed their anger on helpless civilians. In 1984 investigators from Helsinki Watch, precursor of Human Rights Watch, went to Pakistan to interview Afghan refugees, Soviet deserters, and Western visitors to Afghanistan. “From our interviews,” they wrote, “it soon became clear that just about every conceivable human rights violation is occurring in Afghanistan, and on an enormous scale.” Former prisoners testified about the interrogation methods of the Soviets and the KGB-trained Afghan secret police, the KhAD—“about electric shocks, nail pulling, lengthy periods of sleep deprivation, standing in cold water and other punishments.” Horrific reprisals for attacks were also the norm. One Russian soldier recalled how in 1982 a captain and three soldiers got drunk on vodka and wandered into a village, where they were killed. The commander of a Red Army brigade, who happened to be the brother of the dead captain, then took his men into the village and slaughtered everyone in sight—approximately two hundred people.

Often their atrocities had no military purpose whatsoever. Russian soldiers were known to steal anything valuable and shoot anyone who resisted. Helicopter gunships even shot up moving vehicles so that soldiers could loot them. Such relentless attacks on the civilian population forced large numbers of Afghans to flee their homes, heading for Iran or Pakistan. Not even these pitiful columns of refugees, clutching their blankets and chickens, were safe. When caught in the open they were strafed and bombed by Soviet aircraft. Perhaps the biggest cause of civilian casualties was the mines that were scattered indiscriminately by the millions around the country. Many were “butterfly” mines dropped from the air that were designed to blend in with the countryside. They would usually maim rather than kill on the theory that a wounded person was more of a burden to the resistance than a dead one. There were also persistent, if unproved, reports of mines disguised as toys blowing the legs and arms off children that did much to mobilize world opinion against the Soviet invasion. Soviet troops even tore apart Korans and bombed mosques or used them as bathrooms—the worst sacrilege imaginable in such a pious society.

The invaders were not totally blind to the need for civil action to woo the populace as preached by generations of counterinsurgents from Lyautey to Lansdale. Between 1980 and 1989 Moscow sent $3 billion in nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan and dispatched thousands of advisers to assist the Afghan government. But much of the spending went to the Sovietization of Afghan society—toward teaching Marxism-Leninism and Russian in the schools—which did nothing to win “hearts and minds” and in fact further alienated the devoutly Muslim population. Even occasional Soviet good works, such as building hospitals and power stations, were drowned in a sea of blood.

The invaders killed more than 1 million Afghans and forced 5 million more to flee the country. Another 2 million were internally displaced. Since Afghanistan’s prewar population was 15 million to 17 million, its scale of suffering, with more than 6 percent of the population perishing, was comparable to Yugoslavia’s in World War II.

Soviet leaders may not have cared from a humanitarian standpoint about all the hardship they inflicted but, like the Germans in Yugoslavia, they would have cause to regret the effect of their policies, which was to drive large numbers of men into the arms of the resistance. At least 150,000 fighters joined the mujahideen. The guerrillas thus outnumbered the Red Army, which never had more than 115,000 men in Afghanistan. The Soviets were aided by 30,000 Afghan government soldiers, mostly press-ganged conscripts of dubious reliability. There were also at least 15,000 Afghan secret policemen who worked closely with the KGB. They were more dedicated defenders of the regime, but they were too few in number to make up for the counterinsurgents’ numerical disadvantage. (By contrast, facing a foe utilizing gentler methods, the Taliban in the post-2001 era were never able to mobilize more than 30,000 men to fight NATO forces, 140,000-strong at their peak, and 350,000 of their allies in the Afghan security forces.) For the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, the counterinsurgency math—the proportion of security forces to population: in this case 1 to 100—was decidedly not in its favor.

Nor was the composition of the occupation forces terribly advantageous. The United States had learned during the Vietnam War that sending large numbers of conscripts on such an inglorious, dangerous, and long-lasting mission, with little prospect of immediate gains to boost popular support, was a recipe for trouble: commanders would have to grapple with low morale among their own troops and opposition back home. The Soviet government was less susceptible to public opinion than its American counterpart, but it too would learn the folly of fighting a brutal counterinsurgency war with unmotivated conscripts.

Soviet soldiers were told that they were being sent to help a “fraternal ally” resist “U.S. imperialism and Peking hegemonism.” It did not take long for them to see through this propaganda and to conclude, as one soldier put it, “Everyone around us was an enemy. . . . We didn’t see any friendly Afghans anywhere—only enemies. Even the Afghan army was unfriendly.” Soldiers knew that every time they ventured outside their well-protected bases they risked returning home on the “Black Tulip”—the transport aircraft that brought back zinc coffins. Even bases weren’t totally safe: two soldiers who went to an outdoor latrine at Bagram were found with their heads impaled on sticks. After seeing a friend killed, one soldier said, “I was ready to destroy everything and everyone.” Another soldier recalled how two soldiers from his company actually “fought between themselves for the right to shoot seven Afghans who were prisoners.” After one of them shot six prisoners with “bullets in the back of the neck,” the other soldier ran up shouting, “Let me shoot too! Let me!”