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Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Turning Point On The Danube 1664-Vol.17 & 18

Vol.17, No.6 May - June 1994

The Turning Point On The Danube, Part I, 1664

by Gwynne Jones

IN the third quarter of the 17th Century, the armies of West and Central Europe were moving decisively from their previous character of tumultuous and often mutinous hordes of miscellaneous mercenaries, (such as plagued Germany, France, Italy and Spain between the 1620's and 1650's), and were becoming recognizable as the models for the strictly disciplined professionals of the 18th Century. In the same period, weaponry went through some decisive changes. A soldier beginning his career in the 1660s, (like, for example, John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough), would do so among a soldiery armed with pikes and matchlocks. If he lived long enough, he would end his days with infantry uniformly equipped with flint-lock muskets and detachable bayonets. Already, infantry armour, worn by the pikemen, comprising about 1/3 to 1/2 of the foot-soldiery, had disappeared by 1660, and the number of pikes reduced. In an age when firearms were becoming more and more numerous and pikemen fewer and less armoured, how were the shot-men with the arquebuses, cavaliers and matchlocks to be protected from hand-to-hand fighting men?

From Spanish film "Alatriste" 2006

NOWHERE was this problem greater than in the Danube theatre of war. There, the Turkish soldiery, though skilled marksmen with matchlocks and bows, excelled and prided themselves, above all, in their mastery of hand-to-hand fighting, especially in swordsmanship. Their main opponents were the soldiers of the Habsburg Kaiser, Holy Roman Emperor, whose dynasty ruled lands in Austria, Julian Venice (Trieste)[1], current day Slovenia, a portion of Croatia, Moravia and Slovakia, and who tried to liberate Hungary from the Turks. The Emperor's troops (the Kaiserlichen) were commanded, in the 1660s, by an experienced general, Field Marshal Count Raimondo Montecuccoli, a minor noble from North Italy. It was part of his lasting legacy to the Habsburgs that he established a regular army for what was perhaps the poorest and least efficiently governed of the great powers. In the early 1660s, however, the Kaiserlichen were probably well behind the troops of France Sweden and the Netherlands, and possibly behind those of Brandenburg, England and Savoy. Yet it was in 1664 that in a testing battle the Emperor's men, with aid from other rulers, broke the chain of Turkish victories on land and the myth of Turkish invincibility.

THE circumstances of the campaign leading to this battle, an account of the battle itself, and eyewitness descriptions of the way in which the Western Christian soldiery, armed as they were at that time, faced and fought the Sultan's warriors in a contest between ferocity and science, i.e., parade-ground drill, and the discipline and manoeuvrability given by drill. All these I propose to make the subject of future contributions.

Vol.18, No.1 July-August  1994


by Gwynne Jones

FOR two centuries after the catastrophic Hungarian defeat at Mohacs, in 1522, put Hungary under the control of the Ottoman Turks, the Austrian rulers, the Habsburgs, tried unsuccessfully, in many great wars, to gain control of the whole of the old Hungarian kingdom. At least they held on to part of the whole: Upper Hungary, (now called Slovakia), plus a strip of Western Hungary, (now the province of Burgenland, in Austria), and, last, Croatia, a subordinate kingdom ruled by and joined to Hungary for over nine hundred years (up to 1918). The constant warfare practically depopulated much of Hungary; of the surviving Hungarians, divided in religion and politics, many did not support the Habsburg ruler, the Kaiser (Emperor) of the Holy Roman Empire[2] (of the German nation). Peasants often refused food to Habsburg troops, or, even disguised themselves as Turks and attacked them. The Hungarian nobles (those who were Calvinists) often sympathised more with the Turks than the Catholic Habsburgs. All nobles and bishops, however, were legally bound to give military service with their followers, and in great crisis the whole manhood of the Hungarian lands, (insofar as they were in Habsburg control), could be conscripted in the so-called 'Insurrection'.

THE origin of Kaiser Leopold I first Turkish war was in 1661, when in Transylvania, (a former great province of Hungary, then, at this time, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire), the Prince appointed by the Sultan was deposed by the nobles and executed by his successor who was supported by Kaiser Leopold. The Ottomans had been involved in long wars with the Iranians and the Venetians, but they had recently taken up again their old, aggressive, Western policy, so Leopold's meddling was a welcome challenge. Another provocation was Count Niklas Zrinyi, Ban (Governor) of Croatia, building a fortress on the River Mur as a gateway for his plundering raids into Turkish territory.[3]

IN early Spring 1663, Ahmed Kuprulu - an energetic 27-year-old, Grand Vizier of the Sultan since November of the previous year, had the horsetail standards raised and the Sultan's army assembled on the plain of Belgrade, while throughout the Ottoman Empire the call to Holy War came from the minarets and the mosques. Koprulu advanced into Upper Hungary with 100,000 men. Kaiser Leopold could muster only 28,000, mostly as garrisons to fortresses. Field-Marshal Count Raimondo Montecuccoli had barely 12,000 regulars for field operations, with 15,000 of dubious value from the Insurrection under Ban Zrinyi. Inevitably, the Kaiserlichen (Kaiser's men) could not prevent the loss of the fortresses of Neutra, Lewencz, Freistadt and Novigrad, plus, worst of all, of Neuhausel, a stepping-off place for the attack on Vienna. The Ottomans then retired to their winter quarters in Belgrade and the Southern Hungarian fortresses, being roughly handled by Zrinyi and his forces in the process.

KAISER Leopold now called for help from the Reich, (the Holy Roman Empire of which he was the constitutional head) and from all Europe. The Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648, and in which Montecuccoli and others learned their trade, had caused the almost complete political disintegration of the Reich, or Holy Roman Empire, and the Kaiser's real power now devolved from his own hereditary lands, whereas the virtually sovereign German princes of the Reich had their own independent foreign policies, often against, and only by coincidence ever in the Kaiser's interests. However, the princes and estates of the Reich were bound constitutionally to help the Kaiser if the Turkish attacks entered the Reich, spilling over from Hungary (which was not part of the Reich). This had happened in 1663, with raids into Moravia and Silesia. Besides, Neuhausel in Turkish hands was an ominous threat of serious invasion of German (Austrian) lands.

KAISER Leopold got the Pope to summon Louis XIV of France, the Spanish King, the Italian and German Catholic princes to support him "for the preservation of the Faith." A little of the old Crusading spirit was still alive. The Reichstag was summoned in February 1662, but negotiations dragged on for months. The Pope and the Spanish King gave Leopold a good deal of money and war materiel, especially gun-powder; the greatest of the German princes, the Electors of Bavaria, Brandenburg and Saxony - the last two Protestants, offered troops even before the Reichstag came to a decision. The Rhenish Alliance (West German provinces allied to France) promised 5,000 foot and 2,000 horse, and Louis XIV himself - hereditary enemy of the Habsburgs - actually sent the Kaiser, in April 1664, 4,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry, the latter including many French nobles. Finally, in February 1664, the Reichstag decreed a Reich's army of 30,000 men.

MEANWHILE, of Leopold's vassals in Hungary, the Batthyany magnates and others of the pro-Habsburg faction, raised regiments of Hussars and Heyduks. The Kaiser's own army, the Kaiserlichen, comprised of 21 infantry regiments, 14 heavy cavalry regiments (Kurassier-Koritzer), four dragoon regiments and a regiment of mounted Croats. Its authorized strength was 62,000, but there were only 36,000 foot and 15,000 horse, many in fortress garrisons.

THE Kaiser's Commander-in-Chief, Montecuccoli, would also be in command of the whole coalition army. Underneath him, the Rhenish Alliance corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General Count Hohenloe; Count Coligny and the Duke de la Feuillade commanded the French corps, and the Reich's army was under Count Waldeck. Already, in the winter of 1663-4, Hohenloe's Alliance corps had started for Hungary, but the rest of the coalition allies could not arrive before Spring or Summer 1664.

AN army from so many peoples and states - Habsburg subjects (Germans from Austria and Silesia, Czechs from Bohemia and Moravia, Slovaks, Magyars and Croats), French, Italians and even Swedes (from Pomerania!) had much mutual mistrust and built-in disunity. Quite the opposite was the Ottoman army: their leadership was unified, their obedience absolute. The Janissaries and the Spahis had warlike ferocity and religious fanaticism, as well as great dexterity with their weapons. Their discipline made them a better instrument than either the mercenary bands of the recent European past, or the raw recruits in many of the coalition's regiments.

THE Christian campaign plan was unnecessarily and dangerously complicated. Instead of the general central advance on the Danube proposed by Montecuccoli, the Kaiser's war council divided the not very great forces into three armies, each with different goals. The South army on the River Mur, 16,900 men, consisted of all the Alliance Germans, including the Bavarians, as well as the French, the Croats, most of the Hungarians and a small part of the Kaiserlichen. Under Count Peter Strozzi and Ban Zrinyi, it was to take the fortress of Gross-Kanizsa. The main army of the centre, 28,000 men under Montecuccoli, consisted of most of the Kaiserlichen, the Reich's army and more Hungarians. It was to advance along the Danube, from Ungarisch-Altenburg. The North army, with 8,500 men, including the Brandenburgers and Saxons, a few Kaiserlichen and still more Hungarians, under Count Ludwig de Souches, was to march from the River Waag against Neutra and also take the fortresses of Lewencz and Novigrad. The reserves-12,500 men- garrisoned fortresses. Concentrations could be made by April-May 1664; the Turks were not expected to advance before May. In the two centuries of war, a seasonal pattern had been established: the Turks would advance in Summer and capture fortresses; the Habsburg's Kaiserlichen would counter-attack in winter to restore the situation (as the Soviets did for a time during World War II). But this emergency was greater than usual. The obvious task of the Kaiser's generals was to hold up the Turkish advance long enough for the bulk of the coalition's allies to arrive. Nevertheless, one Habsburg general was obviously thinking in terms of the 'normal' winter counter-offensive.

BAN Zrinyi made his thrust early, on his own initiative. On 21 January, he left his fortress of Zrinyivar with 25,000 men, including Hohenloe's corps and the Hungarians of many magnates and bishops. They took Berzencze on 23 January and two more towns on the 25th. They burned Pecs to the ground on the 28th and then destroyed the vital, four-mile bridge over the Drau River and the swampy area at Esseg - one of his actual operational objectives. After 9 February, they returned to their starting-point. The destruction of the Esseg bridge, however, had been carried out prematurely and cost too many lives. When Zrinyi, Strozzi and Hohenloe attacked Gross-Kanizsa, their main objective, at the end of April, the Turks were already moving. The Christians took the town on 28 April, but the citadel held out, and on 14 May, the Grand Vizier, with perhaps 70,000 men and 100 guns, crossed the bridge at Esseg, rebuilt in three months. He relieved the citadel of Gross-Kanizsa without a fight by making a surprise thrust towards Zrinyivar on the allies line of retreat. Taking Zrinyivar, the Vizier tried to cross the Mur to seize the strategically important Mur Island. The army of the Mur desperately held back the Turks in bloody combats in which Count Strozzi died, while the main Imperial army was force-marching to their assistance.

SIMULTANEOUS with Koprulu's advance, another Turkish army of about 25,000 men under Ali Pasha of Neuhausel began an offensive against the Northern army of de Souches who, by a felicitous coincidence was also taking the offensive, despite being badly outnumbered. Just to show that the Kaiser had more than one good general in this war, we'll follow the fortunes of de Souches for a few weeks. After skilful manoeuvring, he besieged and captured Neutra. Then, advancing on Lewencz, he defeated 14,000 Turks and Tartars trying to block his path, on 7 May. On 13 June, he took Lewencz, but at once had to return to the River Waag as Tartars were advancing upon his rear,at Freistadl. However, when the Turks from Neuhausel tried to seize this opportunity to take Lewencz, de Souches hurried back and in a murderous battle at Szent Benedeck annihilated the 20-30,000 strong Turks and Tartars. He immediately pushed on to Parkany where he destroyed the Danube bridge. Lack of provisions and the (understandable) exhaustion of his troops now led him to retire and camp at Gutta, on the great Schutt Island on the Danube. This was all excellent stuff, but still the great struggle of the year had to be decided in the South against the main Ottoman army. There Montecuccoli, his regulars and their allies would be tested to the limit.

Vol.18, No.2 September - October  1994

Part III

by Gwynne Jones

MONTECUCCOLI commanding the main, central, Christian army, entered the threatened Mur "island", on 15 July, just in time to prevent the Turks from entering. Foiled, the Grand Vizier suddenly pushed North to force his way into Austria across the valley of the Raab. Montecuccoli sent out Hungarian cavalry as a flank guard and followed, but only two days later, on 14 July, so as not to be misled by a feint. He kept his distance from the Turks and ordered his approaching reinforcements to wait for him. Thus, at Mura Szombath, on 16 July, the Reich's army joined, and, on the 17th, the French infantry and Coligny's cavalry, from Italy. Gassion's cavalry arrived on 28 July, at Kormond.
ST GOTTHARD was reached on 24 July, and Montecuccoli, at once, sent all his cavalry, 12,000 of them, down the North bank of the Raab to Kormond, where scouts told him the Grand Vizier was heading. On 26 July, the Field-Marshal himself reached Kormond - virtually the same time as the Turks. On the 27-8 July, with the available French and Hungarian cavalry, he repulsed two attempts to cross the river. Meanwhile, he concentrated his infantry at St Gotthard and had a bridge built over the Lafnitz, which flows from the north into the Raab near Magesdorf and St Gotthard. The Vizier, after another unsuccessful attempt at crossing, (at Czakany), marched all his army up the South bank of the Raab. Montecuccoli's cavalry kept pace on the North bank.
MONTECUCCOLI now massed all his troops, except the Hungarians to the West and East, on either side of the village of Magersdorf,[4] between the Lafnitz and the Raab, both rivers being swollen by rains. The Grand Vizier camped two kilometres up stream of ST Gotthard, almost opposite Magersdorf. The Raab has a smooth bottom and normally can be forded. During the battle, however, after much rain, it rose to the depth of a man and its muddy banks were steep; only a few fords were usable. Where the armies camped, the Raab has a deep bend to the South; the land enclosed is about 500 metres across on the open, North-West side. From the West edge of Magersdorf to the river upstream of the bend stretched a small, scrub wood, dense with undergrowth, its Southern edges a few hundred metres from the river. It hampered movement and restricted visibility from Magersdorf and from the Allied camps, which were North of the wood, toward the Turks. In the bend was a ford and at Magersdorf another.
WEST of Magersdorf, (consisting of merely thirty dwellings), were gardens with high fences and a sunken road in a cutting, running from the Nort-West to the river. Montecuccoli's 25,000 strong army was deployed in one line, 3-4 kilometres long, about a kilometre from the river. The Emperor's troops were on the right (West), the German Allies in the centre and the French on the left, up to the Lafnitz River to the East. No clear battle orders were given on the 31 July, except the banning of separate actions and unauthorized movement to support neighbouring troops, except under the most desperate circumstances.
KOPRULUS' army was perhaps 125,000 strong, but only half were core troops - Janissaries, Spahis and the provincial levandat musketeers. This army arrived by midday 31 July and immediately the Janissaries were trying to occupy the river bend at the ford and putting guns in position opposite Magersdorf. A crossing by Spahis on the Christian right was prevented by Spork and his cavalry, during which a cloudburst made the river even harder to cross. During the night the Janissaries moved their cannon and entrenched them better. For the rest of the night, seventeen guns fired on the Christian camp and outposts. This had little effect, except that, unfortunately, fire was returned, worsening the already acute powder shortage. More importantly, the Janissaries crossed the river in silence and entrenched unnoticed.
Vol.18, No.3 November - December  1994
Part IV
by Gwynne Jones
THERE is no doubt that Count Montecuccoli expected an attack the next day. Since there was no really unified command, however, there was room for some carelessness over the outposts. A part of the Allied cavalry was also actually absent, foraging after four days' lack of fodder. Finally, the Turks showed cunning and skill in their early movements, on the day of battle. Before 4am on 1 August, in the half light, Koprulu sent thousands of cavalrymen swarming up the Raab valley, provoking Montecuccoli to send Spork with dragoons, Croats and a thousand German horse, to keep an eye on them. When the Turkish horse began to forage, Spork simply crossed the Raab and drove them back.
HOWEVER, all this distracted attention from the Turks' activity in the centre, where 1,000 Janissaries were collected secretly, in the trenches dug over-night, concealed in the bushes, in the river bend. Towards 6 am, these men, together with Spahis, began to cross the Raab, covered by seventeen cannon firing on Mogersdorf and the wood. They used the ford and a pre-fabricated bridge thrown over the river. Additional Janissaries crossed seated behind the mounted Spahis. The 200-man Reich's army outpost retired on Magersdorf, and, bypassing the village, Turkish horsemen entered the Reich army's camp. The alarm was fully raised by 7 am, and Coligny and Hohenloe consulted with Montecuccoli and the Margrave of Baden. They could not know if this was a feint or a main assault. So, they sent forward Reich's army Infantry Regiments "von Fugger" (19) and "Puech" (20), under Colonel Puech, "von Ende" (22), "Walpot-Wierick" (23) and "Zweibrucken" (24), and some cavalry. To support them, before 8 am, an advance was made upon the wood by a force including the Emperor's Kurassiers "von Schmid" (6), Infantry Regiments "Nassau-Saarbruck" (14) and Kielmannsegg" (15), under Marquis Herbert Pio of Savoy.
ANOTHER 3,000 each of Janissaries and Spahis had crossed by 9 am. Already by 8 am, the first body of Janissary attackers had reached the outskirts of Magersdorf village. At the South-West fences, they met the Puech's advance coming through the sunken road into the wood. Apparently, the Janissaries on the edge of Magersdorf fled before Puech toward the river. Puech's two regiments wheeled left to form line and attack the runaways, with the following regiments coming up on their right, in support. Suddenly, the Janissaries made a stand opening a cross-fire upon them. Simultaneously, the main body of Janissary reinforcements, with their battle-cry: "Allah!" charged fiercely from the ford onto the right flank of the deploying advance regiments, decapitating everyone within reach and spreading panic. Unable to deploy, the infantry were driven together with whatever cavalry had arrived and stood closely packed and paralysed, allowing themselves to be cut down without resistance. The senior officers were killed or incapacitated right from the start and in the total confusion the men began to flee, abandoning their weapons. Most of the officers ran with them. An eyewitness wrote:
"Although present on many such occasions, I never saw so outstanding an effect of panic. In whole regiments, soldiers allowed their heads to be cut off without retreating and without the least resistance, being so terror-struck; only shrieking ever louder to St Mary."
There are many testimonies to the skill with which the Turks used their heavy sabres, none more compelling then the account by Maurice de Saxe in his Reveries of an episode in his youth, set somewhere near Belgrade, when he saw two battalions that failed to inflict any damage on the attacking Janissaries by a general volley, immediately being cut to pieces, still without inflicting any damage on their destroyers. Of course, de Saxe was riding his hobby-horse, viz., his preferance for cold steel over fire-power. He even wanted to bring back pikes and armour - in the 1750's! His own victory at Fontenoy should have given him different food for thought.
ANYWAY, the Turkish charge between the wood and Magersdorf was an impressive success. The Kaiserliche Regiments "von Schmid", "Nassau-Saarbruck" and "Kielmannsegg" coming up on the right, were carried back by the fugitives from the Reich's army regiments and thrown into disorder. The Janissaries reached the Reich's army camp, causing the camp-followers to flee, occupied Magersdorf and the whole of the wood and then entrenched themselves. Reinforcements kept coming up to join them from across the river. A great hole gaped in the centre of the Coalition army.

Vol.18, No.4 January - February  1995
Part V
by Gwynne Jones

A great hole gaped in the centre of the coalition army. But, already, while the centre was collapsing, Montecuccoli had begun a counter-attack from both wings. He himself led the bulk of the Imperial regiments against the Turkish left flank while Hohenlohe with the rest of the Reich's troops and Coligny with the French moved to retake Mogersdorf. Count Waldeck with two companies of horse, drove those of the enemy who were North of Mogersdorf back into the village, which Hohenloe, then, between 11 am and noon, attacked in person with two battalions (29 and 30) and four squadrons (31-34). In a sharp conflict, during which the village caught fire, he eventually recaptured Mogersdorf, except for a few houses where the Janissaries preferred to be burned to death rather than surrender. The French infantry regiment, Fifica-Touraine (37) and Morvas-la-Ferte (36) occupied the edge of the village and the sunken road. The Turks tried in vain to storm the village again. At the same time, the 22-year-old Duke Charles of Lorraine led his Imperial cuirassier regiment (3) to drive back to the river any enemy between the sunk road and the river. At first unsuccessful against superior numbers, they returned to the attack with von Scheidau's cuirassier (5), brought up by Montecuccoli in person, and the infantry of La Corona (18) von Sparr (17) and von Tasso (16). These regiments now included the rallied elements of Schmid's scattered cuirassiers.

[1] I have taken the liberty to add Trieste and its hinterland (Julian Venice), omitted from Gwynne's text, since Trieste and its province has always been separate from any Slav lands nearby. Additionally, the Istrian Peninsula was part of Venice at this time, as were areas of the Dalmatian coast, and settled by Istrians and Venetians. Triestin dialect is in fact Venetian and these areas were largely populated by Italians, never by Slavs. Istria was given to Jugoslavia for political reasons in 1955, under pressure from the U.S.S.R., in exchange for U.S. suzerainty elsewhere.

[2] Take note, now, wargamer, for what follows is a useful account of a battlefield over which you might fight.
[3] Interesting to note that Lachouque, in The Anatomy of Glory, writes: "Lefebvre-Desnouettes was soon on his way with two regiments....Walther sent the Mameluks and and Chasseurs in support, then Latour-Maubourg's horse, whereupon the Russian gunners harnessed their pieces and fled. The cavalry lost 264 officers and men" (p.299). (Ed.)

[4] This was the first Reich, to which Kaiser Wilhelm's (of Hohenzollern) was the Second, and Hitler's Germany the the Third Reich.
[5] In the centuries of Habsburg-Ottoman strife, during the intervals between open war, raids by fewer than 5,000 men, not having artillery, did not count as breaches of the peace!

DID YOU KNOW-Vol.18-Nol.1

Vol.18, No.1 July-August  1994

by Bruno Just
OLD soldiers never die, we know - but what do you do if they refuse to fade away? The following story has appeared in print (so it must be true).

JEAN Theurel joined the Army of the King of France, served in the Army of the French Republic and was drawing a pension in the reign of Napoleon I. So, what's extraordinary about that? Many of Napoleon's soldiers had joined the Army under Louis XVI and served throughout the Republic. Ah! but Jean Theurel didn't join in the reign of Louis XVI, nor in the reign of Louis XV. He joined up, at the age of 15, in 1699, under Louis XIV! First in the Regiment of Touraine, he was promoted Captain in 1777, at the age of 92, declined to take the hint and retire, was pensioned off, finally, by the First Consul, in 1802, after serving on the active list, in three centuries. It is alleged that he became extinct in 1807, when he was a mere 123-year-old, but this (and it the only part of his story) we find hard to believe: how could such a tough old beggar, whom scores of campaigns had failed to quell, end so quietly from mere antiquity?

Jean Theurel (6 September 1698 – 10 March 1807)

D'ARTAGNAN existed, but his real name was Charles de Batz. He died at the age of fifty, at the siege of Maastrich, on 25 June 1673, leading the assault at the head of the Mousquetaires of the Guard. Louis XIV wanted to hear mass in Maastrich that very day, at any cost. Loyalty and obedience were highly prized, then.



DURING the Seven Years War, the Austrian Army lost over 62,000 men by desertion; France about 70,000, and Prussia about 80,000. During the War of Bavarian Succession, 1778-79, the Prussian Army lost 3,400 men in battle, but over 16,000 by desertion.

Austrian soldiers by Harald Skala


DOES anyone know which was the corps of French cavalry at Waterloo reported by Captain Taylor (10th Hussars) as being: "... very conspicuous with red uniforms and crests"? The only possibility I can think of is that they were Guard heavy cavalry still in the Restoration uniforms of the Mousquetaires Gris and the Mousquetaires Noir of Louis XVIII. They wore cuirasses covered by Royal Grey or Black cloth emblazoned with a silver (?) cross with rays, according to a picture in Vezio Melegari's The World's Great Regiments. The coat and shabraque are shown as being an orange yellow - which I have interpreted as faded red, (since only one French unit ever wore yellow during the period[1]). Is that likely?

Mousquetaires Gris of Louis XVIII

Mousquetaires Noir of Louis XVIII


[1] The Battalion Neuchatel.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Written for January-February 1995 Issue.
A Naval Wargame:
The Battle of the Balearic Islands, 1904
by Bruno Just
HMS Duncan
Following the Battle of Cape Tres Forcas, fought in the first hours of 1904, (see DESPATCH, Vol.17, No.5), the two antagonists, Great Britain and France, squared off, again, there having been no outright winner and both having been embarrassed by the result. You no doubt recall, dear reader, that Entente Cordiale was still far off, in early 1904, and the two Great Powers were in disagreement over their protectorates in Africa. Neither side wanted nor was prepared for an all-out war, but merely wished to elbow the other off their end of the bench. At the naval engagement off the Moroccan coast, near Cape Tres Forcas,[1] the Royal Navy took more punishment than it gave, losing a battleship in a magazine explosion (shades of Jutland). The fight was, nevertheless, deemed as being inconclusive. Subsequently, the two fleets were refitted, reinforcements included, and then despatched in a hunt for one another.
Naturally, after Tres Forcas, the Fleet Street Press hailed the result as a British victory over the uncouth
HMS London
French, the truth being a surmountable obstacle to the clever journalist, because the French Navy had not achieved their objective of discouraging the British. Rear-Admiral Sir Malcolm MacEntaire, K.B.E., D.S.O. & Bar, was immediately promoted to Vice-Admiral, and given command of the Western Mediterranean Station. (One must keep in mind that one's victory on the battlefield - or on the seas -  was not the sole, nor most important criterion for promotion in the British Senior Service. Position counted for much, as did good breeding, good connections and a good nose for wine). Sir Malcolm's Second-in-Command, Rear-Admiral Commanding Gibraltar Squadron, Donald, Viscount Islay, K.C.B.E., D.S.O. and (very well stocked) Bar was greatly disappointed at this turn of events. Viscount Islay knew, in his own mind, at least, and without the slightest shadow of a doubt, that he, being a lord, was eminently more qualified for the post than a mere knight. Sir Malcolm was even touted for the plum South Pacific Station, based on the West coast of South America. He would, indeed, be despatched there, if he had another such victory over the French.
HMS Drake
Spring was in the air. The green grass nudged gleefully through the brown soddy earth. Every European stream had enthusiastically thrown off its mantle of ice and become a torrent swollen with the melted snows, racing to the deep blue sea at the speed of a steam locomotive. Spring! Ah! the fragrance of a field of flowers! Liberating Spring! Bodies imprisoned inside bodices and woollen waistcoats finally freely exposed themselves to the natural heat of the sun and cleansing sweet water. And every youthful heart was bursting with passion for life and directed at the opposite sex, (except for one or two illogical variants). The biological necessity was paramount and drew human beings together, two by two, like the animals to Noah's arc, to romanticise and consummate an activity simply physical, that of Eros, made complicated by the psychological, Psyche.
In the vicinity of two uninhabited islands off the Balearics, south of Majorca, the huge, mechanical hearts of
HMS Hermes
great iron men-of-war throbbed out a symphony - a warlike clank and hiss of the age of steam, as two pre-Dreadnought[2] fleets attracted each other to consummate a different ritual, that of Thanatos.
The fleets looked magnificent skiing through the glass-calm sea at nine o'clock of the morning. The coal-black hulls set off the yellow brass fittings and muzzle rings of their numerous breech-loading cannon, ensconced in steel casemates. Their virgin white superstructures gleamed in the sun. Ochre-yellow funnels, ringed in red in the French Navy, poured forth billowing grey-black smoke, as they increased revolutions sufficient for a cruising speed the envy of the sailing men-of-war of the previous century: twelve knots.
HMS Hyacinth
Sailing around the Western side of the Northern island, on a heading of 150o, the Royal Navy steamed in two divisions, in line astern. The starboard line included the battleships "Duncan" (Fleet Flagship of Sir Malcolm MacEntaire)[3] and "London", the armoured cruiser "Drake" (Lord Islay's[4] Flagship), the light cruisers "Hermes" (Flag of Commodore Sir Shamus Hawkins, K.B.E.[5]) and "Hyacinth". The port division consisted of the Torpedo Boat Destroyer Flotilla, being  "Cygnet", "Cynthia", S100 and S101, under the iron hand of Captain Benjamin Seawole.[6] The French Navy was discovered steaming on a South-South-Westerly course, also in two divisions. The battleships "Suffren" (Flag of Vice-Amiral Marin)[7] and "Charlemagne" accompanied by the armoured cruiser "Gloire" (Flag of Commodore Marco Langehorst)[8], in line astern, were in the starboard line. The port line consisted of the light cruisers "Jurien de la Graviere" (Flagship of Contre-Amiral Count Breton de Bernadotte)[9] and "Guichen", and the Torpedo Boat Destroyer Flotilla, five vessels under Capitaine de Vaisseau Stefan Laine de Mer[10], assisted by Capitaine de Fregate Cheng Ho[11] (a brilliant Colonial recruit from France's Chinese possessions).
Having spied the French rear, disappearing in a curtain of coal smoke toward the South, the delight aboard
FS Suffren
the British Flagship was great. Immediately, Sir Malcolm gave the signal for a general chase. "After the fox!" was hoisted to be read by the Boatswains of the fleet to the Officers of the Bridge. This was followed by: "Maintain 12 knots and formation."
Lord Islay was sitting on a canvas chair in the stern of his Flagship, sipping his first Scotch of the day and quietly contemplating the white wake made by H.M.S. "Drake", when a young, out-of-breath Midshipman approached him at a gallop with the news. Milord observed the youth's o'erhasty approach and sighed in anticipation of having his quietude interrupted, even ended.
FS Charlemagne
"Sir! The French has been sighted, Sir! The Captain sends his compliments, Sir." It was as he had thought. Donald, Viscount Islay, fished out his fob-watch from the well of his waist-coat pocket. The sun reflected on the gold causing the Midshipman to whince. O-nine-thirty.
"At what distance?" he enquired.
"20,000 yards, Sir," was the reply.
"Then, my boy, we have time for another round. Give my compliments to the Captain and tell him that I shall join him on the bridge, presently." The young cadet retreated. Lord Islay held his crystal glass up to the sun as if admiring the golden colour of its liquid contents. The sun-light refracted through the crystal in myriad rainbow hues. He seemed to obtain much ocular pleasure from the effect. Self-congratulatory pleasure came, too, from his apposite resposte, clearly reminiscent of Sir Francis Drake, at bowls, waiting for the Spanish Armada to slowly, tack up the Maniche[12]. Synchronistically, the Admiral's command was the 1903-commissioned, armoured cruiser "Drake". Five hundred and thirty-three feet long, and capable of over 25 knots, "Drake" was the largest and fastest Navy vessel afloat, apart from the torpedo boat destroyers. At 14,150 tons, it was heavier than the "Duncan" class of battleship by 150 tons and was crewed by 900 men, exceeding the "Duncans" by 150. The extra size was due to the additional machinery needed to increase the speed. It made it into a vessel which could steam great distances and overhaul most warships. Then, its two, single 9.2" turrets and 16 x 6" guns could blow out of the water anything but a battleship of a major naval Power. Battleships of the Central Powers, originally belonging to the traditions of coastal navies, with their 9.4" main batteries, could still find themselves in the proverbial hot water when faced with the "Drake" class of panzer-kruizer.
The order for the French force was: "Turn in succession 90o. Increase speed to 18 knots." The French sailed
FS Gloire
majestically around the South Island and then steamed North parallel to the Royal Navy steaming South. As they drew closer, the big calibres boomed, chordite smoke rendering the ships invisible from time to time. At a range of 11,000 yards, the shells were plummeting down at a steep angle when the "Duncan" was hit in the forward magazine, through the decks, by a salvo of two, 12" shells from the "Suffren". A tremendous dark red flame and a huge pillar of smoke rose high up in the air as the "Duncan" was rent asunder by a shattering explosion. Within moments, all that could be seen of the brave ship were the prow and the stern pointing heavenward and a boiling maelstrom of water and hissing steam between. Miraculously, Sir Malcolm, having absented himself for a minute due to a call of nature, was, at the very moment that the shells hit, climbing an outside companionway and was thrown by the blast upon the merciful waters, the only survivor.
Lord Islay had his chance: he was now fleet commander! He unleashed the Torpedo Boat Destroyers and light cruisers, keeping a tight rein over his remaining battleship working in tandem with "Drake". Simultaneously, Amiral Marin gave his light forces their head as well. With heavy calibre shells passing overhead, the torpedo vessels made passes at each other and threatened the major units. At the end of the day, the Royal Navy had lost 1 battleship and 3 destroyers, while the French had had 2 destroyers sunk and 1 battleship badly damaged and the rest of the fleet requiring months of repairs.
Once more, the fight was inconclusive. There was nothing for it but to lick one's wounds and come out to do battle at a later date. Sir Malcolm was temporarily posted to the South Pacific and Amiral Marin was given an important desk post monitoring barge traffic on the River Seine - which he loved, as it gave him ample opportunity to visit the Moulin Rouge. Donald, Viscount Islay, on the other hand was given the onerous task of refitting and commanding the Royal Navy's West Mediterranean Station.

[1] You won't find this naval action recorded in the history books as this chapter was deemed too dishonourable for two honourable nations, who became firm friends a mere decade after, to record. This is nothing new; many things have been kept out of history books. Public scrutiny of national affairs is a modern prerogative seldom honoured, in any case.
[2] Naturally, they did not know that they were pre-Dreadnoughts and that they would spawn the Dreadnought battleship, of 1906, and a useless naval arms race which would not fulfil anyone's expectations..
[3] John McIntyre.
[4] Don McIntyre.
[5] Sean Matthews.
[6] Ben Woolmer.
[7] Bruno Just.
[8] Mark Brown-Longhurst.
[9] Brett Kvisle.
[10] Steve Woolmer.
[11] Dr Hiew Chee-Yan.
[12] It is known as the English Channel only in British atlases. They do share this sleeve of water with the French, you know.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Gestalts of War

A book by Historian Sue Mansfield
Interviewed by S.Keen Summarized and Complemented by Bruno Just.
Fritz Perls' view of our age was that the central repression had shifted from sexuality (Freud's view) to aggression. The neurotic individual turns this repressed, and therefore unacknowledged, aggression against the self. Then, it converts into guilt and resentment and is expressed in a perverse way, either as a masochistic need to submit and be punished or a sadistic need to judge and punish others. Fighting does not come naturally to human beings, but occurs when we neglect to be assertive in the pursuit of our organismic needs, such as food, shelter, affection, self-expression. Our hope of overcoming war lies in owning, becoming aware of and using our "aggressive" energies in creative ways. (Freud said as much, in one of his last books).
There is no way that life could be maintained without some degree of aggression - BUT a distinction has to be made between aggression as the organism knows it and war-making. War is a particular type of institutionalized aggression, in which social pressure is used to force individuals to kill other people whom they neither hate nor fear. Very few, perhaps 1% of the world's population, have ever participated in war. Of those who have taken part, a large proportion have never actually fired a shot. We well-read wargamers know of historical instances of bellicose armies coming together and only the front ranks ever exchanging shots or lifting a sword-arm. The rest merely add to the noise and confusion, like crowds at the football. Indeed, General S.L.A. Marshall (Men Against Fire) studied U.S. infantrymen fresh from combat, in W.W.II, and found that only a quarter of all combat troops had used their weapons against the enemy. We are all aggressive, but we are not innately hostile.
What is aggression as the organism knows it, then? Aggression is the attempt to "destructure" or change the organization of a situation or group. As a need arises in the organism, it forms a figure or gestalt that dominates the organism's emotional and perceptual experience. The organism forms an image of what it needs and motivates the self to satisfy that need. Aggression is the way the organism brings the process to a successful conclusion.
The oldest art works, in the caves of Lascaux and Altamira, show weapons being used for hunting and not for war. Weapons were not specifically made for war until the Neolithic Period, 13,000 years ago, when some peoples abandoned hunting and gathering and turned to agriculture. That's when swords, shields and walls around cities meant to keep out more than wild animals.
Primitive tribes engaged in ritual warfare. Usually, something has is out of order. A disease has struck the tribe, or the crops have failed, or a young person has died. In order to placate the ancestors or gods, a war has to be undertaken. For example, an American Indian war party sets an elaborate ambush along the route of a Sioux party. They allow the entire group to pass and only kill the last man.
Revenge is another reason primitive people give for war. This motive seems to be behind the first institutionalizing of war. This in turn is connected to child-rearing practices. To the extent that children are coerced, repressed, punished, forced into roles that they do not want, they are left with a great deal of ambivalence about adults. They both love and hate them. Being unable and unwilling to express their anger, children learn to turn it against themselves, to retroflect it. They feel guilty and ashamed. This anger and desire for vengeance - which are really directed toward the parent(s) and toward that part of the self that represses spontaneity and pleasure, in order to win the approval of adults - are acted out in the killing of an enemy. In this psychological context, a single enemy will do.
Sometime during the fourth millenium B.C., regimented warfare began. It continued until the end of the 18th Century. It was the warfare of agricultural, peasant-based societies, and was instigated by the political elite. It involved mass armies which fought over territorial rather than ritualistic goals. It is a kind of institutionalized sado-masochism in which a king and his subjects punish other peoples who have been judged wicked or are themselves punished. The masses identify with the fortunes of the king and with a theology of cosmic guilt that interprets events as judgements of the gods.
Modern warfare is dedicated to progress. "Mass multiplied by velocity means victory." The Newtonian view of matter. Beginning in the late 17th Century, generals started speeding things up. Minutely regulated drills were devised correlated to mechanically timed cadences. Soldiers were deliberately turned into automatoms who were required to perform as machines; their individual bravery and intelligence were irrelevant. Flintlocks, which required 30 motions, replaced matchlocks which required 98. By the time of Napoleon, the clock became part of battle. Napoleon conducted the battle of Austerlitz with a watch in his hand. Modern warfare is dedicated to progress, but the speed of modern warfare has not increased. In 1805, Napoleon covered the road to Ulm, 210 miles, in 11 days: 19 miles per day. The German blitzkrieg into Poland, in 1939, covered 300 miles in 30 days: 10 miles per day. The battlefield of Waterloo, in 1815, was 2.5 miles wide. In 1914, the front was 475 miles. The whole world can now be a battlefield encompassed by intercontinental ballistic missiles. The more one conquers space and time, the more space and time there is to be conquered.

Primitive warfare allowed the world and the tribe to continue, whereas modern warfare has almost lost all the rules of constraint. Not only cities and populations are destroyed, but also the environment and the metereological balance.

Industrial civilization, which began by promising mankind limitless power and security has increased our individual sense of powerlessness and rage. The increase of control over Nature has been at the cost of greater social control. Industrial life requires us to adopt rigid timetables, suppress our emotions and fragment our lives.

KB Culture
Civilized children experience affection primarily through food and other goods. When goods are equated with affection, we can never get enough, because our truly insatiable need is for love. Suffering is the price one pays to avoid the experience of separateness from the parents and to retain an infantile sense of living under the protection and judgement of the parent.

One of the rationalizations for warfare is that it allows the individual to transcend himself and to sacrifice his ego to something larger, the nation or unit. This transcendence, however, involves losing the self in the mass, rather than finding the self. It is a masochistic form of self-loss which is repeated compulsively without accomplishing anything. True self-transcendence is based on self-conquest, pushing oneself to the limit. This includes reclaiming our projections of evil that we habitually use to create the face of the enemy.
The antidote to the perpetuation of war is to encourage a way of child-rearing that gives each child contact with both parents with a maximum amount of love and a minimum amount of restriction. Also, increasing the areas in which people have a sense of control and responsibility in their own lives.