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Military History July 2017

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American Sieges
India vs. Pakistan
Crimean Images
Antony’s Intrigues
WWI Railways
Pontiac’s War
Ilse Hirsch’s innocent
schoolgirl looks made
her an ideal assassin
JULY 2017
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JULY 2017
Letters 6 News 8
His Own
Worst Enemy
Mark Antony’s star was on the
rise in Rome—until Cleopatra
pulled down the shades
By Richard A. Gabriel
of Aachen
Nazi assassination squads
targeted collaborationists
as the Third Reich crumbled
By Kelly Bell
Author Neal
He Built,
He Fought
On the cover: In March 1945 22-year-old Nazi diehard Ilse Hirsch served as urban scout for a squad of Werewolves,
assassins assigned to kill Franz Oppenhoff, mayor of Allied-occupied Aachen, Germany. PHOTO: Bundesarchiv
Reviews 70 War Games 78 Captured! 80
Narrow Path
to Victory
Tiny trains did the giant
work of supporting frontline
troops in World War I
By Steven Trent Smith
War in
Still Life
Photographer Roger Fenton
navigated technical challenges
to capture the Crimean War
By Deborah Stadtler
Turning Point
in Kargil
On the Inside
Under Fire
Indian soldiers won a hardfought, high-altitude victory
in the summer of 1999
By Paraag Shukla
Though lacking castles, moats
and armored knights, America
has had its share of sieges
By Ron Soodalter
What We
Learned From...
Michael, 1918
28 cm K5(E)
Railway Gun
Hallowed Ground
Bushy Run
Join the discussion at
Sky Above,
Mud Below
Only those who endured the
shrieking shells, stagnant
water, rats and rotting corpses
could truly convey the horrors
of World War I trench warfare
By Anthony Brandt
Mark Antony’s
Persian Campaign
The Parthian campaign was the turning
point in Antony’s fortunes, a disaster
from which he never recovered
By Glenn Barnett
Interview Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught (U.S.
Air Force, Ret.) helped spearhead the Women
in Military Service for America Memorial at
Arlington National Cemetery
Tools The Norse knarr was a utilitarian
JULY 2017 VOL. 34, NO. 2
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Ron Soodalter’s excellent
piece [“A Yank in the SS,”
January 2017] on 1st Lt.
Martin Monti’s treason
prompted me to look at the
record of trial in his courtmartial and his subsequent
trial in U.S. District Court.
The Army had no idea
Monti had joined the Waffen-SS. On the contrary,
while some agents who interviewed Monti in 1945
were suspicious of his story
about escaping with the help
of Italian partisans, his tale
was not improbable. He was
court-martialed only for
desertion and larceny of the
P-5E Lightning.
As for President Harry S.
Truman’s commutation of
Monti’s 15-year sentence
and his restoration to active
duty as an enlisted soldier,
this was typical for the immediate post–World War II
era. Hundreds of soldiers
with lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent offenses were languishing
in prisons, and the Army
wanted to reduce its prison
population as part of its
own demobilization and
reorganizing. So Monti’s
restoration to active duty
was not at all uncommon.
The interesting story is
his prosecution in U.S. District Court in New York.
According to the court records in Monti’s federal prosecution, Monti’s decision to
plead guilty was not a surprise. After Monti’s two defense lawyers (both of whom
were highly respected) reviewed all the government’s
evidence, they advised their
client there was overwhelming proof of treason, and
he would be found guilty
if he proceeded to a fullblown trial. Additionally,
they told Monti that his status as an Army officer was
such an aggravating factor,
he would probably receive
a death sentence, or at least
a life sentence. But Monti’s
lawyers had learned from
off-the-record conversations with the prosecutor
I read with interest “Tightrope Walker,” by John Koster, in the July 2016 issue,
since my father served on
the destroyer escort USS
Herbert C. Jones in the spring
of 1945. In the article Koster states on P. 25 that USS
PE-56 was the last warship
sunk by direct enemy action during the Battle of
the Atlantic. In fact, the destroyer escort USS Frederick
C. Davis was torpedoed and
sunk on April 24, 1945, the
day after PE-56 was sunk.
Davis and Jones were part of
a hunter/killer group searching for U-boats that fateful
day. The rest of the group
depth charged U-546 and
brought it to the surface,
rescuing some of the crew.
My father told me that crewmen on his ship had to be
restrained from attacking
the U-boat’s survivors, as
they had friends on Davis.
Ladislas Fargo mentions
the incident in his 1986
work The Tenth Fleet, about
the Navy’s intelligence unit
during World War II.
Those interested in the
“Little Ships,” the destroyer
escorts, may want to visit
USS Slater [],
a restored destroyer escort
moored on the Hudson River
at Albany, N.Y.
Wayne Wolff
OSS Operative
In the May 2017 news item
on OSS veterans [“OSS Veterans Receive Congressional Gold Medal”]: You left
out well-known author
Walter Lord. Lord wrote the
first comprehensive books
on the Pearl Harbor attack
and Titanic sinking plus
many other books
Stan Cohen
Editor responds: Truth be told,
we simply ran out of room to
mention all the notables who
served with the OSS during
the war. Baltimore native Walter Lord Jr. started as an OSS
code clerk in 1942 and by
war’s end rose to become the
agency’s secretariat. He is perhaps best known for his 1955
nonfiction best seller A Night
to Remember, which was
adapted into the eponymous
1958 film. Lord also served
as a consultant on James
Cameron’s 1997 epic Titanic.
The secret agent turned author died in 2002.
Send letters to
Editor, Military History
1919 Gallows Road, Suite 400
Vienna, VA 22182-4038
or via e-mail to
Please include name, address
and phone number
Yank in the SS
and the trial judge that if
their client pleaded guilty
to treason and threw himself on the mercy of the
court, he would probably
get 30 years in jail. When
Monti in fact got 25 years
in jail, it was clear his defense lawyers had given him
good advice.
Fred L. Borch III
Regimental Historian
& Archivist
U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s School
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On April 6 the National World War I Museum and Memorial [] in Kansas City hosted a national
commemoration to mark the United States’ 1917 entry into
World War I. Dubbed “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace,”
the event was organized by the U.S. World War I Centennial
Commission [] as part of its
broader five-year mission to commemorate the war.
Slated to attend at press time were President Donald
J. Trump and cabinet members, congressional and military
leaders, state governors, veteran groups, descendants of
World War I veterans, and other dignitaries and VIPs.
Also invited were heads of state from the onetime combatant nations, friend and foe. Invitees were asked to read
excerpts of wartime speeches, reportage, literature and
poetry. The ceremony also included period music, flyovers by U.S. planes and the Patrouille de France flight
demonstration team, color guard and ceremonial units,
and video presentations.
The twofold catalyst for America’s entry into the war
was Germany’s attempt to forge a military alliance with
Mexico in January 1917 and its resumption of unrestricted
submarine warfare a month later. On April 2 President
Woodrow Wilson, having kept the United States neutral
for nearly three years, finally called on Congress to declare
war. Four days later lawmakers did just that. In late June
the first 14,000 doughboys landed in France. The war
profoundly shaped the U.S. military, particularly in size:
At its 1914 outbreak the standing Army numbered fewer
than 200,000 soldiers, while by war’s end on Nov. 11,
1918, it had swelled to more than 4 million strong. Some
116,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and
servicewomen died in the war.
‘The world must be made safe for democracy’
— President Woodrow Wilson, addressing Congress on April 2, 1917
WWI Museum
Reveals Posters
As part of its centennial
offerings the National
World War I Museum
and Memorial [theworld] in Kansas City
has opened “Posters as
Munitions, 1917,” spotlighting the prolific
use of posters as wartime propaganda. The
exhibit includes examples from the United
States, Britain, France,
Germany and Italy, underscoring the cultural
differences in each nation’s visual approach
and ideological strategy. The exhibit runs
through Feb. 18, 2018.
Memoir From
SEAL Who Shot
Bin Laden
Former U.S. Navy SEAL
Robert O’Neill—the selfadmitted shooter who
killed al-Qaida founder
Osama bin Laden during
a May 2, 2011, raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan—has
published his memoir,
The Operator, which details a career spanning
some 400 missions.
Notably, O’Neill [robertj] also helped
rescue fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell (Lone Survivor) in Afghanistan in
2005 and Captain Richard Phillips of the MV
Maersk Alabama from
Somali pirates in 2009.
June 9, 1999
The Indian air force steps
up high-altitude bombing
runs in the northern state
of Jammu and Kashmir,
targeting infiltrating Pakistani forces during the
Kargil War (see P. 38).
June 22, 1945
Soviet troops round up
more than 600 suspected
Nazi partisans known as
“Werewolves” (see P. 22)
within Germany’s postwar Soviet occupation
zone. The suspects—
mostly boys aged 15 to
17—are either executed
or imprisoned.
Retired Lt. Gen. Harold G. “Hal” Moore, 94, celebrated U.S. commander during the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, Vietnam, died on February 10
in Auburn, Ala. A West Point graduate, Moore is best remembered as
the lieutenant colonel who led the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment,
during the fierce four-day clash on Nov. 14–18, 1965, managing to
hold off an enemy force more than twice his unit’s size while inflicting
four times as many casualties. Moore was later immortalized in the book
We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, which he co-wrote with friend and
former war correspondent Joe Galloway. Actor Mel Gibson portrayed
Moore in the 2002 film adaptation of the book.
Belgians will hold events in West Flanders this summer to mark the centennial of the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele (aka Third Ypres), a threemonth campaign that claimed the lives of more than a half-million Allied
and German troops. The program [] includes a Last
Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing [
en/home] in Ypres on July 30—anniversary of the eve of battle—followed
by live events in town. On July 31 the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War
Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing []—resting place
of nearly 12,000 of Passchendaele’s dead—will host the main ceremony.
July 10, 1855
Russian Admiral Pavel
Nakhimov, commander
of naval and land forces
at the 1854–55 Siege of
Sevastopol during the
Crimean War (see P. 48),
is mortally wounded by
a sniper while inspecting
forward positions on the
Malakhov-Kurgan ridge.
July 23, 1757
Amid the buildup to the
siege of Fort William
Henry (see P. 62) in New
York a force of French
troops and allied Indians
ambush 350 British provincials on the shore of
Lake George, killing or capturing some 250 of them.
July 31, 30 BC
Forces under Mark Antony (see P. 30) initially
repel Octavian’s Romans
at the Battle of Alexandria, Egypt, during the
Final War of the Roman
Republic. But Antony’s
army ultimately collapses,
and he falls on his sword.
Napoléonic Flag
to Go on Display
Philadelphia’s long-anticipated Museum of the American Revolution [] opens
its doors on April 19, anniversary of the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord (aka “the shot
heard round the world”). Two blocks from iconic Independence Hall, the 118,000-square-foot
museum boasts immersive exhibits, re-created historical scenes and some 3,000 period artifacts,
including weapons, personal objects, art and printed works. Themed galleries trace the chronology
of the revolution and its aftermath, from “The Road to Independence” (1760–75) to “The Darkest
Hour” (1776–78), “A Revolutionary War” (1778–83) and “A New Nation” (1783–present).
Among the jewels of the collection is a campaign tent used by George Washington at Valley
Forge during the brutal winter of 1777–78. The centerpiece of a mixed-media exhibit, it stands
pitched as it would have appeared in the field, albeit in a sealed glass chamber within a dedicated
100-seat theater. Structural engineers designed an umbrellalike aluminum and fabric structure
to support the fragile artifact. The tent was likely made in Reading, Pa., in early 1778 and used
as a mobile command center up through the decisive 1781 Siege of Yorktown.
The museum will place on rotating display some 500 items at a time from its collection.
Highlights include Washington’s 13-star headquarters flag and silver camp cups; sculptor and
Revolutionary War veteran William Rush’s 1817 bust of Washington, said by contemporaries
to bear a striking resemblance to the commander; a King James Bible carried at the 1775 Battle
of Bunker Hill by American soldier Francis Merrifield, who inscribed it with thanks to God for
sparing his life; and a creamware mug that still smells of the rum it once held. The museum is
at 101 S. 3rd St. Timed tickets run $19 for adults and $12 for youths aged 6–18. Admission is
free for museum members and children 5 and under.
‘’Tis done! We have become a nation’
—Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Rush, on ratification
of the Constitution, 1788
SIG M17 Is New
Army Sidearm
The U.S. Army has
awarded Swiss-German
firearms manufacturer
SIG Sauer [sigsauer.
com] a $580-million
contract for its 9 mm
M17 (the military version of its P320 compact pistol), to replace
the Beretta M9, in use
since 1985. The selection follows a two-year,
$17-million search
involving a dozen contestants. The initial
280,000 M17s will cost
the Army just $217 each.
This summer the Norwich Castle Museum
uk] in Norfolk, England,
will display one of the
oldest surviving French
Tricolor flags—an impressive 52-by-27-foot
banner captured from
the French ship of the
line Généreux at the
Feb. 18, 1800, Battle
of the Malta Convoy.
Victorious British Rear
Admiral Horatio Nelson
gifted the war trophy
to his hometown of
Norfolk. The restored
flag will be on view from
July 29 to October 1.
Britain Reopens
Army Museum
U.S. Retires
F-4 Phantom
The Air Force has retired the last active
duty planes of more
than 5,000 McDonnell
Douglas F-4 Phantom
fighter-bombers to
have served the Air
Force, Navy and Ma-
rines over the past
half-century. Introduced in 1960, the
Phantom became a
Vietnam workhorse
and was the only jet
used by both the Air
Force Thunderbirds and
Navy Blue Angels flight
demonstration teams.
As commanders have
often learned the hard
way, weather can wholly
alter the outcome of
a mission. Witness the
following interventions
by Mother Nature:
Virginia’s American Revolution Museum at Yorktown []
celebrated its recent launch with 13 days of events commemorating
the original colonies. The former Yorktown Victory Center combines
indoor exhibits and outdoor living history—including its expanded
Continental Army encampment and Revolution-era farm—to present
the war from a national perspective. Its new galleries encompass five
major themes: “The British Empire and America,” “The Changing Relationship—Britain and North America,” “Revolution,” “The New Nation”
and “The American People.” The 20-minute introductory film Liberty
Fever screens throughout the day in its 170-seat theater.
The Civil War Trust [] has added nearly 15 acres to New
Jersey’s Princeton Battlefield State Park [
forests/parks/princeton.html], site of George Washington’s pivotal 1777
victory. The January 3 battle came
at a turning point in the American Revolutionary War, capping a
10-day winter campaign that began on Christmas Day 1776 with
Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River and subsequent rout of
the Hessian garrison in Trenton.
The trust paid $4 million for the
14.85-acre site, which comprises
much of Maxwell’s Field, scene of
the decisive Patriot counterattack.
In 1274 and 1281 tsunamis
wiped out Mongol fleets
under Kublai Khan as they
sailed to invade Japan.
The grateful Japanese
dubbed the storms kamikaze, or “divine wind.”
During World War II they
bestowed suicide pilots
with the same moniker.
Typhoon Cobra
This December 1944
storm (aka Halsey’s
Typhoon) struck the U.S.
Pacific Fleet under Admiral William “Bull” Halsey
Jr. in the Philippine Sea,
sinking three destroyers,
damaging nine other
ships, wrecking more
than 100 aircraft and
drowning 790 men.
Atomic Bombing
On Aug. 9, 1945, the U.S.
Army Air Forces B-29
Bockscar, carrying the
atomic bomb Fat Man,
took off from Tinian Island
bound for the Japanese
city of Kokura. But due
to cloud cover Bockscar
had to divert to its secondary target, Nagasaki.
Russian Winter
After capturing Moscow
in fall 1812 but failing
to clinch victory, retreating French forces under
Napoléon took a beating
from both enemy troops
and the Russian winter.
Of the nearly 700,000
invaders, fewer than
100,000 made it home.
The National Army
Museum [
uk] in London has reopened after a threeyear, nearly £24-million renovation. The
reconfigured building
in Chelsea presents
more than 2,500 artifacts in five themed
“Army,” “Battle,” “Society” and “Insight.”
Other offerings include
a temporary exhibition space, a study
center, a learning center, a café, a shop and
a children’s educational play area. Museum
officials expect annual
visitation to reach
400,000 by 2026.
W tory Pr
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Interview Livingg History
With Neal Bascomb
New York Times best-selling author
Neal Bascomb’s nonfiction narratives
run the gamut from The Perfect Mile
(2004), recounting the race to break the
four-minute barrier, to his recent The
Winter Fortress (2016), which follows
the lives of Norwegian engineers and
spies who, despite the constant threat
of death, thwarted Germany’s plans to
build the first atomic bomb, thus helping to secure Allied victory in World
War II. Bascomb’s work has been featured in documentaries, optioned for
film and TV and adapted into young
adult novels. He recently spoke with
Military History about his new book,
the importance of good research and
the lessons of history.
What intrigues you most about
your subjects?
It’s absolutely the people—their stories, their arcs, how they change over
the course of a situation, story or
event. For instance, in the story of the
sabotage of the German atomic bomb
program you have scientists like Leif
Tronstad, who basically had no military experience and over the course of
the war transformed himself into this
spymaster. It’s fascinating to figure out
how he managed to do that, what motivated him, the challenges he faced
and how he changed over the course
of the war.
Did you experience any
revelations while researching
the book?
One of the most fascinating experiences was to go out to the countryside with the sons of the saboteurs
to where the Norwegians conducted
their operations. We stayed in their
cabins, I skied in their old skis, I shot
their guns, I froze my ass off, and I got
a tiny little glimpse of the challenges
in the weather and terrain they had to
navigate. That informed the writing
beyond measure.
Explain your approach
to research.
Primary source material is everything. I want to know what people
were thinking, what they were feeling, what they were experiencing—
the visceral details of how their stories unfolded. It’s human. So it’s less
to me about the grand arcs of military history. What I try to get at in
these books is that these were everyday people. The heroes of The Winter Fortress did not emerge from the
womb in capes and boots. They were
people with fears and challenges,
with moments where they wanted to
give up. You can’t really write about
those moments unless you have material saying that’s what they were
thinking. Research is about finding
those moments.
Does any one topic have
a hold on you?
I don’t want to call myself indiscriminate, but I’m sort of always in love
with the story I’m telling, and they
are in different realms. For me that’s
part of the thrill—that I don’t just
write about World War II, or about
sports or any other of a range of subjects. It keeps the writing fresh, the
stories fresh.
However, it is harder, because every
time I start a new book, I’m essentially
learning a whole new field. If I just
What sparks your interest
in a particular subject?
It’s really the stories themselves rather
than necessarily military history or
the range of other subjects I write
about. It is the individuals who have
experienced these remarkable events,
played their roles in it, and plumbing
what their motivations were and how
they persevered. Most of my stories
are about people doing remarkable
things, and obviously in military history you have a great deal of that. I
think this story [The Winter Fortress]
of the Norwegians and the special operations they performed was a testament to that.
Bascomb’s The Winter Fortress relates how Norwegian saboteurs, seeking to thwart
Germany’s atomic bomb designs, set out to destroy the Vemork heavy water plant.
wrote about World War I, for example,
it would be a lot easier.
You chose a World War I
POW escape story for
your next book. What can
readers expect?
I think that of all my books this one has
the most compelling cast of characters.
One soldier I’m writing about is Will
Harvey, a soldier-poet, and his journey
from war hero to prisoner—someone
in the deepest levels of despair—to
how he emerged from the Holzminden
POW camp. The individual stories you
have here, in sort of the Alcatraz of
Germany during World War I, are fascinating. It has all these quirky, interesting characters, as well as the schemes
and plots the soldiers put together in
order to pull off this escape.
Did that escape have any
bearing on World War II’s
“Great Escape”?
They are intimately tied together. After
the war one of the individuals who
was part of the Holzminden escape, a
pilot named Bennett, volunteered to
be part of the newly formed MI9, the
World War II British escape and evasion service. Throughout the war he
traveled in secret to air bases to meet
with pilots and other crews and give
them lessons on how to escape if they
got shot down. So the great tunnel of
World War II was in every way a child
of Holzminden.
Is there an untapped subject
you’d particularly like to cover?
I have trouble looking beyond what
I’m doing now, but I am interested in
doing something more contemporary.
As much as I love the period details
and culture of this World War I story,
so much power comes from being able
to actually interview people, something not available to me in this latest
book. I would love to be able to do
something that’s happened within the
last few years.
Who are your favorite
military historians?
Stephen Ambrose is one, but I’m also
influenced by other writers. One of my
favorites is Tom Wolfe. The ability to
get into a scene, a moment and a culture is something Wolfe did brilliantly
in his military history The Right Stuff.
A number of writers are on my shelf,
so I hate to pick one over the other.
What lessons does
history teach us?
I’ll put it in terms of The Winter Fortress:
These saboteurs were not unalloyed
heroes at the start. Few of them had
any military background or training.
Their country was invaded, and they
decided they needed to fight for their
country and for their freedom. What I
hope people come away with is exactly
that—that ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they are properly
motivated and rise to the occasion. The
book is about how that process happens
and what exactly motivates people. MH
Valor He Built, He Fought
Marvin Shields lived
out the Seabee motto:
“We Build, We Fight.”
In the waning minutes of June 9, 1965, the sound of
incoming mortar shells broke the calm near Dong Xoai,
a village at a crossroads between the Cambodian border
and Saigon where a U.S. Army Special Forces detachment
was training three South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular
Defense Force companies. As an estimated 2,000 Viet
Cong (VC) attacked, the 11 Green Berets took up arms
alongside their South Vietnamese allies and nine members
of Seabee Technical Assistance Team 1104, a Naval Mobile
Construction Battalion unit tasked to improve the camp’s defenses.
The Seabees had been crafting and maintaining vital structures to support
U.S. combat operations since World War II. The junior-ranking Seabee at Dong
Xoai was Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin Glenn Shields, a 25-year-old
from Washington state whose reputation for diligence and selflessness had
earned him the final slot on the elite team. Despite sustaining serious shrapnel
wounds to his neck and back, Shields spent the next several hours running
between the camp’s ammunition stores and the dug-in defenders, supplying
the rounds to fend off the attack.
By 2:30 a.m. on the 10th the VC had breached the camp’s defenses, forcing
the Americans and their allies to fall back to the government headquarters
building under heavy fire. Shields helped carry the immobilized senior U.S.
officer. The men continued to fight from the surrounded building, but as dawn
broke a VC .30-caliber machine gun about 150 yards to the south had them all
gripping the concrete floor, unable to defend their position. Second Lt. Charles
Williams, acting commander of the Green Berets, asked for a volunteer to help
him knock out the enemy gun. Shields, who’d since taken a bullet to the jaw,
raised his hand without hesitation.
Marvin G.
U.S. Navy
Medal of Honor
June 10, 1965
Williams and Shields sprinted across
nearly 30 yards of open field with a
rocket launcher before kneeling amid
cover to load and fire. With a
single shot they destroyed the
enemy gun, but on the race back
to the HQ building both were
wounded, with Shields’ right
leg nearly severed at the thigh.
Two of his buddies dragged him
the short distance into the building where, though unable to
wield a weapon, he continued
to toss ammunition to those still
firing. Around midmorning
the fog lifted, air support and
reinforcements arrived, and a
pair of UH-1 Huey helicopters
evacuated most of the besieged Americans. Sadly, Shields died en route.
In June 2015, on the 50th anniversary of the battle, former Lt. j.g. Frank
Peterlin, the officer in charge of STAT
1104, remarked on his team’s bravery
in one of the earliest major engagements between U.S. and communist
forces in Vietnam. “These men never
asked to be recognized with medals and
newspaper articles, only to be measured
by the work that was requested and
accomplished by their Seabee motto:
We Build, We Fight,” he said. “All gave
beyond request.” Indeed, the 20 Americans received between them 20 Purple
Hearts, nine Bronze Stars with Combat
“V,” six Silver Stars, three Distinguished
Service Crosses and two Medals of
Honor—one for Williams and one for
Shields, the only Seabee ever to receive
the nation’s highest award for valor
in combat. In presenting the medal to
Shields’ widow and 2-year-old daughter in September 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson described Shields as
“a new kind of fighting man, forged
and tempered in a new kind of war…
[who] spent his life generously for his
country and for his friends.” MH
By Jessica Wambach Brown
What We Learned From...
Operation Michael, 1918
By David T. Zabecki
y spring 1918 American forces were pouring into France in significant
numbers, so on March 21 Germany launched Operation Michael, the
lead attack of a four-stage offensive known as the Kaiserschlacht
(“Emperor’s Battle”). Its intent was to push the British Expeditionary
Force (BEF) into the English Channel before the Americans could tip
the strategic advantage irrevocably. With the British neutralized, the
French would almost certainly collapse before enough U.S. troops
arrived, and Germany might even achieve outright victory in World War I.
The German plan called for an attack by 67 divisions under three field
armies: the Seventeenth in the north, Second in the center and Eighteenth in
the south. Spearheading the attack was the Second. The Seventeenth was to
secure the northward pivot of the Second, as the latter sought to roll up the
BEF’s flank from the south. The Eighteenth had the tertiary mission of splitting
the British and French armies south of the Somme and preventing the French
from moving reinforcements north. The three armies were initially under
Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. At the last minute, however,
General Erich Ludendorff, the first vice chief of staff of the German army,
put the Eighteenth under Army Group German Crown Prince, commanded by
Kaiser Wilhelm II’s son, also named Wilhelm.
Following the greatest artillery barrage in history thus far, the Germans surged
forward. The British reeled, their southernmost Fifth Army practically disintegrating. While stunning, however, the results didn’t match Ludendorff’s intended
scheme of maneuver. The Second and Seventeenth Armies made the least progress, while the supporting attack of the Eighteenth made the most. Ludendorff
shifted the main effort to the latter and channeled reinforcements in that direction.
Unfortunately for him, there was no decisive operational objective in that sector.
Another flaw in the German plan
was that Ludendorff should have targeted the BEF’s logistics network. The
choke point was the railway hub at
Amiens, through which traveled almost
all the BEF’s north-south rail traffic.
Had the British lost it, they would have
had to evacuate the continent.
By the time Operation Michael ended
on April 5, the Germans had achieved
the greatest gains of any single attack
of the war. It was a huge tactical success—but a total operational failure.
The Germans had gotten within 10
miles of Amiens but failed to take it.
They had also added 33 miles to their
front lines, which they had to man.
Finally, they had suffered 240,000
irreplaceable casualties. The Allies
had suffered slightly more, but by
then the U.S. Army was landing some
300,000 troops a month into France.
Maintain unity of command.
By putting two armies under one army
group and a third under another army
group, Ludendorff unnecessarily complicated the command structure.
Weight the main effort.
Ludendorff initially allocated too
many divisions and too much artillery to the tertiary attack by the Eighteenth Army under the kaiser’s son.
Attack pivot points, not men.
Avoid a force-on-force battle if
you can instead exploit a critical
enemy vulnerability.
Don’t reinforce failure, but…
At the tactical level this is a sound
principle. At the operational level,
though, it is far more complicated to
shift the necessary forces and logistical
support on time. As with many things
in war, it depends on the situation. MH
The Kaiserschlacht was
Germany’s last chance
to win World War I.
©Hawthorne Village.
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Begin your POW MIA Express train collection with the
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Fine collectible. Not intended for children under 14.
This classic, real working electric train is decorated
with powerful images and words to remember
the lost and fallen, and to keep hope alive. You’ll
marvel at the wealth of authentic details devoted to
every inch of this heirloom-quality, HO-scale train.
Masterfully crafted with a solid metal chassis
and steel alloy wheels, your POW MIA Express brings
to mind those courageous American heroes who know
that freedom isn’t free, and that it has always been worth
fighting for.
Authentically Detailed. Built to Last.
The POW MIA Express is dedicated to the thousands
of soldiers who are prisoners of war, missing and
unaccounted for. A portion of the proceeds from each
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families of POWs and
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An illuminated, real working HO-scale electric train collection dedicated
to those who haven’t made it home yet
Forward platform truck
Tube travel rest
Control panel
Cartridge cradle
Ammunition trolley
Exhaust for auxiliary generator
Auxiliary generator compartment
Ammunition loading crane
Weight: 240 tons
Overall length:
98 feet (travel)
105 feet (combat)
Barrel length: 70 feet 8 inches
Bore: 283 mm
Elevation: 50 degrees
Traverse: 2 degrees
Muzzle velocity: 3,675 feet per second
Maximum firing range: 40 miles
Rate of fire: 15 rounds per hour
Hardware Krupp 28 cm
K5(E) Railway Gun
By Jon Guttman
Illustration by Peter Dennis
irst proposed in the late 1840s, the railway gun
didn’t see combat until the American Civil War. By
World War I all major combatants on the Western
and Eastern fronts were using these weapons, the
size of the guns they could transport more than
compensating for their limited mobility.
In the lead-up to World War II Nazi Germany’s
general obsession with advanced “wonder weapons” led
to manufacture of the 1,490-ton Schwerer Gustav siege
cannon, capable of firing an 80 cm shell up to 29 miles.
The Germans only built two such monsters, but they also
fielded 25 of the smaller but still formidable Krupp 28 cm
Kanone 5(E) guns—the E signifying Eisenbahnlafette
(“iron railway”). These fired 562-pound shells containing
either 67 or 98 pounds of TNT. A later version, the K5Vz,
fired a rocket-assisted shell with 31 pounds of explosive.
Its limited traverse required the K5 to operate along
curved stretches of track, from a cross-track or from a
Vögele turntable, if available. Late in the war the Germans
tried to free the K5 from the rails by replacing its two pairs
of 12-wheel bogies with two modified Tiger II tank chassis,
but the war ended before they could field-test the concept.
Germany stationed eight of the K5s in France, including
three along the English Channel for use against Allied
shipping, although they proved unsuccessful. An elusive
gun the Allies dubbed “Anzio Annie” bedeviled the Italian
beachhead until landing troops tracked down not one but
two such weapons, named Leopold and Robert, on a railroad siding in Civitavecchia on June 7, 1944. German gun
crews had done extensive damage to Robert. Leopold fared
better, and after being shipped stateside and displayed
at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, it was moved
to its present home at the U.S. Army Ordnance Training
and Heritage Center []
at Fort Lee, Va. A second gun survives at the Todt Battery
Museum [] in Audinghen, France. MH
An elderly German woman
sobs as U.S. troops march
into Aachen in late October
1945. The ruined city soon
became a wholly different
sort of battleground.
In late 1944, as the noose
cinched around the Third
Reich, the Nazis formed
assassination squads to
target collaborationists
and the Allies alike
By Kelly Bell
oseph Goebbels had spread his lies well. By the
autumn of 1944 Germans of all stations and
inclinations were convinced their country
was about to be overrun by bloodlusting barbarians from both East and West. Goebbels
was a masterful propaganda minister, able
to convince many listeners his every word
was fearful truth. The atrocities of the Soviet
Union’s vengeful Red Army were already making headlines in Germany, and when U.S. Treasury Secretary
Henry Morgenthau Jr. announced his punitive plan
for administering postwar Germany, Goebbels made
the most of this, too.
Morgenthau proposed dismantling German industry and refashioning the country based on agriculture.
Observers realized his plan to create a “pastoral state”
would be utterly insufficient to support Germany’s estimated postwar population of 65 million, and Goebbels
hammered home that point. That Morgenthau was Jewish
was a bonus bit of propaganda the “Poison Dwarf” made
certain to deafeningly exploit. Thus as the Allies bore
down on the German frontier, they encountered increasingly fanatical resistance.
On October 2 U.S. Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges’ First
Army besieged Aachen—the first German city directly
attacked by Allied ground troops—and the Americans
were shocked at the defenders’ ferocity. Not until October 21 did First Army units secure the urban wasteland
that in the Middle Ages had been de facto capital of the
Holy Roman empire.
Although little remained of Aachen, civilians began
trickling back to the charred rubble of their city, determined to rebuild and start over. The occupying authorities
had the same idea. They needed someone competent and
trustworthy to oversee the daunting task of resurrecting
the medieval metropolis and guiding it into the post-Nazi
modern era. They hoped to find a local who understood
Aachen and was also politically acceptable to the occupying forces. When American officers asked Catholic Bishop
Johannes Joseph van der Velden who was the best man
for the job, the cleric instantly responded, “Oppenhoff!”
Franz Oppenhoff dearly loved his country but never had
much use for the Nazis. He had been one of very few trial
lawyers in prewar Germany willing to represent those
indicted for anti-Nazi inclinations, and his zesty defense
of such clients had branded him as one of them, garnering him a thick file at the local Gestapo headquarters.
When war came, his unconcealed detestation of Nazism
had put him at certain risk of passage aboard a cattle car
to Dachau. But he had abandoned his law practice and
cleverly taken a draft-exempt position as an executive
with the Veltrup armament works in Aachen. By involving himself in a wartime industry and becoming proficient at it, he had hoped to make himself invulnerable
to arrest, though his enemies kept trying.
The final attempt by party authorities to draft Oppenhoff (this time into a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft unit) came
in early September 1944 when he was 42 years old. Determined to remain a civilian, he fled his beloved home-
Morgenthau Jr.
town just ahead of Hodges’ forces. He was living with his
family in nearby Eupen, Belgium, when the Allies asked
whether he would accept appointment as Bürgermeister
(mayor) of Aachen and oversee its reconstruction. Ever
the ambitious optimist, Oppenhoff agreed.
Days later newspapers covering the unfolding situation in Aachen reached the German legation in Madrid,
which forwarded the news to Berlin. When Adolf Hitler
and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler learned a collaborationist civil government was administering Aachen,
the Führer flew into one of his customary rages. The treasonous puppet must be eliminated, Hitler screamed.
Himmler would see to it.
As a typically frosty November broke over bleeding
northern Europe, Himmler busily drew up plans for an
organization he imagined would not only assassinate
Oppenhoff but also bedevil the invading Allies. The
A three-man reconnaissance patrol from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division
moves through Thimister, Belgium, some 15 miles southwest of Aachen.
Reichsführer selected General der Waffen-SS Hans-Adolf
Prützmann to put together a team to kill Oppenhoff.
Himmler dubbed the commandos “Werewolves,” a reference to the 1910 Hermann Löns novel Der Wehrwolf,
in which Saxon peasants during the Thirty Years’ War
form militias to repel marauding invaders.
Prützmann was a war criminal many times over.
From June through November 1941 he had arranged
the murders of tens of thousands of Latvian Jews. Knowing the Soviets had a hangman’s noose waiting for him,
Prützmann realized he could only stave off death as long
as Germany remained in the war. Such motivation made
him the perfect man to marshal the Reich’s remaining resources in a desperate attempt to check the Allied
teammates, Hirsch—a onetime member of the girls’
league of the Hitler Youth—was an unrepentant Nazi
with few qualms about killing a turncoat countryman.
She would be invaluable to the mission, as would the
unit’s second, even younger scout. Sixteen-year-old Erich
Morgenschweiss appeared as innocuous and disarming
as a child. But after years of Hitler Youth brainwashing
he was as eager to pull a trigger as his older comrades.
The last two operatives were guides who would lead
the killers from their drop zone into Aachen. Georg Heidorn had served in the area as an SS border patrolman
and was familiar with every inch of the terrain. He was
a dashing type with a jutting chin and deep-set, piercing
eyes. Ostensibly willing as any to kill for his Führer, it
would come to light he was nowhere near as courageous
as he looked. Karl-Heinz Hennemann was the polar
opposite of Heidorn. No one regarding his sagging jowls,
perpetually agape mouth and overhanging forehead
would dream that beneath his Neanderthal exterior
hummed a mind full of energy, determination, nerve
and cunning. He appeared a dullard but was actually
a calculating, capable and ruthless soldier.
Every member of Operation Carnival realized from the
outset the Allies would likely regard Oppenhoff’s assassination as murder and those who perpetrated it as war
criminals. Were they captured and their objective discovered, they would likely receive the same treatment as
English-speaking fellow commandos who had donned
captured British and U.S. uniforms and parachuted behind
Allied lines during the Battle of the Bulge: Those captured
had been hastily court-martialed, tied to stakes and shot.
Yet none of the Werewolves backed out or deserted.
Not until early March 1945 did the Werewolves complete their training, mission briefing, scouting and other
assorted preparations.
juggernaut. Thanks to Goebbels’ propaganda-sown, nationwide xenophobia,
Prützmann had little trouble finding volunteers for his first Werewolf operation.
In a whirlwind recruiting campaign he
collected almost 5,000 young militants by
year’s end and established a clandestine
Modeled after a medieval training complex in medieval Hülchrath
wolf trap, the Wolfsangel Castle, some 45 miles northeast of Aachen.
(above) was a common
The surrounding village was not only isoGerman heraldic charge.
lated, but also conveniently near the WestThe Nazi Party and various
ern Front, where the battered Allies were
Waffen-SSS units adopted
soon embroiled in the Battle of the Bulge
the symbol, as did the
and unlikely to launch any major offenWerewolves, drawing
inspiration from its use
sives before spring. Just after Christmas,
by the resistance fighter
Prützmann and his officers code-named
protagonist in Hermann
the Aachen mission Operation Carnival
Löns’ novel Der Wehrwolf.
and began selecting a team.
Chosen to command the squad was 30-something
SS-Untersturmführer (lieutenant) Herbert Wenzel, who,
perhaps to make himself difficult to track in postwar
Europe, gave each of his fellow operatives a different
account of his background and wartime service. None
was likely true, and Wenzel indeed soon proved adept
at vanishing without a trace.
Second-in-command was massive SS-Unterscharführer
(sergeant) Joseph Leitgeb from Innsbruck. The hulking
blond Austrian was around 30 and reportedly not too
bright. Still, he was surprisingly resourceful, blindly
obedient and utterly fearless. A battle-tested veteran of
the Russian front, he was a natural pick as an assassin.
Before the war 22-year-old Ilse Hirsch had lived in
Aachen, and her familiarity with the city would make
her a first-rate urban scout. As a woman, she was also
less likely to be arrested by U.S. Army patrols more suspicious of military-age men wandering the streets. Like her
Heinrich Himmler (opposite left) set in motion the operation to
kill Franz Oppenhoff. Ilse Hirsch (opposite middle, on the cover
of a 1940 Nazi Party magazine) was chosen for her familiarity
with Aachen. Werewolf chief Hans-Adolf Prützmann (opposite
left) arranged the team’s infiltration into the war-torn city (right).
Their plan was relatively straightforward: After parachuting into the Belgian countryside near the village of
Gemmenich, they would move to their first base camp
in dense woodlands along the German-Belgian frontier
southwest of Aachen. Morgenschweiss and Hirsch would
enter town and search for their target. After pinpointing
Oppenhoff and memorizing his daily schedule, they
would pass the information to Wenzel and Leitgeb. Following the assassination, the team would make their way
east toward friendly lines. They were to stick to the plan
even if separated. Traveling strictly at night, they would
hide in foresters’ and game wardens’ cabins during
daylight. All carried forged papers identifying them as
members of the Reich’s Organisation Todt labor force.
If captured, they were to try to convince their interrogators they were working on nearby border fortifications.
By March 20 the fighting had died down, and all
was momentarily quiet on the Western Front. At 9 p.m.
the half-dozen infiltrators heaved themselves aboard
a captured, Luftwaffe-operated B-17 Flying Fortress at
Hildesheim airfield south of Hanover in central Germany, and within minutes the bomber turned special
operations aircraft was rumbling westward. Just before
midnight the commandos leapt into the frigid night air
over their designated drop zone. Once on the ground they
quickly reassembled and collected their parachuted canister of supplies. But as they moved to their prearranged
base camp, they stumbled across 20-year-old Dutch
border guard Joseph Saive, who was strolling with his
girlfriend when he spotted shadowy figures in the woods.
As Saive swung his rifle off his shoulder and shouted a
challenge, the infiltrators shot him dead. But the girl escaped and soon alerted authorities. The clock was ticking.
The assassins hurriedly split up and headed for Aachen
via different routes. Hirsch arrived first and doffed her
Luftwaffe coveralls to reveal the blouse and skirt she wore
underneath. At dawn on the 21st she walked brazenly
into the rubble-strewn city.
With a stolen basket draped over her arm, the young
agent made a convincing show of being an unremarkable citizen out foraging. Finding Oppenhoff’s house was
absurdly easy—she simply asked a passing old woman for
directions. The condemned lived at 251 Eupener Strasse.
Hirsch trekked to the neighborhood and spent the rest of
the day casing it. She then had a fortuitous encounter with
a young woman who had served with her in the League
of German Girls. The friend gave Hirsch a place to stay.
Fortunately for the male members of the team, the
Americans did not investigate Saive’s killing or bother to
increase their patrols in and around the city. The men
soon regrouped and resumed their march toward Aachen.
Early on the morning of the 22nd they reached its outskirts and bivouacked in the forest. Wenzel decided to
send Leitgeb and Morgenschweiss to reconnoiter the city,
and the two soon happened across Hirsch.
Once the trio had rejoined their confederates, the
team pitched camp in the woods near the Belgian hamlet
of Hauset, about 90 minutes by foot from Oppenhoff’s
residence. There they finalized their tactical plan. Hirsch,
Morgenschweiss and Heidorn—the latter of whom had
gotten cold feet—would guard the camp while Hennemann led Wenzel and Leitgeb into town to carry out the
hit. At twilight on March 25, Palm Sunday, the gunmen,
Finding Oppenhoff’s house
was absurdly easy—Hirsch
simply asked for directions
dressed in their Luftwaffe coveralls, set out for Aachen,
about the time Franz and wife Irmgard Oppenhoff were
putting their children to bed before strolling next door
for a get-together with friends.
Just after 9 p.m. the assassins reached Oppenhoff’s
house, Wenzel and Leitgeb entering through a basement
window. Finding no one home except the children and
the housekeeper, they woke the latter and explained they
perors had employed to carry out vigilante death sentences.
“Destroy the enemy or destroy yourself!” the broadcast
urged repeatedly in coming weeks. An elated Prützmann
ordered loyal Nazis on both sides of the front to liquidate
every Bürgermeister in Allied-held territory. Oppenhoff’s death would prove an isolated incident, but for the
moment it gave the Allied powers many sleepless nights.
Meanwhile, the Operation Carnival assassins were
simply trying to get home.
were downed German airmen who needed passes from
Oppenhoff in order to return to their own lines. The girl
ran to fetch the Bürgermeister. Wenzel and Leitgeb were
waiting outside when Oppenhoff arrived with his neighbor. Sending the housekeeper back inside to make sandwiches, Oppenhoff spoke with the “airmen” while his
suspicious neighbor excused himself and rushed off
to alert the Americans. Left alone with their quarry, the
assassins made their move.
Wenzel had assured his accomplices he would do the
shooting. But when the moment of truth came, he lost
his nerve. With a silencer-equipped Walther automatic
in his shaking hand, he merely stood there, even when
Leitgeb hissed, “Do it!” Snatching the pistol in disgust,
the hulking Austrian barked, “Heil Hitler!” and put a
bullet through Oppenhoff’s brain. After alerting Hennemann, who had been standing watch in a nearby vacant
lot, the assassins vanished into the night.
As Goebbels had so dearly hoped, Oppenhoff’s murder
made front-page news worldwide, and paranoia gripped
the Allied high command as the toxic propaganda guru’s
hysterical threats of unceasing covert warfare suddenly
seemed legitimate. On April 1 a clandestine transmitter
calling itself Radio Werewolf came on air. Signing on with
a shrill wolf howl, it bragged about the assassination and
announced the resurrection of the medieval Germanic
Vehmgerichte, a secretive tribunal system Holy Roman em-
from Wenzel and Hennemann. Only he made it back to
their base camp. Gathering up Hirsch, Morgenschweiss
and Heidorn, he led them eastward into ever-deeper
peril. On the morning of the 27th, as the team crossed a
meadow outside Rollesbroich, Leitgeb himself triggered
a land mine and blew his face in half. The following
afternoon Hirsch walked into a trip wire, setting off an
explosion that crippled her right leg, tore open Morgenschweiss’ back and injured Heidorn’s right arm. Concealing Hirsch in some bushes, the men left her to her
fate. The next morning a farmer rescued the she-wolf.
That same morning, as Heidorn and Morgenschweiss
continued eastward, the exhausted boy collapsed and
refused to go any farther, which was fine with the selfinterested Heidorn. After the war the teen claimed a
local woman he knew only as “Frau Sülz” found him
and coaxed him to an infirmary in the village of Vussem.
Half dead from blood loss, Heidorn struggled on alone,
bound for an isolated farmhouse outside the nearby
town of Mechernich. Though it was a designated safe
house, he was stupefied to find Wenzel and Hennemann
waiting inside. After resting briefly, the trio again set off
east. When they reached the Rhine, Wenzel bid the other
two farewell and split off without any further explanation. Heading to another farm set aside as a refuge,
he worked hard and kept quiet until August, when he
caught a ferry across the river, struck out eastward and
disappeared from history.
Heidorn and Hennemann managed to swim the Rhine,
only to be arrested by a U.S. patrol. Assuming their prisoners were run-of-the-mill POWs, the Americans sent
the pair to a nearby internment camp—in Aachen. Released soon after, they returned to their homes in what
became East Germany.
At war’s end Prützmann surrendered to the British.
But before they could identify him as one of the most
wanted war criminals in Europe, he committed suicide
by biting into a cyanide capsule.
It was 1949 before the Allies could unearth and examine enough captured documents in chaotic postwar Germany to identify Oppenhoff’s killers. Wenzel eluded
capture, but that fall Heidorn, Hennemann and Hirsch
were brought to trial in Aachen. Morgenschweiss turned
state’s evidence, appearing as a prosecution witness.
After shooting Oppenhoff, Leitgeb became separated
Most assumed the accused would be speedily convicted and executed for the murder, as they had freely
admitted their guilt and were brazenly unrepentant.
However, Hennemann’s attorney won a reprieve for all
three defendants by producing a surprise witness named
Lennertz. A former partner in Oppenhoff’s law practice,
Lennertz claimed to have seen Oppenhoff in a German
army uniform in September 1944, just before he fled to
Belgium. According to Nazi German law, this made the
deceased a military deserter, without the right of trial
before execution. The prosecution was able to convince
the tribunal to find the assassins guilty, but their sentences were token. Hennemann got 18 months, Heidorn
one year. Hirsch was acquitted and released. Morgenschweiss was never even indicted.
Even if Lennertz had told the truth, and Oppenhoff
had been an army deserter, the sentences were absurdly
cheap for the life of a noble man who sought nothing
more than to rebuild his beloved country after the Nazi
nightmare. In his absence and despite the broadcast
The hulking Austrian barked
‘Heil Hitler!’ and put a bullet
through Oppenhoff’s brain
threats, many others stepped forward to heal the destruction and desecration wrought by the malevolence
of the Third Reich.
Their murder of Oppenhoff was the only time the
Werewolves howled loudly enough to be heard outside
Germany’s borders. As it had for their one noteworthy
victim, death ultimately came calling for them. MH
Kelly Bell is a military history writer whose work has
appeared in World War II, Vietnam, Aviation History
and other magazines. For further reading he recommends
The Last 100 Days, by John Toland, and Werewolf and
The Battle of Hürtgen Forest, both by Charles Whiting.
Allied-occupied Aachen held other dangers
besides Werewolves. Military police held these
boys, aged 14 and 10, after they were caught
sniping with rifles at passing U.S. soldiers.
Mark Antony’s victories and political alliances
with Julius Caesar and Octavian set his star on
the rise—until Cleopatra pulled down the shades
By Richard A. Gabriel
‘He made himself so great that
men thought him worthy of
greater things than he desired’
Antony began his military career at age 27 when invited
by Syrian proconsul Aulus Gabinius, a family friend, to
participate in a 56 BC expedition to suppress a Jewish
revolt in Judea. Given command of the cavalry, Antony
was the first to storm the wall at Alexandrium, a fortified
town overlooking the Jordan River northeast of Jerusalem. Honored for his exploit, Antony led follow-up
sieges against the Dead Sea forts of Hyrcania and Machaerus, forcing them to surrender. During the campaign
the young commander endeared himself to his troops
by eating, drinking and carousing with them, a habit
he maintained throughout his military life.
The next year Ptolemy XII, deposed king of Egypt,
hired Gabinius and his army to restore him to the throne.
Again permitted to take the lead, Antony’s cavalry cleared
the route for the main army and soon arrived outside
the fortress city of Pelusium. Catching the enemy by
surprise, Antony captured the city by encouraging its
garrison to revolt. Ptolemy wanted to put all prisoners
to the sword, but Antony pleaded successfully for their
pardon, earning him the Egyptians’ affection. The army
then marched on Alexandria, where Antony led another
daring cavalry raid, encircling the enemy and forcing its
surrender. It was there the dashing Roman commander
first met Ptolemy’s daughter Cleopatra, then 14-year-old
heir to the Egyptian throne.
Antony resumed his self-indulgent life of drinking,
gambling and womanizing in Rome before joining his
mother’s distant cousin, Gaius Julius Caesar, as a legate
in Gaul in early 54 BC. A staff officer, Antony likely accompanied Caesar on his invasion of Britain. The fighting
there was arduous, and Antony must have performed
well, as by following spring Caesar had marked him as
a promising unit commander and political agent. In 52 BC
he sent his young relative to Rome to stand for election
as quaestor, the bottom rung of public office. After winning election, Antony rejoined Caesar in Gaul, rising
through the ranks to command of a legion and participating in the brutal suppression of the Gauls.
Returning to Rome in 50 BC, Antony won election as
a tribune. Within months senators opposed to Caesar’s
rising power ejected Antony when he tried to speak in
his commander’s defense. With civil war imminent, Antony returned to his legion. In January 49 BC Caesar and
his army crossed the Rubicon River and marched toward
Rome. At the head of the cavalry and some 2,000 infantrymen, Antony marched west across the Apennine Mountains then south on the Cassian Way, capturing Arretium
(present-day Arezzo) and opening the road south to the
capital. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great)
and the Senate fled east, crossing the Adriatic to the
Roman province of Epirus in Greece, and Caesar and Antony spent the next two months securing all of Italy. In
April Caesar left Rome to fight Pompey’s legions in Spain,
appointing Marcus Lepidus as acting consul of Rome and
Antony as governor of Italy and commander of its forces.
In early January 48 BC Caesar led an army of seven legions
and cavalry (about 25,000 men) from Italy to Epirus to
deal with Pompey, leaving behind the rest of the troops
(some 20,000 men and 800 horses) under Antony’s command. Bibulus, admiral of Pompey’s fleet, bottled up Antony’s ships at Brindisi for three months, preventing his
reinforcement of Caesar. On learning Bibulus had fallen
deathly ill, Antony braved the blockade, landed north of
the opposing Roman armies and linked up with Caesar.
Caesar besieged Pompey’s larger army at Dyrrhachium
(present-day Durrës, Albania) from April through July,
during which time Antony distinguished himself in
action. On July 10 Pompey used his superior numbers
to outflank the besiegers on both ends of the line. When
Caesar’s army broke under the attack, Antony rushed into
the fray, rallied the troops and counterattacked, robbing
Pompey of his momentum. Antony then held while Caesar
arcus Antonius (83–30 BC) would
have been no one’s pick to become
a great leader of men in battle.
A hedonist given to drunkenness,
debauchery, partying and pranks,
always in debt, and oft married
and divorced, Mark Antony (as he
is familiarly known) was anything
but a sterling character by either
ancient Roman or modern standards.
Like Alexander and Hannibal before him, Antony
was a spotty strategist who often failed to appreciate
the larger political context in which he was operating.
Incapable of long-term planning and lacking the discipline to carry it out, he was a man who lived for the
moment, at his best when circumstances were at their
worst. Like Napoléon Bonaparte, Antony was capable
of dashing bravery and tactical brilliance. Also like
Napoléon, when he blundered, he did so on a colossal
scale. Yet despite his many flaws Antony came within
an ace of being the most important figure of his day.
Mark Antony, depicted dining with Cleopatra
in a romantic work by Dutch painter Gerard
de Lairesse (1641–1711), was a notorious
hedonist who fell under the young Egyptian
queen’s sway, to his ultimate detriment.
withdrew the main body of his army inland. The tribune’s
boldness burnished his reputation as a field commander
and, more important, solidified Caesar’s trust in him.
Marching southeast to Thessaly, Caesar regrouped his
remaining 12 legions (30,000 men) and 1,000 cavalry.
Pompey soon arrived with his 60,000 men and 7,000
horses. The armies camped on opposite sides of the
Pharsalian plain and met in battle on August 9. Stationing himself on the right opposite Pompey, Caesar
held six cohorts of infantry in reserve, hidden from
sight behind his cavalry. When Pompey attacked, Caesar’s horsemen resisted only briefly before withdrawing. Pompey’s cavalry fell for the ruse and rushed in,
exposing its flank to Caesar’s hidden troops. Armed with
thrusting spears, his infantrymen drove through the
onrushing horsemen straight into Pompey’s camp, forcing
him to flee. Antony, commanding the VIII and IX legions,
had held the left flank despite being heavily outnumbered and defending poor ground. Caesar lost 250 dead
and 2,000 wounded to Pompey’s 15,000 dead and 24,000
captured. At that the Roman protectorates and provinces
in Greece and Asia declared for Caesar.
Antony’s stalwart defense in the decisive victory at Pharsalus earned him a glorious return to Rome to assume
dictatorial powers as sole magistrate, while Caesar pursued Pompey to Egypt, confirmed the latter’s assassination, then helped Cleopatra depose her father, Ptolemy.
Antony, meanwhile, fell back into his former debauched
lifestyle, his tenure marked by corruption and misrule. Regardless, when Caesar returned to Rome in October 47 BC
to assume the consulship, he retained Antony as his deputy, making him the second most powerful man in Rome.
Following Caesar’s assassination on March 15, 44 BC,
Antony for once proved disciplined. Seeking to avoid
civil war, he granted amnesty to the assassins and their
Senate supporters, permitting them to leave the capital.
Among the lead conspirators, Marcus Junius Brutus fled
north to Cisalpine Gaul, Cassius east to Syria. Antony
was left the most powerful person in Rome, though the
presiding Republicans judged he lacked the genius, selfcontrol, ambition and ruthlessness to be another Caesar.
Fresh from military training, Octavian—Caesar’s great
nephew, adopted son and heir—arrived in the capital in
May. When Antony refused to recognize the 18-year-old
as Caesar’s political heir or turn over his inheritance—
which Antony had spent to keep his own troops loyal
—Octavian rallied Caesar’s veterans from Campania
and began to amass an army. Seeking to avoid political
Heeding Cleopatra’s self-protective advice not to invade Italy, Antony
allowed Octavian to cross the Adriatic unopposed, sever his opponent’s
supply line and then defeat Antony’s fleet and army at Actium, Greece.
machinations in Rome and to retain an army of his own,
Antony marched to Cisalpine Gaul that December and
besieged Brutus in Mutina (present-day Modena). In
early January 43 BC the Senate, led by Antony’s enemy
Marcus Tullius Cicero, declared him an outlaw, appointed
two new co-consuls, Aulus Hirtius and Vibius Pansa,
ratified Octavian’s army and sent their collective legions
north to relieve Brutus. A forewarned Antony left his
brother in charge of the siege and marched to meet them.
On April 14 Antony led a masterly ambush of Pansa’s
troops amid a forest and marsh near the northern Italian
village of Forum Gallorum. Pansa was mortally wounded,
his troops routed, but Antony’s men cut short their spontaneous celebration when surprised by Hirtius and his
fresh troops. Antony’s cavalry fought bravely, but by nightfall half of his men were dead, the survivors on the run.
Six days later Octavian’s legions combined forces with
those of Hirtius, forming a 45,000-man army that defeated Antony’s exhausted, vastly outnumbered men at
Mutina, though Hirtius was slain in the fight, leaving
Octavian in sole command. In an arduous march Antony
led his survivors over the Alps into Transalpine Gaul,
where he joined forces with Lepidus and other commanders still loyal to Caesar. Six weeks later Antony reentered Italy with 17 legions (90,000 men) and 10,000
cavalry. At that point Octavian compelled the Senate to
appoint him consul, acknowledge him as Caesar’s heir
and declare Caesar’s assassins outlaws. Also eager to
avoid a civil war, Octavian came to an accommodation
with Antony and Lepidus at Bologna, thus launching the
Second Triumvirate (43–33 BC).
Having gained Antony’s support, Octavian freed himself
to deal once and for all with his great uncle’s killers Brutus
and Cassius. The latter duo had gathered an army of 80,000
infantry and 17,000 cavalry and crossed into Thrace. In
September 42 BC Octavian and Antony moved to confront
them with 100,000 infantry and 33,000 cavalry. On October 3 the armies met at the First Battle of Philippi. Octavian
had taken ill, so Antony led their joint forces in a surprise
attack against Cassius’ camp at the edge of a marsh. At the
same time Brutus led an unexpected thrust against Antony’s left wing, broke through and seized Octavian’s camp,
forcing him to flee. An oblivious Cassius, still pressured
by Antony, thought the battle lost and killed himself.
Twenty days later at the Second Battle of Philippi Antony again led in the indisposed Octavian’s stead. Placing
Octavian’s army at the center to focus Brutus’ attention,
he advanced through the marsh to envelop the enemy
commander’s left flank, taking him by surprise and forcing
a rout. Brutus escaped but later committed suicide.
Having finally eliminated Caesar’s assassins, the triumvirs—Octavian, Antony and Lepidus—settled into their
prior arrangement, Octavian and Lepidus ruling the west,
Antony the east. Around 41 BC, while passing through
the province of Cilicia (in present-day southern Turkey),
Antony sought to end the
campaign quickly, the sooner
to return to Cleopatra in Egypt
Antony again encountered Cleopatra, who had been
forced into exile by her younger brother, husband and
co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII. Antony was 41, Cleopatra 18.
It was a fateful meeting, launching of one of the most
famous—and disastrous—love affairs in history.
Meanwhile back in Rome, Antony’s wife, Fulvia, and
brother Lucius had in his absence taken up arms against
Octavian. In a public rebuke of Fulvia, Antony returned
to Rome and reiterated his support for Octavian. On
Fulvia’s death in 40 BC Antony married Octavian’s sister,
Octavia, further cementing his relationship with the future
Augustus. The division of the empire was subsequently
revised, Antony gaining control of everything east of
the Ionian Sea, Lepidus placated with a governorship in
Africa before fading into obscurity. The triumvirs also
ceded territory to General Sextus Pompey, who took
control of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Peloponnese.
Of course, political power is no guarantee of military
control. Before leaving for Rome, Antony had appointed
Publius Ventidius Bassus his proconsul in the east. In
March 40 BC the Parthians had attacked Syria, reaching
Antioch before Ventidius managed to drive them back out
of the province. On his return from Rome, however, Antony planned a punitive invasion of Parthia,
in part to recover the standards and prisoners left behind by Crassus after his disastrous 53 BC defeat and death at Carrhae.
It was not one of Antony’s better decisions.
In the summer of 36 BC, having assembled an army of more than 100,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, Antony marched
through Armenia and into the Parthian
province of Media Atropatene (present-day
Azerbaijan) toward the capital of Phraaspa.
Plutarch suggests Antony sought to end
the campaign quickly, the sooner to return to Cleopatra in Egypt. As a result he In the 1963 epic film
pressed ahead in haste, failing to rest and Cleopatraa Elizabeth
refurbish his troops in Armenia after the Taylor portrayed the
Egyptian queen who
long march from Greece. Further extend- brought eventual ruin to
ing himself, Antony left his baggage train Richard Burton’s Antony.
and siege engines behind, ostensibly pro- Though it was the highesttected by 6,000 Armenian cavalry. But when grossing film that year,
a Parthian army under King Phraates IV the production was beset
by cost overruns and
closed in, the Armenians bolted for home, ended up losing money.
allowing the enemy to destroy the baggage The real-life couple also
train and forcing the Roman general to came to a dismal end.
Costly Queen
This circa 39 BC silver
tetradrachm was minted in
Ephesus to mark the union
of Antony and Octavia
(sister to Octavian). Antony
(top) appears in profile
wearing an ivy crown, while
Octavia is in profile above a
sacred cistaa (chest) flanked
by interlaced snakes.
The Parthian debacle marked the turn-
ing point in Antony’s fortunes. He had
failed to avenge Carrhae, and his terrible
treatment of Octavia had alienated her
powerful brother, Octavian. The Roman
people also turned against him over his
relationship with Cleopatra. Of more
immediate importance, his materiel and
manpower losses had crippled Antony’s
military capabilities. Octavian, meanwhile, had consolidated his hold on the west, driving Sextus Pompey from
the region and then pacifying Dalmatia, Illyricum and
Pannonia. He upped the ante in 33 BC by launching a
propaganda campaign against Antony, convincing the
Senate a year later to declare war against Cleopatra and
revoke her lover’s triumviral title.
Anticipating war, Antony had raised a massive army
of more than 150,000 soldiers, 12,000 cavalrymen and
a fleet of some 800 warships and transports. He deployed
his army and fleet in and around the harbor at Actium in
Greece to discourage Octavian from venturing east. Seeing
the deployments as a threat, Octavian mustered his own
considerable force—80,000 men, 12,000 cavalry and
some 400 ships—at Brindisi. Antony should have followed the advice of his senior officers and invaded Italy,
but Cleopatra was opposed to such an invasion, fearing it
would leave Egypt exposed. So the Roman commander
overruled his generals in what Plutarch termed “one of
the greatest of Antony’s oversights.” In midsummer Octavian crossed the Adriatic without opposition and deployed his army on high ground 5 miles north of Actium.
Antony’s army was at the end of a long supply line
linked to Egyptian granaries by a chain of island bases.
Spotting the weakness, Octavian’s admiral, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, set about seizing the bases in turn. By
September he had severed Antony’s communications
and choked off his food and supplies, isolating his troops.
Antony twice sought to provoke Octavian to into a land
battle, but the enemy commander refused to engage. In
August 31 BC Antony sent an army north to break the
siege and his ships west to break the blockade, but both
efforts failed disastrously. Cleopatra insisted Antony retreat, believing her 60 ships and some of Antony’s might
escape to Egypt, where they could raise more troops to
continue the war with Octavian.
Antony had more ships than rowers to power them,
so on September 2 he burned the vessels he could not
man, leaving him with 230 to Octavian’s 400. Taking
Cleopatra’s advice, Antony sought to break free from his
untenable position and live to fight again. His ships
first engaged the Roman right, the maneuver having the
calculated effect of thinning the center of the line so
Cleopatra’s ships could break out and escape to the open
sea. Antony soon followed. He lost 15 ships and some
5,000 sailors, with scores more captured, but almost half
the serviceable fleet escaped to Egypt. The real disaster
came on land. When Antony’s subordinate Canidius
Crassus tried and failed to break out of the encirclement,
the army mutinied and surrendered to Octavian.
Antony knew any hope of further resistance depended
on his army making it back to Egypt. On learning it
had surrendered, he plunged into a suicidal depression.
Octavian pursued Antony and Cleopatra to Egypt. Antony’s remaining troops drove back the invaders in a brief
battle at Alexandria, but Octavian renewed his attack in
October, this time successfully. By then most of Antony’s
men and ships had gone over to Octavian, leaving the
onetime consul of Rome only a token force. Mistakenly
believing Cleopatra had killed herself, Antony fell on his
sword. Mortally wounded, he died in her arms, ending
a life that had earlier showed such promise. That night
Cleopatra took her own life.
Antony’s legacy suffered under the styli of ancient historians, all of whom were admirers of Octavian and the
Augustan empire.
The most damaging claim was that Antony’s fervor for
Cleopatra had driven him to war against Octavian and in
turn clouded his strategic thinking. In fact, the most defensible aspect of Antony’s ragged strategy was his regard for
Egypt itself. Like Octavian, he realized Rome’s very survival depended on its possession of Egypt’s grain, money,
ships and manpower. Straddling the east-west trade route,
Egypt was so important that Octavian, as Augustus, declared it a personal possession of the emperor, and that
no Roman official could visit without his permission.
Antony doubtless would have done the same had he
been victorious. MH
Richard A. Gabriel is the author of more than 50 books.
For further reading he suggests Mark Antony: A Biography, by Eleanor Goltz Huzar, and The Life and Times
of Mark Antony, by Arthur Weigall.
She Who Lost
the Coin Toss
abandon his siege. Worse yet, winter was
approaching, and Antony was trapped,
with the enemy across his line of communication and supply.
During the subsequent retreat to Armenia, the Persians relentlessly ambushed
and harassed the Roman column, forcing
18 engagements in just 27 days. Antony
lost some 20,000 soldiers and 4,000 cavalrymen during the campaign, many of hunger and cold during the frigid winter march
through Armenia. Hearing of his misfortune, Octavia wrote to say she was sailing from Athens to console her husband.
But Antony told her not to come, choosing
instead to retire to Egypt with Cleopatra.
Depressed by his crushing defeat at Actium,
Antony fell on his sword and was brought
to Cleopatra, as conceived in an 1863 oil by
French painter Eugène Ernest Hillemacher.
In the summer of 1999 one infantry battalion
secured a hard-fought victory for the Indian army
in its bitter mountain conflict with Pakistani forces
By Paraag Shukla
Indian soldiers raise their national
flag after clearing Pakistani intruders
from a peak near Dras, along the Line
of Control between the two nations.
t 7:30 p.m. on June 12, 1999, a mountain
along India’s de facto border with Pakistan
seemed to erupt as more than 120 artillery
shells landed simultaneously on its peak.
The exploding rounds intermittently lit the
mountain against the dark sky before smoke
obscured its summit. Indian gunners fired
their howitzers directly at the solitary peak,
and at close range the fire was devastating. To the soldiers
of 2nd Battalion, Rajputana Rifles Regiment (2 Raj Rif),
huddled along the mountain’s southern approaches, the
intense bombardment was only slightly reassuring.
Major Vivek Gupta, leading the reserve platoon of the
Indian regiment’s Company C on the mountain’s southeastern spur, had to look away from the conflagration
atop the peak. The men’s eyes had long adjusted to the
darkness and the bright flashes lingered stubbornly in
their vision. They could do nothing about the concussive
force of the exploding shells except to continue climbing.
Gupta scrambled on, sometimes on all fours, the handpicked soldiers around him mirroring his movements.
When they reached their jumping-off point, they paused
to catch their breath in the thin mountain air. Ahead, his
two leading platoons were preparing to assault the ridge.
Suddenly, the radio crackled with voices and the tinny
staccato of small-arms fire. Company D was advancing
up the mountain’s southwestern spur, and the enemy atop
the summit had discovered the advance. Gupta settled
back and dug his boots into the arid soil. If the enemy had
already spotted and engaged Company D, no matter—its
assault was a feint. The maneuver would draw the enemy
westward, away from Company C, which would make
the final assault straight up the exposed mountainside.
decades had passed since their last direct war, and despite
a Pakistan-backed insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir
and nuclear weapons tests by both countries in 1998, it
appeared Islamabad was ready to discuss with New Delhi
a bilateral solution to the Kashmir issue. But not all concerned parties supported a negotiated settlement, least of
all the Pakistani army, which decided to act—covertly.
The focus of the generals’ attention was India’s National
Highway 1. Winding eastward from Srinagar—summer
capital of Jammu and Kashmir—to the mountainous Leh
district, it is the main supply route for the Indian army’s
outposts along the Line of Control. Those stone bunkers
on barren peaks at 16,000 feet and above were considered
unsupportable during the winter due to heavy snowfall.
Thus the local army brigade routinely left them vacant
until drifts in the high passes began to melt in late spring.
Hoping to reignite the Kashmiri insurgency and internationalize the dispute, Pakistan’s army launched Operation Badr (“full moon” in Arabic), sending soldiers of
the Northern Light Infantry Regiment across the Line of
Control in a phased infiltration across a 90-mile front. The
troops occupied more than 120 vacant Indian outposts,
erected stone fortifications covered with iron girders and
corrugated metal, and stockpiled arms and supplies.
The new vantage points on the Indian high ground
gave the Pakistanis clear, commanding views of the valley,
enabling artillery batteries on their side of the border to
accurately target Indian vehicular traffic snaking along
National Highway 1. The audacious maneuver placed
the Pakistani army’s boot on India’s lifeline in the Ladakh
region of Jammu and Kashmir.
In early May shepherds in the Kargil district, on the Indian side of the Line of Control, informed the local Indian
Britain in mid-August 1947, it was a twin birth so bathed
in blood that the two nations remain bitter foes. Arguably
the most contentious issue is the status of Jammu and
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Indian state in the Himalayan
foothills. Pakistan claims the northern part of the region,
and three initial wars the two nations fought over the
area—in 1947–48, 1965 and 1971—failed to resolve the
dispute. The Simla Agreement, signed after the 1971
conflict, stipulated that neither country would attempt
to alter the cease-fire line, dubbed the Line of Control,
and neither party has expressed a real interest in converting that temporary boundary into a permanent border.
By early 1999 it seemed India and Pakistan were well
on their way to improving their relationship. Nearly three
Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia and his five-man patrol went
to investigate but vanished; it was later determined they
had been captured and tortured to death. As reports of
additional ambushes poured in, and local Indian units
proved unable to evict the infiltrators, New Delhi approved
Operation Vijay (“victory” in Hindi), initiating the redeployment of nearly 30,000 troops to Kargil.
Even as local Indian commanders continued to downplay the extent of the incursions in their areas of responsibility, mounting pressure from political and army
leadership provoked several infantry battalions to attack
early. But the Indian soldiers who rapidly deployed from
the lower altitude and hot clime of the Kashmir Valley were
physically unprepared for the thin mountain air and single-
When India and Pakistan gained their independence from brigade commander of heavily armed men atop the ridges.
Initial Indian efforts to provide air support to infantry assaults proved
unsuccessful, as Mi-17 helicopters like the one above struggled at high
altitude; one was shot down near Tololing in late May. Artillery, including
these 155 mm howitzers, proved decisive in routing out the Pakistanis.
As men made their way up the
exposed slopes, heavy enemy
fire stopped them cold
transit camp. Given the urgency of the summons, he told
his commanders to trim superfluous items and focus on
rations, water, medical supplies and ammunition.
Ravindranath found the camp buzzing with activity,
but no one had any reliable intelligence on the situation.
All he could gather were sketchy reports of unidentified
men—assumed to be Pakistani or Kashmiri insurgents—
who had occupied the heights along National Highway 1 between the towns of Dras and Kargil. While
firsthand knowledge was nonexistent, rumors abounded.
As Ravindranath later noted, the hearsay “lionized Pakistani forces, interfered with planning and had a corrosive
effect on morale.” When the army called up 1st Battalion,
Naga Regiment, which had fared poorly in its initial
assaults, six of its officers went on sick call.
If he could not quell the rumors, Ravindranath reasoned, he could at least keep his battalion from hearing
them. Relocating his men to an isolated valley 2 miles
from the transit camp, he split the companies into their
own areas of operation and set to work. He focused their
efforts on the knowledge that successful mountain operations hinged on three elements: altitude acclimatization,
flexible assault tactics and a sound logistical support plan.
Given that ongoing operations were mountain assaults at elevations well above 10,000 feet, Ravindranath
worked with battalion medical officer Captain Somnath
Basu to devise an eight-day altitude acclimatization
plan, starting with level walks and gradually increasing
to faster and strenuous climbs to 15,000 feet with full
battle load. The soldiers also ensured their small arms—
a mix of 7.62 mm AK-series assault rifles and new, domestically produced 5.56 mm INSAS rifles—were properly
zeroed for the thin mountain air.
Ravindranath knew the years his troops spent focused
on counterinsurgency missions had dulled their ability
to conduct conventional mountain operations, so all
four companies ran mock assaults on nearby peaks, emphasizing flexible small-unit tactics against fixed enemy
positions. It was crucial to maintain the initiative, Ravindranath repeatedly told his command team. “If you can
find the solution to what causes your attack to bog down,
the objective will be yours.”
digit temperatures. Furthermore, they had
scant intelligence about enemy positions or
strength, and the inhospitable terrain along the
Line of Control hindered movement and resupply. Thus
these early responding units suffered terribly. Pinned down
on exposed mountainsides, some assault teams went days
without food or water, subsisting on snow and cigarettes.
While Indian units struggled to grasp the full extent
of infiltration along the Line of Control, 2 Raj Rif was
conducting counterinsurgency operations 90 miles to
the west. The commanding officer, 39-year-old Lt. Col.
Magod Basappa Ravindranath, was an experienced veteran with three prior deployments. The battalion had
just started settling into its area of operations when Ravindranath received orders to relocate to the Sonamarg
On June 1 the soldiers of 2 Raj Rif boarded trucks and
moved east to the Dras sector, where a fierce battle raged
on the heights. Shortly after the regiment’s arrival, brigade headquarters ordered Ravindranath to recapture
Tololing, a dominant peak looming 16,000 feet over
National Highway 1 scarcely 3 miles northwest of town.
Pakistani positions atop Tololing represented the deepest
point of the Badr incursion, and Indian commanders
counted on Ravindranath to establish a foothold from
which the army could launch subsequent operations.
The 18th Battalion, Grenadiers Regiment, had initiated operations to recapture Tololing on May 22. As its
companies made their way up the exposed slopes, heavy
and coordinated Pakistani mortar and artillery fire
stopped them cold. The grenadiers conducted three
more assaults in vain, suffering more than 150 casualties.
On May 28 an Indian air force Mil Mi-17 helicopter, struggling in the thin air as it provided fire support, was hit by
a shoulder-fired missile and crashed on a nearby peak,
killing its four-man crew. In response the air force suspended attack helicopter operations. On June 2, after the
grenadiers’ fourth desperate attempt to storm the peak,
brigade headquarters ordered them to cease attacks, dig
in as best they could and await relief. The next day the
brigade handed the task of taking Tololing to 2 Raj Rif.
After linking up with the exhausted grenadiers and
gathering intelligence from their officers, Ravindranath
led his command team on extensive reconnaissance
on June 5–6. Examining Tololing from the south, they
noted two main ridgelines ascending to three distinct
features at the summit. The southwest spur rose to a
peak called Point 4590, for its altitude in meters. The
Ill-equipped Indian units initially struggled in the unforgiving climate
and terrain (opposite), though by June they received cold-weather gear
and clothing. Despite the challenges, Lt. Col. M.B. Ravindranath (above,
left) prepared his battalion well for its mountain assault on Tololing.
They recovered a trove of enemy small arms from the summit (above).
ground then dropped and leveled off for 300 yards,
a stretch code-named Area Flat, before rising sharply to
the mountain’s pinnacle, Tololing Top. To the north
a knobby ridgeline dubbed the Hump bridged the rear
of Tololing to nearby enemy-held Point 5140.
Ravindranath elected to send two companies up each
spur—one attacking, the other in reserve—to split the
Pakistanis’ attention. Companies D and A, in turn, would
advance up the southwest spur to attack Point 4590,
while C and B would concentrate on Area Flat and Tololing Top. Meanwhile, the battalion’s commando detachment, under Lieutenant Neikezhakuo Kenguruse, would
position itself to the north near the Hump to isolate Tololing by fire, calling in artillery on any enemy forces trying
to reinforce the summit. Ravindranath and his company
commanders noted at least eight bunkers, with more
hidden positions likely, and the assault teams would have
to secure each of them and hold off inevitable counterattacks. There was, however, one silver lining—120 artillery guns had arrived in Dras and would support the
assault, a crucial support element previously unavailable
to the grenadiers. Indian commanders hoped the guns,
many of them in low-trajectory direct-fire mode, would
neutralize the Pakistanis’ tactical advantages.
Ravindranath established ammunition and water
supply points on each axis of advance, and on the nights
he flashpoint of ongoing tensions between
India and Pakistan is the Kashmir Valley, a
contested 85-mile-long basin of fertile soil
and moderate climate hemmed in by the Pir
Panjal Range to the southwest and soaring Himalayas to the northeast. An ancient
center of Hinduism and Buddhism, it fell to
a Muslim conquest in the 14th century, then
in the early 19th century was annexed along with neighboring Jammu by the Punjab-based Sikh empire. On the
1947 partition of India and Pakistan into independant
nations, Pakistani forces invaded the Muslim-majority
region. Seeking help to evict the invaders, the maharaja of
Jammu and Kashmir signed an instrument of accession,
placing his princely state under the dominion of India.
Pakistan gained control of the Northern Areas (present-day
Gilgat-Baltistan), while China later claimed the eastern
territory of Aksai Chin. The border between the disputed
areas is known as the Line of Control.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars over the
region—in 1947–48, 1965, 1971 and, most recently, 1999.
During the last clash, known as the Kargil War, Pakistani
troops crossed the Line of Control in winter to infiltrate
abandoned Indian outposts high in the mountains of
Jammu and Kashmir. At the heart of the 90-mile-wide
incursion was the district and namesake capital of Kargil.
Pakistani Incursions
In Kargil the Line of Control parallels National
Highway 1, India’s main supply route for its border
outposts, which comprised rough stone bunkers
at 16,000 feet and above. Aware that Indian troops
abandoned the outposts in winter, Pakistani forces
slipped south and occupied them in early 1999.
Battle of
May–June 1999
In May, after shepherds reported
the presence of Pakistani troops
in the Kargil high country, India
launched Operation Vijay to push
the invaders back north of the
Line of Control. In early June
commanders called on Lt. Col.
Magod Basappa Ravindranath
and his 2nd Battalion, Rajputana
Rifles (2 Raj Rif), to quell stubborn resistance atop Tololing,
the dominant peak in the district.
On June 12 its four companies
ascended from the southwest
and southeast to simultaneously
assault the peak, while another
unit to the north helped pin down
the Pakistanis under heavy fire.
They secured their objective
after a bitter 12-hour firefight.
Jammu and
Scarcely 100 miles (as
the crow flies) separates
the Pakistani capital of
Islamabad and Srinagar,
summer capital of the
Indian-adminstered state
of Jammu and Kashmir.
Neither nation is willing
to surrender its claims
on the region, while
Kashmiris themselves
split along predictable
ethnic and religious lines.
Mountain combat is by
nature difficult, given the
thin air, extreme weather
and harsh terrain. Even the
rocks themselves pose a
The earsplitting thunder of Brigadier
hazard, providing defenders
Lakhwinder Singh’s artillery batteries
with cover and turning into
signaled the start of 2 Raj Rif ’s assault
potentially lethal shrapnel
on Tololing. The gunners paused briefly,
when struck by shell fire.
hoping to draw out the defenders, then
resumed the barrage in earnest. Major Mohit Saxena
began the infantry assault at 8:30 p.m., and Company D
reached its initial objective within an hour. But Pakistani
forces on Point 4590 detected the Indians’ approach and
engaged the attackers with machine gun and mortar fire.
Saxena led the company forward, sprinting from boulder
to boulder, until his men had closed to within 100 yards
of the nearest Pakistani positions. Unable to advance farther, they sheltered behind a line of boulders and kept
firing uphill, waiting for an opportunity.
Meanwhile, to the southeast, came Company C, which
had started its advance 30 minutes after Company D.
As the men climbed, the two leading platoons noticed
the Pakistanis appeared to be falling for the feint, many
of them scurrying west to face Saxena’s attack. Seizing on
their inattention, one of Company C’s platoons rushed
forward and took Area Flat—splitting the Pakistaniheld terrain on Tololing—while the other platoon veered
toward Tololing Top and rushed over its crest, suddenly
appearing amid the enemy positions.
The alarmed Pakistanis began spraying automatic fire
to scatter the attackers. As the men of the leading section
Desperation set in as the
company’s casualties mounted
and its ammunition ran low
scrambled forward, they failed to notice a well-concealed
bunker on their flank; its machine gun killed all of them.
The shock of their sudden loss threatened to stall the
Indians’ momentum, until 23-year-old Lieutenant Praveen
Tomar stepped up to resume the assault.
With the Pakistani forces on Tololing Top focused on
Tomar’s platoon, Major Gupta, on standby with the reserve platoon, led his men up the right side of the spur.
As Corporal Digendra Kumar followed him up the steep
incline, he saw what appeared to be an exposed rock
jutting from the snow and reached out to steady himself.
Only when he closed his hand around the object did he
realize it was a machine gun barrel. As Kumar instinctively grabbed hold of the barrel, the Pakistani gunner
fired a burst, shooting the corporal through the hand
and wounding him in the chest. Reacting with remarkable calm, Kumar armed a grenade, let it “cook” in his
palm a moment, then tossed it through the bunker’s
firing slit. The explosion silenced the gun. As the platoon moved to assault the three remaining bunkers, it
came under intense fire. Kumar field-dressed his own
wounds and continued to crawl to high ground, all the
while hurling grenades and firing his light machine gun.
The platoon’s progress was marked by bitter closequarters fighting. Amid the confusion Gupta and a Pakistani nearly collided in the darkness and, standing barely
6 feet apart, killed one another. By 2:30 a.m. the platoons
had finally cleared the bunkers. Tomar updated Ravindranath and then scrambled to reorganize the company.
Over the next hour Pakistani soldiers fiercely counterattacked Company C on Tololing Top and Area Flat,
trying to throw back the Indians before they could consolidate their positions. The Indians repulsed each attempt, but desperation set in as the company’s casualties
mounted and its ammunition ran low. Ravindranath
rushed a platoon from Company B to reinforce C.
But confusion still reigned in the darkness. As Tomar
awaited reinforcements, one of his NCOs pointed to
a trio of unidentified men climbing toward their position. Both parties paused, anxiously trying to identify the other in the dim starlight. The NCO called out
to them—only to realize they were Pakistani soldiers.
In the fierce exchange of automatic fire that followed,
Tomar was wounded in the leg, and the Pakistanis
scrambled away.
As the men of Company B approached Tololing Top,
Pakistani forces launched three more counterattacks in
quick succession. The Indians held and by the third
attempt had eliminated all resistance on Tololing Top.
Before anyone could celebrate, however, 2 Raj Rif’s commando detachment radioed reports of Pakistani reinforcements rushing south toward the summit from Point
5140. The Indians immediately called in accurate artillery strikes along the Hump, stopping the surge. Ravindranath then led Company B to reinforce the summit,
and at 4:10 a.m. he radioed brigade headquarters with
a simple message: “Sir, I am on Tololing Top.”
Pakistani soldiers still held positions on Point 4590.
Almost certainly realizing they were surrounded, they
directed fire across Area Flat up toward Tololing Top.
With dawn rapidly approaching, Ravindranath could
either isolate Point 4590 and attack it later that day, or
order Company A to clear it. He chose the latter.
Holding Company A in reserve on the southwestern
spur, Major Padmapani Acharya and Lieutenant Vijyant
Combat on
the Rocks
before the attack his men and 400 porters
carried the weapons, ammunition, equipment, rations and medical supplies up the
steep gradient in an exhausting, sevenhour climb to the firebases. By June 12
the buildup was complete, and the four
companies, assembled at their launching
points, spent the day huddled in defilade
on Tololing’s slopes under heavy clouds,
waiting for darkness.
Thapar had been eager to get into the fight and quickly
advanced through Company D’s position to launch their
assault. As the defenders fell back, Corporal Tilak Singh
set up his light machine gun on high ground overlooking one of the last enemy-held bunkers. He watched as
two Pakistanis—one dressed in a tracksuit, the other in
civilian clothes—retreated inside. After repeated calls to
show themselves, the two emerged, but one still held his
assault rifle and, inexplicably, kept switching it nervously
from one hand to the other. Someone fired, and both
Pakistanis were killed in the ensuing commotion.
Company A mopped up the remaining resistance,
while Company B pushed on and cleared the northern
slopes of Tololing. Around 6:15 a.m. on June 13, with
the sun rising over the mountains of Dras, Ravindranath
informed brigade headquarters 2 Raj Rif had achieved its
objective: Tololing was secure. It was his 40th birthday.
The capture of the Tololing complex by 2 Raj Rif marked
the end of the first phase of the Kargil conflict. M.B.
Ravindranath’s professionalism, methodical planning
and emphasis on flexible tactics—coupled with the
courage and determination of his platoon and section
leaders—had enabled his battalion to secure a difficult
objective. The mountain provided a much-needed foothold from which to push the Pakistanis back north of
the Line of Control. The gains came at a cost, however.
Despite repeated denials from Islamabad of army participation in the
incursion, Indian troops identified the enemy dead, shrouded in flags
above, as members of Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry Regiment.
The battalion had lost 10 killed and 25 wounded in the
fight for Tololing. The Pakistani defenders had suffered
twice as many killed and an unknown number wounded;
captured documents revealed they were from Company D,
6th Battalion, Northern Light Infantry.
On June 16 another infantry battalion relieved 2 Raj
Rif and assumed responsibility for Tololing, giving the
men an opportunity to rest and refit. By month’s end
Ravindranath would be ordered to lead 2 Raj Rif in the
recapture of a trio of craggy mountains with reinforced
enemy positions, limited avenues of approach and presighted artillery. The punishing task would claim the
lives of three more officers and 10 soldiers and wound
another 52 men. But for the moment, in the wake of
their remarkable and hard-fought victory at Tololing,
the men of 2 Raj Rif took time to clean their weapons, eat
square meals and catch up on much-needed sleep. MH
Paraag Shukla is the senior editor of World War II and
Aviation History. For further reading he recommends
Conflict Unending, by Sumit Ganguly, and Limited
Conflicts Under the Nuclear Umbrella, by Ashley
J. Tellis, C. Christine Fair and Jamison Jo Medby.
For this 1855 self-portrait a
playacting Fenton dressed in
a French Zouave infantryman’s
distinctive uniform of short
open-fronted jacket, baggy
trousers, sash and cap.
British photographer Roger Fenton navigated
technical challenges and cultural mores to
capture tactful images of the Crimean War
By Deborah Stadtler
hough Roger Fenton (1819–69) achieved icon
status as a pioneering war photographer, his
career behind the camera spanned just 10 years.
Born into a wealthy British family, he had
studied law at Oxford and dabbled in painting
before delving into photography on an 1852
trip to Russia. Fenton founded the Royal Photographic Society in 1853 and a year later was
named the first official photographer of the British
Museum. He transformed the medium with his coverage
of the Crimean War in 1855.
That conflict broke out in 1853 when the Russian empire,
seeking to expand its sphere of influence south to the Black
Sea, faced a military alliance of Turkey, France, Britain and
Sardinia. In 1854 British photographer Richard Nicklin
sailed to the heart of the fighting in Crimea, but a violent
storm sank his ship at port in Balaklava, killing him and
destroying all his work. In early 1855 Fenton arrived in
his stead. The British government hoped his images would
help boost flagging public support for the war.
Fenton arrived in Crimea in early March with more than
30 crates of materials and a horse-drawn van he’d outfitted
as a portable darkroom. Over the next three and a half
months he created more than 350 large-format glass negatives. Limited by long exposure times and cumbersome
gear, Fenton recorded largely stationary or posed subjects,
including striking landscapes, portraits and studies of camp
life. Respecting Victorian sensibilities, he refrained from
photographing corpses or the miseries of trench life. His
most celebrated image, Valley of the Shadow of Death (see
P. 53), captures a stark landscape strewn with expended
cannonballs, mute testimony to the savagery of combat.
After the war Fenton pursued commercial photography
at home. But his interest in the medium faded, and in
1862 he abruptly sold all his equipment and negatives,
resigned from the Royal Photographic Society and resumed
his law practice. Regardless, in scarcely a decade he had
demonstrated the validity of photography as an art form
to rival painting and drawing, and for the first time brought
home the true impact of war. MH
A Limited by long exposure
times, Fenton preferred such
stationary scenes as this camp
near Balaklava, where the Light
Brigade battled the Russians.
B Fenton made prints of
his subjects, including this
portrait of Royal Artillery
Captain Thomas Longworth
Dames, from glass negatives.
C Fenton’s assistant Marcus
Sparling, seated on the horsedrawn mobile darkroom the
pair brought to Crimea, was a
photographer in his own right.
D Posing atop a defensive
gabion ringed by his soldiers,
General György Kmety served
in the Ottoman army at Crimea
under the name Ismail Pasha.
E Austrian-born Prince
F Five scruffy Croat laborers
Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul
Bonaparte served his famed
family’s native France as a
general in the Crimean War.
pose for a portrait in camp.
Subjects had to keep still up
to 20 seconds, while prints
took far longer to process.
G A man hands a pocket pistol
to a British horseman prior to
the Battle of Balaklava, which
ended with the disastrous
charge of the Light Brigade.
H Fenton’s best-known work,
Valley of the Shadow of Death,
centers on a road littered with
expended cannonballs, which
soldiers would collect for reuse.
French soldiers guard a captured
German narrow-gauge rail line
in 1916. The major belligerents
all used similar track systems
to move men and supplies from
rear areas to the front lines.
Though almost comical in aspect,
narrow-gauge trains proved a lifeline
to frontline troops in World War I
By Steven Trent Smith
Military railroads have been around since the Crimean War, when in 1855 British engineers built a 7-mile
double-track line northward from the port of Balaklava
to support the siege of Sevastopol. During the American
Civil War the U.S. Military Railroad, a separate agency
within the War Department, oversaw the movement
of Union troops and supplies on captured Southern
rail lines. Combatants in most of the late 19th century
conflicts made extensive use of railroads, but those
lines operated on standard gauge (4 feet, 8½ inches)
track. Prewar military planners sought narrow-gauge
lines that crews could quickly erect and move as the
tactical situation dictated.
In the mid-1870s French civil engineer Paul Decauville invented just such a portable track system, initially
intended for use on farms and industrial work sites. He
chose a gauge of 60 cm—soixante, in French—3/8 inch
shy of 2 feet. Key to his design were prefabricated track
sections (think model train set) of varying lengths that
one or two men could carry and place with minimal effort.
The Russian army was the first to see the military
potential of narrow-gauge railroads. In 1880 Czar Alexander II’s war ministry purchased from Decauville 22,000
sections (about 64 miles) of track, several hundred
freight cars and a pair of small steam locomotives, all for
use in Turkistan. A year later the French army followed
suit with an order for 41 miles of track. France purchased
another 300 miles of track in 1888 to connect a string of
forts along its border with Germany. For that deployment
merican railroaders dubbed it “Dead Man’s
Curve,” and it was certainly a dangerous
place to drive a train. Though little more
than a jug handle in the line near Beaumont
village in the Meuse River valley of northeastern France, the wriggle lay within range
of German artillery. From their aerie atop
nearby Montsec eagle-eyed enemy observers watched for any sign of movement on the Woëvre
Plain. The slightest Allied twitch would trigger a relentless barrage. But the troops in the trenches depended
on regular supplies, so each day the railroaders risked
their lives on the ribbon of line known as the soixante.
The narrow-gauge military railways of World War I
looked like the kind of toy a rich man might run on
his estate for the amusement of friends and family.
The gauge spanned 2 feet. The engines were tiny, the
cars almost cute. But during the 1914–18 clash on
the Western Front these little trains served a deadly
serious purpose, hauling to the front the myriad materiel required to wage war: heavy-caliber ordnance,
ammunition, poison gas, rations, medical supplies,
fresh troops. Armies on either side of no-man’s-land
had voracious appetites, and keeping them dependably supplied was a Herculean task, best accomplished
by the Lilliputian trains that crisscrossed the front on
thousands of miles of track. Operated by the British,
French, Germans and, later, Americans, the light
railways represented literal lifelines to the trenches.
Decauville designed special carriages to transport 48-ton
artillery pieces between the installations.
The German army began developing its own 60 cm
Heeresfeldbahn (“Army Field Train”) in the mid-1880s. The
Germans had a broader vision of how light railways could
be used offensively. “The narrow gauge was conceived as
a means of quickly producing a transport infrastructure
which could follow the armies in the field as they advanced,” railroad historian Charles S. Small noted. In 1897
the German army deployed its Feldbahns (“field trains”) to
German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) to support its ongoing fight against insurrectionists, providing its
railway brigades with an instructive real-world trial. Drawing on the experience, the Germans set about redesigning
their equipment to meet the needs of a truly mobile rail
system. The French gained their own practical experience constructing commercial 60 cm lines in Morocco.
The British were well behind their Continental counterparts in developing a narrow-gauge military rail system.
Not until 1904 did the Royal Engineers build an experimental 2-foot-6-inch line (76.2 cm) at Longmoor Camp
in Hampshire, mainly to instruct soldiers how to build
and operate rail lines. But the service gave little thought
as to how to apply this new means of transport in wartime. In fact, when it came to tactical transport, prewar
British policy specified the use of trucks and buses.
Hostilities commenced in Europe on Aug. 5, 1914, when
the Germans attacked Liège, Belgium. The medieval city
fell 11 days later. By the 20th the attackers had occupied
Brussels and begun a push toward Paris. In anticipation
of supplying the fast-moving troops, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s
planners had stockpiled Feldbahn track and rolling stock
along the border. By August 22 the narrow-gauge trains
were supporting three army corps on a network that
soon spread across Flanders and Wallonia.
At the war’s outset France’s soixante resources were
limited to permanent installations, though the government had set aside some portable track and cars in case
of war. It quickly sent those to Belgium. The British army,
adhering to its prewar transport policy, immediately
pressed into service 1,000 civilian trucks, 300 buses and
tens of thousands of horses.
By mid-September 1914 the “war of movement” had
devolved into a stalemate, giving rise to static trench warfare. The resourceful Germans were quick to repurpose
their Feldbahns to directly serve frontline sectors. The
French followed suit and soon had a considerable narrowgauge network in place. The British continued to eschew
light rail service until February 1916 when the army high
command, recognizing the shortcomings of road transport on the muddy front, belatedly ordered the development of tactical narrow-gauge lines. By then domestic
Since the mid-19th century armies have employed standard-gauge
railways (left) to transport troops and supplies. But in World War I
portable narrow-gauge track systems (below) proved a more popular
transportation mode among armies on both sides of the trenches.
Nearly Missed
the Train
The entry of the U.S. into the war in April
1917 brought a new spirit and vigor to
Allied military railway operations.
The first Army Corps of Engineers light
The British Corps of
unit, the 12th Engineer Regiment,
Royal Engineers built
mobilized in June 1917 with a compleits nation’s first narrowment of 1,600 officers and men recruited
gauge military rail line
in 1904, yet at the outset from among experienced railroaders and
of World War I official
engineering professionals. The regiment
policy still specified the
arrived in France’s Somme region in late
use of trucks and buses
August. Three months later the rookie railfor tactical transport.
waymen were stunned when sucked into
the Battle of Cambrai, a tactical draw between British
and German forces best remembered for the first massed
attack by a new weapon known as the tank. On November 30 the trainmen, all noncombatants, were nearly
overrun when the Germans tried to capture the soixante
during a counteroffensive. “Thus it was,” notes the regimental history, “that the first Americans fought in the
world war. Caught without arms, they fought with
whatever they had at hand.” In their case that meant
clubs, picks, shovels and any weapon they might recover
from fallen friends or foes.
The U.S. 21st Engineer Regiment (Light Railway), organized in August 1917, comprised two battalions—one
for construction and maintenance, the other to operate
the 60 cm lines. The regiment shipped out for France in
December and on arrival deployed to the Lorraine region
of northeastern France, in the open countryside between
Verdun and Nancy.
In cooperation with the French National Railway the
21st first built a massive depot and rail yard at SorcySaint-Martin, just 11 miles from the trenches. The U.S.
railroaders then set about reorganizing the soixante to
meet their requirements, building new lines and rebuilding large sections of track with more substantial roadbed
and heavier rails. The flow of narrow-gauge equipment
seemed endless, as Allied ships transported hundreds of
locomotives and thousands of railcars across the Atlantic.
In late March 1918 the French army officially handed off
its narrow-gauge operations in the area to the Americans.
A typical soixante line on the Western Front centered
on a terminus, like Sorcy, well behind the front lines and
outside the range of most enemy artillery. There standard-gauge trains off-loaded supplies for transfer to the
narrow-gauge trains, whose branch lines radiated out
to forward sectors. Within the terminus was a workshop
for the repair and maintenance of rolling stock.
Providing the motive power were chunky six- or eightwheeled steam locomotives fired by smoky low-grade
coal that made the little trains easy targets for enemy artillery and aircraft. To reduce the risk of detection, railroad-
factories were so overburdened that Britain was forced to order much of its 60 cm
railroad equipment from the ostensibly
neutral United States. Within a year Britain’s light railways were hauling more than
200,000 tons of supplies each week.
With a small steam engine providing the motive power, a Royal
Engineers work party (opposite) sets out to maintain the tracks
near Arras. Their efforts helped ensure the web of narrow-gauge
lines could support heavy boxcars carrying troops to the front.
ers used gasoline-powered rail-tractors to pull cars the
last mile or so to supply dumps. The rolling stock comprised mostly boxcars, gondolas and flatcars with a capacity of 22,000 pounds. As the war progressed, the Allies
introduced special cars to haul huge 120 mm and 240 mm
guns, as well as U.S.-designed 2,000-gallon tankers to
tote fresh water to the troops. The British and Germans
also pioneered the use of light railways to evacuate
wounded soldiers. Once a train arrived at its destination
and offloaded its cargo, crews quickly fitted the empty
cars with racks to support stretchers. With the wounded
aboard, the train ran directly to rear-area casualty clearing
stations, ensuring the men received medical care hours
earlier than had they been transported by road.
Manpower on the U.S. lines included both seasoned
professionals and raw recruits. It was not unusual for locomotive engineers to be in their 30s or 40s, while dispatchers—so critical to the smooth operation of the lines
—boasted years of experience. By necessity the civil engineers laying out the lines, bridges and tunnels were professionals. But any grunt work—digging, hauling, grading,
laying and repairing track—was left to the young and fit.
Because the demand for supplies was unrelenting—a
12,000-man division, for example, required an estimated
1,000 tons of supplies daily—the light railways ran both
scheduled and ad hoc service. The first few miles to the
front were almost pleasant, pastoral outings, as the trains
streamed through dense forestland and traversed rolling
countryside past fields and farms barely touched by the
war. But on the approach to the battlefields the woods
were devoid of trees, the fields pockmarked with craters,
the farmhouses in ruins.
The trains were at greatest risk when crossing open
country, especially in daylight. As Private Leland McCrady
of the 21st Engineers recalled, “German observers in balloons and observation posts on Montsec kept lookout for
signs of steamers or tractors operating throughout these
points and were ever ready to shell us.” To camouflage
the rails in especially vulnerable spots like Deadman’s
Curve, the Allies strung tall screens comprising woven
branches or burlap strips along the roadbed. Whenever
possible the trains made their runs under cover of darkness. But even that was no guarantee of success. “German planes,” McCrady recalled, “[were] always on the
lookout for sparks from the steamer and quick to turn
The trains were at greatest risk
when crossing open country,
especially in daylight
their machine guns on them or to drop bombs.” Aircrews
also dropped parachute flares, which illuminated large
swaths of the battlefield for long minutes, enabling artillery spotters to pinpoint the trains. Though fired on often,
the diminutive trains rarely suffered a direct hit.
The soixante lines terminated anywhere from a few
hundred to a few dozen yards from the trenches. From
there goods and munitions moved forward by manpower
Weighing in at nearly 300 pounds, the British 9.2-inch
high-explosive shell was typical of the rounds fired by
heavy siege howitzers on either side of no-man’s-land.
Combatants used the narrow-gauge lines to move these
and millions of other shells up to forward firing batteries.
or horsepower, sometimes on 40 cm tramways
running through the trenches. Shells went
straight to concealed ammunition dumps, while
the daily train of rations trundled farther forward to frontline mess kitchens.
Derailments and accidents were all too common occurrences. “The engineer simply had to trust in Providence
not to tip over, hit a cannon, a column of squads, some
wooden-shoed women or a French general,” quipped 21st
Engineers Sergeant Clarence P. Hobert in the official unit
history. The hazards were magnified at night. “[One]
night,” Hobert recalled, “a French truck loaded with gasoline rammed into an ammunition train, causing an explosion, the flames lighting the skies for miles around. Many
gas shells exploded, and the men were obliged to wear
their gas masks and lie in a muddy ditch for some time.”
In a similar incident the situation was reversed: The
train hauled a pair of tankers full of gasoline, the French
truck munitions. Slipping over a hill in the dark, the locomotive smashed into the truck, hurling it aside and setting
it on fire. The engineer called for brakes, and as luck would
have it, the tankers rolled to a stop adjacent to the burning
vehicle. It was another recipe for disaster. One of the
brakemen, Private Sanford C. Johnson, saw that the driver
was pinned beneath his truck. He and a fellow crewman
ran to the stricken man but couldn’t budge him. “We were
under the truck, working like mad,” Johnson explained,
“when the truck blew up. The jar evidently lifted the
weight from our comrade, as we freed him.” As the crewmen ran for cover, dragging the Frenchman between
them, the 75 mm shells began cooking off. “[They] were
coming thick and fast from the camion,” he recalled. “As
we were straightening to carry the wounded man, a huge
explosion threw us all on our faces.” The tankers had
blown. The resulting conflagration destroyed four railway
cars and three French ammunition trucks. When the fire
died down, bystanders found the charred remains of a
French soldier. “The fire and explosion caused considerable excitement,” Johnson noted laconically.
The lightweight rails were often in lamentable condition, but one great advantage of the soixante was the ease
with which it could be repaired. If intense shelling took
out a couple hundred feet of track, repair crews got
straight to work, first filling the craters, then connecting new sections of Decauville rails to the undamaged
line. “‘Dead Man’s Curve’ was subjected to shelling for
months, but comparatively infrequent repairs to the track
were necessary,” wrote civil engineer Marshall R. Pugh
after the war. “It is about as impracticable to destroy
such a railway by shell fire as it is to get rid of cooties
in the same manner. This fact is their protection.”
Handle With Care
Whenever either side planned a great offensive seeking
to gain or regain territory, the railway engineers began
stockpiling track, ballast and tools near the front to facilitate the rapid construction of a link with the enemy’s 60 cm
rail network. After the breakout, as soon as commanders
were certain the assault had succeeded and positions were
consolidated, rail crews commenced laying track across
no-man’s-land—a process that took only a day or two before the trains were up and running. Any captured enemy
rail equipment was put to use on the victor’s lines. Of
course, sometimes the enemy pushed back, overrunning
the newly gained territory and taking back their railroad.
Conditions at the front were tough on the narrowgauge crews. “We were under shellfire every night,” reported Lieutenant O.C. Whitaker of the 21st Engineers.
“It was no uncommon thing for one to spend the better
part of the night with his gas mask in the alert position, his
teeth chattering and his knees knocking together.” Despite
the dangers, casualties were relatively light. Thirty-six men
from the 21st died while on duty in France. That’s not to
say operating the soixante was a milk run. Far from it.
On Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, the U.S. Corps of Engineers controlled some 1,350 miles of narrow-gauge railways in France, more than half of which had been captured
from the Germans. By the time the rail service wound
down at the end of January 1919, U.S. trains had transported more than 860,000 tons of supplies to the front,
those of the British and Germans millions of tons more.
The war proved the zenith of military light railways.
The indispensable contribution they made was due
largely to the static nature of trench warfare, for which
soixante operations were uniquely qualified. But narrowgauge railroads never again played a significant role in
war. Colonel William B. Parsons wrote a fitting tribute
in his official history The American Engineers in France:
“In short, the Lilliputian railway that at the beginning
of hostilities was little more than a toy with apparently
limited possibilities had grown into a very husky system.”
The tiny trains were a vital part of the supply system. It
is difficult to see how the armies could have functioned
without them. MH
Steven Trent Smith is a five-time Emmy Award-winning
television photojournalist and author of two books, The
Rescue and Wolf Pack, about the submarine war in the
Pacific. He is a frequent contributor to World War II,
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History and
Civil War Times. For further reading Smith recommends
Narrow Gauge to No Man’s Land, by Richard Dunn; TwoFoot Rails to the Front, by Charles S. Small; and Railways
and War Before 1918, by Denis Bishop and W.J.K. Davies.
Narrow-gauge rail was a practical means of moving British 15-inch howitzer
shells (opposite, top left), which were five times heavier than the 9.2-inch
rounds. To get the shells aboard cars required basic manpower (opposite,
bottom left). The lines themselves were often targeted by artillery (middle).
VIPs such as Britain’s King George V (seated at left) also traveled by rail.
Sieges in American history may
lack castles and siege engines,
but those who endured them
demonstrated ample bravado
By Ron Soodalter
When French-allied Indians moved
to slaughter surrendered British
soldiers and their families after the
1757 Siege of Fort William Henry,
Brig. Gen. Louis-Joseph de MontcalmGozon reportedly tried to intervene.
During the French and Indian War what
now constitutes upstate New York was a
hotly contested battleground between the
colonists of British America and those of
New France, the 32-mile-long stretch of
Lake George forming an uncertain barrier between the
two. In late 1755 the British constructed Fort William
Henry on the southern shore of the lake as a potential
staging ground for incursions into Canada. The British
fortress looked impressive. Built on an irregular square,
it boasted bastioned corners and 30-foot-thick walls,
surrounded on three sides by a dry moat and on the
fourth by the lake itself. The walls, however, comprised
earthen berms faced with logs and—as the garrison
would soon discover—were no match for artillery.
Some 16 miles southeast of Fort William Henry stood
Fort Edward, on the banks of the Hudson River. Connecting the two was a recently cleared wilderness road,
over which Fort William Henry could presumably draw
support from Fort Edward should the French attack.
Attack they did. In the summer of 1757 French Brig.
Gen. Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, resolving to
launch a preemptive strike, assembled a formidable army
of some 6,200 regulars and militia and 1,800 Indians from
allied tribes, supported by 36 cannon and five mortars.
Getting wind of the French plans, Maj. Gen. Daniel
Webb, commanding at Fort Edward, reinforced the garrison at Fort William Henry to around 2,400 men. The
fort itself could only house up to 500, however, so the
bulk of the force occupied an entrenched camp within a
half-mile southeast of the fort. A number of British soldiers were suffering from smallpox and were quartered
in either the fort’s makeshift hospital or sick huts.
After boating down Lake George with the bulk of his
army, Montcalm arrived outside Fort William Henry the
night of August 2–3. The next morning, having failed to
convince British Lt. Col. George Monro to surrender his
post, the French general commenced siege operations. In
the days that followed, Montcalm’s gunners kept the British
under near continual bombardment while his sappers dug
trenches toward the fort, bringing the French guns ever
closer. Monro sent several couriers to Fort Edward, appealing for help. But Indians and militia blocked the road, and
on August 4 they shot down a rider carrying a reply from
Webb. The dispatch they recovered from the courier’s
body advised Monro to surrender. Three days later, as the
French closed to within 1,000 yards of the fort, Montcalm
shared the intercepted missive with the British commander.
On August 9, with little hope of relief, Monro capitulated.
Montcalm offered generous terms: He would allow the
British to march out in parade order, under their colors,
in return for a pledge not to bear arms against the French
for 18 months. They could keep their personal belongings, weapons and one symbolic cannon, but no ammunition. French doctors would tend their sick and wounded,
who would be returned to Fort Edward when well. The
terms seemed too good to be true—and they were.
The Indians, angered by Montcalm’s leniency, plundered
the surrendered fort and killed 17 of the incapacitated soldiers. The next morning, as the British column marched
away ostensibly under French escort, the Indians attacked,
at first robbing and beating, then killing and scalping unarmed soldiers and their families. Discipline among the
British collapsed, as men, women and children broke for
the woods, pursued by hundreds of screaming Indians.
In coming days only about 500 of the 2,308 British
troops and followers who had surrendered made it to Fort
Edward. Lurid reports claimed the Indians had butchered
as many as 1,500. But scores of the British had escaped, and
the Indians took hundreds more captive. A more accurate
count of those killed and missing falls between 69 and
184. In the weeks following the attack dozens of fugitives
trickled into Fort Edward and other British bastions, while
French and British authorities successfully negotiated the
release of hundreds more. But the slaughter remained a
blot on Montcalm’s otherwise impressive military record.
The first siege of the American Revolution
followed on the heels of the April 19, 1775,
Battles of Lexington and Concord. Lasting nearly a year,
it resulted in a key strategic victory for the young nation
and its commander in chief, George Washington.
Pursuing the British from Lexington and Concord,
Mass., the Patriots blockaded the land approaches to
Boston and established a siege line from Roxbury to
Chelsea, corralling Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage and his troops
within the strategically vital town. The only remaining
access was via Boston Harbor, through which, over the
months that followed, the British reinforced the garrison
to a peak of some 6,000 troops.
At that point the Continental Army was little more than
a disparate gaggle of ill-trained, ill-equipped militiamen
he concept of the siege is as old as human
conflict itself, dating from man’s earliest efforts
to “fort up” against hostile forces. The written
record of American sieges stretches back
to colonial times. Some of these sieges were
monumental, some personal, others simply
quirky. All met the requisite criterion: people
on the inside striving desperately to keep people on
the outside from either getting in or forcing them out.
Above, another depiction of the melee as French-allied Indians robbed, beat and killed British
soldiers and civilians following the surrender of Fort William Henry. Below, George Washington
rides through Boston after a successful 11-month siege forced British troops to vacate the city.
In the mid-1880s the Wyoming Stock
Growers Association (WSGA), comprising the territory’s leading cattle barons, suffered a
spate of bad luck. First came drought and the resultant
dearth of grass. Then came the “Big Die-up”—two consecutive winters (1885–86 and 1886–87) so brutal they
killed 80 percent of the stock, bankrupted many of the
big spreads and all but wiped out the cattle industry.
Then came organized rustlers. While the cattlemen
could do nothing about the weather, they could certainly put an end to human depredations. Consequently,
in 1892 WSGA members resolved to invade Johnson
County, suspected hotbed of rustling in the region. They
compiled a hit list of 70 names, including a number of
small ranchers who, while perhaps guiltless of rustling,
had had the temerity to start a competing association.
Topping their list was Nate Champion, a Texas-born
cowboy who had made his reputation in Wyoming—first
as a top hand, then as owner of a small herd. Champion
was admired by many and trusted by most. But as unofficial leader of the small ranchers, he represented a thorn in
the side of the big cattle interests. Champion had survived
an earlier attempt on his life, and the cattlemen were
eager to keep him from implicating them in that attack.
The barons hired nearly two-dozen Texas gunmen at
$5 a day, plus a $50 bounty for every man on the list they
killed. Far from a clandestine mission, their plan had the
KC Ranch
who felt little kinship with one another. By that summer
desertion had further thinned its ranks. Worse yet, Washington lacked sufficient artillery to mount an effective
siege. Arriving at a solution, the American commander
sent Colonel Henry Knox, a resourceful young officer,
to Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y., which Benedict Arnold and
Ethan Allen had captured from the British that May. His
mission? To haul the fort’s artillery back to Boston. In
early December, after selecting some five dozen cannons,
mortars and howitzers from Ticonderoga’s arsenal, Knox
proceeded to haul and float his 60 tons of ordnance
nearly 300 miles through winter gales down Lake George,
across icebound rivers, over snow-covered mountains
and through dense forests, finally delivering the guns to
Washington in Boston in late January 1776.
On the night of March 4–5 Washington ordered a
diversionary bombardment while hundreds of Patriot
soldiers silently mounted guns atop Dorchester Heights,
overlooking the British troops and ships. Finally wielding sufficient firepower, the American commander gave
the British little choice but to evacuate the town. On
March 17, with the arrival of favorable winds, General
William Howe—who had replaced Gage as garrison
commander—embarked his troops and thousands of
terrified Loyalists and sailed for Nova Scotia. Despite
its shortcomings, the fledgling Continental Army had
successfully besieged a British army for nearly a year.
The 1892 siege of KC Ranch inflamed the Johnson County War, an armed
clash between Wyoming’s big cattle operators and supposed rustlers
and small ranchers, such as Nate Champion (astride his horse at right
in the photo opposite) and this unidentified Winchester-bearing fellow.
entries he shot back whenever a target presented itself.
The firing remained intense. “Boys, there is bullets coming in like hail.” Around midmorning Champion wrote,
“Nick is dead—he died about 9 o’clock.” He then bluntly
assessed his situation: “I don’t think they intend to let me
get away this time.”
“Boys, I feel pretty lonesome just now,” Champion
mused as the siege dragged on past noon. “I wish there
was someone here with me so we could watch all sides
at once.” By 3 p.m. he’d begun to lose hope. “It don’t look
as if there is much show of my getting away.”
Late that afternoon Champion heard the sound of
splitting wood, as the invaders filled a wagon with splintered pitch pine and hay. “I think they will fire the house
this time,” he wrote. He was right. While the others kept
up a steady fire, a handful of men ran the burning wagon
up against the outside of the cabin. Flames engulfed the
structure as Champion wrote his final entry: “The house
is all fired. Goodbye, boys, if I never see you again.”
Signing the entry, he pocketed the notebook and,
armed with a rifle and six-shooter, bolted from the cabin
toward the nearby ravine—straight into the muzzles of
waiting gunmen. Champion got off a single shot before
his attackers poured round after round into him. After
inspecting their quarry’s lifeless body, one of the killers
pinned a hastily scrawled placard to Champion’s bloody
By delaying the invasion a day, Champion had allowed
an alert neighbor to get word to Buffalo, where Johnson
County Sheriff William “Red” Angus threw together a
force of more than 200 outraged citizens. They intercepted
the invaders on the morning of April 11, trapping them
in the barn of a nearby ranch. Within hours, however,
Gov. Barber telegraphed President Benjamin Harrison,
pleading on behalf of the now besieged besiegers. On Harrison’s authority a cavalry troop from Fort McKinney soon
rescued the cattlemen and their hired killers. Ultimately,
not a single invader was convicted of a crime. The Texans
went home after collecting their blood money, and the
cattle barons returned to their ranches. Nonetheless, by his
stand in the face of certain death Champion had thwarted
mass vigilantism in the lawless early days of Wyoming.
tacit support of Wyoming Gov. Amos W. Barber, a onetime association member, who would rally a far higher authority to their defense when things didn’t go as planned.
The little army’s first stop was Champion’s remote cabin
on the KC Ranch, south of Buffalo.
At dawn on April 9 the party of 52 armed cattlemen and
hired killers—joined, bizarrely, by two newspaper reporters—surrounded the cabin. Inside were an unsuspecting
Champion, partner Nick Ray—whose name was also on
the list—and two visiting freighters. The men outside quietly nabbed the visitors as they emerged to collect water.
But when Ray left the cabin, they opened fire, mortally
wounding him. Moments later Champion bolted from
the cabin. Rapid-firing his rifle at the attackers, he ran to
his partner, grabbed him by the collar and—bullets kicking up dust all around him—dragged Ray back inside.
The besieged cabin soon came under a torrent of gunfire from the stable 75 yards to the northeast, from the
riverbank to the northwest, from behind the house and
from a ravine 50 yards south. Remarkably, as his partner
lay dying and his own hopes of mercy or rescue
ebbed away, Champion opened a small noteHired by the cattle barons, nearly
two-dozen Texas gunmen rode to
book and began to write:
Wyoming expecting to kill rustlers
“Me and Nick was getting breakfast when the
and collect a bounty. This Colt .45
attack took place,” he opened. “Nick is shot but
belonged to J.A. Garrett, one of
not dead yet. I must go and wait on him.” Two
four men charged with murdering
hours later he wrote, “Nick is still alive.” Between
Nate Champion and Nick Ray.
Freelance writer Ron Soodalter is the author of Hanging
Captain Gordon and The Slave Next Door. For further
reading he recommends Adobe Walls: The History and
Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post, by T. Lindsay Baker
and Billy R. Harrison, and Wyoming Range War: The Infamous Invasion of Johnson County, by John W. Davis.
One of the most storied sieges in
the history of westward expansion
began on June 27, 1874, at Adobe Walls, a settlement amid
the ruins of an abandoned Texas Panhandle trading post.
Ten years earlier at Adobe Walls some 400 enlisted
men and Indian scouts of the 1st New Mexico Volunteer
Cavalry under Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson had
successfully fought off several thousand Comanche,
Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache warriors. History was set to
repeat itself. The buffalo trade was brisk in 1874, and
that spring a handful of Kansas entrepreneurs had built
a makeshift trading post near the ruins to service the
dozens of hunters ranging the surrounding countryside.
By June it comprised two stores, a corral, a blacksmith
shop, a restaurant and, not surprising, a saloon.
Determined to drive out the intruders, several hundred of the region’s Comanches and Cheyennes, along
with a handful of Arapahos and Kiowas, banded together
for what Comanche medicine man Isa-tai had guaranteed would be a successful campaign. He further promised his “magic” would protect the warriors from the
buffalo hunters’ bullets.
At dawn on the 27th the army of allied Indians, under
the leadership of Isa-tai and Comanche Chief Quanah
Parker, swooped down on the encampment. Inside the
complex were one woman and 28 very surprised merchants, drovers, hunters and skinners. Among them were
Bat Masterson and Billy Dixon, two young men destined
Adobe Walls
to become Western legends. Among the hunters were
veterans of earlier Indian fights. They were proficient
marksmen, and their favored weapon was the long-range
.50-caliber Sharps rifle. From 1,000 yards a single wellaimed round could kill a buffalo, let alone a man. Inside
the stores were cases of the Sharps “Big Fifties” and
thousands of rounds of ammunition. They outshone the
Indians’ weapons in range, power and accuracy.
When the warriors attacked, the besieged buffalo men
took refuge in the saloon and both stores, sheltering behind stacked hides, grains sacks and anything else they
could find. The Indian fire was daunting, and three men
died in the initial onslaught. “At times,” Dixon recalled,
“the bullets poured in like hail and made us hug the sod
walls like gophers.” As sod doesn’t burn, at least there was
no danger of being burned out, and the defenses held.
Over the next several days the buffalo men repelled
repeated charges, during which some foolhardy warriors
rode in close enough to pound on the doors and windows.
Digging gun ports through the sod walls, the hunters
picked off their exposed attackers one by one. “We tried
to storm the place several times,” Quanah recounted, “but
the hunters shot so well, we would have to retreat.”
It seemed no matter how far they withdrew from the
sod buildings, the .50-caliber rounds continued to find
them. On the third day of the siege Dixon reputedly
dropped an Indian from his horse at a distance of nearly
a mile. By then the Indians belief in Isa-tai’s prediction
had faded. And when Quanah himself took a blow to the
shoulder from a spent bullet, they wholly lost faith.
Although they remained in the area a few more days, the
warriors staged no more direct attacks on the encampment. When the last of them drifted away, the buffalo men
emerged from their fortifications. The bodies of more
than a dozen warriors still lay on the surrounding plain.
In addition to the three buffalo men killed in the initial
assault, a fourth died as he descended a ladder and his own
gun accidently discharged, tearing off the top of his head.
The allied Indians raided the area throughout the
summer, destroying settlements, outlying homesteads
and wagon trains and killing an estimated 190 settlers
over a 1,000-mile swath from Texas across the Plains
states into Colorado. As devastating as the raids were, they
only prompted relentless military pursuit, resulting in
the ultimate subjugation and relocation of the Southern
Plains tribes and the opening of the region to permanent
settlement. The failed siege of Adobe Walls was merely
a harbinger of the inevitable defeat that followed. MH
Comanche Chief Quanah Parker
(here and opposite) co-led the
1874 Siege of Adobe Walls with
medicine man Isa-tai, whose
“magic” was no match for the
Texas buffalo hunters’ longrange “Big Fifty” Sharps rifles.
My Lai: Vietnam,
1968 and the Descent
Into Darkness, by
Howard Jones, Oxford
University Press, New
York, 2017, $34.95
The massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S.
soldiers at My Lai on March 16, 1968, was
a war crime. When the story broke, many
Americans refused to believe it. But the
truth eventually emerged during the courtsmartial of platoon leader 2nd Lt. William
Calley, company commander Captain Ernest Medina and brigade commander Colonel Oran Henderson. Medina was ultimately
acquitted of war crimes, and Henderson was
acquitted on charges of having covered up
and failed to properly investigate the allegations. Only Calley was convicted of murder,
although a federal judge quickly commuted
his sentence. Thus, while almost no one
today denies the massacre happened, many
continue to believe Calley was made a
scapegoat for the entire incident.
Jones’ volume is a meticulous and detailed review of what happened in My Lai,
the subsequent investigations and the courtsmartial. His analysis is brutally frank yet fair,
objective and balanced. He relates the combat stress soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, were under in the weeks
before the attack on the village, yet he affirms
the massacre was still cold-blooded murder.
Jones also details the moral heroism displayed by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr. and his two helicopter door gunners,
Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta,
as they tried to stop the carnage.
Knowledgeable readers’ only complaint
will be that Jones makes several factual errors, albeit on peripheral points that in no
way detract from the main story. For example, he says that during the Tet Offensive
U.S. Marines finally regained control of the
U.S. Embassy in Saigon, when, in fact, soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division deserve
the credit. In another passage he repeats
the oft-quoted canard that Audie Murphy
“received more awards than any other American soldier in World War II.”
My Lai Murders
Though three U.S. Army officers were courtmartialed for the events at My Lai, only 2nd Lt.
William Calley, center, was convicted of murder.
The author correctly concludes that
the cause of the My Lai massacre was
a failure in leadership from the division level down to platoon level, but
especially between company commander Medina and platoon leader
Calley. Some of the most distinguished
soldiers of the Vietnam War concurred
with that conclusion. Among them,
Colonel David Hackworth, who bluntly
said, “Calley should have been lined
up against the wall and shot—the guy’s
a murderer.”
Every graduate of the U.S. Military
Academy, ROTC and OCS should be
required to read this book before pinning on the gold bars.
—David T. Zabecki
The Quartermaster: Montgomery
C. Meigs, Lincoln’s General, Master
Builder of the Union Army, by
Robert O’Harrow Jr., Simon &
Schuster, New York, 2016, $28
For much of the American Civil War
the Union Army was well supplied
but poorly commanded. Many were to
fault for the latter problem. The former
success was due mainly to one man—
Quartermaster General Montgomery
C. Meigs, logistical mastermind and
subject of this engaging biography.
Meigs vaulted onto the national
stage thanks to an early and ironic
benefactor, Secretary of War Jefferson
Davis, future president of the Confederacy. At the outset of the war Meigs’
management skills prompted newly
elected President Abraham Lincoln
to assign him a critical mission: the
resupply of Florida’s Fort Pickens,
which the Corps of Engineers officer
accomplished with rapid efficiency.
He was soon destined for greater things
as appointed quartermaster general of
the Union Army.
Meigs soon found himself personally responsible for the largest single
outlay in the federal budget. While
other generals fought the enemy on
the field, the quartermaster general
waged war against hunger, supply
shortages and rampant corruption.
Meigs coordinated the massive task
of purchasing and distribution, forever seeking efficiencies in the market
and counseling restraint in the field.
Unsurprising for a man constantly
assessing the cost of war, he advocated
having armies on the march live off
the land and was especially delighted
when Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman
began making the South—and not him
—pay for the war.
If logistics intrinsically calls for a
behind-the-scenes look, O’Harrow
brings such potentially lackluster
content to life. While Meigs made his
principal accomplishments from behind a desk, he did witness combat
on occasion, observing the 1863 Battle
of Chattanooga in person (an earned
privilege, as he did much to supply
the city) and commanding field units
resisting Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s 1864
attack on Washington.
Finally, Lincoln’s oft-overlooked
quartermaster general sought to ensure Americans would not overlook
the sacrifices of others by serving as a
principal architect of Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery. Meigs, who
had met Confederate General Robert
E. Lee before the war, insisted war dead
of both sides be buried on the acres
immediately surrounding the former
Custis-Lee Mansion. Profoundly conscious of the material cost of war, he
made certain his foe would never forget
its human toll.
—Anthony Paletta
Caesar’s Greatest Victory: The
Battle of Alesia, Gaul, 52 BC,
by John Sadler and Rosie Serdiville,
Casemate Publishers, Oxford, United
Kingdom, 2016, $32.95
“There were a large number of reasons, of course, why the conflict at
Alesia became famous: It was the occasion for deeds of daring and skill
the like of which have never been seen
in any other battle.” So wrote Plutarch,
perhaps the greatest of Julius Caesar’s ancient biographers, of the 52 BC
Pershing’s Crusaders
The American Soldier in
World War I
Richard S. Faulkner
“This superb study is absolutely
essential reading for anyone
interested in America’s first great
expeditionary army.”—Mark E.
Grotelueschen, author of The AEF
Way of War: The American Army
and Combat in World War I
772 pages, 31 photographs,
Cloth $39.95, Ebook $39.95
Doughboys on the
Great War
How American Soldiers
Viewed Their Military
Edward A. Gutiérrez
“What Gutiérrez has discovered
ought to make Americans proud,
for, although the veterans returned
with an understandable hatred of
war, they were almost universally
proud of what they had done.”
—Wall Street Journal
320 pages, 30 illustrations, 1 map,
Cloth $34.95, Paper $19.95,
Ebook $19.95
University Press
of Kansas
Phone 785-864-4155
Fax 785-864-4586
The Illustrated
Encyclopedia of
Chuck Wills
Spanning the globe and nearly
5,000 years of human warfare,
this photo-intensive compendium highlights hundreds of
weapons from the Berman
Museum of World History in
Anniston, Ala. Those selected—
from rudimentary stone axes to
cutting-edge firearms—trace the
history of weapon technology.
Waging Insurgent
Seth G. Jones
Despite the rise of asymmetrical
warfare and insurgencies like
those in Iraq and Syria, Jones
argues, we know little about how
insurgencies function. Appealing
to anyone interested in modern
warfare, this volume outlines
factors that contribute to insurgencies, their basic components
and how best to combat them.
siege of Alesia (near presentday Alise-Sainte-Reine in
central France).
Facing Caesar was the
huge army of Vercingetorix,
the ruthless Gallic leader
who had burst on the scene
after the recent assassination of his father, Celtillus.
The subsequent rebellion
against Roman rule triggered warfare on a scale and
intensity not previously witnessed in Gaul. Within a
matter of days his followers
torched more than 20 cities
to deny them and all they
contained to the Romans.
One remained intact:
Avaricum (near present-day
Bourges), which stood on a
prominent spur surrounded
by marshes. The Romans
besieged it, and when they
ultimately breached the defenses, the legionnaires engaged in a ruthless slaughter.
According to Caesar, the
death toll reached 40,000
with only 800 making their
escape. Among the survivors was Vercingetorix, who
resolved to rally the whole
of Gaul, for only such an
unprecedented effort would
drive out the Romans.
Vercingetorix made his
stand at Alesia, considered
a second Troy, such were the
formidable defense lines
surrounding the plateau.
The authors suggest the
Gallic commander sought
to weaken the Roman forces
through ambush, skirmishing and siege work. Masterly
tactics, though not masterly
enough, as Caesar, having
seized a hill that threatened
the defenders’ water supply,
ultimately gained his victory—justly counted among
history’s most remarkable
feats of arms.
The casualties numbered
in the tens of thousands.
Vercingetorix surrendered
and languished in prison
for six years before his captors quietly strangled him.
He remains a legendary figure in French military history and is memorialized
near Alise-Sainte-Reine
with a statue commissioned
by Napoléon III. A visitor
center [] overlooks the battlefield (one
of three proposed sites,
anyway), but those seeking a primer on Alesia need
look no further than this
excellent book.
—David Saunders
Praetorian: The Rise and
Fall of Rome’s Imperial
Bodyguard, by Guy de la
Bédoyère, Yale University
Press, New Haven, Conn.,
2017, $35
A history of the Roman
Praetorian Guard from its
beginning through its disbanding by Constantine,
this volume centers on the
unit’s formation, role, structure, conditions, deployment, leadership and, most
important, the part it played
within the larger context of
Rome’s imperial history.
Augustus formed the
Praetorian Guard in 27 BC
following his victory against
Mark Antony at Actium (see
related story, P. 30). During the Roman civil wars
personal bodyguards were
common among rival commanders, who justly feared
assassination by enemies—
and even their own troops
if things went badly. Augustus’ guard was relatively
small—some dozen cohorts
(4,800 men), about the size
of a single legion. Only a
few cohorts were stationed
in Rome itself, the rest
being dispersed throughout
Italy. Under Tiberius the
guard expanded to 15,000
men, almost all of whom
were stationed at a separate
base in Rome. Not unlike
Adolf Hitler’s Sturmabteilung or Josef Stalin’s Soviet secret police, the guard
ultimately posed a threat
to the ruler himself and
over the next three centuries often played a role
in removing and installing
new emperors
The Praetorian Guard is
without doubt an important
subject for an ancient historian, but it is one fraught
with difficulty. The greatest problem is that evidence
for the guard’s activities
makes only erratic appearances in the ancient sources,
usually as passing commentaries to the sources’ larger
narratives—the lives of the
emperors themselves. For
long periods, from 98 to 180
for example, the sources
make no mention at all of
the guard. During only a few
periods is the information sufficient. Bédoyère’s
command of the general
narrative of Roman history, however, allows him
to assemble what information there is on the stronger
framework of events concerning the emperors themselves. The author admits
the evidence is complex
and incomplete, suggesting readers also examine
the two other major works
on the guard (The Praetorian
Guard, by Boris Rankov, and
Roman Guardsman, 62 BC –
AD 324, by Ross Cowan).
If not for the lay reader,
this book is valuable for students of all things Roman,
filling gaps in our knowl-
edge of a pivotal institution
in Roman history.
—Richard A. Gabriel
Heligoland: Britain,
Germany and the Struggle
for the North Sea, by Jan
Rüger, Oxford University
Press, United Kingdom,
2017, $34.95
A far-reaching view from
the rocky island of Heligoland in the North Sea, this
unique volume relates Britain’s fraught relationships
with Napoleonic France in
the 19th century and confrontational Germany in the
19th and 20th centuries.
From his opening lines
Rüger paints a dramatic
picture: “Out in the North
Sea, five hours northwest
of Hamburg and 300 miles
off the coast of England, sits
Heligoland.…Its imposing
cliffs can be seen from more
than a dozen miles, rising
abruptly to 85 feet above the
crashing waves. It is a steep,
triangular bastion of an island.” But as the author relates, there is more to the
island than its appearance.
Over the centuries Heligoland has served as a key
North Sea waypoint, a smugglers’ way station between
Britain and the Continent,
a spy center, a regal summer
resort, a gamblers’ haunt, a
celebrated artist colony, a
naval base and, following
World War II, a British Royal
Air Force practice bombing
site. Heligoland was once
part of Denmark. It has been
a British colony. It served
Nazi Germany as a strategic
naval base and an evocative
symbol of Aryan identity.
Indeed, its strategic relevance stretches from the Napoleonic Wars through both
world wars into the politically complex Cold War.
The author identifies Heligoland as a “hinge” between Great Britain and the
Continent, and the analogy
holds true for the ongoing
relationship between Britain
and Germany. Rüger’s epilogue focuses on that BritishGerman connection:
In October 1777, a 6,000-strong British army surrendered in defeat after
the American victory at the Battles of Saratoga. For the first time in history,
a British General surrendered his sword.
Coexistence seemed so much
of an everyday fact that those
growing up at the beginning
of the 21st century could be
forgiven if they struggled to
appreciate just how conflictridden and violent the AngloGerman past had been.…Britain and Germany are more
closely bound up with one another today than at any point
since the late 19th century.
But none of this is irreversible.
Sea Power
Rüger’s book is not merely
the exploration of an obscure
island and its storied history; it’s a thought-provoking
treatise of how nations coexist—or don’t.
—Joseph Callo
Admiral James Stavridis
Throughout the course of
human history sea power has
often equated to geopolitical
power. Stavridis, a retired
American four-star admiral,
provides useful insight into
naval battles ranging from
classical times through the
Cold War and looks forward
to the likely sites of future
engagements, such as the
Arctic or South China Sea.
The Ambulance
James McGrath Morris
In war Ernest Hemingway
found adventure and a cause,
while John Dos Passos saw
only oppression and futility.
Their 20-year friendship began
in World War I and eventually
dissolved into a public fight
over their political differences.
Morris profiles the writers
who gave voice to a generation united and divided by war.
America’s Sailors in the
Great War: Seas, Skies
and Submarines, by Lisle
A. Rose, University of
Missouri Press, Columbia,
2016, $36.95
Given the approaching centennial of America’s entry
into World War I, it seems
fitting historians should reexamine the nation’s participation in that epochal
conflict. While most such
works stress the activities
of the soldiers, Marines and
airmen who battled on and
above the trenches of the
Western Front, Rose has
chosen to focus on the part
played by the Navy.
Although the U.S. battle
fleet didn’t engage in any
major fleet actions during
the war, the Navy nevertheless contributed to the Allied
victory. That said, the Great
White Fleet of capital ships
so carefully built up by Theodore Roosevelt did have to
adapt to an entirely new
kind of war, one for which
it had not been designed. It
was the smaller warships—
destroyers, subchasers, submarines, minesweepers, etc.
—that were to see most of
the action. The battleships
made an appearance, but
mainly as a deterrent to
Germany’s High Seas Fleet,
which would not sortie again
until the war was over.
World War I prompted
the U.S. Navy to develop new
warships and new ways of
using them. The conflict also
witnessed the introduction
of naval aviation in the form
of seaplanes and flying boats.
It had yet to mature into the
carrier-based aviation that
was to play so pivotal a role
in the next war.
—Robert Guttman
Rendezvous With Death:
The Americans Who Joined
the Foreign Legion in
1914 to Fight for France
and Civilization, by
David Hanna, Regnery
History, Washington, D.C.,
2016, $29.99
The Americans who rushed
to fight for France in 1914
today may appear naive idealists. But while a few sought
adventure, those who volunteered more often regarded
World War I as a crusade
to save civilization from
Teutonic militarism.
When war erupted in August 1914 many sympathetic
Americans answered the
call. Hanna focuses on seven
volunteers, touching on
nearly 30 others who rushed
to the Tricolor by year’s end.
The magnifique seven included Ivy Leaguers, an artist, an ad man and a boxer.
The best known was poet
Alan Seeger, uncle of future
folk singer Pete Seeger.
As enlistment in the Legion was nominally legal
for Americans, Hanna’s
subjects took that route. In
the industrialized slaughter of the Western Front,
many of the American volunteers lost their idealism, though most remained
in the French service. Three
of the seven—Kiffin Rockwell, Victor Chapman and
William Thaw—transferred
from the legion to the Aéronautique Militaire, helping form the Lafayette
Escadrille. Five other enlistees later joined them in
the air service.
Hanna’s main source for
the history of the escadrille
is Herbert Molloy Mason’s
outdated 1964 history, and
Hanna repeats myths about
wartime aviation, such as the
preponderance of canvascovered aircraft and the twoweek life expectancy of new
pilots. Overall, though, Rendezvous With Death hits on
all cylinders with its depiction of a conflict with
present-day ramifications.
—Barrett Tillman
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Hallowed Ground
Bushyy Run Battlefield,
ollowing Britain’s 1763 victory in the French and
Indian War, Crown authorities earned the ire of
tribes previously allied with the French by allowing
settlers to occupy Indian lands in violation of treaty
terms. Assuming the British intended to drive them
out or destroy them, many called for action. The
frontier exploded into Pontiac’s War, named after
the Ottawa chief who helped organize a confederation of disaffected Indians from across the Great Lakes region and Ohio
and Mississippi valleys, including a few thousand Ottowas,
Ojibwes (Chippewas), Potawatomies, Hurons, Miamis, Kickapoos, Delawares, Shawnees, Mingos, Wyandots and Senecas.
Maj. Gen. Sir Jeffery Amherst, Britain’s North American
commander, sought to establish Crown authority on the frontier and reaffirm claims to the Ohio Valley. He tasked Swissborn Colonel Henry Bouquet with relieving British forts west
of the Allegheny Mountains, the most formidable of which
was Fort Pitt, with other key garrisons at Detroit and Niagara.
Indian forces laid siege to Fort Detroit in May, Pitt in
June and other British forts on into summer. Fort Pitt commander Captain Simon Ecuyer—like Bouquet, a professional Swiss officer—fortified his defenses, but his supply line
to the east was problematic, as Forts Bedford and Ligonier
were small and difficult to reinforce. In late June Amherst
dispatched detachments of Scottish Highlanders from the
42nd and 77th regiments of foot from New York to Carlisle,
Pa., to join Bouquet and the 60th (Royal American) regiment
in relief of Fort Pitt. Bouquet first reinforced Forts Loudoun,
Bedford and Ligonier, but the fate of Pitt was uncertain, given
that Forts Presque Isle, Le Boeuf and Venango had all fallen.
The resolute Bouquet had assembled nearly three-dozen
wagons, some 340 packhorses and thousands of pounds of
flour and gunpowder. Meanwhile, a relief force under Captain James Dalyell had crossed Lake Erie seeking to relieve
Fort Detroit, but on July 31 Pontiac’s men met and defeated
Dalyell’s column at the Battle of Bloody Run. Fort Pitt remained cut off as Bouquet arrived at Fort Ligonier two days
later. Leaving the wagons behind, he set out on August 4
with the packhorses and some 450 soldiers for a rapid march
to beleaguered Pitt. Bouquet planned to rest and water the
horses at Bushy Run, an outpost roughly midway between
Ligonier and Pitt. But the Indians besieging Pitt learned of
his approach, and on August 5 they ambushed the column
at Edge Hill, a mile east of Bushy Run.
Bouquet consolidated his forces around the supply train,
using flour bags to protect the wounded. On the morning
of August 6 the Indians renewed their attack. The British repulsed several assaults, but the situation looked bleak. Bouquet then hatched a plan to lure the enemy into a killing zone.
Ordering two companies to withdraw in seeming resignation, he prompted the overconfident Indians to advance
into the gap. As the latter penetrated the line, two companies
positioned out of sight behind a hill struck the enemy’s right
flank. The surprised Indians retreated across the front of two
stationary companies, who raked them with fire. The four
companies then chased off the survivors. Bouquet later reported British losses as 50 killed, 60 wounded and five missing. Though difficult to determine, contemporaries estimated
Indian losses as upward of 50 dead, with an undetermined
number of casualties spirited away by surviving braves.
After the battle Bouquet marched his men to water at
Bushy Run. After destroying any supplies they could not
carry, they proceeded with caution, making the 25-mile
march to Fort Pitt in four days. With the road to Fort Pitt
reopened, the British evacuated noncombatants and resumed supply convoys. In the autumn of 1764 Bouquet,
then in command of Fort Pitt, led nearly 1,500 British soldiers and militiamen more than 100 miles into the Ohio
country. At the Muskingum River (near present-day Coshocton) tribal representatives sued for peace and returned more
than 200 white captives. Bouquet earned promotion to brigadier general and was given command of British forces in the
southern colonies. But in 1765 he died in Florida—likely of
yellow fever—forever prompting speculation as to what role
he might have played in the coming American Revolution.
Now a state historic site, Bushy Run Battlefield [bushy] recalls the past with re-enactments,
tours and interpretive and educational programs. MH
By William John Shepherd
British forces under Colonel Henry Bouquet repulsed several Indian
attacks (above) before drawing the enemy into a devastating trap.
Today Bushy Run Battlefield is a Pennsylvania state historic site.
War Games
Civil War Roman Style
Can you match the following
Roman civil war clashes to
their victorious commanders?
Colline Gate, 82 BC
Pistoia, 62 BC
Dyrrhachium, 48 BC
Thapsus, 46 BC
Alexandria, 30 BC
First Bedriacum, AD 69
Second Bedriacum, AD 69
Lugdunum, AD 197
Margus River, AD 285
Milvian Bridge, AD 312
____ A.
____ B.
____ C.
____ D.
____ E.
____ F.
____ G.
____ H.
____ I.
____ J.
Marcus Antonius Primus
Aulus Vitellius
Gaius Julius Caesar
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Septimius Severus
Antonius Hybrida
Answers: A9, B5, C10, D7, E6, F4, G3, H1, I8, J2
Border Patrol
Identify these weapons used by India and Pakistan from 1947 to present.
____ A.
____ B.
____ C.
____ D.
____ E.
Martin B-57 Canberra (PAF)
Dassault Mirage 5 (PAF)
HAL HF-24 Marut (IAF)
M24 Chaffee (Pakistan)
English Electric Canberra (IAF)
____ F. PT-76 (India)
____ G. M47 (Pakistan)
____ H. HAL Type 77 (IAF)
____ I. Shenyang F-6 (PAF)
____ J. Centurion (India)
Answers: A9, B8, C1, D3, E5, F2, G6, H10, I4, J7
The Wild, Wild East
It was Indians east of the Mississippi
who first sought to keep settlers from
sweeping across North America.
Fallen Timbers (1794)
1. What English moniker for
Wampanoag Chief Metacomet
gave name to a 1675–76 war?
A. Squanto
B. King Philip
C. Massasoit D. John Sassamon
2. Who in John Forbes’ expedition
led the 77th Highlanders to a
bloody setback at the hands
of the French and Indians on
Sept. 14, 1758?
A. George Washington
B. Henry Bouquet
C. James Grant of Ballindalloch
D. Hugh Mercer
4. Who led the Shawnees in
1791 to the greatest Indian
victory ever against the
U.S. Army?
A. Buckongahelas
B. Tecumseh
C. Michikinikwa
D. Weyapiersenwah
Answers: B, C, C, D
3. Who trained and led the Legion
of the United States at the
1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers?
A. Henry Lee
B. Daniel Morgan
C. Anthony Wayne
D. Benjamin Lincoln
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ammunition belts out to dry after a heavy rain.
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