The years long struggle between the Royal Navy, and the U-boats and surface raiders of the German Kriegsmarine to cut off Great Britain of supplies from the Americas and Asia during the Second World War is usually known as the Battle of the Atlantic. However, this is misleading because that fight took place across the world’s oceans, and nowhere fiercer than the southern reaches of the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The shipping lanes around South America and South Africa were prime targets, not for the resource heavy U boats, but for the hilfkreuzers, or auxiliary cruisers, essentially fast merchantmen armed with guns scavenged from obsolete First World War warships. They were the scourge of the South Seas. Though they were no match for any proper naval ships, they preyed on the merchantmen far from the naval bases of the North Atlantic. Ton for ton they were the most effective commerce raiders in the German Navy. And none was more feared than HK 2 “Pinguin”
By early 1941, the Pinguin had already sunk or captured over 100,000 tons of shipping, and sent more than few back to Nazi occupied France with prize crews. She had two seaplanes for scouting, a plethora of cannon, two torpedo tubes, and carried more than 300 mines. She survived almost exclusively on the captured stores of her victims and routinely posed as a Norwegian freighter to evade the Allied navies. (The Norwegian navy and merchant marine were under the control of Great Britain after its occupation by Germany in the summer of 1940.)
On Christmas Eve 1940, while prowling the seas near South Georgia Island, the Pinguin intercepted a message between two Norwegian ships on a whaling expedition off of Antarctica. Posing as a supply ship on 14 January 1941, the Pinguin appeared out of the fog and slipped next to the whaling fleet’s factory ships. Her crew quickly and quietly boarded and overtook them. Then with a bit of speed, subterfuge, and distributed decisive action, took control of all of the whalers and the supply ships. In a bloodless victory, the Pinguin captured the entire Norwegian national whaling fleet of 14 ships, totaling 36,000 tons of shipping, 10,000 tons of fuel oil, and enough whale oil to supply the German Navy for a year. Additionally, prize crews would take all but two of the ships back to France where the factory ships were converted into auxiliary cruisers, and the whalers into minelayers.
In Berlin, Admiral Raeder was ecstatic at the news, and immediately issued orders for other German surface forces to break out into the Atlantic. (If a slow, lightly armed merchantman could do such damage, imagine what a real cruiser, of even a battleship, could do? …or so the thinking went.) In early February the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made a successful foray into the Atlantic. Although the shipping sunk was limited, their sortie threw the convoy system into chaos as the Royal Navy reacted. Buoyed by the success, Raeder began planning an even bolder sortie to unleash the most powerful German battleship into the Atlantic: the Bismarck.
During the American Revolutionary War, it is generally agreed that 1/3 of the population of the Thirteen Colonies supported independence from Great Britain, 1/3 did not, and 1/3 were on the fence, falling on whichever side seemed to be the most advantageous at the time. On 10 January, 1776, a small pamphlet, Common Sense, was published in Philadelphia by an anonymous author which immediately unified the 1/3 that supported independence from Great Britain, and a good many of the fence sitters, if only temporarily.
Penned by Thomas Paine, an English born recent immigrant to America, Common Sense provided an easily digestible and, pardon the pun, common sense argument on why American independence was not just desirable for the Thirteen Colonies, but for mankind itself, particularly those that languished under a dictatorial absolute monarch. (Which, to be fair, the British monarchy wasn’t, but perception is reality.)
Unlike most Enlightenment treatises, which targeted other scholars, Paine’s target audience was America’s lower and middle classes. He eschewed the appeals to authority to obscure Greek and Roman thinkers, as Voltaire, Rousseau, and even Franklin were wont to do, and made his case, convincingly, through straight logic emphasized by Bible quotes for his primarily devout Protestant working class audience.
Common Sense flew off the printing presses and is the bestselling book in American history. It is the high water mark of Enlightenment literature and so influential that the future Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, Polish Constitution of 1791, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen were direct results of the mere 48 page pamphlet.
There are no asterisks, and Common Sense is just as relevant today as it was 245 years ago.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is Required Reading for Humanity.
“I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.”
“Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happinesspositively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”
“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
“In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places; which in plain terms, is to impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.”
Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
“Small islands, not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.”
In December 1780, the Southern Department’s new commander, Major General Nathaniel Greene, split the remains of the Continental Army in the Carolinas with the recently promoted Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. Though unconventional, splitting the army allowed Greene the most foraging, resupply, and recruiting area to rebuild the remnant of the Continental Army he inherited after its destruction at Camden in August. While rebuilding his army in his new basecamp at Cheraw South Carolina, Greene would keep an eye on Cornwallis at Winnsboro, and operate against the British and Loyalists on the east side of the Broad River. Morgan would operate on the west side of the Broad River, resupply and rebuild his force with what little that remained of the militia that won the Battle of King’s Mountain, and to “give protection . . . and spirit up the people” in the midst of the vicious Patriot and Loyalist civil war being waged in the Carolinas and Georgia.
From his camp at Grindal Shoals on the Pacelot River, Morgan received word that a raiding party of 250 Georgian loyalists was about 20 miles away at Fair Forest destroying Patriot settlements and farms between the Loyalist stronghold at Ninety-Six and Winnsboro. On 27 December 1780, Morgan dispatched Lieutenant Colonel William Washington (a distant cousin of George Washington) and 85 Continental Dragoons with 200 Carolina and Georgia mounted militia to attack the Loyalists. The Loyalists quickly learned of the Washington’s mission and fled back towards Ninety-Six. Washington caught up to the Loyalists at Hammond’s Old Store on the Bush River on 30 December after a hard 40 mile ride.
Washington’s mounted force crested a hill and unexpectedly saw the Loyalists formed up on the top of the hill opposite them. The dragoons wasted no time and “gave a shout, drew swords, and charged like mad” across the saddle between the hills. The militia followed. The Loyalists immediately broke, and mounted Continentals and Patriots cut them down. Morgan later reported 100 Loyalists killed, fifty wounded, and forty captured without a single Patriot casualty, making the “Battle” of Hammond’s Store one of the costliest Loyalist defeats in the South to date in the war.
Most of the Loyalists who survived the Patriot onslaught fled towards “William’s Fort”, a Loyalist stockade about seven miles to the south, just outside Ninety-Six. Washington sent Colonel Joseph Hayes’ Little River Regiment of Militia with ten dragoons under Cornet James Simon to pursue and take the fort. When Simon arrived at William’s Fort, he gave the Loyalist commander, Brigadier General Robert Cunningham thirty minutes to surrender before he attacked. Cunningham was a popular and charismatic loyalist leader and was recently promoted to brigadier general by Cornwallis. Cunningham was so popular and prominent a local leader that in 1778 he was elected to South Carolina’s pro-Patriot Provincial Congress. Cornwallis entrusted to him command of all Loyalists in the region around Ninety-Six and expected him to clear the Carolina backcountry after Ferguson’s failure at King’s Mountain. But when confronted by the fiery young Continental officer, possibly with fresh tales of massacre at Hammond’s Store still echoing in his ears (there were a disproportionate number of dead to wounded and captured at the earlier battle), Cunningham abandoned William’s Fort after most of his men deserted. Hayes and Simon attacked when they recognized what was happening, and inflicted five more dead and thirty more wounded and captured on the Loyalists. The Patriots then gathered what stores they could, and not wishing to run afoul of any relief force from Ninety Six, returned to Washington at Hammond’s Store, and then back to Morgan at Grindal Shoals.
The Burning of William’s Fort and especially the Battle of Hammond’s Store shocked Cornwallis. Cornwallis’ first report was that Morgan had an army of 3000 that was marching on Ninety-Six to finally clear that thorn in the Patriots’ side, and Hammond’s Store was just the beginning. Cornwallis quickly found out that Morgan had less than 2000, but he could no longer ignore Morgan and concentrate on re-invading North Carolina. The Patriot capture of Ninety-Six, a post “of so much consequence” to the Loyalist cause, or even worse, Augusta, would unravel his campaign in the Southern Colonies and give Greene even more much needed time to rebuild at Cheraw.
On New Year’s Day, 1781, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton received a dispatch from Lord Cornwallis to move toward Ninety-Six and with his British Legion and 71st Regiment, defend against any attack by Morgan. The next day, Tarleton learned Washington withdrew and that Ninety-Six was in no immediate danger. The impetuous Tarleton decided to attack. Following Cornwallis’ intent, Tarleton proposed pushing Morgan towards King’s Mountain where he, and if they were lucky Greene, could be trapped and destroyed by the combined weight of Tarleton’s and Cornwallis’ commands.
Of course that plan didn’t come to fruition, but what did happen was the Patriot victory at Hammond’s Store set in motion a chain of events which led directly to the Battle of Cowpens two weeks later on 17 January 1781.
In 1648, Bohdan Khmelnitskiy’s Zaporozhian Cossacks revolted against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and with their Crimean Tartar allies began the end of the Commonwealth’s “Golden Age”. In 1652, the Cossacks and Tartars defeated the Crown Army at the Battle Batih, and Khmelnitskiy ransomed the Polish and Ruthenian prisoners from the Tartars and massacred them, eliminating the Commonwealth’s most experienced soldiers. With the cream of the Commonwealth’s army dead at Batih, Russia invaded the Commonwealth in 1654. With the Commonwealth fighting for survival in the east against the Tartars, Cossacks, and Russians, Sweden invaded from Pomerania to the northwest. Swedish King Charles X Gustav planned to break up the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, reduce the Duchy of Lithuania to a Swedish protectorate, and make good his claim to the Polish crown.
The Swedes brought fire and sword to parts of Poland and Lithuanian that had not known war for 200 years. The victorious Swedes slaughtered, raped and plundered Poland’s most populous and prosperous provinces. They ravaged Royal Prussia, Sieradz, Poznan, Mazovia, and Greater and Lesser Poland whom all quickly fell to the advancing Swedes. The capital of Warsaw was taken and sacked in September 1655, the ancient capital of Krakow in October, and King Jan II Casimir fled to Silesia in November. Lithuania dissolved the Union. The Swedish and tide swept over the Commonwealth, and this period of Polish history is known as “The Deluge”.
On 8 November 1655, a small Swedish army, of about 4000 mostly German mercenaries and Polish Protestants under Swedish General Burchard Müller von der Lühne, approached the town of Czçestochowa, a prosperous merchant town on the border of Lesser and Greater Poland. But Czçestochowa’s riches weren’t just temporal; they were also spiritual. On a hill overlooking the town, the Pauline monastery of Jasna Góra, “the Hill of Light”, housed Catholic Poland’s most sacred relic: The Black Madonna of Częstochowa. Legend has it that The Black Madonna was originally painted by St. Luke the Evangelist on the Holy Family’s cedar table top. The sacred icon was eventually presented to Constantine the Great in 326, and made its way from Constantinople through Hungary and Ukraine and eventually to Poland in the 14th century. With the widespread destruction of Catholic churches, icons, and relics during the Thirty Years’ War still fresh in the minds of the monks, they decided to defend the monastery against the Swedes.
A turncoat Polish noble, Count Jan Wejchard of Wrzeszczewicz, demanded that the monks turn the monastery over to him for “protection”, then after refusal tried to intimidate them with Müller’s approaching army. Father Augustyn Kordecki, the Prior of Jasna Góra responded, “It is better to die worthily, than to live impiously.” The monks also promised to denounce him and sanction any uprisings in his lands. The Count of Wrzeszczewicz’s men ravaged the monastery’s possessions outside the walls, and the Count hastened to the Swedes with encouragment to attack immediately. However, Müller was a professional and a veteran of the Thirty Years War, and standing at the foot of the hill looking up toward Jasna Góra, he respected its numerous artillery, thick bastions, and strong position.
In 1616, the reforms of King Sigismund III Vasa included the construction of walls and bastions to protect Polish Catholicism’s most holy site. Sigismund’s defensive improvements turned the monastery into a fortress, and were validated by the harsh lessons of the Thirty Years War. It 1655, the monastery was well stocked with cannon and powder, and Kordecki purchased 60 muskets to arm the 70 monks prepared to defend the monastery against the Swedes. Kordeki also hired 160 mercenaries and they were joined by 20 szlachta, or petty gentry, led by Piotr Czarniecki and Stephan Zamoyski, and 60 other local townspeople and peasants, who sought refuge in the monastery. Just before the siege, 12 cannon with crews, provisions and cattle, arrived from Krakow, sent by Stanislaw Warszycki, the First Lord of Wawel Castle. The monastery’s defenders were still woefully outnumbered by the approaching Swedish army, but Kordeki’s stronghold was well supplied and more importantly had a considerable advantage in artillery, both in quantity and quality. The monks’ cannon were simply larger, heavier, and more numerous. In an attempt to avoid the otherwise inevitable bloody and tough assault, Müller demanded the monks’ surrender in a letter to the Prior. Father Kordeki wrote later, “It was no longer the hour to write, but to take up arms… We answered by the muzzles of our cannons…”
The first Swedish assault on 18 November 1655 was savagely repulsed by the monks and the defenders of Jasna Góra, so much so that night Müller asked for a truce. The next day the Swedes hid their cannon in the town in preparation for another assault. The monks bombarded the town with incendiaries to destroy the town’s winter stores of grain so they couldn’t be used by the Swedes, and remove any cover for the Swedish artillery. The fires in the town forced the Swedes into the streets and fields where they were again easy targets for the Polish gunners. Müller again attempted to negotiate with Kordeki, this time pointing out that the entire country had surrendered to the Swedes, no Polish army was coming to relive the monastery, and his victory was inevitable. Kordeki refused. The Swedes settled in for a siege and began digging trenches at night. With preparations complete, on Sunday, 21 November, the Feast of Our Lady, Müller again presented demands. After making Müller wait all day while the monks celebrated mass and processed the Blessed Sacrament inside the walls, Kordeki answered with a simple negative.
The infuriated Swedes launched a three day assault on the monastery. There was hard fighting but the decision was never in doubt. Swedish attempts to burn down the monastery with incendiaries were met with organized firefighting efforts by the monks. Also, singing by the monks in the sanctuary during the assaults both demoralized and enraged the Swedes. On the night of 28 November, Piotr Czarniecki, the commandant of Krakow led a surprise sortie against the battered Swedish lines. Czarniecki and his men snuck out of the monastery, made their way through the Swedish trenches, and attacked the Swedish camp from the rear. They killed many officers in their tents, including Müller’s artillery commander, and destroyed two cannon, though at least one account says they were captured and brought back to the monastery. The confusion and fires in the Swedish lines caused by the sortie provided further targets and more Swedes fell to Jasna Gora’s gunners. For the loss of one man, Czarniecki inflicted dozens of Swedish casualties. Czarniecki’s sortie and the failure of the latest assault convinced Müller that he needed reinforcements and especially heavier cannon to take the fortress, which he requested from Arvid Wittenberg, the commander of the Swedish army that just seized Krakow.
While Müller waited, he continued his information war against the monks. He knew Kordeki read every proposal for their surrender to the entirety of garrison. Müller repeatedly stated that he’d respect the Catholic relics, allow the garrison amnesty, and, to provide a stick for the carrots, warned the garrison that further resistance only encouraged revenge against them and their families. Kordeki’s transparency initially worked against the Swedes. The Swedish actions in the previous year were well known, and the Poles had no reason to believe Swedish attitudes regarding Catholicism and the Commonwealth had changed. Nonetheless, the Swedish propaganda began to wear on the garrison, especially when it was delivered by respected Polish figures, such as the Prior of Wielun or Polish nobles who had previously fought the Swedes.
In the beginning of December, word was given to Kordeki that several of the garrison planned to defect. Kordeki immediately addressed the garrison and expelled the traitors. To prevent another such crisis in faith, the mercenaries were given an advance on their pay, and the defense reorganized. Older and more trustworthy monks were given charges to look after and dual command of each bastion was given to a noble and a monk. During this time, Müller threatened the lives of two monks who were hostages, unless the monastery capitulated. Unfortunately for the captured monks, the Swedes attempted to reposition their cannon and informed the garrison that if they interfered, the captives would be hung. Unwilling to risk the sanctity of the garrison for the monks lives, Kordeki ordered his guns to fire. Alternating bouts of fighting and negotiating continued, but Kordeki and Jasna Góra’s defenders were mostly resolute, if at times wavering in the face of overwhelming Swedish force.
On 10 December, Müller’s reinforcements arrived, including two 24 pound cannon, which inflicted significant damage on the northern bastion. But before they could create a breach, another sortie on 14 December, this one led by Stephan Zamoyski, destroyed a redoubt and one of the 24 pounders. Zamoyski sortied again on the 20th, collapsing a mine the Swedes were digging and killing the miners, destroying two more cannon, and massacring isolated Swedish detachments in the trenches. During the raid a cannonball devastated a tent where several Swedish officers were dining, killing all of the revelers. The Swedes suspended operations for two days to recover from the chaos caused by Zamoyski. Buoyed by the success, recent news of Polish victories, and the rumor of a Tartar army coming to the aid of the Commonwealth against their mutual enemies, all talk of capitulation among the garrison ended.
After the rejection of Christmas truce, Müller launched his largest, and final, assault on the monastery Christmas Day. During this climactic battle, both Swedish and turncoat Polish sources reference divine intervention: a “lady of a menacing countenance”, whom the Swedes referred to as a “witch”, who roamed the walls and used both blinding light and uneven fogs to sow terror and misdirect the aims of Swedish gunners. Swedes also spoke of a “venerable old man” clad in a “white mantle” who “swiped from the air” Swedish projectiles, and whose sword fell dead any Swedish soldier it pointed upon. Whether divine intervention or not saved Jasna Góra is a matter of faith, but both sides certainly believed at the time that the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul interceded on the Poles’ behalf. What cannot be disputed is that the final attack, and the siege, came to an effective end when the remaining 24 pound cannon malfunctioned and exploded. The explosion was most likely caused by a reused cannonball, which had previously hit the walls and rolled back down the hill. Reusing cannonballs was a common practice, and this one was probably cracked, and when it was re-fired, the crack in the projectile expanded and destroyed the barrel.
Unable to take the monastery by force, Müller attempted one last chance to save face: he offered to lift the siege for 60,000 thalers. Kordeki replied that he would have accepted the offer in November, but in December he needed the money to repair the damage done to the monastery by the Swedish guns. Müller lifted the Siege of Jasna Góra on 27 December, after he learned of nearby Polish victories by Colonel Gabriel Wojniłłowicz, which rendered his position untenable.
The monastery at Jasna Góra was the only significant fortress in the Commonwealth not to fall to the invaders during the Deluge. Its successful defense galvanized Commonwealth resistance against the Swedes, Cossacks, Russians, and traitorous Poles and Lithuanians. Father Kordeki and his defenders saved the heart of Polish Catholicism, although its most sacred icon, The Black Madonna of Częstochowa, was spirited away and hidden in a nearby monastery prior to the enemy’s arrival, with a copy remaining during the siege. The icon was quietly returned after the victory. The new Commonwealth resistance was not entirely due to the victory. The tide of the war began to change in December 1655 with the King’s and Wojniłłowicz’ victories, the death of Lithuanian traitor Janusz Radziwiłł, the arrival of Tartar host, and the beginning of a New Russo-Swedish war in Livonia. Nonetheless, across the Commonwealth, Poles, Lithuanians, Ruthenians, and Belorussians rose up to fight the invaders, inspired by the victory. The Count of Wrzeszczewicz was seized and beaten to death by “peasants armed with rods”. Most significantly, the victory at Jasna Góra gave impetus to the establishment of the Tyszowce Confederation on 29 December and consolidation of various uprisings into new armies under the remaining Grand Hetmans. On Sunday, 1 April 1656, King Jan II Casimir gave the Lwów Oath at Easter Mass, proclaiming the Blessed Virgin Mary perpetual Queen of Poland, and announced “Poland, if thou fightest for Mary, thou shalt be terrible to the followers of Hell.”
By 1658, Swedish forces were thrown out Poland, and would not return until the Great Northern War forty years later. King Charles X Gustav of Sweden died of pneumonia in 1660.
In October 1775, the Continental Army besieging Boston was in desperate need of supplies, primarily gunpowder. From spies in England, Continental Congress learned of supply ships that traveled regularly from London to Nassau in the Caribbean and authorized the purchase and outfitting of two ships to capture them. They purchased the Philadelphia merchantman, Black Prince, from Continental Congressman Robert Morris on 13 October (birthday of the US Navy), renamed her the Alfred, and outfitted her as a ten gun sloop-of-war.
To differentiate American warships from British warships, the 13 Colonies needed a flag. In November, Continental Congress adopted the red British Ensign with the addition of 13 white stripes on the red field and called it the Grand Union Flag. The optimistic thinking behind the design was that it allowed American crews of captured British vessels the ease of creating a new flag to fly over their prize by just sewing white stripes on the captured British ensigns. In any case, it was the first American national flag, and it was raised for the first time on 3 December 1775 at the commissioning ceremony of the Alfred. LTG George Washington would raise the Grand Union Flag for the first time at the Continental Army encampment outside Boston on New Year’s Day 1776.
For two months, Gen Archibald Wavell, commander of British Forces in the Middle East, had watched the slow buildup of more than 140,000 Italian men and their supplies around Sidi Barrani since its capture in September. Gen Wavell could not lose Egypt and the Suez Canal, and he was grossly outnumbered with only 36,000 troops. So he decided to attack.
On 8 December, 1940, troops of the Maj Gen Richard O’Conner’s Western Desert Force, the Red Eagles of the 4th Indian Division and the Desert Rats of the British 7th Armored Division, moved into assault positions for what they thought was another training exercise. They had been training all week on what they didn’t know were exact mock ups of Italian positions around Sidi Barrani that were identified by the Long Range Desert Group. In the morning of 9 December, Wavell launched Operation Compass. Initially, British and Indian artillery bombarded the Italian base camps also id’d by the LRDG. Later that morning, the Western Desert Force attacked.
The Italian defense was completely surprised and almost immediately collapsed. In three days, the British overran the Italian camps around Sidi Barrani and took over 38,000 prisoners, suffering just 650 casualties.
Around 850 CE, the Vikings stopped looking at England and Ireland as places to raid or seek mercenary work, but as places to colonize and settle. In 865, the Vikings banded together and formed what the Saxons called “The Great Heathen Army”. Under the leadership of Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan,Ubba, Sigurd Snake-Eye, and Bjorn Ironside i.e. the sons of semi-legendary Viking warlord Ragnar Lothbrok, the Great Heathen Army conquered the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia, and formed the Danelaw, where Saxon law held no sway.
In 871, only the kingdom of Wessex still stood against the Danelaw, and in early January the Vikings invaded. On 4 January, the Saxon ealdorman Aethelwulf defeated a large raiding party at the Battle of Englefield which forced the Viking army to establish a camp at Reading to reorganize. On 6 January Aethelwulf was joined by the main West Saxon army led by King Aethelred and his younger brother Alfred. Aethelred immediately attacked the camp at Reading, where Halfdan Lothbrok’s men ambushed and defeated the Saxons, and forced their retreat.
Aethelred retreated to the Ashdown fields closely pursued by the entire Viking host. On the morning of 9 January 871, the West Saxon army was arrayed on a ridge while the Vikings approached in a much disorganized manner. Not waiting for his brother Aethelred to finish prayers, young Alfred seized the moment and ordered the Saxon army to attack. The hasty Viking shield wall held for a time but the disciplined and well led Saxon shield wall eventually broke them. Ashdown was a stunning and much needed West Saxon tactical victory but it was hardly decisive and the war would continue for many years. (Neither side had cavalry, the Combat Arm of Decision, and could not pursue and destroy a retreating army after a victory)
However, the Battle of Ashdown would cement Alfred’s leadership of the West Saxon army. In April, King Aethelred died and Alfred would be crowned King of Wessex despite Aethelred’s two sons. Over the next ten years Alfred would lose all of Wessex to the Great Heathen Army… but then subsequently regain it, reconquer the Danelaw, and unify the disparate Anglo Saxon kingdoms into greater England. For this he would forever be known as King Alfred the Great.
Our history is filled with death but in its annals there have only been a handful of singular deaths that set forward momentous events that changed the natural course of history. Off the top of my head, these include the deaths of Jesus of Nazareth, Cao Cao, Charlemagne, Ogedei Khan, and England’s Edward the Confessor.
In the tenth and early eleventh century, England was at a crossroads: would it be subject to the influences (and influencing) of continental Europe? Or would it be culturally isolated as part of Scandinavia? This question may seem ludicrous to us today, but there’s a reason the ninth century’s Alfred the Great is the only English monarch in history with the epithet “the Great” – it is because he fought off and eventually absorbed the great Viking invasions of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, uniting them and preventing them from becoming mere Viking colonies, like Iceland or Greenland.
In 1065 all of Alfred’s work hung in balance: his great great grandson Edward the Confessor (known so for his piety) was without heir. Upon his death on 5 January 1066, there were four claimants to his thrown: his nephew Edgar, a sickly boy of fourteen, Harold Godwinson, a Saxon earl with ties to the Kingdom of Denmark, Harold Hardrada, the Viking King of Norway, and his cousin William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy. On 6 January 1066, Harold Godwinson was crowned by the King’s Council, but the issue was far from decided.
Edward’s death set in motion one of the great dramas in history and would eventually decide the fate of a continent: Would England permanently entrench itself inside Europe and become the incubator for reforms and ideas that Western Civilization so desperately needed? Or would England continue to be a Viking playground? The matter would only be resolved ten months later on a hill just outside of a small town in south east England:
This is my reading list; there are many like it, but this one is not in Comic Sans. These used to be the books that were on my office bookshelf when I had an office, or the top shelves on my home office bookshelf when I don’t. I’ve expanded the list, but they’ll all still fit on a single standard bookshelf. I actually own and have read my recommended reading list. It doesn’t change based on the Flavor of the Month flag officer’s reading list, though it will change obviously if I read something worthy of it. For example, my Top Five had two new additions in the previous eighteen months when I first created this list.
Many will scoff at some of the titles (The “eye rolls” will be strong with some of you, but that’s ok because you’re smarter than me), but these books are the most important and useful professional development, history, or common interest books that I’ve read. I highly recommend every one of them. You’ll notice that they’re books for all ages because letting someone borrow one is the quickest way to get them to read it. And some of these books are on their fourth and fifth copies because I never ask for them back as long the borrower reads them (It’s a small price to pay).
If I should die tomorrow, I expect these books on a shelf next to the bar at my wake.
Bukowski’s Top Five
Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, Field-Marshal Viscount William Slim – Required reading for every military officer. The chapters on training and lessons learned are solid gold.
Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance, James L Ritchie-Dunham – If you are in the military, don’t let the description dissuade you, Mr. Ritchie-Dunham NAILED Mission Command. “Elegant” is the only word that is appropriate. If you deal in Mission Command and you haven’t read it, the conversation has moved beyond you.
Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power, Victor Davis Hanson – “The Warrior” vs “The Soldier” laid out like TA-50.
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour, James D. Hornfischer – “This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.” LCDR Robert W. Copeland USNR, Capt. of the USS Samuel B Roberts “The Destroyer That Fought Like a Battleship” 25 October 1944.
Rwanda, Inc.: How a Devastated Nation Became an Economic Model for the Developing World, Patricia Crisafulli – Required reading for Humanity. There really is hope.
Mission Command: the Who, What Where When and Why, An Anthology Vols I & II, Donald Vandergriff and Stephen Weber
Taking the Guidon: Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level, Nate Allen and Tony Burgess
The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, Elliot A Cohen
Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, Robert Corham
The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error In Complex Situations, Dietrich Dorner
The Top Ten Leadership Commandments, Hans Finzel
The Systems Bible: The Beginner’s Guide to Systems Large and Small, John Gall
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
How To Say It Best, Jack Griffin
Acts of War: Behavior of Men in Battle, Richard Holmes
Maneuver Warfare, an Anthology, Richard D Hooker
System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life, Robert Jervis
The Logic of Violence in Civil War, Stathis N. Kalyvas
Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, Maureen Metcalf
Neostoicism and the Early Modern State, Gerhard Oestreich
Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Frans PB Osinga
The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806, Peter Paret
Wavell in the Middle East, 1939–1941: A Study in Generalship, Harold E. Raugh Jr.
An Introduction to Military Ethics: A Reference Handbook, Bill Rhodes
Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance, James L Ritchie-Dunham
The Global Public Relations Handbook, Revised and Expanded Edition: Theory, Research, and Practice, Krishnamurthy Sriramesh and Dejan Vercic
The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness, Jonas Salzgeber
The Greenhill Dictionary Of Military Quotations, Peter G. Tsouras
Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty, Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe
The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805, Charles Edward White
Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals, Saul Alinsky
Logic Made Easy: How to Know When Language Deceives You, Deborah J. Bennett
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini
Influence: Science and Practice, Robert B. Cialdini
Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Jacques Ellul
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer
Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond, Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman
What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins
Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson
Counter-Democracy: Politics in the Age of Distrust, Pierre Rosanvallon
From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, Gene Sharp
General Military History/Theory
Composite Warfare, Eeben Barlow
The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, Max Boot
The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815, Tim Blanning
On War, Carl von Clausewitz
Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, David Galula
Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power, Victor Davis Hanson
Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present, William Murray and Peter Mansoor
Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Peter Paret
Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times, Peter Paret
One Hundred Unorthodox Strategies: Battle And Tactics Of Chinese Warfare, Ralph D. Sawyer
Definitive Military History
The Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson
Crete: the Battle and the Resistance, Anthony Beevor
La Grande Army, Georges Blonde
Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell, Peter Caddick-Adams
The Triumph, HW Crocker III
White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920 and The Miracle on the Vistula, Norman Davies
Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac’s Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America, David Dixon
Closing With the Enemy: How GIs Fought the War in Europe, 1944-1945, Michael D. Doubler
When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House
An Improvised War: The Abyssinia Campaign 1940-1941, Michael Glover
El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, Ioan Grillo
A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, Victor Davis Hanson
In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr
The Story of the U.S. Cavalry, 1775-1942, John K Herr
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour, James D. Hornfischer
Neptune’s Inferno,The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, James D. Hornfischer
The Peloponnesian War, Robert Kagan
The Armada, Gareth Mattingly
Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, Field-Marshal Viscount William Slim
The Pacific War Trilogy, Ian Toll
The Fatal Knot: The Guerrilla War in Navarre and the Defeat of Napoleon in Spain, John Lawrence Tone
The Big Red One: America’s Legendary 1st Infantry Division, James Scott Wheeler
Hue, 1968, Mark Bowden
Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu, Bernard Fall
Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, HR McMaster
Dispatches, Michael Herr
Summons of Trumpet, Dave Palmer
Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, John A. Nagl and Peter J. Schoomaker
A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, Lewis Sorley
The Village, Bing West
Sword and the Scimitar, Raymond Ibrahim
The Quranic Concept of War, Brig S. K. Malik
The Arab Mind, Raphael Patai
Milestones, Sayed Qutb
The Unraveling, Emma Sky
Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad, David Zucchino
Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, Sean Naylor
Passing It On: Fighting the Pashtun on Afghanistan’s Frontier, Sir Andrew Skeen
Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban, Stephen Tanner
The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, Jake Tapper
Hints on Irregular Cavalry: Its Conformation, Management and Use in Both a Military and Political Point of View (1845), Charles Farquhar Trower
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, Mark Bowden
Rwanda, Inc.: How a Devastated Nation Became an Economic Model for the Developing World, Patricia Crisafulli
Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Roméo Dallaire
States and Power in Africa, Jeffery Herbst
The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence, Martin Meredith
The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912, Thomas Pakenham
The Colonial Frontier
Telling the Truth About History, Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob
Modern Historiography: An Introduction, Michael Bentley
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn
The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa, Michael L. Burgoyne
Team Yankee: A Novel of World War III, Harold Coyle
The Third World War/The Third World War: The Untold Story, Sir John Hackett
Three Cups of Bullshit, Greg Mortensen
First Clash: Combat Close-Up In World War Three, Kenneth Macksey
Defense of Hill 781: An Allegory of Modern Mechanized Combat, James R. McDonough
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, Steven Pressfield
The Defence of Duffer’s Drift, Ernest Dunlop Swinton
Battle Cry, Leon Uris
The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, H Porter Abbot
The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, R.W. Burchfield
Essaying the Past: How to Read, Write, and Think about History, Jim Cullen
It was the Best of Sentences, It was the Worst of Sentences, June Casagrande
The Best Punctuation Book, Period., June Casagrande
The Law of Self Defense 3rd Edition, Andrew Branca
You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense, Charles Bukowski
Back to Basics, Abighail R. Gehring
The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe, Vaclav Havel
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger
Do the Work!, Steven Pressfield
Rugby: The Player’s Handbook, M. B. Roberts and Ronald C. Modra
Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes
The Three Musketeers Trilogy, Alexandre Dumas
Conan/Soloman Kaine Collection, Robert E. Howard
Eye of the World/The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan
The Annotated Tales of H.P. Lovecraft
Rock and Roll, An Unruly History, Robert Palmer
The Trilogy/The Teutonic Knights, Henryk Sienkiewicz
Around midnight prior to the battle on 2 December 1805, French Marshal Davout arrived at Emperor Napoleon’s headquarters ahead of his corps. His advance guard was four hours behind him. His corps would cut it close, by minutes in some cases, but they had made it to the battle in time. Napoleon had just returned from visiting the campfires of his men and was elated to see him. Without Davout, the upcoming Battle of Austerlitz was a gamble; with Davout victory was all but assured. The Holy Roman Emperor Francis of Austria and Tsar Alexander of Russia were convinced Napoleon’s army was understrength, disorganized, and out maneuvered. All day, cavalry skirmished in order to identify enemy dispositions and they found that the French right was held by but a single division. That was exactly what Napoleon wanted them to see. He had no doubt the Allied emperors would force Marshal Kutuzov, the capable commander of the Allied armies, to attack the supposedly weakened French right.
Once the Allies attacked, the hard part was over. The French plan for the rest of the battle was simplicity itself: Davout would delay then block the Allies on the right, Lannes and Bernadotte would fix the Russians on the left, and Soult with the main effort would attack the weakened center and break the line. The Imperial Guard, in reserve, would handle any unexpected difficulties. After that, Murat with the cavalry would rout the Allies.
And that’s exactly what happened.
After some initial success on the French right, the Allies were surprised to find Davout’s III Corps steadily reinforcing the fortified village of Tellnitz and the stout walls of Sokowitz Castle. The Allies would go no further. When Soult’s 16,000 men stepped out of the late autumn Bohemian morning mist and advanced up the Pratzen Heights, the battle was essentially over. The Allied center was too weak, and their command and control too cumbersome to react.
It would just take some hard fighting, and about five hours, for the Allied emperors to realize it. The Russian Imperial Guard made a valiant counterattack in order to try and stop Soult, but it was in vain. By 4pm, the Allied army was routed. As the Allies routed in all directions, thousands of troops drowned when a French bombardment broke the ice on the Satschan ponds.
The Battle of Austerlitz is probably the only time in history a commander could legitimately say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”