The Battle of Black Mingo

Colonel Francis Marion’s victory at Blue Savannah put a mark on him and his men’s heads. Marion and his band of partisans withdrew into the White Marsh on the border with North and South Carolina. Loyalist militia, which should have been marching west to join Ferguson, put to the torch patriot houses and settlements in eastern South Carolina, and established a string of outposts to protect the British lines of communication from Marion as Cornwallis invaded North Carolina. At the end of September 1780, Marion, with just sixty men remaining, emerged from the White Marsh to gather more patriot partisans, get revenge for the loyalists’ depredations, and harass the new loyalist outposts.

On 28 September, Marion received word that Col John Ball, his relative, had about fifty loyalist militia encamped at Patrick Dollard’s respectable Red House Tavern at Shepherd’s Ferry on the west bank of Black Mingo Creek. Though they had ridden hard through treacherous cypress swamps for the past 48 hours, Ball’s small exposed encampment was a perfect target for his diminished force. If he hurried, he could catch the loyalists drinking that night in the tavern.

Around midnight on the 29th, Marion’s men crossed Black Mingo Creek at Willtown Bridge about a mile north of Red House Tavern. Unfortunately, an alert sentry heard the horses’ hooves pounding on the bridge’s wooden planks, and fired a warning shot. Ball’s men, enjoying a tankard of ale packed in the tavern’s common room, spilled out into an adjacent field and prepared to meet Marion’s assault.

Surprise lost, Marion, in desperation, decided to attack anyway. He expected Ball to defend from the tavern, and divided his men up into three groups to surround the building. The loyalists, who could hear Marion’s men dismounting in the distance, waited patiently in the darkness, steadied by Ball’s leadership. As the center group approached the tavern, the fire from the loyalists’ initial volley lit up the night from less than thirty yards away and laid low several of Marion’s men and officers. The Americans fell back into the trees and nearly broke, but Marion and Major John James rallied the wavering partisans. Using the trees as cover, the center group advanced and fired on the loyalists exposed in the field. With the loyalists transfixed by the center group, the right group advanced along the creek bank and engaged Ball’s men from the flank. Taking fire from two directions and unable to adequately respond to either, it was now the loyalists’ turn to waver. When Marion’s left group skirted around the tavern and appeared behind the loyalists, they broke and fled into the morass of the Black Mingo Swamp.

Marion captured all of the loyalists’ supplies, including most of their guns, powder, baggage, and horses, including Ball’s own mount. The spirited sorrel gelding was a magnificent animal and claimed by Marion himself. Marion cheekily named him “Old Ball” and rode him for the rest of the war. More importantly, though less than 120 men were involved in the Battle of Black Mingo and it was over in less than 15 minutes, the battle cemented Marion’s aggressive, but tolerant, reputation in South Carolina. Five of the loyalist captives, including an officer, joined Marion’s band and Marion graciously accepted their services without reservation. Marion’s magnanimity was in stark contrast to the actions of the British and loyalists, who had recently torched every property owned by patriots or not sufficiently active loyalists on a 15 miles wide by 70 mile swath along the Black River.

Marion wanted to continue on and attack the next nearby loyalist encampment at Black River Church, but it was larger, nearly a hundred loyalists, and the men balked. They had heard stories of what happened to their homes, so Marion released all who wanted to see to their families and hopefully bring in the harvest. With just seventeen men, Marion withdrew to Snow Island just below the confluence of the Lynches and Great Pee Dee Rivers. Hidden, hard to get to, and naturally defensible, over the next few months Marion turned Snow Island into a supply depot, recruiting station, and sanctuary from which he would strike the British and loyalists anywhere in Eastern South Carolina.

The dispersal of his men after the Battle of Black Mingo had the unexpected side effect of further spreading Marion’s reputation far and wide. Patriot recruits sought him out and loyalists turned coat on Marion’s generous and fair reputation towards former loyalists. Those loyalist recruits who didn’t join the American cause stayed local to protect their homes and settlements. Once his men returned, no British supply convoy from Charleston was safe and few got through to Cornwallis. After the Battle of Black Mingo, the British temporarily abandoned the construction of a string of fortifications across Eastern South Carolina, which subsequently broke Cornwallis’ lines of communication back to the coast.

Despite the outsized effects of his victory at Black Mingo, Marion understood how close he came to being the one caught in a crossfire in the dark outside Red House Tavern. For the rest of the war, whenever Marion approached a British or loyalist force he planned to surprise, he never crossed a bridge without first placing blankets over the planks.

The Battle of Kircholm

In 1599, Charles IX Vasa of Sweden replaced his uncle the elected Polish-Lithuanian King Sigismund III on the Swedish throne in a civil war among the House of Vasa thus ending the short lived Polish-Lithuanian-Swedish Personal Union. Though the Polish and Lithuanian nobility had no desire to make good Sigismund claim to the Swedish throne, they did covet Swedish lands in Livonia and Estonia if only for increased access to ports on the Baltic Sea. To keep the Commonwealth occupied so it did not interfere with Imperial Russia consolidating power at the height of the Russian Time of Troubles, Tsar Boris Godunov financed the Swedes fighting against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Russian gold allowed the much smaller, but highly centralized Swedish monarchy to field larger armies than the massive Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth’s wartime finances relied on the generosity of the nobles unless the Polish Sejm (parliament), voted unanimously (the infamous Liberum Veto) for a new tax, which almost never happened. After initial success in the Polish-Swedish War of 1600, funds ran out and the Polish commander Jan Zamoyski fell ill, leading to his second, the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, to take command. But Zamoyski’s departure meant that the war in the eyes of the Sejm became a local matter. Chodkiewicz fought on paying for his army out of his own personal fortune.

Flush with Russian gold, Charles IX of Sweden invaded Estonia and Livonia in 1605 and erased the previous half-decade of Zamyski’s gains. That summer, Charles laid siege to Riga, the southernmost and largest port in Swedish Livonia on the Baltic Sea. Chodkiewicz gathered his army, including a contingent from the Duchy of Courland, and advanced to relieve Riga. Charles turned to meet the threat and the two armies met outside the village of Kircholm on the Dvina River (in Latvia today) on 27 September 1605.

Charles’ 11,000 strong army greatly outnumbered Chodkiewicz’ 3,600 men, and had nearly double the cannon, 11 to 6. The Swedish army deployed on the slopes of a steep hill in a checkerboard formation of alternating lines of offset infantry squares and cavalry blocks. This formation allowed the pistol and carbine armed Swedish reiters the space for a caracole, where one line of reiters gallops forward, fires, withdraws, then is replaced by the next line and so on, while allowing support from the infantry to the flanks. The formation also allowed the space for the cavalry lines to move to cover the army’s flanks from light cavalry attack, an almost inevitable Lithuanian tactic. Chodkiewicz cavalry heavy army deployed in the “Old Polish Order” with a significantly reinforced left flank. Most of Chodkiewicz’ cavalry were the famed Polish Winged Husaria, whose charges decided battles.

Chodkiewicz could not attack such a strong position so he feigned a retreat and the impetuous Charles advanced to give chase. Moving downhill, the first line of infantry and the second line of cavalry moved out of support from their brethren behind them. Moreover, the unwieldy infantry blocks and squares became disorganized in the march to the bottom of the slope. Seizing the advantage, Chodkiewicz small army turned and attacked.

The Courland arquebusiers and reiters, and the Polish haiduks, tough land owning infantry armed however they came, usually with poleaxes and arquibuses, in the center fixed the first line of Swedish infantry. The husaria of the center and right charged the Swedish reiters in the second line whose caracole formations simply didn’t provide the mass necessary to stop the densely packed, lance tipped mailed fist of a Husaria charge. The defeated second line of cavalry retreated through the Swedish third line of infantry causing chaos, which was exploited by Chodkiewicz’ main assault: the charge of nearly 1000 Polish and Lithuanian Husaria massed on the Polish left.

The charge of the Polish left under the command of Tomasz Dąbrowa galloped through the right flank of the fixed or defeated first two Swedish lines. Their charge struck through the confusion of the Swedish infantry in the third line, and crashed into the reiters of the fourth line, overrunning the Swedish cannon in the process. The devastating charge left the destruction of the Swedish army in its wake. If the routing infantry and their cavalry brothers passing through them weren’t enough to convince the fourth line to take flight, the fluttering pennants, soaring wings, and phalanx of lowered lance tips charging forward at full tilt certainly did. The fourth line broke immediately. Charles attempted to salvage the situation with his cavalry reserve, but they were met head on by Chodkiewicz’ husaria reserve, and routed. The isolated infantry of the fixed Swedish first line were subsequently surrounded and massacred.

The greatest damage to the Swedish army was done in the pursuit, and Chodkiewicz’ Husaria, and the Duke of Courlands reiters savaged the Swedish army all the way back to Riga. The Poles and Lithuanians spared few Swedes or their mercenaries that day. At the cost of one hundred Polish killed and two hundred wounded, Charles lost nearly 8000. The siege of Riga was lifted, and Charles IX Vasa took ship back to Sweden.

The Battle of Kircholm was a triumph of the Husaria and one of the most lop sided victories of the Early Modern Era. Unfortunately the battle wasn’t decisive. Chodkiewicz was nearly bankrupt and could barely afford to maintain his estates, much less his army. The Commonwealth’s curiously libertarian nobility in the Sejm refused to allocate funds for Chodkiewicz to continue the reconquest of Livonia and Estonia. Without assistance from the rest of the Commonwealth, Chodkiewicz could not capitalize on his stunning victory at Kircholm. Nonetheless, Chodkiewicz fought subsequent Swedish incursions to a standstill until a truce was signed in 1610, ending the Polish-Swedish War of 1600.

The Battle of Charlotte

In September 1780, Charlotte was the first stop in North Carolina for patriot families, Catawba Indians, and other refugees fleeing the British and loyalists to the south. The remains of the Continental Army gathered at the town after they were defeated at Camden the month before. Lord Cornwallis decided to invade North Carolina to destroy those remnants and support what he expected to be a large loyalist turnout. In the face of the Cornwallis’ advance, the reformed Continental Army of the Southern Department withdrew from Charlotte to Salisbury, and then Hillsboro. The North Carolina militia under Colonel William Davie remained, with orders to delay Cornwallis as long as possible.

Davie shadowed Cornwallis and made a point to harass and capture prisoners the moment Cornwallis’ army stepped foot in North Carolina on 25 September. It was the first sign that Cornwallis was mistaken about the loyalist presence in this part of the country. The next day Cornwallis ordered the British Legion under Major George Hanger to conduct a reconnaissance of Charlotte.

In 1780, Charlotte was a crossroads town of about twenty houses centered on the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. A chest high wall existed between the pillars of the courthouse, and Davie placed his best men behind it under his adjutant, Captain Joseph Graham. With their horses picketed nearby, Davie had additional companies behind the houses to each side of the courthouse. Hanger’s men nonchalantly galloped toward the town.

Hanger was Banastre Tarleton’s second in command, and with Tarleton sick with Yellow Fever, sought to emulate the aggressive and infamous commander of the British Legion. When Davie’s pickets fired their first shots at the advancing redcoats, Hanger ordered his Legion cavalry to charge. As soon as they got within sixty yards of the courthouse, Graham’s men, hitherto hidden behind the courthouse wall, rose and fired, devastating the cavalry. Hanger withdrew and reformed, and when he saw Graham’s men withdraw from the wall, charged again. This time his charge was broken up by fire on both flanks, from the Patriot militia behind the houses next to the courthouse. By this time, the Legion’s light infantry were working around Davie’s men, and Cornwallis arrived with the 33rd Regiment’s light infantry. Cornwallis, surprised and appalled by Hanger’s decision to charge into such an obvious ambush, especially when the main body further up the road could have taken the town with few casualties, admonished the loyalists, “Legion, remember you have everything to lose, but nothing to gain!”

Not willing to be decisively engaged by the Legion’s light infantry (whom Graham was withdrawing away from when Hanger mistook it for a retreat) and especially not the regular light infantry, Davie ordered his men to mount up and move north. Davie waited just outside of town along Kennedy Creek, and when a British infantry platoon appeared, let loose another devastating volley. The Americans were gone before the British could react. With all of Davie’s men mounted, British and loyalist infantry simply couldn’t bring their superior firepower to bear, a source of constant frustration for Cornwallis, Tarleton, and Hanger. Hanger, sure that the Americans were withdrawing for real this time, attempted to resurrect his reputation in the eyes of Cornwallis. He set off in pursuit with what remained of his cavalry and his light infantry.

Graham, with part of Davie’s command, attempted repeat the Kennedy Creek ambush at Sugar Hill Church, but became fixed by the Legion light infantry in a prolonged 30 minute firefight. As the Americans returned fire, Hanger charged the Americans, and after a brutal melee where no quarter was given, scattered them. Almost all of the American casualties in the Battle of Charlotte occurred at Sugar Hill Church, with Graham badly wounded and left for dead by Hanger. In total, the Americans suffered five dead and six wounded, while the British suffered over fifty casualties, mostly their precious cavalry.

Shot three times, and with saber wounds to his side, neck, and head, which exposed part of his brain, Graham crawled to a nearby creek. He was found and taken to a Patriot leaning farm whose occupants hid him from the British and loyalists, and nursed him back to health. Five months later, Captain Joseph Graham was back in the fight.

Cornwallis was wrong about Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Solidly patriotic, there was no loyalist uprising in this part of North Carolina. After the Battle of Charlotte, the British and loyalists had an outbreak of Yellow Fever, and while they recovered, Davie and his men constantly harassed the British. Cornwallis referred to the area as a “hornet’s nest”, a name the citizens of Charlotte take great pride in. With Patriot partisan activity in South Carolina increasing, and the same occurring in North Carolina, Cornwallis’ lines of communication were not secure enough to continue his advance north. He decided to wait on Major Patrick Ferguson to reinforce him after he dealt with the Overmountain men before continuing on to Hillsboro. Though a small engagement in terms of numbers, Davie’s stand at Charlotte bought the Continental Army at least another few critical weeks to reorganize.

The Action of 9 August 1780

In June 1779, Spain entered the war against Britain on the side of its ally, France and its ally the nascent United States of America. Although logistical aid by the French and Spanish for the American cause were both immense and essential, the French military assistance was plagued with problems compared to the Spanish. Throughout 1779 and 1780, tangible Spanish victories against the British in support of the Americans greatly outnumbered French. Whereas French operations against Newport and Savannah were costly failures, the Spanish quickly defeated the British in West Florida and in the Mississippi valley, greatly assisting the Americans in securing the future Northwest Territory. Furthermore, most supplies destined for the Americans arrived through Spain’s Gulf Coast and Spanish ports in the Caribbean and West Indies became havens for American privateers.


For operations in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico against the French and Spanish, a British convoy set sail from Portsmouth in early August 1780 for the West Indies carrying critical naval stores and the 90th Regiment of Foot. The enormous convoy consisted of five East Indiamen, massive merchantmen used by the British East India Company in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, 55 smaller West Indiamen, and escorted by the full might of the British Channel Fleet.


On word from Spanish spies of the convoy’s departure, Spanish Admiral Luis de Córdova sortied from Cadiz with 31 ships of the line and six frigates to intercept. Though not enough to challenge Britain’s Channel Fleet, Córdova bet that the British would not escort the convoy far leaving the Channel unguarded. He was correct. On 2 August, 1780, the Channel Fleet returned and left just one ship of the line, the HMS Ramillies, and two frigates as an escort for the convoy. When the fleet departed, the convoy came under command of Admiral John Moutray on the Ramillies.
Moutray wasn’t expecting any French or Spanish interference, and if there was, he was confident that he could out maneuver any attempt to capture the convoy. Moutray was wrong on both accounts. Córdova intercepted Moutray off of Cape Saint Vincent on the evening of 8 August. Unperturbed, Moutray signaled the convoy to turn, which would have taken the convoy to safety by the next morning.


Unfortunately for Moutray, Córdova got close to the convoy that night, so close in fact that Córdova signaled some of the British merchantmen to follow him. Mistaking Córdova’s lanterns for Moutray’s, the vast majority of the convoy followed and turned away from their escorts and safety. In the early morning hours of 9 August 1780, 55 British merchantmen, including the five giant East Indiamen, were interspersed among the Spanish Fleet. At dawn, Córdova signaled a general chase. Surprise was complete.
After a brief action, the Spanish captured all 55 British ships, with only the ships that followed Moutray, the escorts and eight West Indiamen, escaping. Cordova captured 3100 British sailors, civilians, marines, and soldiers, including the entire 90th Regiment of Foot. He also took £1.5 million in gold, supplies, muskets, cannon, powder, and naval stores (worth about $350 million today), much of which was used by the Continental Army and Navy against the British in North America. The East Indiamen were incorporated into the Spanish Navy. The Action on 9 August 1780 was one of the costliest failures of the British intelligence apparatus in its history. Córdova’s victory bankrupted most British maritime insurance companies, whose premiums were already high due to losses by privateers. The bankruptcies caused an uproar in London’s financial district which soon spread to Parliament. The uproar greatly contributed to the growing movement to end the stalemated war against their former colonies in North America.

Firefly

On 20 September, 2002, Joss Whedon’s iconic space-western Firefly premiered on TV. Firefly is the story of the eclectic crew of the outdated Firefly class space transport “Serenity” as they take jobs to survive and stay out of the path of the oppressive “Alliance” that rules the star system, all the while staying one step ahead of their pasts. Firefly is creator/writer/director Joss Whedon at his finest, and was the creative pinnacle of his career.


Though set five centuries in the future, Firefly deals with real issues with real people, and you could drop the cast and the writing in any modern time period, and it’d still be relatable. Firefly is Joss Whedon’s love letter to libertarianism. No matter how hard the Alliance or their proxies try to keep the crew down or impose their will by violence or coercion, Mal and his crew always find a way to do the right thing, even if the right thing isn’t exactly legal. The world building is top notch, and unequaled for a low budget TV show, except maybe for the original Star Trek.


Firefly has some of the best characterization and character arcs in the business. The ship Serenity is her own character. Mal, the Serenity’s supremely competent captain keeps the crew focused while always thinking of the big picture. His war buddy Zoe complements Mal in every way without being a cliché sidekick. Zoe’s husband Wash is the ship’s pilot and is essentially the stereotypical warrant officer. Cheery Kaylee is the stupid hot ship’s mechanic. The mercenary Jayne is the ship’s muscle and says what everybody is thinking, or at least what needs to be said. The crew is rounded out by one-time passengers: the preacher Shepherd Book, the high society companion Inara, and the stuck up doctor, Simon, and his brilliant and powerful but insane little sister, River.


Unfortunately, Firefly only lasted one season because Fox aired the episodes out of order, and switched time slots three times. Viewers tuned out not knowing the context of the exceptionally deep episodes, or even when the show was being aired. Fan demand brought the crew back together for the full length movie Serenity, which tied up many of the plot lines. However, if you watch the Firefly episodes in order followed by Serenity, there are few better shows in television, and certainly no better Science Fiction shows.

Witold Pilecki

The German and Soviet occupation of Poland in the summer of 1940 was a brutal affair, and thousands joined the growing resistance. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of political prisoners were rounded up, some for the simple offense of not seeing a German walk past and bowing quickly enough. Most, if not outright killed, were sent to a growing series of concentration camps that sprung up across the country. The largest and fastest growing camp was outside of the Polish town of Oswiecim.


On 19 September, 1940, resistance member and former cavalry troop commander, Witold Pilecki volunteered to be captured and get sent to the camp where he would conduct a detailed reconnaissance, and set up a resistance movement inside if possible. The next day he was picked up in a random sweep and nearly beaten to death. A few days later he was transferred to the camp outside of Oswiecim, more commonly known to the Germans as Auschwitz.


Pilecki stayed in Auschwitz for the next three years and sent weekly reports to the Polish Underground which eventually made their way to British Intelligence. Additionally, he led and coordinated the resistance movements inside the camp, synchronized escapes, planned a camp uprising, and set up services and amenities for the prisoners including a news service and a secret hospital (the Germans killed sick prisoners). But it was his documentation of the Holocaust that would be the most benefit to Mankind.
Pilecki documented the abuses of the guards, the conditions of the prisoners, and later the daily arrival of Jews and other “undesirables”. His organization meticulously detailed the extermination of hundreds of thousands of people by the National Socialists. His reports were the first evidence of genocide on an industrial scale to reach the outside world. He escaped the prison in 1943, after the guards made known that the Polish prisoner camp “staff” (Pilecki was a baker) was going to be liquidated and replaced with new arrivals.


Pilecki fought in the Home Army against the Germans for the rest of the war. After the German surrender, the Soviets rounded up any Poles with connections to the British backed Polish Government-in-Exile. Witold Pilecki, a man who survived the absolute worst the National Socialists could devise, was arrested, given a show trial, and executed by Soviet socialists for “Crimes against the People.”


The night before he was executed, he told his wife, “”I cannot live. They killed me because Oświęcim (Auschwitz) was just a trifle compared with them (the Soviets).”

The Twist

On 19 September, 1960, Chubby Checker and The Fat Boys premiered their single, The Twist, on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. With its easy dance and catchy tune, it went straight to Number One, and The Twist rescued Rock and Roll.


By the late fifties, the wild, wailing, and over the top Rock and Roll of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis gave way to the focus grouped, formulaic, starry eyed ballads of teen pop idols like Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson and Neil Sedaka. Vocal harmonies ruled the airwaves, whether the girl group doo-wops, the barbershop sounds of the swooners, or the early gospel inspired Motown acts. The problem was you can’t dance to harmonies. When Elvis Left the Building (for the Army) in 1957, and Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash (“The Day the Music Died”) in 1959, everyone assumed Rock was dead.


The Twist was an atomic explosion across the music scene unlike any seen before or since. Even the Charleston of the 1920s and the Jitterbug of the 30s can’t compare to the Twist mania that shook the world between 1960 and 1963. In the space of two minutes and thirty nine seconds, Rock and Roll stopped being about dreamy sequences of wooing your girl at the ice cream parlor, and set it back on the path to its roots in dancing, sweat, booze, sex, drugs, and live music. (You know you almost said “rock and roll” right there.)

The Selective Service Act

On 16 September 1940, US President Franklin D Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act into law. It required all males from the age of 21 to 35 to register for the draft. The Selective Service Act of 1940 was the first peacetime draft in American history. With Japan overrunning large portions of China, Germany possessing most of Europe and poised to invade Britain, and the Soviets, an ally of Germany, controlling most of Eastern Europe, FDR thought it prudent to prepare the US for war. The law also mobilized the National Guard and called up the officer reserves.


“America stands at the crossroads of its destiny. Time and distance have been shortened. A few weeks have seen great nations fall. We cannot remain indifferent to the philosophy of force now rampant in the world. We must and will marshal our great potential strength to fend off war from our shores. We must and will prevent our land from becoming a victim of aggression.” — FDR 16 September 1940

The Battle of Britain: Culmination

In just eight days thousands of British civilians were killed and wounded, and large areas of London, particularly East London, were in ruins. But with the Luftwaffe’s focus on London, Dowding’s early warning system returned to peak efficiency, and RAF Fighter Command’s airfields were repaired, its pilots rested, and its planes fixed and properly maintained.


On 14 September 1940, Hitler postponed the invasion one last time, and decreed that if the RAF wasn’t destroyed within the week, the invasion of Britain would be postponed indefinitely. The next morning Herman Goering, convinced the RAF was on its last legs, called for a maximum effort. British radar picked up a formation of German planes over France that was so large it was taking longer than normal to form up. This gave Air Marshal Dowding time to organize the set piece battle he craved since July.

At 0700 as the Germans were enroute, Winston Churchill departed London to the relative safety of the 11 Group airfield at Uxbridge where he would observe the coming battle. 11 Group put up all of its fighters to meet the attack and Churchill asked “What other reserves have we?” 11 Groups commander, Keith Park replied tersely, ‘We have none, sir.”


That wasn’t entirely accurate. When the Germans took so long to form up this gave 12 Group to the north time to form their vaunted “Big Wings”. All told the RAF put up 625 fighters to meet 1120 Luftwaffe fighters and bombers over London and southern England. It was an apocalyptic air battle that lasted all day, with fighters on both sides fighting, landing, immediately rearming and refueling, and then heading back into the battle. Some British pilots did this four and five times. When evening came and the wreckages were counted, the RAF lost 43 fighters and the Luftwaffe lost 136 planes of all types.


But it wasn’t the losses that shocked the Germans, they were completely astonished by the RAF’s response. Like all totalitarian regimes, the Germans had problems with math and routinely made overly positive assessments of their operations to show progress. Just that morning the pilots were briefed that the RAF had only 250 fighters left in the country with just 150 covering London: the Luftwaffe pilots went into battle assuming they had an 8 to 1 advantage.


Luftwaffe planners and commanders tried to excuse away the large numbers of RAF fighters, but the pilots’ eyes did not deceive them and they talked: the British had no less than 500 up at any time. Goering was lying to them. Particularly demoralizing was a five squadron 12 Group Big Wing that descended upon a bomber formation and nearly wiped it out, leaving only a few stragglers…almost as if they were deliberately left alive to tell the tale.


The Battle of Britain continued for another three weeks, but it was anti-climactic after 15 September and the Luftwaffe switched increasingly to safer night raids. On 17 September, Hitler postponed Operation Sealion indefinitely, and switched his attention to the planning for next spring’s offensive: Operation Barbarossa, the Invasion of the Soviet Union.

The Battle of Marignano

In the summer of 1515 during the Revolution in Military Affairs known as the Italian Wars, France’s Francis I crossed the Alps at the head of 30,000 troops in a feat comparable to Hannibal’s crossing 1600 years before. Francis’ bold movement over an inadequate, treacherous, and unguarded pass completely unhinged the Papal/Swiss/Imperial/Spanish defenses and they fell back to Milan.


Like his grandfather Charles VIII, who seized the Kingdom of Naples, and every French King since the fall of the Roman Empire, Francis saw the Italian peninsula as his political playground. He desired Milan for some overly complicated scheme, and his French gendarmes (knights), cannon, and German Landsknechts (pike and halberd armed mercenaries) lined up outside the city to begin a siege. On 13 September 1515, just outside of the ruins of the village of Marignano, Duke Sforza of Milan attacked the French with three massive columns of Swiss pikemen.


The battle was fought for 28 hours over the 13th and 14th. The Swiss routed the landsknechts on Francis’ left but they rallied, and held the baggage train with the camp followers in an impromptu wagon fort. On the French right the Swiss and Germans were locked in bloody stalemate between pike phalanxes that would not have been out of place in the Diadochi Wars after the death of Alexander the Great. The center was destined to be decisive.


In the center, a Swiss “Forlorn Hope” (there’s a docturnal term we need to bring back, it’s essentially an initial attack by a body of troops that expects to either die or gain great glory in the initial charge) quickly seized the French siege guns. But before they could destroy them, the forlorn hope was massacred by a charge of the Gendarme led by Francis himself, and The Black Band, a group of halberd and arquebus armed German mercenaries intensely loyal to Francis. As the Swiss main body approached, Francis ordered the cannon, which he brought to fire on the walls of Milan, to fire on the Swiss phalanxes. The halberdiers and arquebusiers fixed the Swiss, the cannon broke up the Swiss formations, then the gendarmes charged into the chaos. However, the charge was not decisive. Inevitably, the Swiss would reform and attack again. This cycle continued for the rest of the battle. Francis himself took part in 30 charges over 24 hours. On the afternoon of the 14th, the Swiss finally broke when a Venetian army of condottieri (mercenaries), allies of the French, appeared on their flank.


At the time, the Battle of Marignano was considered a triumph of the armored knight. But in actuality it was the knight’s last hurrah, and signaled the coming of age of cannon. Marignano was the first large scale use of cannon against troop formations, and the battle was the first example of cannons’ use in combined arms warfare in a modern sense. Finally, after the battle, the Swiss signed an agreement of “Eternal Peace” with the French, which began the Swiss tradition of neutrality in all world affairs, which holds to this day.