So I was writing the Waterloo posts, and I found myself explaining the same concept over and over. And only because the narrative style, especially my amateurish campfire version of it, doesn’t accurately convey the story. Or for the purposes of this post, how close the story came to being significantly different, at all levels: tactically, operationally, and strategically. And I was saying the same thing every time one of the events happened that shouldn’t have, but did anyway. And it breaks up the story when I have to stop and explain every time that the world would be a different place when someone didn’t do something that they would normally do and moreover, didn’t really have a good reason why they didn’t do it. It’s one of the many reasons the Battle of Waterloo is so interesting because it simply has so many WTF moments.
If the Waterloo campaign was written as historical fiction, it would be unbelievable, and critics and readers would have savaged the author for massive, implausible, and unexplained plot holes.
So I’m going to break with tradition and lay my thesis statement out now and build toward it later: The Waterloo Campaign, including the battles of Quatre-Bra and Ligny, was one of those inexplicable flukes of history, and only through uncharacteristic human error and poor command climate did it actually happen, and then happen in a way that is directly responsible for how Western Civilization evolved (for better or worse).
Anyway, just after the battle, Wellington said it was,”the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”. That was more accurate than he actually knew at the time. The Battle of Waterloo is a massive case study for the effects of bad staff work, poor command climate, general indecisiveness, or not following commander’s intent, and almost all on the French side.
For context, In May, 1815, four Allied armies were sent to defeat Napoleon. In June two were in Belgium, the British and Prussian, and two were in Bavaria, Russian and Austrian. Napoleon’s army was large enough to defeat any single Allied army in battle, easily. 50/50 with two. It was just mathematically impossible for him to lose against any single one. Therefore he couldn’t let them consolidate, so his plan was divide and conquer. Napoleon launched a surprise invasion of Belgium on the night of 14 June to keep Wellington’s Anglo-Dutch-Belgian Army and Blucher’s Prussians separate. He had complete surprise and on 16 June fought the Battle of Quatre Bra against the British and won, and the Battle of Ligny against the Prussians and won. Unfortunately for him, they weren’t followed up and failed to isolate either army. This directly resulted in the Battle of Waterloo, which Napoleon lost on 18 June 1815.
During these critical four days, there were quite a few events that are simply inexplicable, but are also absolute necessities for Waterloo to occur and have had the effect that it had. Furthermore, they occurred and there was NOTHING Wellington or Blucher did to influence them: they simply benefitted. Most importantly, if any ONE was different, the world we live in would be a different place and two of these four outcomes would have been reality:
- The Battle of Waterloo would not have happened or
- Wellington and Blucher would have lost the battle, and
- The Russians and Austrians would have had to defeat Napoleon (thereby gaining prestige which would have grave repercussions on the 19th Century). or
- The Russians and Austrians do not continue the fight, since Blucher held the alliance together. (Wellington leaves the continent, and Napoleon resurrects the French Empire)
So as I go through the narrative, these are the “anti-seminal” events of 15-18 June 1815 to look for. During that time, these are the critical and inexplicable French missed opportunities in chronological order:
-Ney fails to capture the crossroads at Quatre Bra on the night 15 June when it was held only by 4000 inexperienced Dutch troops. He had 55,000 veterans. (No clue why he didn’t and Ney was shot before he could explain. Capturing it would have inexorably separated the Allies. Prevailing theories are he was waiting for Wellington to attack or was intimidated by Wellington’s reputation. Both are uncharacteristic of Ney, the “Bravest of the Brave”. See 1, 3 or 4 above)
-Ney fails capture the crossroads at Quatre Bra on the morning of 16 June when Wellington had less than 15,000 troops there. (Same as previous)
-D’Erlon’s Corps fails to outflank either the British at Quatre Bra, or the Prussians at Ligny on the afternoon of 16 June (bad staff work caused them to march and countermarch, missing both battles 1, 3 or 4).
-The French fail to attack anyone of 17 June. (The French took the day off. No good explanation. 1, 4)
-Grouchy fails to gain and maintain contact with the defeated Prussians on 16, 17, or even early 18 June. (No good explanation 1, 2, 3, 4)
-Grouchy fails to march to the sound of the guns of the Battle at Waterloo on 18 June. (No good explanation 2, 3)
-The French fail to take Hougamount on the morning 18 June. (Napoleon for some unknown reason left the attack to his notoriously fickle little brother Jerome, then took a nap 2, 3)
-D’Erlon fails to consolidate and prepare for a counter attack after breaking the Allied center on the morning of 18 June. (Completely out of character for D’Erlon, no good explanation 2, 3)
I just want to reiterate that any one of these would have completely changed history. Not “could” – “would”. Now, I also want point out that after these, the French could still have won but Wellington or Blucher would have needed to make some mistakes. Also, there were many little episodes which would have greatly improved the chances of French victory, or placed the possibility of a French victory in Wellington’s or Blucher’s hands, but I’ll cover those in the narrative. But these were “no-brainers” that in hindsight, should have happened, had every reason to happen, were expected to happen, but for some reason lost to history, didn’t.
Truly the “nearest run thing”.
Finally, many people and even some great historians have put a silly amount of time and ink into saying that Waterloo didn’t matter, that even if Wellington lost the Austrians or Russians would have finished the job. That’s an argument for the comments. But I will point out some undeniable facts: the two big winners of the 19th Century, and the two decision makers of the first forty years of the 20th Century, were Great Britain and Germany (Prussia).
Their ascendancy began on 18 June 1815.
On 7 June, 1654, Louis the XIV was crowned King of France. Louis the Great would go on to rule France for 70 years, the longest of any European monarch. More importantly, he would have an assemblage of advisors and subordinates of such remarkable economic, military, and political ability and talent that it is only seen so very rarely in history. (Only the Diadochi, Genghis Khan’s generals, the Founding Fathers, and Napoleon’s Marshals come to mind.) His advisors included Cardinal Richelieu’s protégé Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the engineering mastermind Vauban, two of the best commanders of the 17th century the Great Conde and Marshal Turenne, the Queen-Mother Anne of Austria, and the diplomatic and financial geniuses of the Colbert brothers, Jean-Baptist and Charles. Led by Louis, they ruled France through her Golden Age. “French” would become the first “lingua franca” of Europe.
In the first half of the 17th Century, great changes were happening in Europe and the people wanted more say in how they were governed. In both England and France horrible civil wars occurred between those who supported royal power and those who supported parliamentarian power. In the English Civil War the Parliamentarians won and left a legacy of self-rule. But in France, the Fronde, as their civil war was called, the parliamentarians and their noble allies were crushed in 1653. A young Louis did not forget its lessons. He would be crowned king the next year.
Louis and his inordinately talented advisors spent the entirety of his reign expanding the power of the monarch. He blamed the Parliament of Paris for the Fronde and limited its power every chance he could, until he could abolish it permanently. He couldn’t do the same with the nobility so he neutralized them. He built the magnificent palace of Versailles, and then forced all of the heads of the noble families to live there. This effectively separated them from their lands and power, and prevented them from expanding any further. The competent ones he used to form Europe’s first bureaucracy, and the others he gave titles and duties, such as “The Royal Glovebearer” or “the Royal Cupbearer”. Louis kept the historically troublesome nobles close by, out of trouble, and carefully watched.
Louis the Great’s transition to absolute monarchy only succeeded because of his and his advisors complete dedication to France. He “gleamed like the Sun” through France’s Golden Age, but also sowed the seeds of its destruction. The Sun King slowed the development of parliamentary rule in Great Britain, and Louis’ dedication to France was not shared by his successors. The inevitable corruption and incompetence that results from absolute rule eventually brought about the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and the Napoleonic Wars.
The successful invasion of Normandy may seem predestined today, but it certainly wasn’t on the morning of June 6th, 1944. The Germans and the weather weren’t the only problems for the Allies. In many cases, the Allies were their own worst enemies. For every Ponte Du Hoc, there was a Vierville Draw; for every Pegasus Bridge there was a Merville Battery, if not more, many more. The question isn’t really how they won, but how did they not lose despite themselves? Laziness, greed, incompetence, ignorance, poor staff work, etc, these were obstacles that were far different than German machine gun nests, but had to be overcome nonetheless.
These are the D-Day stories we don’t like to talk about, because they are the stories we fear to repeat, those that we inflicted upon ourselves.
The disasters of D-Days started even before the final go ahead by Eisenhower. The airborne landings, though absolutely necessary, were catastrophic. The SOE Jedburgh Teams dropped in on the night of the 4th found that many of their supplies parachuted in with them were stolen before they could be recovered, undoubtedly by the French Resistance who were the only ones who knew they were coming. Most Jedburgh teams were reduced to the role of poorly equipped cut off infantry, not unlike the paratroopers that followed them.
Almost none of the pathfinders of the airborne divisions marked their drop zones, and if they did, it was usually in the wrong spot. Only the chaos of the actual jump masked it. History has recorded that chaos as a positive for spreading the German defenses out, but it wasn’t so for the paratroopers that night. Fra fewer made it into the fight than myth and legend tells us. The fire in Sainte-Mère-Église caused the destruction of an entire airborne company after a pilot mistook it for the lights of the drop zone. And Sainte-Mère-Église, celebrated as the first town liberated in France, was only secured after the Germans pulled out to more defensible terrain: terrain that 82nd Airborne was originally supposed to secure in the first place, but couldn’t because it lacked the men to do so. Almost another entire airborne company drowned when its jumpmasters pushed them out over the flooded area. Another group of twelve paratroopers, lost, broke into a wine cellar and were found drunk two days later. Another pilot flew so low that the parachutes of his charges couldn’t open and one soldier on the ground, cursing the pilot, noted that they sounded like “pumpkins splatting on the ground”.
The most celebrated unit in the airborne invasion was E/1/506 who fought D-Day with just 14 men, out of 140. More joined later, but that doesn’t change the fact that Captain Dick Winters had to seize the Breucourt Manor guns, a company if not a battalion objective, with just 11 men.
Even those paratroopers that didn’t hide or wander and took the initiative, weren’t immune to human fallibility. One enterprising German unit captured over 50 paratroopers by using their cricket against them. When the challenge of “one click” got a response of “two clicks”, the American was quietly taken prisoner. Another group of 19 Americans was taken prisoner behind Utah Beach and subsequently killed in the invasion bombardment. One can only imagine the stories that haven’t been recorded.
The invasion itself was an unmitigated disaster for the French population of that stretch of the Norman coast. De Gaulle’s refusal to address his people over semantics in Eisenhower’s draft undoubtedly caused thousands of casualties among French civilians who ignored Eisenhower’s pleas to evacuate the coast. For every French civilian who proudly waved the tricolor during the bombardment, dozens, if not hundreds were killed or wounded. In Caen, the Gestapo executed every French civilian in the prison. The Hotel D’Normandie in Ouisterham collapsed upon its inhabitants and those who survived were nearly all killed ten minutes later when their cover was struck by the bombardment.
As the bombardment continued, the movement at sea from the transfer points to the beaches was beyond chaotic, much of it self-inflicted. In their arrogance, the Americans refused British help with navigational aids marking the beaches, such as prepositioned midget subs that successfully guided British troops to the correct destinations. They relied on patrol cutters to guide the landing craft in, almost all of whom got lost. A coxswain bringing in the rangers to scale Pont Du Hoc got lost and the rangers arrived 30 minutes late, well after the first waves hit Omaha. The rising tide was almost lapping the base of the cliff by the time the rangers scaled the heights. That there were no guns at the top was all that prevented a greater disaster on the Omaha and Utah beaches below.
Of the first three waves to hit the beaches at Omaha and Utah, only a single company, A/1/116th of the 29th Division landed at the beach they were assigned, and they were massacred for it. Tens of thousands of pages of orders and timetables and millions of man hours: useless and wasted. 8 of the 16 landing craft that carried Omaha Beach’s duplex drive tanks refused to land the tanks directly on the beach, even though the swells would obviously swamp the tanks further out. That the DD tanks would never make the 5000 yard swim to shore was obvious to all. Thirty tanks and their crews were forced out of the landing craft because the sailors refused to deviate from the plan. Not a single tank made it more than hundred yards out to sea, most just drove off the ramp and sank.
The 4th Infantry Division’s entire assault wave landed a mile and quarter south of where they should have been due to their coxswains following a lost patrol cutter.
The landings on the beaches, at Omaha in particular, were horrific, and the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan is tame in comparison. The entire bombardment over shot the beach defenses, despite spotter planes continually calling in “on target”. One British observer watched as an entire formation of B-17’s and B-26s drop their loads into the fields behind the beaches. “That’s a fat lot of use, all it’ll do is just wake them up.”
American and British intelligence missed the movement of the entire German 352nd Infantry Division into the beach defenses opposite Omaha until the 4th of June, and then decided not to tell the assault troops. Until the moment the ramps dropped, the men of the 1st and 29th Divisions expected to face the green conscripts of the 716th Division, not the tough and experienced 352nd battle hardened on the Eastern Front. One amazed German sergeant looking down on Omaha commented, “They must be crazy. Are they going to swim ashore right in front of our muzzles?”
One German private estimated he fired his rifle 400 times that morning, and hit someone more than half the time.
An entire LCI was destroyed when a single errant bullet struck a flamethrower tank and exploded. Men carrying a hundred pounds of equipment quickly found out that the weight doubled when it was soaked with sea water: something those who mandated the combat load would never have to experience. Many men drowned because they couldn’t get out of the water fast enough or were crushed when a swell pushed a landing craft violently forward. Most craft were stuck on a sand bar initially but as the tide rose they became increasingly stuck on the beach obstacles. The assault waves landed at low tide, but the rising tide became a problem: the landing craft and debris were inadvertently pushed into the mines.
Men who were too wounded to move forward quickly drowned. The flotsam and jetsam, and bodies, along the beach began to accumulate as the tide pushed it forward: crushing some, but forcing all into German fields of fire. An LCI was destroyed by mine, and became a plow as the tide pushed it forward onto the beach. The arrogant American refusal of the British offer of specialty engineer vehicles was paid in blood. Engineers got into fights with soldiers seeking scant cover behind beach obstacles they were supposed to blow, and in several instances detonated them anyway. Entire groups refused to move until the tide forced them to and there was at least one mutiny on the beach. Men spent hours digging in only to have the tide swallow them whole. Unwounded men got high on their own morphine, and waited for the water to end their existence before the Germans did.
On the relatively calm Utah, several men found a small remote controlled Goliath. They played around with the controller, amused by the little tank. Unbeknownst to them, it was packed full of explosives and they accidentally set it off, killing everyone watching.
On the British beaches, many troops landed, neutralized the beach defenses… and then dug in, awaited orders, and brewed tea. One unit even reveled in the fact that they were first British unit to brew tea in France. Lt James Doohan, the future Montgomery Scott of Star Trek, had to pull his pistol on his coxswain to get him to move toward the beach. Barrage balloons were set up on the beaches, which only acted as markers for German artillery. It would hours and dozens of casualties later before someone had the moral courage to cut them loose. Just off of Sword Beach, the Merville Battery was taken at great cost, then abandoned for fears of friendly naval gunfire, and subsequently reoccupied by the Germans. It wouldn’t be recaptured for another seven weeks. Allied bombers destroyed Caen, killing a thousand French civilians, and inadvertently turned it into a fortress for the Germans.
By noon, General Omar Bradley seriously considered sending troops from Utah to Omaha, or even pulling off of Omaha altogether.
Along the shingle on Omaha, one soldier wrote in his diary, “I prayed for the fourth time today, asking God, “Why do these things have to be visited upon men?”
Thankfully, some of those men persisted.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Out of every one hundred men in battle, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they the battle make. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others home.”
When teaching history, we tend to celebrate Heraclitus’ fighters and warriors. They make a good tale, but since they’re the only tales told, we also tend to ascribe their uniqueness to the mass. For every junior NCO or officer who led a few stalwarts up the hill on Omaha and cracked the German defense, there were a hundred down below just trying to survive. The stories of the others make us uncomfortable at best and embarrassed at worst. However, very little is ever learned in victory. And even worse, to ignore those stories does a disservice to the fighters and warriors that had to endure beside them. It also does a disservice to the system that produced them both as internal factors are almost always more important than external factors. The difference between a good unit and a great unit, between victory and defeat is sometimes as small as one or two more willing to fight. The fighters and warriors rose to the occasion despite themselves, their comrades, even those supposedly their betters.
As the memory of D-Day passes into history, to tell only 10% of the story is a travesty, and dishonest. One cannot fully appreciate their resilience unless you have something familiar to compare it to, that those stories are difficult to talk about should be immaterial. Those that didn’t live up to the almost impossible standards of conduct we set for June 6th 1944 nonetheless still showed up that day.
The disasters of D-Day are reminders that soldiers, sailors, and airmen are human and are subject to the same human fallibility as any other. Leaders, and historians, tend to fall into the assumptions that subordinates always followed orders, the plans were always perfect, and that luck was always in their favor. This is rarely, if ever, the case. Errors happen. Humans break, sometimes easily.
Egos have killed more people than bullets and shells.
But the fighters and warriors succeeded despite those working against them, even their own.
For seven weeks starting in April 1989, university students occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the Communists were terrified. Though there were some hardliners, the Communists understood the need for economic reforms. They did not want a repeat of the disastrous Cultural Revolution of the 60s when Maoists doubled down on statism and Communism, and 30 million people died as a result. The Chinese people remembered this devastation from a scant twenty years before. In the spring of 1989, they would not stand for it again. In support of the students, millions protested across China for market reforms, free speech, free press, and a way to remove the intolerably corrupt politicians of the Communist government.
But unlike the Soviets and the communists of Eastern Europe, the Chinese Communists were under no illusions about what would happen if they held elections. However, they did have one advantage that the other communist governments did not have: the People’s Liberation Army was not state controlled as in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, they were party controlled. They could be relied upon for use against the Chinese people. First subjugation, then economic reforms. In early May 1989, a concerted effort was made to mobilize and bring formations up to fighting standard, and on 20 May 1989, the communists declared martial law.
250,000 PLA soldiers descended on Beijing. However, by 24 May, they were stopped cold by millions of peaceful protesters. For a week there was an impasse, but on 3 June, the communists had had enough. They ordered the PLA to use force to remove the protestors. Although some units refused to shoot civilians, thousands were killed when communist soldiers opened fire that night and into the next day. Almost immediately, vicious street battles broke out after students and shopkeepers banded to together to fight tanks and machine guns with rocks and fists. By the end of 4 June at least three thousand lay dead, and many more wounded. The fighting was largely unnoticed by the outside world.
The communists, like all tyrannical governments, feared scrutiny and transparency so they either coopted or coerced the domestic media into submission. But their censors did not apply to foreign journalists so they had placed severe restrictions on them, including harassment, isolation, and cutting their communications. Nevertheless, on 5 June 1989, those journalists locked in the Beijing Hotel witnessed an amazing event from their balconies. As a column of Type 59 tanks approached Tiananmen Square on Chang’an Avenue, an unnamed man crossed the broad street carrying two bags of groceries. The lead tank came to a stop just before hitting the man. The man, looking up, stood in front of the tank and then refused to move. The driver attempted to go around him, but the young man moved with it. The driver eventually stopped and shut down his engine, and soon the entire column did the same. For a long moment, it seemed that this one courageous individual had defeated the communist regime. The young man talked with the tank crew for a while, but was eventually seized by two goons from the People’s Security Bureau. The column continued on. Tank Man was never identified, nor was he seen or heard from again.
Despite the international exposure that the photos of Tank Man gave the events in China of early June 1989, the PLA successfully dispersed the protestors by 7th of that month. Afterwards, the communists rounded up and arrested anyone with connections to the protests. The People’s Republic of China is one of the few communist regimes that survived 1989. Today, due to censorship, Tank Man is unrecognized and unknown in China.
On 1 June 1944, the BBC broadcast the first lines from Paul Verlaine’s 1866 poem “Chanson d’automne” (“Autumn Song”)
“Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l’automne” (“Long sobs of autumn violins”).
The lines were a message to the French Resistance that the Allied invasion of France would begin in less than two weeks.
Two days later on 3 June, in the pouring rain, 150,000 men of the six assault divisions, the US 1st, 4th and 29th, the British 3rd and 50th, and the Canadian 3rd, and three airborne divisions, the US 82nd and 101st, and the British 6th finished moving into their staging areas all along the southern coast of England. The next day, they would load the LSTs and troop transports, and in the case of the airborne divisions, wait in huts on airfields next to the gliders and planes that would take them across the channel to Normandy. 800,000 more soldiers would take their place and wait their turn to cross in the coming days. On the afternoon of the 4th, Gen Eisenhower postponed the invasion at least one day due to weather. Many of the soldiers would not disembark and had to stay on their ships in the choppy seas and six foot swells.
That night, in the poor weather, the first Allied troops to invade Normandy parachuted in. Three teams from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and three teams from the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) landed in order to mark the drop zones for the pathfinders and airborne forces that were scheduled to arrive the next night.
100 miles and world away in Normandy, the German commanders took a look at the poor weather and the low tide, and were convinced that the Allies would not invade. And if they did, it would be farther up the coast at Pas De Calais. Rommel, the Army Group commander on the Atlantic Wall, departed on a drive back to Germany to spend some leave with his wife for her birthday on June 5th. His corps and division commanders prepared to depart for a map exercise at the chateau at Rouen, and they planned to be away from their HQs for the next few days.
In the early morning of 5 June, 1944, Gen Eisenhower met with his 14 most senior staff members and commanders to make the final decision whether or not to go ahead with the invasion of France in June. Group Captain James Stagg, the senior meteorologist on the staff, briefed that 6 June’s weather would briefly clear but the conditions would be still be well below what was thought to be the minimum necessary for safe and successful operations. Eisenhower looked around the room and asked for everyone’s opinion. It was most definitely not a vote. Seven wanted to go, and seven wanted to postpone until later in the month when the moon and tides were synced again.
After a long moment (Everyone in the room would describe it later as the longest moment of their lives), Eisenhower simply said, “Ok, let’s do it”, and stood up and walked out of the room. One of his last official acts was authorizing the 6 June 1944 Order of the Day for release. Known today as the “Great Crusade” speech, one copy was issued to over 175,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the assault force that night.
Within 20 minutes of “Ok, let’s do it”, 5000 ships, 12,000 aircraft, and 200,000 men began their journey across the English Channel. The ships first rendezvoused at “Area Z”, known colloquially as “Piccadilly Circus”, before heading south to Normandy. Operation Neptune, the invasion of Normandy, and a component part of Operation Overlord the invasion of France, was the largest amphibious invasion of Europe since the Persian king Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 B.C.
Eisenhower went on to say that the next 24 hours were the most difficult of his life because now that decision was made he could no longer affect anything, and could do nothing except wait. To pass the time for those 24 hour he received reports, drank coffee, smoked five packs of cigarettes, played draughts with his aide, briefed reporters (!) on the next day’s events so they could start their stories, and wrote a short speech accepting responsibility if the invasion failed. That evening, he met with member of the 101st Airborne at their staging areas. A few chatted with Eisenhower, the far bigger crowd was around Kate Sommersby, Eisenhower’s driver and former model.
At 7:30 pm, the BBC broadcast the next lines to Verlaine’s poem:
“Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”). They were a code to the French Resistance that the invasion would begin in 48 hours, and that that they should begin sabotage operations, particularly the rail network.
At 8:30 pm, Churchill sent a coded telegram to Stalin simply stating, “Tonight, we go”.
About an hour later he wished his wife a good night, who told him not to worry. He shot back, “Do you know that when you wake up tomorrow morning, 20,000 men may be dead?”
At exactly 11:00 pm, Eisenhower, with his aide, and driver, watched the first C-47 transports carrying the 101st take to the sky.
“Well, it’s on. Nothing can stop it now.”
In April 1989, Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement in Poland won the right to run candidates in the first fairly free parliamentary elections since before Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union 50 years before. On 4 June 1989, the Polish people headed to the polls (Ha!).
The Communists knew they were not popular, but they had several critical advantages. First, they still controlled the bureaucracy and the election apparatus. Also, their commissars still controlled the Polish military. Furthermore, more than half of the seats were rigged so only communists were allowed on the ballot. And finally, there was still 60,000 Red Army soldiers stationed on Polish soil.
The Communists believed they could not possibly lose the election utilizing these and every plausibly deniable, and not so deniable, electoral dirty trick. And many Solidarity candidates agreed with them. But the Polish people’s dissatisfaction with Communism’s inherent hypocrisy and corruption ran deep. Despite bureaucratic harassment, voter intimidation, and widespread election fraud, observers estimated that 98% of eligible voters turned out, virtually all for Solidarity.
Early ballot counts immediately showed that Solidarity and its allies had won a decisive victory. By the next day, it was confirmed: Solidarity had won 90% of the seats. Even seats where there was only a communist name on the ballot were lost to write-in candidates. It was a stinging rebuke of collectivism.
However, there was still the specter of military intervention. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Polish military units began marginalizing, neutralizing or even out right arresting their commissars after the election, particularly if they attempted to take over units from their commanders. The Polish Army would not influence the election and the Poles did not have to worry about the Soviets. Like everything else about communism, the Red Army in 1989 was a facade. The Soviet 6th Motorized Rifle Division and 20th Tank Division had not received fuel or spare parts in months, because their supply system was so horribly corrupt. They had huge discipline problems and soldier-gangs ruled the barracks, where officers refused to go. What soldiers they did have control of were needed to tend the farms around the cantonment areas, which was the only way the divisions could be fed adequately. The Brezhnev Doctrine was dead, not because Gorbachev disavowed it, but because he had no choice.
Solidarity’s landslide victory was a reality on 6 June, 1989.
In July, the communists managed to hold onto the presidency through a series of back room deals, but a Solidarity candidate became prime minister in August. In September, 1989, the first non-communist government in the Eastern bloc in was sworn in.
The rest of Eastern Europe took notice
By the 1750s, the status of the Ohio Country was nebulous. Great Britain, France, the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut and the Ohio Indians themselves all had claims to the lands bordered by Appalachians Mountains in the east and southeast, the Ohio River in the south, and the Great Lakes in the North. The Ohio, Iroquois for “good”, wasn’t always named so. Known as the “beautiful river” by its previous Algonquin and Sioux inhabitants, the Ohio and its tributaries teemed with one the 17th century’s most precious commodities: beaver.
In the 17th century the fur trade dominated Indian politics, but was still seconded to the demographic disaster that heralded the arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere. At the end of the 16th century, European childhood diseases swept through the Ohio Country, greatly reducing the Indian population. Most Indians spread out to take advantage of the increased space. One Indian nation did the opposite: the Iroquois Confederacy. Instead of breaking apart and spreading out, the Iroquois consolidated and centralized. Exploiting the insatiable demand by first Dutch and then British merchants for beaver pelts, the unified and powerful Iroquois embarked on seventy years of conquest, extermination, and expansion in order to secure the beaver trade and replace the population lost to disease.
The Iroquois and British formed the Covenant Chain, in which the Iroquois only attacked Indian tribes hostile to Britain or friends of the French. However, they struck a hard wall along the St Lawrence River against the Huron and Wabanaki Indians equipped by the French, so the Iroquois turned south and west against the Ohio Indians. Dutch and British trade goods, particularly muskets, fire strikers, and metal pots, hatchets and arrowheads, gave the Iroquois an asymmetric advantage over the Ohio Indians. These items greatly simplified the logistics for the ranging bands of Iroquois. No longer were hunting and war parties limited to the range at which they could carry a hot rock for fire starting, the amount of dried meat they could carry, or the length of time they could sleep cold and hungry in the elements. Fire starters could produce fire on demand to quickly cook game in metal pots efficiently killed by metal arrowheads and butchered by metal knives. But the Beaver Wars weren’t just about the all-important pelts but also the replacement of the Iroquois population killed by European diseases.
Small pox in particular took a toll on Indians nations. For the Iroquois, capture, enslavement and assimilation were the answers to mitigating their reduced population. Most nations defeated in battle disappeared. Men, wounded and anyone unable to make the increasingly longer trip back to the Five Nations, such as the elderly, infants and young children, were killed, while women and older children were taken back to the Iroquoian homeland. There they endured an initial period of brutal enslavement bookended by a gauntlet to enter the town when they arrived to an assimilation ceremony into the nation. If they survived they were welcomed into their clan as a full member. Many Indian nations disappeared, never to be heard of again, lost to history. The lucky ones were recorded by an intrepid European traveler or trader, and left in a dusty tome to be discovered by some future historian. The luckiest have a town or street named after them. The Erie Indians dominated the southern shore of the lake that bears their name, but that doesn’t change the fact that we know virtually nothing about them, so complete was their destruction at the hands of the Iroquois.
The decades of warfare became central to Iroquoian identity as young warriors wanted to emulate their elders, but had to range further and further afield for captives. Later, war was being conducted for its own sake, in many cases just to replace losses from previous wars. Consequently, Iroquoian conquests were so vast that they could not effectively control their own territory. Their hunting grounds were preyed upon by the southern Indians, such as the Cherokee. The Iroquois took to establishing buffer nations from their defeated foes, most notably the Shawnee, to protect the hunting grounds. To keep these subjects in line, Iroquois “half-kings” were appointed.
The half-kings were answerable only to the Five Nations council fire at Onondaga and lived among their vassal nations. However, the language differences and the animosity generated from the half-kings and their families choosing the best women for wives and the strongest and fastest boys for assimilation caused them to grow apart from their wards. The half-kings’ families and entourages eventually formed their own tribe, known as the Mingo.
As the Mingo were slowly forming their own identity in the Ohio country, the Beaver Wars were brought to an abrupt end. In 1697, the British Empire made a separate peace with France to end King William’s War, something they pledged the Iroquois never to do. It was the first break of the Covenant Chain. France and their Indian allies turned their full fury onto the Iroquois decisively defeating them. At the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701, the Iroquois pledged fealty to France, and to remain neutral in any future conflicts between France and England.
The Iroquois had no intention of remaining neutral and abdicating their commanding position as arbiter of all things Indian between the French and British Empires. They planned to play both sides. Barely three years after Montreal, the easternmost of the Five Iroquois Nations, the Mohawk, went to war as an ally of France during the War of Spanish Succession, or Queen Anne’s War in America. The other four nations remained neutral in order to continue trade with the British. The war ended in 1713 with a British victory. At the Treaty of Utrecht, the negotiations of which the Iroquois did not participate in since it was signed in the Netherlands, France gave their nominal sovereignty over the Iroquois Confederacy to the British, who were not so hands off as the French were.
The Iroquois had a few problems with their new status; the least of which was their new “Great White Father” across the sea, because militarily, the edict could not be enforced: the English traversed Confederation land only because the Iroquois permitted them. The problem was the Treaty of Utrecht could be enforced economically. The Iroquois could not go back to their traditional way of life. The trade goods had permanently altered daily life and the traditional skills of their great-grandparents were gone. Moreover, they had no industrial base to produce their own muskets, metal tools, and woven clothes. Even their currencies, little beads called wampum, were now manufactured abroad. The Iroquois had no choice but to reluctantly accept the terms.
There were further problems. The neutrality of the westernmost of the Five Nations, the Seneca, and the Mingo and Ohio Indians, allowed the British to successfully court the Cherokee to fight Spain’s Indian allies in the south. The Cherokee and their allies defeated the Tuscarora in 1713. The Tuscarora were an Iroquoian speaking people, and sought refuge from the Cherokee with the Five Nations. The Tuscarora were vehemently anti-British, and the elders gave them new lands east of the Mohawk to prevent British encroachment. They became the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, but they were very problematic for the council and caused no end of trouble with their new British overlords.
Nonetheless, the unique Iroquois position allowed them to effectively maintain their sovereignty, if not in name but in practice. They were more powerful than any two other English colonies and were masters of their territories. They settled into a power broker role, and played everyone against each other to maintain their position: the British against the French, the Crown against the colonies, colony against colony, the colonies against the French, and the colonies against other Indians.
During “the Long Peace” between 1713 and 1744, the Iroquois were colonial muscle against recalcitrant Indians that bordered the English colonies. Several English colonies bought land from the Iroquois that was occupied by one of their subject nations, and the Iroquios sent them west to the Ohio country at colonial request. All for some extra trade goods to key elders which could be given to followers for their loyalty. Pennsylvania in particular routinely called on the Mohawk to enforce treaties. The Quakers in the Pennsylvania Assembly refused to fund a militia and outsourced the colony’s defense to the Mohawk, again just for some extra trade goods. In 1737, the Delaware Indians rightfully balked at the duplicitous “Walking Purchase” for the remainder of the Delaware River valley. The Assembly appealed to the Mohawk and the Delaware were quickly sent packing. Even worse, in the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster, the Iroquois sold all of the Ohio Country land south of the Ohio River, at least in Virginian eyes. The Iroquois thought they sold just the Shenandoah Valley. The dispute would have probably ended in the Six Nations’ favor had war not broken out again.
The thirty years of “peace” ended when another European war spilled over into North America. The War of Austrian Succession was known as King George’s War in the colonies. At the start of the conflict in 1744, the Iroquois decided to exert their sovereignty and stayed neutral, despite British protestations.
The closest Iroquois nation and the one that could offer the most immediate assistance, the Tuscarora in the east, wanted nothing to do with the British. New York and the New England colonies routinely used the Iroquois to keep their Indian neighbors in line, and when they decided to stay neutral, the British could find few Indian allies to fight the French and Wabbanaki in New England. The British got the worst of it, about ten percent of the male population of New York and New England were killed. Due to factors outside New England, the British won the war, and did it without the Iroquois assistance. The colonists who suffered during the war wouldn’t forget Iroquois neutrality.
King George’s War had a different effect in the Ohio Country. In the 1730s, the colonies were expanding, especially Pennsylvania and Virginia, and colonial settlers were pushing west over the Appalachian Mountains. The settlers and traders brought cheap trade goods to the Ohio Indians. French trade goods were three times more expensive and of an inferior quality. The French tried to entice the Ohio Indians to attack British trading posts but with the exception of a few gruesome examples, the Ohio Indians refused. Despite Iroquois sovereignty, and thus supposedly British control over the Ohio country stemming from the Beaver Wars, the French used the river systems at will. The Ohio and its tributaries were vital in linking Quebec and the St Lawrence River basin to Detroit, the Illinois country and Mississippi Valley to New Orleans. In 1739, Baron De Longueuil led an expedition into the Ohio country where he met with the Ohio Indian nations to secure French use of the Ohio waterways. When King George’s War broke out in 1744, the French flooded the Ohio Indians with gifts and trade goods at great expense to themselves, securing treaties to assist with fighting the British.
Flush with French trade goods, the Delaware, Shawnee and even the Mingo rolled back the frontier. The threat to settlers east of the Appalachians broke Quaker resistance to a militia. With no Iroquois help with Indian issues as they traditionally had, the Pennsylvania Assembly, led by Benjamin Franklin, approved the construction of a number of forts along the frontier and a large number of militia mostly composed of recent German and Scots-Irish immigrants who had no love for neither Quakers nor Indians. The threat never really materialized east of the Appalachians, but that didn’t stop the colonists from believing that they won the war without Iroquois help.
The Iroquois recognized that they might have over played their hand and wished to get back into King George’s good graces. They just needed a way to do so without losing any more sovereignty and without angering the French; the balance of power needed to be maintained. The actions of the Ohio Indians gave them the perfect opportunity to do exactly that. The elders at the council fire at Onondaga were furious with Ohio Indians for directly negotiating with the French, and toward the end of the war, with the British and colonies. All diplomacy was supposed to go through them. But after decades of absentee rule even the Mingo had grown weary of and chaffed at subjugation from the far away Iroquois Six Nations. The Iroquois would have none of it. They forcefully re-exerted control and to add insult to injury sold their land out from under them.
The dispute with Virginia over the Treaty of Lancaster wasn’t pursued. Even worse were the actions by the Iroquois at the Albany Congress in 1748. Though famous for Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” proposition to unite the colonies, more importantly was the fact that the Iroquois sold even more Ohio country land to the colonies, sometimes selling the same land to several colonies. There’s a portion of present day Pennsylvania that was claimed by four colonies, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, and Connecticut, due to “shady bush deals” with Iroquois elders at the Albany Congress. None of this endeared the Iroquois with the Ohio Indians.
After the defeat of the French in King George’s War, the Ohio Indians were left out to rot, not just by the Iroquois but also by the French. French gifts and trade goods, plentiful in 1748, dried up completely in 1749, despite French insistence that they were subjects, as per the claims made by LaSalle in the 17th century and their agreements in 1744. Like the Iroquois after the Treaty of Utrecht, the Ohio Indians were forced to crawl back to the British and colonies for trade goods, if the French could not or would not provide. Their daily life depended on them and the Ohio Indians had no capacity to produce their own. The Virginians formed the Ohio Company to exploit and speculate the land sold to them in the Treaty of Lancaster and the Ohio Indian invited them and Pennsylvania to establish a trading post at Logstown (present day Ambridge, PA) on the Ohio River, which ironically the French built for the Ohio Indians in 1747 to stage raids out of.
The French were incensed. Later that year, the governor of New France sent Celeron de Blainville with 300 troops to reestablish control. He planted lead markers along the rivers and when he reached Logstown expelled the traders and confiscated their goods. De Blainville then berated the inhabitants for not resisting British expansion as subjects of New France should. Feeling that the Ohio Indians were sufficiently chastised, De Blainville returned to Quebec.
Enter Tanacharison, a Mingo half-king with dreams of a sovereign Ohio Indian nation free of French, Iroquois and (eventually) British influence. But the pragmatic Tanacharison knew he needed British trade goods, so taking a page out of the Iroquois playbook, he decided to set everyone against each other and profit. After an abortive attempt in 1751, Tanacharison’s council at Logstown in May 1752 was a who’s who of frontier fixers assembled to hammer out a treaty to keep the trade goods flowing. Marylander Christopher Gist and Virginian William Trent of the Ohio Company, Joshua Fry from Virginia, George Crogan from Pennsylvania, and Miami, Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo chiefs, all of whom were upset with the way they were treated by the De Blainville. To establish his authority and magnanimity, Tanacharison declared the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster voided but that any Virgina settlements south of the Ohio would be left in peace. Tanacharison’s statement raised an eyebrow from the Seneca chiefs, but as the Mingo chief had by far the most warriors, they chose to let it slide for the time being. He further stated that Pennsylvania and Virginia were allowed to reestablish their trading posts, but at different more defensible location, 19 miles upriver where Chartiers Creek empties in the Ohio(present day McKees Rocks, PA). As a representative of the Ohio Company, William Trent enthusiastically volunteered to build a fort there to protect against a repeat of De Blainville’s expedition. Tanacharison agreed as it was below the Ohio-Monongahela River boundary that he considered the southern boundary of his realm. The Ohio Company had been trying to get Iroquois approval for a fort there since DeBlainville threw them out in 1749 and Tanacharison just delivered on it. One Delaware chief told Gist that “You English claim the south of the (Ohio) river, and the French the north. Where is the Indian land?” So Tanarcharison added his only stipulation that the British limit colonial settlement to south of the Ohio River. The French claims to the north were void and Trent’s Fort would protect everyone’s claims. Finally, Tanacharison renewed his fealty to King George and expected to be treated no different than any other colonial governor. The Treaty of Logstown was approved by all parties, though the Seneca quickly returned to Onondaga to report the half-king’s usurpation of their authority and for violating their expressed orders to maintain strict neutrality between the French and British.
The French and their Indian allies were not idle while Tanacharison met with the British and colonials. In June 1752, Chippewa and Ottawa Indians under Charles Langlade descended on Pickawillany, (present day Pique, OH) where the Miami chief Memeskia attempted a similar arrangement with Pennsylvania. The town’s inhabitants were slaughtered and Memeskia was ritually boiled and eaten by the warriors. As they got wind of the Treaty of Logstown, the French established a chain of forts in 1753 securing their water transportation routes in the Ohio country. The first was Fort Presque Isle on Lake Erie, (present day Erie, PA) in May. In July, they built Fort Le Bouef (on present day French Creek at Waterford, PA). Then at the mouth of the creek where it empties into the Allegheny River, they confiscated a British trading post called Venango (good guess: Venango, PA) and converted it into Fort Machault. Tanacharison and other Ohio Indian leaders travelled to Fort Presque Isle to demand the French leave, but needless to say, the French threw them out.
In January 1754, William Trent was commsioned by Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia, a captain in the militia and ordered to raise a hundred men to defend the new fort. He finally arrived at the proposed site in February 1754, after cutting a road form Cumberland, Maryland to the junction Redstone Creek and the Monongahela River (US Route 40 to Brownsville, PA). But at the suggestion of another captain of the Virginia militia, a young 21 year old George Washington, Trent decided to move the fort to the far superior Forks of the Ohio about a mile away across the Monongahela. Trent was loath to break the Logstown Treaty but fortifications on that site made the Chartier’s creek position redundant in friendly hands and untenable in French hands. Moreover, Trent, a fur trader himself, had a small post there and he would be able to stay out of the elements at night as the weather got colder without having to row across the river twice a day. Trent broke ground on “Fort Saint George” at the Forks of the Ohio (present day Pittsburgh, PA) on 17 February, 1754. Tanacharison laid the first log of the first building: the storehouse.
George Washington wasn’t a part of Trent’s expedition, but was just returning from his mission to warn the French to leave. Tanacharison reported the French response to his ultimatum to the Ohio Company of which Robert Dinwiddie, Virginia’s governor was a member. In September 1753, Dinwiddie received word from the King that he was authorized to use force to expel the French from the Ohio Country. Dinwiddie charged Washington to formally declare the British possession of the Ohio Country and then respectfully demand their withdrawal. Washington enthusiastically left Williamsburg on 31 October and slowly made his way north.
In mid-November, Washington slipped on a rock while crossing a small creek and soaked himself in the cold water (present day Slippery Rock, PA) so he had to stay there a day to warm up and dry off. He reached Fort La Boeuf, but was told to go on to Venango which he reached on 4 December. He made his proclamation, but was rebuffed. He dined with the French officers that night, when they reiterated that the Ohio Country was French and had been for almost a hundred years. Washington returned to Dinwiddie with the response.
Upon Washington’s return, Dinwiddie promoted him to major and authorized him to raise 100 more men to assist and resupply Trent, and take over construction and garrison of the fort. However, Washington was delayed while recruiting and by the middle of March, Trent was running out of provisions. So Trent left the fort to travel back down the road to request more supplies from Dinwiddie, leaving his second in command, Lt John Fraser.
John Fraser was also a fur trader, but he only accepted his commission on the condition he was able to conduct his business simultaneously. As soon as Trent departed, Fraser also left for his own trading post eight miles up the Monongahela leaving young Ensign Edward Ward in charge. Work proceeded quickly but not quick enough. In early April a French spy spotted the work reported back. In the meantime, belts were being tightened when Gist arrived and informed Ward that he had provisions at the Redstone post, if he just sent some men to gather them and bring them back. Ward dispatched half his men. The next day he was informed the French were enroute. Ward attempted to convince Fraser to come back but he was busy making money and couldn’t be bothered. Ward and Tanacharison constructed a hasty palisade around the completed storehouse but couldn’t do anymore because the French arrived quicker than expected. On 17 April 600 French regulars and another 400 militia and Indians under Captain Claude-Pierre Pecaudy Contrecoeur landed just outside musket range.
Ward and Tanacharison’s 41 men were no match and they surrendered that day. Contrecoeur tore the fort down and began building a new one. Tanacharison was furious, not that they surrendered but that the French would dare dismantle a structure in which he laid the first log. Ward and the Virginia militia departed the next day, but Tanacharison and his men stayed to observe the French.
Ward met Washington and his men on the way back and informed him of the loss. Washington was determined to retake the fort and sent a letter to Dinwiddie for artillery. He also sent a letter Tanacharison thanking him for his loyalty and asking him to recruit more men to help take the fort. Washington moved his force to Great Meadows (Farmington, PA) to await the artillery from Dinwiddie.
A French fort at the forks of the Ohio made all of the colonial trading posts on any of its tributaries untenable and unprofitable. This was an unacceptable situation for Tanacharison. The French had to be removed and Tanacharison did not personally command enough men to do it himself, and he would receive no assistance from his erstwhile superiors, the Iroquois. In fact he was probably going to be killed for what he had already done. Tanacharison needed a war between Britain and France.
Washington and Tanacharison exchanged several letters about the progress of the new fort the French were building. Named after the most recent governor of New France, Fort Duquesne was a proper star fort in the latest style and nearly impregnable against any small force if properly garrisoned. By the end of May, Dinwiddie promoted Washington again, this time to Lieutenant Colonel, and reinforced him with more Virginians and a company of South Carolina militia. On 24 May, 1754, Washington received a letter from Tanacharison that the French were on their way to defeat him and that he needed to strike first. Washington dispatched two groups, one under Gist and another under a Captain Hog to protect trading nearby trading posts and ambush any French attempts to torch them. On 27 May, Tanacharison gave Washington the location of a French camp of about 40 men, and that he should meet him there so they could both attack at the same time. Washington, who assumed hostilities between the French and British empires had already commenced with the loss of Fort Saint George the month before, agreed and decided to attack.
To the French this was not the case. The capture of the forks of the Ohio was bloodless affair and therefore not the opening salvo of a war. The camp described by Tanacharison was that of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville accompanied by 40 French marines and Canadian militia. Jumonville was enroute to Washington, not to attack him, but demand his withdrawal from French territory, an identical mission to the one Washington made to Venango. Tanacharison almost certainly knew this, but did not pass this information to Washington.
That day, Washington took 40 men of Wagoner’s Company to meet Tanacharison outside the French camp. He was surprised to find Tanacharison had just twelve Mingo warriors with him, two of whom were little more than boys. Nevertheless, the young Washington was committed as he didn’t want to lose face in front of the much older and wiser half-king. They surrounded the glen where Jumonville had his camp and attacked at dawn.
The Battle of Jumonville’s Glen lasted less than 15 minutes. Washington and Tanacharison’s men fired two volleys into the exposed French, which prompted a wounded Jumonville to surrender. As the prisoners were sorted, Tanacharison found Jumonville, and in front of Washington, their men and the prisoners, planted his tomahawk in Jumonville’s skull, killing him. He then scalped him.
Tanacharison got his war.
The loss of Trent’s Fort, or Fort Saint George as it was known to the Ohio Company, was arguably the first act of war between Britain and France that would eventually grow into the Seven Years War or the French and Indian War as it was known in North America. What cannot be argued was that the murder of Jumonville by Tanacharison was the act that led to French to seek revenge, and eventually Washington’s defeat and surrender at Fort Necessity in July. The two battles convinced the prime minister of Great Britain, the Duke of Newcastle, to dispatch and expeditionary force led by General Edward Braddock, to North American to dislodge the French. Braddock’s defeat and the French alliance with Austria caused the war to expand to Europe. Frederick the Great’s Prussia launched a preemptive war against the Austrians, which cemented a British-Prussian alliance. The Seven Year’s War raged around the globe until 1763 and caused permanent split in Indian-American relations from which “they shall never come to peace again”.
Tanacharison didn’t live long enough to see his dream of an independent Ohio Indian nation, or even the rest of the war. He was scornful of Washington’s Fort Necessity at Great Meadows and took his men and departed before the French surrounded them. Cut off from his people in the Ohio Country, Tanacharison sought refuge with the ardently pro-British Seneca Queen Aliquippa, who had also broken with the Iroquois. However, he took ill late that summer with pneumonia. Aliquippa took him to the farm of the Susquehanna ferryman John Harris (present day Paxtang, PA, just outside Harrisburg) where he died on 4 October 1754.
The murder of Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville by Mingo half-king Tanacharison while under George Washington’s care was one of the seminal moments in Atlantic history, everything that happened before it led up to it and everything that happened after it was caused by it.
After being removed from command of the 7th US Army after the invasion of Sicily for slapping two American soldiers, FDR gave Patton a second chance. In February 1944, he was given command of the 3rd US Army, which was part of the follow on troops for Operation Overlord after the beachheads were secured. Although Patton gave speeches to his troops all of the time, his most iconic speech was given in preparation for the upcoming invasion of France. He gave this speech many times, but the canonical and iconic version was given to the 6th Armored Division on 31 May 1944. This is the speech that George C Scott immortalized in the 1969 film “Patton”. Scott’s version was significantly shorter and less profane.
Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
Men, this stuff that some sources sling around about America wanting out of this war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit. Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. You are here today for three reasons. First, because you are here to defend your homes and your loved ones. Second, you are here for your own self-respect, because you would not want to be anywhere else. Third, you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight. When you, here, every one of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.
You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would die in a major battle. Death must not be feared. Death, in time, comes to all men. Yes, every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he’s not, he’s a liar. Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching men fight who are just as scared as they are. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared. Some men get over their fright in a minute under fire. For some, it takes an hour. For some, it takes days. But a real man will never let his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood. Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base. Americans pride themselves on being He Men and they ARE He Men. Remember that the enemy is just as frightened as you are, and probably more so. They are not supermen.
All through your Army careers, you men have bitched about what you call ‘chicken shit drilling’. That, like everything else in this Army, has a definite purpose. That purpose is alertness. Alertness must be bred into every soldier. I don’t give a fuck for a man who’s not always on his toes. You men are veterans or you wouldn’t be here. You are ready for what’s to come. A man must be alert at all times if he expects to stay alive. If you’re not alert, sometime, a German son-of-an-asshole-bitch is going to sneak up behind you and beat you to death with a sockfull of shit!
There are four hundred neatly marked graves somewhere in Sicily. All because one man went to sleep on the job. But they are German graves, because we caught the bastard asleep before they did. An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse shit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about fucking!
We have the finest food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. Why, by God, I actually pity those poor sons-of-bitches we’re going up against. By God, I do.
My men don’t surrender. I don’t want to hear of any soldier under my command being captured unless he has been hit. Even if you are hit, you can still fight back. That’s not just bull shit either. The kind of man that I want in my command is just like the lieutenant in Libya, who, with a Luger against his chest, jerked off his helmet, swept the gun aside with one hand, and busted the hell out of the Kraut with his helmet. Then he jumped on the gun and went out and killed another German before they knew what the hell was coming off. And, all of that time, this man had a bullet through a lung. There was a real man!
All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either. Every single man in this Army plays a vital role. Don’t ever let up. Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain. What if every truck driver suddenly decided that he didn’t like the whine of those shells overhead, turned yellow, and jumped headlong into a ditch? The cowardly bastard could say, ‘Hell, they won’t miss me, just one man in thousands’. But, what if every man thought that way? Where in the hell would we be now? What would our country, our loved ones, our homes, even the world, be like? No, gawdamnit, Americans don’t think like that. Every man does his job. Every man serves the whole. Every department, every unit, is important in the vast scheme of this war. The ordnance men are needed to supply the guns and machinery of war to keep us rolling. The Quartermaster is needed to bring up food and clothes because where we are going there isn’t a hell of a lot to steal. Every last man on K.P. has a job to do, even the one who heats our water to keep us from getting the ‘G.I. Shits’.
Each man must not think only of himself, but also of his buddy fighting beside him. We don’t want yellow cowards in this Army. They should be killed off like rats. If not, they will go home after this war and breed more cowards. The brave men will breed more brave men. Kill off the gawdamned cowards and we will have a nation of brave men. One of the bravest men that I ever saw was a fellow on top of a telegraph pole in the midst of a furious fire fight in Tunisia. I stopped and asked what the hell he was doing up there at a time like that. He answered, ‘Fixing the wire, Sir’. I asked, ‘Isn’t that a little unhealthy right about now?’ He answered, ‘Yes Sir, but the gawdamned wire has to be fixed’. I asked, ‘Don’t those planes strafing the road bother you?’ And he answered, ‘No, Sir, but you sure as hell do!’ Now, there was a real man. A real soldier. There was a man who devoted all he had to his duty, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty might appear at the time, no matter how great the odds. And you should have seen those trucks on the road to Tunisia. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they rolled over those son-of-a-bitching roads, never stopping, never faltering from their course, with shells bursting all around them all of the time. We got through on good old American guts. Many of those men drove for over forty consecutive hours. These men weren’t combat men, but they were soldiers with a job to do. They did it, and in one hell of a way they did it. They were part of a team. Without team effort, without them, the fight would have been lost. All of the links in the chain pulled together and the chain became unbreakable.
Don’t forget, you men don’t know that I’m here. No mention of that fact is to be made in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell happened to me. I’m not supposed to be commanding this Army. I’m not even supposed to be here in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the Goddamned Germans. Someday I want to see them raise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl, ‘Jesus Christ, it’s the Goddamned Third Army again and that son-of-a-fucking-bitch Patton’.
We want to get the hell over there. The quicker we clean up this gawdamned mess, the quicker we can take a little jaunt against the purple pissing Japs and clean out their nest, too. Before the gawdamned Marines get all of the credit.
Sure, we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-bitch Hitler. Just like I’d shoot a snake!
When a man is lying in a shell hole, if he just stays there all day, a German will get to him eventually. The hell with that idea. The hell with taking it. My men don’t dig foxholes. I don’t want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don’t give the enemy time to dig one either. We’ll win this war, but we’ll win it only by fighting and by showing the Germans that we’ve got more guts than they have; or ever will have. We’re not going to just shoot the sons-of-bitches, we’re going to rip out their living gawdamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket. War is a bloody, killing business. You’ve got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt off your face and realize that instead of dirt it’s the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you’ll know what to do!
I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a gawdamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy’s balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like shit through a tin horn!
From time to time there will be some complaints that we are pushing our people too hard. I don’t give a good Goddamn about such complaints. I believe in the old and sound rule that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood. The harder WE push, the more Germans we will kill. The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing means fewer casualties. I want you all to remember that.
There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON’T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, ‘Well, your Granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.’ No, sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, ‘Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-Goddamned-Bitch named Georgie Patton!’
Biak Island, off the northwest coast of New Guinea, was the next step in MacArthur’s relentless march towards the Philippines. The island’s airfields blocked access to Geelvink Bay, which was required to continue the advance across New Guinea. Furthermore, the capture of Biak would put all of northwest New Guinea in range of Allied airpower. The Japanese knew this and planned on holding the island at all costs. The Japanese commander on the island, Col Kuzume Naoyuki, developed new tactics based on the experiences of previous battles. He knew the Americans would expect a Tarawa-like defense of the beach and plan for it. Therefore he had his troops defend inland, and ambush the unsuspecting Americans and Australians on their way to the obvious objective on the island: the three large airfields.
On 27 May 1944, the US 41st Infantry Division, consisting of National Guardsmen from the Pacific Northwest, had an unopposed landing after a furious bombardment by the US Navy. They naively assumed the bombardment destroyed any Japanese, and confidently headed inland. They walked right into Kuzume’s elaborate ambushes in depth consisting of pillboxes, honeycombed into the hills, supported by platoon strongpoints, forward supply depots in caves, minefields, pre-sited artillery and mortars, and tank counterattacks. The Guardsmen were initilly tore apart. The remains of the lead battalion could only be extracted from the kill zone by amtraks and tanks, and then only at night.
The “Sunsetters” were veterans of the two year long march across New Guinea, but this was the worst action they had seen. Every Japanese position had to be taken by close combat, and every Japanese position was inside the kill zone of a supporting position. Kuzume’s “cave defense” slowed the Allied advance across the island to a crawl. Even worse for the attackers, he forced his troops to abandon the suicidally wasteful banzai charges brought about by a perverted Bushido code that saw cowardice in any withdrawal. Kuzume made the Sunsetters pay for every yard they gained as his men slowly fell back from prepared fighting position to prepared fighting position all the way to the western end of the island.
It took the entire division until August to secure Biak using flamethrowers, satchel charges and bayonets. It would then take six more months to reinforce, rebuild, retrain, and refit the division.
Kusume’s defense was a taste of what was to come. His effective reforms became the standard Japanese island defensive tactics for the rest of the war. The Japanese fought for Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Anguar, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa using Kusume’s methods and techniques.
After four months of stalemate in the shell hole ridden, malaria infested marshlands of the Anzio/Nettuno lodgment, Gen Mark Clark’s Fifth Army was ready to break out. To the south, the Eighth Army smashed through the Gustav Line and brushed aside the Senger Line (aka Hitler Line, which had a quick name change once it was so easily pierced by the Canadians) and were driving into an increasingly desperate German Tenth Army, the last obstacle separating the Fifth and Eighth Armies.
As part of Operation Diadem, the Fifth Army launched Operation Buffalo to tie down German troops and cut off the Germans fighting to the south. All of his troops were making good progress. On 25 May, 1944, MG Lucian Truscott’s US VI Corps, consisting of the US 3rd, 34th and 45th Infantry and US 1st Armored Divisions were within striking distance of their objective: the Valmatone Gap and Route 6. The capture of Valmontone would cut off the German Tenth Army to the south and ensure its destruction.
That night, Clark’s operations officer told Truscott to cease Operation Buffalo and begin Operation Turtle. The main differences were a shift in the main effort, and the mission of the 1st Armored Division. In Turtle, the main effort shifted to the 34th and 45th’s drive into the Alban Hills. Once they broke through, “Old Ironsides” would turn north and drive on Rome instead of Valmontone, while the 3rd ID would continue on alone. Truscott knew about Turtle, his staff had planned it, but that plan was based on the main German strength at Valmontone, not in the Alban Hills. By executing Turtle, the 34th, 45th and 1st AD would be attacking directly into the teeth of the only occupied and entrenched units of the Caesar C Line, while leaving Valmontone to the “hodge podge” of units the Germans had holding the door open for the Tenth Army. Truscott knew that the 3rd ID would never make it there by itself, and even if it did, it would not be able to hold Valmontone from a concerted counterattack when the Germans attempted to break out. He also recognized the vainglorious insanity of capturing Rome at the expense of letting the German Tenth Army escape. He initially refused the order, and demanded to talk to Clark first. But Clark “was not available” to speak with him, and he was told to execute. In a decision he would regret for the rest of his life, Truscott complied.
On 2 June, the Caesar C Line collapsed but by that time some 70,000 German troops of the Tenth Army had already fled north. Almost all of them escaped through the Valmontone Gap within sound of the 3rd ID’s guns. Those veterans formed the hard core of the defenders on the next set of fortifications, the Gothic Line. The Gothic Line, north of Rome, proved to be more formidable than the Gustav Line. The Allies would try to breach it for a long seven months, nearly twice as long as the Gustav Line. The Allies incurred tens of thousands of casualties in the process and didn’t breakthrough until April 1945.
On 3 June, Hitler ordered Rome an “open city”, and its occupiers retreated to the Gothic Line. Clark victoriously entered The Eternal City on 4 June, 1944, like a triumphant ancient Roman consul. He would have his front page headlines for exactly one day. On 6 June 1944, the Allies launched Operation Overlord, the invasion of France, and operations in Italy would be relegated to the back pages of Clark’s beloved newspapers for the rest of the war.
Clark’s decision to seize Rome at the expense of destroying the German Tenth Army is one of the great “What ifs?” of the Second World War. If the Tenth Army was destroyed, the Allies would have pushed through the Gothic Line in August. (Assuming, of course, the Germans didn’t reinforce Italy, but then those troops would have to come from somewhere.) Northern Italy was a historical playground for armies because there’s no defensible terrain. There was nothing to stop the Allies from pushing into Croatia and Slovenia, linking up with Tito, and then pushing into Austria, Hungary, and Romania months before the Soviets, as Churchill envisioned. The Germans would have reacted, but again, those troops had to come from somewhere, and operational reserves for the Germans were a zero sum game by the end of 1944.
“Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda”, though.