Has an encirclement ever succeeded with numerically inferior cavalry?

Has an encirclement ever succeeded with numerically inferior cavalry?

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This is a follow up to my previous question. In all the examples given there was some other advantage that decided the battle and not encirclement. For example at Narva

They attacked inexperienced Russian regiments and crumbled them one by one.

Also Finnish Motti tactics in the winter war, Teutoburg etc are a type of divide and conquer ambush tactic and not simply an encirclement. At Alesia there are no historical details but I have not seen evidence Rome had less cavalry than the enemy.

I cant find any examples where the encircler didn't have have a superior local number of motivated cavalry.

Has an encirclement ever succeeded with numerically inferior cavalry?

I'm not sure if this counts as a valid answer, but ships of the line are always superior to cavalry. Or, in this case: nearly always.

In 1793 the Dutch fleet was frozen at anchor, moored close to Den Helder, near the island of Texel. That winter was quite severe. Even the Rhine river froze over, as were parts of the North Sea close to shore. The Dutch republic was at war with the French republic - and losing. A French cavalry unit captured the fleet intact.

General Pichechru (in Dutch he's known as Pietje Cru) knew the ships were iced in. He ordered the very appropriate named general Jan Willem de Winter to capture the fleet intact. He used hussars and infantry, carried on the backs of the horses. The hooves were covered with fabric to muffle the sound. The hussars rode up to the ships, quietly, and the infantry boarded the ships. The fleet was captured intact, without casualties.

That capture ended the war. It's one of the very few examples in history of cavalry capturing a fleet.

The Battle of Cowpens where 300 British cavalry (250 of the British Legion plus 50 of the 17th Light Dragoons) outnumbered American Cavalry of only ~180 men and horses ("82 Continental light dragoons; 55 state dragoons; 45 militia dragoons") by almost 2:1.

Total forces for both sides were about 1,150 British against about 1,900 (most poorly trained and disciplined militia) Americans.

Caught in a clever double envelopment that has been compared with the Battle of Cannae in ancient times, many of the British surrendered.

AN interesting note - in both this battle and Cannae, Morgan and Hannibal leverage the very weakness of their main battle line into a tactical advantage that sets up the double envelopment.

Invasion of Poland

The Invasion of Poland (1 September – 6 October 1939), also known as the September campaign (Polish: Kampania wrześniowa), 1939 defensive war (Polish: Wojna obronna 1939 roku) and Poland campaign (German: Überfall auf Polen, Polenfeldzug), was an attack on the Republic of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, and one day after the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union had approved the pact. [13] The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.

  • Nazi Germany:
  • (Army Group North)
  • (Army Group South)
  • Soviet Union:
  • (Belorussian Front)
  • (Ukrainian Front)
  • Slovak Republic:
  • (Army Bernolák)
  • Karpaty Army
  • Kraków Army
  • Lublin Army (improvised)
  • Łódź Army
  • Modlin Army
  • Pomorze Army
  • Poznań Army
  • Prusy Army
  • Warszawa Army (improvised)
  • Total: 2,000,000+
  • Nazi Germany:
  • 66 divisions
  • 6 brigades
  • 9,000 guns [1]
  • 2,750 tanks
  • 2,315 aircraft [2]
  • Soviet Union:
  • 33+ divisions
  • 11+ brigades
  • 4,959 guns
  • 4,736 tanks
  • 3,300 aircraft
  • Slovak Republic:
  • 3 divisions
  • Total: 1,000,000 [Note 1]
  • 39 divisions [5]
  • 16 brigades [5]
  • 4,300 guns [5]
  • 210 tanks
  • 670 tankettes
  • 800 aircraft [1]
  • Total: 59,000
  • Nazi Germany:[Note 2]
  • 17,269 killed
  • 30,300 wounded
  • 3,500 missing
  • 236 tanks
  • 800 vehicles
  • 246 aircraft
  • Soviet Union:[Note 3]
  • 1,475 killed
  • 2,383 wounded [10]
  • or 5,327 casualties [11]
  • 43 tanks
  • Slovak Republic:
  • 37 killed
  • 11 missing
  • 114 wounded
  • 2 aircraft [12]

German forces invaded Poland from the north, south, and west the morning after the Gleiwitz incident. Slovak military forces advanced alongside the Germans in northern Slovakia. As the Wehrmacht advanced, Polish forces withdrew from their forward bases of operation close to the Germany–Poland border to more established defense lines to the east. After the mid-September Polish defeat in the Battle of the Bzura, the Germans gained an undisputed advantage. Polish forces then withdrew to the southeast where they prepared for a long defence of the Romanian Bridgehead and awaited expected support and relief from France and the United Kingdom. [14] Those two countries had pacts with Poland and had declared war on Germany on 3 September in the end their aid to Poland was very limited, however France invaded a small part of Germany in the Saar Offensive.

On 17 September, the Soviet Red Army invaded Eastern Poland, the territory beyond the Curzon Line that fell into the Soviet "sphere of influence" according to the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact this rendered the Polish plan of defence obsolete. [15] Facing a second front, the Polish government concluded the defence of the Romanian Bridgehead was no longer feasible and ordered an emergency evacuation of all troops to neutral Romania. [16] On 6 October, following the Polish defeat at the Battle of Kock, German and Soviet forces gained full control over Poland. The success of the invasion marked the end of the Second Polish Republic, though Poland never formally surrendered.

On 8 October, after an initial period of military administration, Germany directly annexed western Poland and the former Free City of Danzig and placed the remaining block of territory under the administration of the newly established General Government. The Soviet Union incorporated its newly acquired areas into its constituent Byelorussian and Ukrainian republics, and immediately started a campaign of Sovietization. In the aftermath of the invasion, a collective of underground resistance organizations formed the Polish Underground State within the territory of the former Polish state. Many of the military exiles who managed to escape Poland subsequently joined the Polish Armed Forces in the West, an armed force loyal to the Polish government-in-exile.


After the failed Second Encirclement Campaign against Shaanxi–Gansu Soviet in July, 1935, Chiang Kai-shek once again immediately mobilized more than 100,000 troops of warlords of Northeast China, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Suiyuan, Ningxia and Gansu to launch the Third Encirclement Campaign against Shaanxi–Gansu Soviet aimed to eradicate the local communists. Chiang believed that launching another round of attack on the numerically and technically inferior enemy would prevent them from regrouping and rest, and when the enemy was still weak from last campaign, it would be easier to defeat because the communists had no other troops to rotate, while the nationalists could deploy their own fresh troops to overwhelm the enemy, resulting in final victory.

However, the nationalist effort was seriously hampered by the fact that all troops deployed were warlord troops, and all of them were weary of each other, as well as Chiang himself. Every warlord was worried that others (including Chiang) would sacrifice his troops to save their own. As a result, there was not much coordination and cooperation between nationalists themselves, and this weakness was exploited by the Communists to the maximum.

Has an encirclement ever succeeded with numerically inferior cavalry? - History

By James I. Marino

The most successful Italian Army of World War II was a political creation of dictator Benito Mussolini. Il Duce desired to participate in the fascist dream to eliminate Bolshevism. Although heavily engaged in North Africa, the Balkans, and East Africa, Mussolini forged an expeditionary force, sending the Italian army in Russia to fight alongside the Germans and other Axis satellite forces.

This unit, the Corpo Spedzione Italiane in Russia (CSIR) became the most successful Italian army in the war. This army advanced the greatest distance, more than 1,100 kilometers, earned the most victories, and lost just two battles. But like many armies before it, the Italian force was swallowed up in the vast winter landscape of Russia and has been forgotten by history. (Read more about the forgotten events and battles that shaped the course of the Second World War inside WWII History magazine.)

Corpo Spedzione Italiane: An Offering to Hitler

In May 1941, Mussolini, who always had keen political intuition, sensed that Hitler was about to launch an attack against the Soviet Union. Hitler never kept Mussolini abreast of the invasion plans. Yet on May 30, three weeks before the start of Operation Barbarossa, Mussolini told Army Chief of Staff General Carlo Cavallero: “We must assemble one new motorized division and a second one to be attached to the Grenadier Division near Zagreb.”

As soon as Germany officially informed Mussolini of the invasion, Mussolini told his foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, “We must be present on the Russian Front as soon as possible!” Mussolini even named the commander of the CSIR, General Francesco Zingales.

In an official letter to Hitler, Il Duce offered Italian forces. He wrote that the Italian expeditionary forces would perform well because his soldiers never fought better than when they were fighting against the Bolsheviks. After heavy negotiations by Ciano, on June 30 Berlin officially transmitted to Rome the invitation to participate in the campaign in Russia.

Italian journalist Santi Corvaja in his book, Hitler & Mussolini—The Secret Meetings, described the assignment of the Italian forces. “The CSIR was given a geographic area in Zone B under [Field Marshal Gerd] von Rundstedt, within the German Eleventh Army, which was responsible for Bessarabia and the Dnieper River basin.”

Mussolini sent the following orders to Zingales: “Get to the Russian Front as quickly as possible. Our presence in numbers in Russia is essential. That is where Hitler believes he will win the war. Should we be absent, even the fact that I was the first one to fight communism will not count in the face of the realization that the Italians were not present in Russia.”

62,000 Italian Soldiers to the Front

The Corpo Spedzione Italiane in Russia had a strength of 62,000, with two nominally motorized infantry divisions of the old 1938 binary type, the 9th Pasubio and 52nd Torino. The 3rd Celere, a cavalry division partially converted to a motorized division, the 30th Artillery Regiment, and the 63rd Motorized CCNN Legion of the fascist blackshirt militia completed the corps.

The Italian Air Force, Regia Aeronautica, supported the expeditionary corps in the Russian campaign. The headquarters was established in Turdora and consisted of the 22nd Gruppo made of four fighter squadrons, the 359th, 362nd, 369th, and 371st, and the 61st Gruppo of three bomber squadrons, the 34th, 119th, and 128th, a total of 83 planes. The Italian Air Force contingent remained with the Italian ground forces during the entire campaign.

Mussolini inspected the first units to leave at Verona on June 25. He inspected more regiments leaving for Russia on July 29 at Mantua. “Verona became the launching pad to Russia,” wrote Santi Corvaja. “From that railway station, 225 trains took the 62,000 soldiers, 5,500 cars and trucks, 4,600 horses and mules, and tons of supplies over a distance of 2,300 kilometers up to the Romanian border.” Surprisingly the first contingent of Italian forces to reach the front was a flotilla of MAS torpedo boats and six midget subs.

The units of the CSIR embarked upon trains and traveled through Austria and Hungary and reached their assembly areas in northern Romania. The Pasubio (9th) Division left first on July 11 and arrived at Suceava, Romania, on July 17. In transit, General Zingales became ill and had to be replaced. Cavallero suggested General Giovanni Messe to Mussolini. Messe had led the Italian Mobile Corps during the invasion of Yugoslavia. Messe joined the CSIR on July 17 in Marmarossziger, Hungary.

At the assembly areas, the Italians used the vehicles from the two motorized divisions to move the Pasubio Division into the front line as soon as possible. The Celere (3rd) had sufficient horses and vehicles to reach the front. “The vehicles of the Chiaramonti Transport Regiment worked in relays to bring up units of the Corps’ troops,” noted military historian Franklyn Prieskop, “leaving the Torino Division to march east toward the ever-receding front lines, a distance of over 800 miles on foot.”

The Italian Army in Russia: Invading the Soviet Union

The CSIR began its movement into Russia on July 16 from Botosani, on the border between Romania and Bessarabia. These were the best units in the Italian Army at this time. Historian William Craig, in his classic Enemy at the Gates, confirms this impression of the Italian units. “The Italians sent their best units into the Soviet Union,” he wrote. “ Proud military names such as Julia, Bersaglieri, Cosseria, Torino, Alpini, graced the shoulder patches of troops struggling through the enervating heat.”

The soldiers began the campaign with high morale. Because of the high degree of mobility for Italian units, greater than the German infantry units, even the Germans were impressed.

“The first major action for the Italian troops in Russia occurred during the first weeks of August 1941,” noted author Franklyn Prieskop. “The Germans planned a swift stroke between the Dneister and Bug Rivers to Nikolayev. A motorized division was required to proceed south down the west bank of the Bug River to seal off the various crossing points. Since no German units were available, the Pasubio Division, which had arrived 6 August at Jampol on the Dneister River, was chosen for the task.”

The division was joined by the 1st Bersaglieri Motorcycle Company and two 105mm artillery battalions of the 30th Artillery Regiment. The Italian force went into action on the 10th. The advance guard, 1st Battalion, 80th Infantry Regiment and 1st Bersaglieri Motorcycle Company conducted the action as the force swept south along the river through Pokroskoze and sealed off the last crossing point at Jasnaza Polzana. Strong Soviet rearguard action enabled some Soviet forces to escape. The Italians called the action the Battle of the Two Rivers, which cost them 15 killed and 82 wounded. Proud of his units, Mussolini flew to Russia to review the Italian division.

Hitler and Mussolini flew to Uman, Ukraine, to inspect German troops, after which Mussolini drove a few miles to Takuska to greet Italian troops. Italian Vice Consul Filippo Anfuso, who accompanied Mussolini, described the scene. “The troops looked good, and the infantrymen looked like Italian soldiers, not stoned-faced, but all smiles and changing expressions. On their faces their joy at having been seen by Mussolini was obvious since he had ordered all of them over there.”

An “Elixir of Glory to the Italian People”

The Italian home front saw this historic Italian military accomplishment as Mussolini and General Messe were photographed standing on Russian soil some 400 miles inside the Soviet Union.

The Italian units became the spearhead of an entire group of German armies. The corps as a whole participated in the general advance to the Dneiper River, taking up positions between Oerizevka and Dneipropetrovsk by September 17. The Torino Division finally caught up after its 800-mile march. By the end of September, the Italian troops moved across the Dnieper and reached the Orel River. The CSIR was ready to conduct its first corps-level encirclement.

Prieskop described the action. “While the 3rd Celere Division and the rest of the corps troops held the center, the Pasubio Division crossed the Orel River and moved southward, while the Torino Division and the 63rd CCNN Legion broke out of the bridgehead and moved north and west, meeting up with the Pasubio Division at Petrokovka. This accomplished in two days an encirclement of about 100 kilometers of the Soviet front lines along the Dnieper River.” The CSIR’s victories became, according to J. Lee Ready in World War Two—Nation By Nation, an “elixir of glory to the Italian People.”

Mussolini’s commitment on the Eastern Front had personal ramifications. He had already lost his eldest son, a pilot, to the war. Now his daughter, Edda, wife of Count Ciano, Italy’s foreign minister, volunteered for Russia as part of the war effort. Edda Ciano joined the Red Cross and worked in an Italian Army hospital at Stalino nearly 600 miles into Soviet territory and only 100 miles from the furthest point the Germans had reached at Rostov.

The Christmas Day Battle

The CSIR pushed eastward for the next three months, fighting battles at Pavlograd, Gorlovka, Rykovo, Nikitovka, and Chazeptovka. The advance reached the headwaters of the Muis River in late December. The 63rd CCNN Legion bore the brunt of the fighting. During this phase the unit lost 126 killed, 262 wounded, 279 to frostbite, and 92 missing from a force of 1,500.

On December 26, the Italians fought what they called the Christmas Day Battle. The Soviets launched a six-division attack on the Axis Muis River line. The Russians broke through German-Italian lines forcing the bulk of the 3rd Celere Division to fall back and form isolated pockets of resistance. A coordinated counterattack by the Torino Division and the German 318th Infantry Regiment recovered the ground and rescued the 3rd Celere Division. Four Soviet divisions were trapped and forced to surrender. In this action, the Italian corps lost 168 killed, 715 wounded, 207 missing, and 305 frostbite cases.

A photo of the Italian army in Russia depicting a cavalry unit charging through the steppes of Ukraine, Summer or Autumn 1942.

“The Command Apparatus is Pedantic and Slow”

As winter set in, the soldiers had to wage a battle of survival with nature. During this time the Italian high command and General Messe took stock of the CSIR performance. Their report highlighted successes in the field despite inadequate leadership, poor armor, lack of mechanization, and a shortage of artillery and antitank weapons, revealing the CSIR to be ill-equipped for the nature of fighting on the Eastern Front. Deficiencies in communication, logistics, and winter uniforms also sapped the morale and fighting power of the Italian force.

British historian MacGregor Knox, in his book, Hitler’s Italian Allies, is even more critical. “Command leadership demonstrated at all levels its structural and intellectual incapacity in the conduct of mobile warfare. Staffs in the expeditionary force were immobile, weighed down with as many as 150 officers, compared to 66 in a German corps staff.”

Knox cites a German general staff officer with experience with the Italian forces who assessed, “The command apparatus is pedantic and slow. The absence of sufficient communications equipment renders the links to the subordinate units precarious. The consequence is the leadership has no capacity to redeploy swiftly.”

Poor Logistics, Obsolete Equipment

The CSIR was hindered by a poor logistics system and incredible inefficiency. For example, the multiplicity of different truck types, 17 light and 30 heavy, taxed drivers and technicians and made it impossible for an adequate flow of supplies.

Knox also points out that “the War Ministry failed to provide units in Russia with low-temperature lubricants for vehicles and weapons.” Combat units were perpetually short of fuel, ammunition, water, food, vehicles, weapons, and even manpower. Even if food was available, hot or prepared food was still a question given the primitive state of wood-burning stoves in field kitchens.

Italian equipment proved to be totally obsolete. The Italian armed forces had been the first European power to complete a rearmament cycle in the late 1930s, and by the early 1940s Italy was industrially incapable of supporting an upgrade. The main battle tank, the M13/40, was no match for the Red Army T-34 and never served in Russia. The CV 33 tankette was the equivalent of the Bren Gun carrier. A light tank, the Carro Armato L6/40, arrived in small numbers in 1942 and 1943 but weighed only 6.7 tons and carried a 37mm gun.

Unprepared for armored warfare, the CSIR accepted in large numbers the Polish Marosczek WZ35 antitank rifle from the Germans’ collection of war booty. A major weakness noticed by commanders at all levels concerned inadequate training and tactical philosophy. This was never rectified and would prove fatal during the later retreat from the River Don.

Radio equipment, scarce as it was, also proved to be unreliable. The harsh Russian winters made the heavy equipment useless. Lieutenant Albano Castelletto of the elite mounted artillery regiment described the effect. “The greatest cold weather problem was the machines. The oil in the cannon shock absorbers froze, making some pieces unusable. Freezing oil also disabled machine guns and vehicles.”

Like the German Army, the CSIR was sent to fight in Russia with little special equipment or clothing suitable for the severe conditions that they would encounter. Most of the men went to the Eastern Front wearing only the regular issue pantaloons or breeches which, although made of wool, went only to just below the knee. The bottom of the legs were covered with socks and hobnailed boots. In the subzero temperatures of winter both proved to be totally inadequate.

General Messe personally bought a large number of fleece hats while in Romania to issue to his troops. The hobnailed boot caused large numbers of frostbite casualties. The war ministry gratuitously rejected requests from units in Russia for felt boots like the Russian valenki. Despite these inadequacies, Luigi Villari, author of Italian Foreign Policy, claims, “The Italian soldiers proved hardier than the German in resisting the terrible cold of the Russian winter.”

Corruption in the procurement and distribution of supplies among the Italian Army, government, and business exacted an enormous cost. Equipment ranged from inferior to unusable. Knox noted, “The troops were perpetually short of the small items that made the difference between discomfort and despair: buttons, threads, needles, razor blades, envelopes, writing paper, postcards, pencils, and rank and unit badges.” Ultimately the Italian units depended on Romania for food and fuel.

Uncommon ‘Goodwill’ From Axis Occupiers

The relationships between the German and Italian armies and the inhabitants of the conquered Soviet territory differed greatly. The Germans made a major mistake alienating the Ukrainian people. The Italians did their best to maintain good relations with them.

Benito Mussolini (foreground, center) speaking with commander Giovanni Messe, with Adolf Hiter (right) and field marshal Gerd von Rundtstedt in the truck beside them, during the inspection of Italian units near Uman (south of Kiev), Ukraine. At left is Nazi official Martin Bormann. Photograph, 28 August 1941.

Italian Alpini soldier Tullio Lisignoli recalled his first Christmas in Russia and his experience with the Russian people: “We Italians decided to celebrate the upcoming Christmas season with a large Mass. It was too cold to hold the ceremony outside, so we decided to dig an underground church. We started to dig the hole and after a while some Russian civilians asked us what we were doing. We told them we were digging an underground church. The next day there were more Russians than Italians helping with the digging as they wanted to celebrate Mass as well, so our officers gave them permission to attend.

“The service was conducted by our military priest and was a happy occasion, with Italians and Russians worshipping side by side. Before we were sent to Russia the priests were saying, ‘Go serve your country and fight the Bolsheviks as they are against religion.’ The civilian population at least was usually co-operative with us Italians, but there was very little love lost between the Russians and Germans.”

“The Italian units succeeded in creating goodwill among the population in Russia,” wrote Corvaja, “and, perhaps because of this, were usually spared attacks by partisan fighters.”

Alpini on the Russian Plains

Into this logistical mess, Mussolini desired an expansion of the CSIR. Partially because of the success in Russia already achieved and partially because of the backseat his troops had taken in North Africa, Mussolini believed a larger commitment of Italian troops in the East would enhance Italian prestige. He requested that Cavallero commit 20 new divisions to the Eastern Front.

However, Cavallero realized the potentially catastrophic consequences of diverting forces from North Africa and attempted to reduce the expansion to six divisions. Italian King Victor Emmanuel’s disapproval did not hinder Mussolini. In November 1941, Hitler, with his army stalled in front of Moscow, accepted Italian Alpine divisions for the future drive on the Caucasus.

Mussolini met with Hitler at Castle Klessheim in Salzburg on April 29-30, 1942, to discuss the next summer offensive. Hitler was extremely complimentary of the Italian performance in the initial invasion. Hitler said that the Italian soldiers had fought magnificently, had bravely endured all the hardships of the winter, and were fighting valiantly at the side of the Germans in Russia.

Eventually, Mussolini sent 200,000 men to the Eastern Front in the form of two corps, the Alpini Corps and II Corps, and additional support units. After the experience of the Russian winter Mussolini wisely chose specialized units. The elite Alpini units were added to the strength of the CSIR because of their expertise in harsh winter climates. Three Alpini Divisions, the 2nd Tridentina, the 3rd Julia, and the 4th Cuneense, formed the corps. Alpine regiments were elite forces that received the best possible supplies, equipment, and officers.

“Crack Alpini soldiers guided mules along and kept their mountain-climbing gear under canvas,” noted author William Craig of the misuse of Alpini in the East. “Hitler had decided to conquer the Caucasus without the Italians. The elite Alpini trudged along the flat plains wondering why they were in Russia at all.”

The II Corps consisted of regular infantry divisions, 2nd Sforzesca, 3rd Ravenna, and 5th Cosseria. These were professional units of the peacetime army, the best line infantry formations in the Italian Army. One additional infantry division, the 156th Vincenza, became the army reserve and was assigned to protect the lines of communication.

270,000 Soldiers of the Italian Eighth Army

Commando Supremo decided to complete the motorization of the 3rd Celere Division. To accomplish this, they dispatched to Russia a motorized artillery regiment, a second motorized Bersaglieri infantry regiment, a motorized mortar battalion, and another Bersaglieri motorcycle company. These replaced all the horse elements to form a division similar to the German light division of 1939. General Messe formed the horse units into a rear guard security unit called the Balbo Cavalry Brigade, which remained on the Eastern Front for the remainder of the campaign.

Mussolini’s command structure on the Eastern Front was renamed the Italian Army in Russia or Armata Italiana in Russia (AIR). The CSIR remained a component of the new army and was renamed the XXXV Motorized Corps. The three corps formed the Italian Eighth Army. Chief of Staff Cavallero passed over Messe and selected Army General Italo Gariboldi to command the 8th Army. According to Prieskop, “Messe had made the mistake of being too successful and becoming too popular with Mussolini, the Italian people, and his troops, thus incurring the jealously of his superior.”

Messe was transferred to Tunisia, where he commanded the Italian First Army and was taken prisoner. Later Messe joined the Italian forces on the side of the Allies in 1943 and fought against the Germans and Mussolini’s Italian socialist state.

Joint German and Italian troops in a trench in anticipation of an attack in Russia. Photograph, Autumn 1941.

From January through July 1942, the Eighth Army built up to 270,000 men while it held defensive position against Red Army probes. The Italian Expeditionary Forces reached significant number in artillery, but armored vehicles remained few in number. The Italians fielded 946 artillery pieces in 204 batteries, 387 antitank guns, 276 antiaircraft guns, 1,297 mortars, and 1,742 machine guns. The armor element included 55 light tanks, 30 armored cars, and 17 assault guns. The motorized force moved with 16,700 trucks, 25,000 horses and mules, and 4,470 motorcycles. In May, the Italian Air Force contingent was reduced to 66 planes.

The Italian Summer Offensive

On July 11, 1942, the Italian army in Russia launched their summer offensive against the town of Nikitino, spearheaded by the the 3rd Celere Division. The troops broke through the Russian line, and a force from the Bersaglieri Regiment exploited the breach to reach Petrovenki. By July 14, the 3rd Celere Division occupied Ivanokia, with the rest of the Italian forces moving forward in preparation for the coming battle of Krasny Lutsch.

The XXXV Motorized Corps and II Corps launched the encirclement of Krasny Lutsch on July 17. The 3rd Celere and 9th Pasubio struck from the north while the 2nd Sforzesca and Balbo Cavalry Brigade assaulted directly. In three days the Italians captured the city and pursued the retreating Soviets. The 3rd Celere had the highest casualties with 83 killed, 542 wounded, and 10 missing.

The main objective of the offensive was the Don River. Prieskop describes the assault: “On August 1, the 3rd Bersaglieri Regiment and the German 578th Infantry regiment achieved the objective with the capture of Serafimovich on the western bank of the Don. On the same day, the 6th Bersaglieri Regiment and the XLVII Bersaglieri Motorcycle Battalion captured the towns of Bobrovski and Belaievski, thus establishing the first ten kilometers of the Italian Army in Russia’s ‘Don River Line.’”

By August 20, the Eighth Army, reinforced with the German XXIX Corps, defended the Don River line from Pavlovsk to the Choper River, a front of about 200 kilometers. The Russians struck the Axis flank in an area defended by the Italians. During the First Battle of the Don the Italian divisions held their ground for 11 days. The main weight of the Soviet attack landed on the 9th Pasubio and 2nd Sforzesca Divisions.

The Italians stood their ground. As MacGregor Knox wrote in Hitler’s Italian Allies, “The troops did not show the readiness to surrender of popular legend. The units in Russia held together in conditions—usually deriving from the army logistical inadequacies—that would have caused soldiers of the industrial democracies to quail.” No Soviet penetration was achieved in those 11 days.

Spread Thin

On August 24, the 3rd Savoy Cavalry Regiment of the Balbo Brigade counterattacked the Soviet 812th Infantry Regiment reinforced by a battalion of field artillery as the Communists neared a breakthrough in the 3rd Celere lines. At Izbushensky, the Italian Dragoons attacked with saber and hand grenade.

Prieskop recorded the action. “In a series of three mounted cavalry charges, they completely destroyed the Soviet force, killing 150, wounding 300, and capturing 600 prisoners along with four field guns, ten mortars, and fifty machine guns. The cost to the cavalry regiment was 36 killed, 74 wounded, and 170 horses out of action.”

Author Rex Tyre recounts the German reaction: “The Germans who witnessed the charge were incredulous, and so impressed that they congratulated the Italians with a citation.” British historian Martin Gilbert declared, “It was the last successful cavalry charge of the war.”

Four days after the battle the Alpini Corps arrived, followed in September by the Montebello CCNN Regiment and the 156th Vincenza in October. The Eighth Army was told to hold its ground while the German Sixth Army struggled for Stalingrad. Meanwhile, the Italian Army reached a strength of 7,934 officers and 210,682 men and prepared for a second winter in Russia as it screened the northern flank of the German offensive.

“The Italian Eighth Army prepared to occupy a long stretch of the looping river line running toward the east,” wrote Craig. “The Italians not only had been given the job of containing any Russian threat from across the river, they also served as a buffer between the Hungarians and the Romanian Third Army. The German High Command had inserted the Italians between the other two armies to avoid conflict between ancient enemies.”

The Italians were in a vulnerable position as a result of German command decisions. “The Germans imposed on the Italian Army an overstretched cordon deployment that Russian armor would rip to shreds,” noted Knox.

Covering a 250-kilometer front from Babka in the north to Vescheskaya in the south, the Italian headquarters realized they were too thinly spread. Using all expediencies, the Eighth Army formed two volunteer units from occupied nationals. Like the Germans, the Italians recruited from Croatia and formed the Croatian Legion, which consisted of an infantry battalion, a mortar company, and an antitank company. The Italians also recruited a small unit of Cossacks, which consisted of a colonel, four officers, and 360 Cossack troops and was attached to the Norvaria Cavalry Regiment.

Second Battle of the Don

The Soviet Winter Offensive, known to the Italians as the Second Battle of the Don, began with Russian probing attacks on December 1, 1942. The Italian Eighth Army faced the Soviet 1st Guards Army, one of the Russians’ best. The Don River froze, and the Soviets built crossing points in front of the II Corps and XXXV Motorized Corps sectors. On December 11 the 3rd Ravenna Division was hit by a Soviet attack but held. On the 16th of December the Russians launched their main attack on the Italian lines with 425,000 troops supported by 5,000 guns and 1,000 tanks.

Lieutenant Felice Bracci of the 3rd Bersaglieri Regiment described the retreat. “We were ordered to retreat 30 miles south to Kalmikoff. I commanded the two antitank guns that remained and were the very end of the line. Nothing behind us but snow and wind. On December 20 we reached Kalmikoff, a magnet for thousands of exhausted and frightened soldiers. The town was a tangle of guns, trucks, baggage, and excited soldiers. The Regiment received new orders to retreat to Meshkov, a key road junction on the road to Millerovo. Bracci was captured during the retreat.”

A major Soviet penetration occurred on the 19th when a second Soviet Army smashed through the Rumanians and overwhelmed the Italians. The bulk of the Pasubio, Ravenna, and Torino Divisions, the German 298th Division, and the 3rd Gennaio CCNN Brigade were surrounded in the area of Tschertkovo, fighting on for three weeks before surrendering.

By the end of December, only the Alpini Corps and the 156th Vincenza Division remained intact and functioning as combat units. The Germans provided Garibaldi with five German divisions and ordered him not to retreat from the Don. But in January the neighboring Hungarian Army collapsed and the Italians were cut off. The bulk of the Alpini Corps was encircled. The Soviet winter offensive destroyed German, Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian units throughout the southern region with one notable exception. On January 26, 1943, Radio Moscow reported, “Only the Italian Alpini Corps is to be considered unbeaten on the Russian Front.”

60 Percent Losses For the Expeditionary Force

Nevertheless, Mussolini’s commitment in Russia had come to a tragic end. The remnants of the Italian Army in Russia withdrew to the Donets River south of Belgorod, which they reached on January 31, 1943.

“We were all on foot as the motor transport had either run out of fuel or got stuck in deep snow,” remembered Alpini soldier Tullio Lisignoli. “The big problem was the cold and no food. You had to fend for yourself, find what you could, catch and kill what you could, and eat it raw or with whatever you had. About eighty percent of our soldiers had frostbite to the feet, hands, or ears. Many times a soldier would stop and sit down in the snow for a rest and when it was time to move someone would give him a shake and tell him to get up. But the sitting figure would fall over dead, having died in his sleep. They were left where they fell. The snow soon covered them.”

Another Italian survivor recalled, “The sides of the road were dotted with these grotesque, immobile figures, human statuary marbleized with snow and ice.”

Italian prisoners marched into a long cruel captivity. Lieutenant Felice Bracci of the 3rd Bersaglieri Regiment, described the march northwest of Gumrak. “The steppe lay under two feet of snow. The sun reflecting off its frozen crust cast a shimmering haze. We shuffled painfully, haltingly through the subzero wilderness. The men groaned constantly as the biting cold froze fingers and toes. Single rifle shots cracked loudly in the clear air as guards shot men who stumbled out of the column to seek rest.”

By the spring of 1943, almost 60 percent of Mussolini’s expeditionary force was gone. During 20 months of combat on the Eastern Front, the Italian Army lost 3,010 officers and 81,820 men killed or captured, as well as 1,290 officers and 28,400 men wounded of frostbitten.

Blame for the German debacle at Stalingrad almost immediately was shifted from the Germans to the Italian and Axis satellite armies. After Foreign Minister Ciano met with Hitler and the German General Staff at Rastenberg on December 18, his written report to Mussolini stated, “The atmosphere is heavy. No one tries to conceal from me the unhappiness over the news of the breakthrough on the Russian front. There were open attempts to put the blame on us.”

“No Losses at All. They Are All Running.”

At the very moment the Alpini Corps was holding fast after the first rupture of the II Corps line, and days after the Romanian and German collapses, an Italian military aide with Ciano asked a German officer whether the Italians had suffered heavy losses. The German officer replied, “No losses at all. They are all running.”

During March 1943, all Italian units serving on the Eastern Front were transferred to Italy for reforming and reequipping however, they never returned to Russia. The heavy losses of the 3rd Alpini Division are indicative of those suffered by Italian units in combat against the Red Army. The division set out for Russia with 16,000 men and 4,000 mules and returned to Italy with 3,200 men and 40 mules.

The CSIR served in the East with honor and fortitude. However, the finest army Italy fielded during World War II was swallowed up in the vastness of Russia.

British historian John Keegan said that the two armies during the ACW outmatched the French, Prussian, and Russian armies of the time and would've been able to defeat any of them. Is this true?

I know European observers to the war tended to see the two armies of the North and South as being unprofessional, so this tidbit caught my eye. Was it really possible that either army could've fought against the above mentioned forces and won?

Just for nuance, this is the actual Keegan quote, provided for context:

"By 1865 the Union army, which had begun as a replica in miniature of the British army, and the Confederate army, which had not existed at all, had grown into the largest and most efficient armies in the world, divided and subdivided into elaborate operational formations and units and comprising every branch of military specialisation. Though dismissed by European military grandees as amateur and unprofessional, each, but particularly the United States Army, out-matched the French, the Prussian, and the Russian in up-to-date experience and, but for the interposing Atlantic, would have threatened any of them with defeat."

This while high praise does seem to imply more of a "World Class Army" vs "World Beating Army" sort of statement, although the remainder of the discussion continued below is still relevant/worthwhile.

No. Union force strength peaked at 660,000. The Russian army of the time "was by far the biggest army in the world, with over a million infantry, a quarter of a million irregulars (mainly Cossack cavalry) and three-quarters of a million reservists in special military settlements". The French army deployed around 2 million soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War, while Prussia in the same war mobilized over a million soldiers, not counting its German allies. Even quantitatively, the industrialized, populous North did not have an advantage over its European rivals because they had been maintaining large standing armies for a great time while the Union had to build its largely from scratch.

The balance gets worse when you look at quality. While General Sherman in his memoirs correctly stated that some European criticisms of American armies (namely their failure to pursue the enemy after victory) owed more to the forested, sparsely populated terrain of the upper South, some were obviously correct. For much of the war, both armies used elected officers and following orders in many units was optional. Most soldiers had only minimal training, and could not match either the rate of fire nor the ability to take casualties of European soldiers, breaking far earlier and more often. The imbalance was even greater when considering armaments: Americans were primarily armed with muzzle loading rifle muskets at a time when the Prussians had introduced the Needle Rifle. The Austrians, following much the same tactics as the Confederates (tight formations operating aggressively) suffered 3, 4, or even 6 to 1 casualties in the battles of the Austro-Prussian War due to the obsolescence of these tactics in the face of breechloading rifles.

Historians are not kind to the quality of American commanders. Carol Rearden points out that, far from fighting on "Jominian" principles as earlier historians assumed (probably without ever having read Jomini), American officers had no overarching intellectual framework on how to fight the war and consulted mainly tactical manuals, having no understanding of operational art. Many officers had no formal military training at all, and rose to high command purely for political reasons. While the union fitness boarded many incompetents out of the army by 1863, the knowledge and capabilities of the average union officer still paled in comparison with those of the European Great Powers.

The one area where wise Europeans did look up to the Union was in cavalry - the best developed US arm owing to decades of small wars on the frontier. They were not equal to the French cavalry (widely regarded as the best in the world well into the late 20th century) in horsemanship, but were innovative in their tactics and strategy. The Russians especially idolized Philip Sheridan for his fast moving raids, and restructured their entire cavalry in the wake of the war on the American model. Sheridan's raids were the blueprint for Russian cavalry operations during the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, including the decisive capture of Shipka pass.

This isn't to say the Union army was bad in 1865 - far from it. It was one of the strongest armies in the world at the time, behind only the French, Prussian, and Russian (Britain's army was comparatively small, and not held in high regard by its continental counterparts). It certainly could have won any war in North America with any combination of powers: that is to say that if it wanted to drive the French out of Mexico, the British out of Canada and the Russians out of Alaska, it could have. It was precisely this threat that motivated the French to withdraw from Mexico, the British to grant Canada Dominion status, and Russia to sell Alaska, all in 1867. However, it would not have been able to challenge any of the big three armies in an "arena".

Overall, the Union army was probably equal to the Russian army in quality but not in numbers, superior to the Prussian army (of 1861-65) in numbers but inferior in quality, and inferior to the French both in numbers and quality. None of this changes even if you magically combined the Union and Confederate Armies.


All this has made Caesar so strong that now hope of resistance depends on one citizen. I wish that citizen [Pompey] had not given him so much power rather than that he now resisted him in the hour of his strength. 1


CAESAR&rsquoS GALLIC VICTORIES GAVE HIM THE MILITARY GLORY AND WEALTH HE had craved in 59 BC, but there was now a question as to whether he would be permitted to assume a position of importance in public life at Rome. He knew that he had made many bitter opponents during his turbulent career and expected to face prosecution, not least from Cato who had wanted to hand him over to the Germans. Innocence or guilt played only a minor part in determining the outcome of Roman political trials and by the autumn of 50BC he was not sure just how many friends he could count on in the Senate. Crassus had been killed by the Parthians in 53 BC, having invaded their country in an unnecessary war inspired largely by his desire to rival the military achievements of the other two triumvirs. Julia had died in childbirth the year before, severing the closest of all links between Caesar and Pompey. Although a marriage dictated by political convenience, the union appears to have been a genuinely happy one for both parties. Pompey seems always to have craved and responded well to devotion, whether from a wife or an army.

Although he had not desired a province after his second consulship held with Crassus in 55, Pompey had gained massive power when repeated outbreaks of politically motivated rioting caused chaos in Rome and led to his appointment as sole consul for 52. He was given all of the Spanish provinces and their garrisons to command for five years, but was permitted to remain in Rome and govern through legates. In many ways this was a greater subversion of the traditional Republican system than any of his earlier activities. In the same year he took another bride young enough to be his daughter, when he married Cornelia, daughter of Quintus Caecilius Publius Metellus Scipio, a prominent critic of Caesar. The two allies seemed to be drifting apart.

Caesar announced that he wished to go straight from his Gallic command into a second consulship, standing for election in absentia and remaining in Gaul until he could enter Rome to celebrate his triumph and become consul on the same day, just as Pompey had done. As a magistrate he would be immune to prosecution and he could then take another province and military command to win further glory. There was much talk of the need to avenge Crassus&rsquo defeat at Carrhae and the subsequent Parthian raids on Syria, and it was felt that either Caesar or Pompey should be given control of this war. However, Caesar&rsquos bitterest opponents were determined to prevent his escaping prosecution in this way and set in hand measures to ensure that he had to return as a private citizen. Pompey&rsquos attitude remained ambiguous, but he seems to have expected that his former ally, who in 59 had been very much the junior of the three, should simply trust to his protection.

Caesar was unwilling to do this, in part because Pompey&rsquos record in defending his friends against political enemies was somewhat patchy. He had done nothing to prevent Cicero&rsquos exile in 58, although he had assisted his recall in the following year. Caesar was also reluctant to admit that he required the assistance and protection of any other senator. As far as he was concerned, his Gallic victories had earned him a place of influence as high as or higher than that held by Pompey. The latter had been Rome&rsquos greatest military figure for thirty years and was unwilling to accept a man whose fame was so recent as his peer. It may also be that he feared being overshadowed if Caesar were allowed to return to public life at Rome, for even he probably realized that the younger man was a far more gifted political schemer. Caesar&rsquos frequent pronouncements that he would rather be the first man in the tiniest village than the second man in Rome, or that it would be far easier to push him down from second to last place in the Republic than from first to second, may even have made Pompey uneasy. 2

The politics in the months leading to the Civil War were extremely complex, with a range of proposals being presented but nothing actually being done. Some asked for Caesar to lay down his command and his army, others for Pompey to do the same, and then it was suggested that both men give their troops up, which only led to bickering over which one should go first. Pompey&rsquos failure to support Caesar&rsquos requests encouraged Cato and his other opponents in the Senate in the belief that they could use one man against the other. Pompey was certainly the lesser of two evils, since he was a less capable politician and might more easily be disposed of in the future. In return he doubtless considered it useful to appear as the champion of the &lsquobest men&rsquo (optimates) in the Senate against a man intent on flouting the laws of the Republic. It is difficult to know whether the numerous offers of conciliation made by the partisans of either Caesar or Pompey were anything more than attempts to gain the moral high ground in the struggle which both now viewed as inevitable. Caesar believed that he was faced with a choice between laying down his command and facing trial and political extinction or fighting a civil war. His opponents wished to destroy him, one way or the other, and so a war began to protect one man&rsquos status, or dignitas &ndash no English word quite embraces the full power of this concept for a Roman aristocrat. The rival sides did not have significantly different ideologies, or even policies. Instead it was personal pride, and in the case of Cato and some other senators deep personal emnity, which plunged the Roman Republic into another civil war, spread devastation all around the Mediterranean and costs many tens of thousands of lives.

In the early hours of 11 January 49 BC, a two-horse carriage approached the little River Rubicon which marked the boundary between the province of Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper. Some distance behind were 300 cavalrymen and, further back again, Legio XIII. On one side Caesar still legally held imperium and had the right to command troops, but as soon as he crossed over at the head of soldiers he would be violating the law. The Commentaries pay no attention to the moment, but other sources, which may draw upon the accounts of some of the officers with him, claim that Caesar got down from the carriage and hesitated for a long time. Finally, he appeared to make up his mind and, employing the gamblers&rsquo expression &lsquothe die is cast&rsquo (usually quoted as the Latin alea iacta est, though he may in fact have spoken in Greek), continued his journey across the Rubicon. In this way the Civil War openly began, although since a party of centurions and legionaries wearing civilian clothes had already crossed into Italy and seized the nearest town of Ariminum (Rimini), in some ways it had already started. 3


The pretence on both sides of hoping for a negotiated settlement had prevented either leader from overtly massing troops. In previous months Pompey had blithely declared that all he had to do was stamp his foot and legions would spring up from the soil of Italy. There were only two trained and experienced legions at his immediate disposal, but both had recently served under Caesar in Gaul and their loyalty was somewhat questionable. Pompey left Rome in mid January, announcing that it could not be defended, and he and his allies set about raising levies. Whilst this decision made military sense, it helped to create a mood of panic amongst senators such as Cicero who were sympathetic rather than devoted to his cause. Caesar had only a single legion and a few auxiliaries, with no other units nearer than Transalpine Gaul, but decided to launch an immediate offensive. Over the next weeks small forces of Caesarean troops drove deep into Italy, taking towns and defeating or forcing the surrender of any Pompeian cohorts which opposed them. At this stage training and experience, allied with aggression and boundless confidence, proved more than a match for sheer numbers.

From the beginning Pompey was hindered by the refusal of many of his allies to follow orders. A number of senators whose pride greatly outweighed their ability, and whose political influence demanded that they be given responsible roles, all too boldly rushed to meet Caesar with inadequately trained or prepared forces. Victory followed victory as Caesar&rsquos reinforced, but still outnumbered, troops overran the entire peninsula in just two months. With the situation growing ever more hopeless, at least one senator tartly suggested that perhaps it was time for Pompey to start stamping his foot. Yet Pompey was not especially concerned by his former ally&rsquos successes, for he had already resolved to transfer the war to another theatre. He concentrated all of his newly raised legions at Brundisium and, after fighting a skilful rearguard action, embarked them on ships and took the army across the Adriatic to Macedonia. Caesar had won control of Italy for the moment, but his victory was far from complete and the war would go on. 4

It is difficult to say when Pompey decided that Italy could not be defended and that it was better to shift his forces to Macedonia, but he may even have been toying with the idea before Caesar crossed the Rubicon. He knew that it took time to train men and fit an army for battle, especially when they would be facing legions hardened by years of successful campaigning in Gaul. Caesar&rsquos support was limited to a few of the younger and more disreputable senators, whereas the bulk of the Senate and the provinces actively favoured, or were at least well disposed towards, Pompey and his allies. An immediate encounter was likely to favour Caesar, but a longer war would give more scope for his own talents as an organizer and planner to come into play. Moving to Macedonia gave him ready access to the massive resources of eastern provinces of the Empire. It was an area where virtually every community and ruler was personally bound to him as a result of his settlement of the region in the 60s and soon troops, money and supplies were flooding into his camp. A great fleet of warships was also assembled. The 57-year-old Pompey showed all the energy of his youth as he threw himself into marshalling these forces and training his soldiers, showing off his own skill at arms and as a horseman as he joined in the men&rsquos exercises. The rest of the year was spent in creating a large and effective army, strong enough to face Caesar should he choose to attack, but the long-term aim was always a return to Italy. As Pompey himself frequently remarked, &lsquoSulla did it why shouldn&rsquot I?&rsquo 5

In March 49 Caesar was in no position to follow his enemy. Many of his legions had still not reached Italy and anyway he had no fleet to transport them across the Adriatic. To have done nothing would simply have played into Pompey&rsquos hands as he built up his strength, so Caesar chose to turn west and attack the Pompeian armies in the Spanish provinces. These consisted of seven legions, all of them properly equipped and trained, and at least as many Spanish auxiliaries. The rival commanders seem almost to have spent the Civil War dreaming up dramatic pronouncements, and Caesar declared that he was going to fight &lsquoan army without a general&rsquo, before returning to beat &lsquoa general without an army&rsquo. The campaign lasted from April to August and culminated in the surrender of the Pompeian legions. Caesar had deliberately chosen to avoid a pitched battle to prevent unnecessary loss of Roman lives. Instead he had outmanoeuvred his opponents, eventually cutting them off from a water supply and compelling them to give up. Caesar then followed his practice from the beginning of the war of releasing his aristocratic prisoners and allowing them to go wherever they wished, whilst demobilizing or recruiting their soldiers. It was a considerable success, and an operation which had demonstrated the determination of his troops and his own tactical skill. However, although Pompey had lost some of his best legions &ndash his defeated legates soon rejoined him, but this was a somewhat questionable reinforcement &ndash the campaign had bought him much precious time. The utter defeat of an initially successful expedition to Africa led by one of Caesar&rsquos subordinates helped in part to balance the loss.

By the end of 49 Caesar&rsquos position was still extremely precarious and news that four of his legions had mutinied at Placentia in Northern Italy was especially discouraging. These units, chief amongst them the veteran Legio IX which had served throughout the Gallic campaigns, complained that many soldiers were overdue for discharge and that none of them had received the donative of 500 denarii (more than two years&rsquo salary) per man which Caesar had promised to them in the spring. The general&rsquos reaction was stern as he told the men that they would receive everything when the war was won and that he had never reneged on any promise to them in the past. He then declared that he would decimate Legio IX, but allowed himself to be &lsquopersuaded&rsquo by the pleas of officers and men only to execute twelve of the 120 soldiers seen as ringleaders. The mutiny &ndash like so many others throughout history &ndash had been partly the product of a period of idleness which had allowed minor discontent to fester, but was another reason why Caesar could not afford to go onto the defensive and wait for Pompey to return. 6

On 4 January 48 BC, Caesar embarked seven of the twelve legions he had concentrated in Brundisium in the small fleet of merchant ships he had managed to gather. It is unlikely that any of these units were much above half strength &ndash by the end of the year Legio VI would muster fewer than 1,000 effectives &ndash so that his force probably numbered significantly under 20,000 men with 500 auxiliary cavalry. With them went the barest minimum of servants and baggage to pack in the maximum number of fighting troops. The small number of cavalry reflected the much greater space required for transporting horses more than the Roman emphasis on heavy infantry. Only a handful of warships were available to protect the transports from the vast Pompeian fleet commanded by Bibulus, Caesar&rsquos old consular colleague from 59 and a man with a personal score to settle. However, the decision to set sail outside the normal campaigning season surprised the enemy, and Caesar&rsquos luck held as usual so that he was able to land unopposed at Paeleste on the coast of Epirus.

Bibulus managed to catch some of the empty ships on their return journey, and soon imposed a blockade which effectively cut Caesar&rsquos army off from both reinforcements and supplies. Food was the most critical problem, for the season &ndash at this time January in the Roman calendar fell in late autumn &ndash meant that it would be several months before significant quantities of food and fodder could be foraged from the land itself. Caesar&rsquos army was also significantly outnumbered. In a short time Pompey was able to concentrate nine legions &ndash each at something like full strength &ndash supported by 5,000 light infantry and 7,000 cavalry. Two more legions were on the way to join him from Syria under the command of his father-in-law, Scipio. 7

On the night after he had landed, Caesar force-marched to Oricum, a town where Pompey had massed some of his great store of supplies, and forced its surrender. Although a Pompeian convoy of grain ships managed to escape with or destroy their cargo, this was still an important prize. Even more valuable was the larger city of Apollonia which surrendered soon afterwards. These successes prompted Caesar to launch an immediate attack on the biggest of all Pompey&rsquos supply dumps at the great trading port of Dyrrachium (in modern-day Albania). Pompey&rsquos scouts reported the enemy&rsquos march and a race developed, which he narrowly won. Caesar was not strong enough to risk a battle and withdrew to guard Apollonia and Oricum.

As the weeks passed he became ever more desperate for reinforcement from Mark Antony who had remained with the rest of his troops at Brundisium. Several attempts to cross the Adriatic were thwarted and most of our sources maintain that Caesar grew so desperate that he became convinced only his own presence would hurry up the shipment. Setting out in a small boat in bad weather, blithely telling the nervous captain not to be afraid because he carried &lsquoCaesar and Caesar&rsquos good fortune&rsquo, he ordered them to hold their course in spite of the storm. Yet in the end, even such determination had to give way to the elements and he was forced to return to the shore. These months were a desperate time, with expeditions seeking food having to go ever further away. Pompey was content to let starvation do his work for him, especially since even his well-prepared army could only operate with difficulty in this season. It was not until 10 April that Antony was able to bring the rest of the army &ndash four legions and 800 cavalry &ndash over to Greece, and even then the operation was extremely fortunate to succeed with only minor losses to the enemy fleet. Pompey responded too slowly to prevent the two parts of the Caesarean army from uniting. 8

Caesar now had eleven legions, each probably smaller in size than the enemy but more experienced. However, he was still heavily outnumbered in cavalry and light troops. It was certainly no easier to feed this increased force off his meagre resources, for no substantial quantities of food were likely to make it across the sea from Italy and spring was still some weeks away. Once again, staying on the defensive was likely to prove of more benefit to the enemy, and Caesar decided to attack Dyrrachium. He managed to outmarch Pompey and get between his army and the city, but failed in his attempt on Dyrrachium itself. The Pompeian army fortified a camp on a hill named Petra, which dominated a bay forming a natural harbour. He was thus able to bring in sufficient food for his men, whilst Caesar&rsquos army, camped on high ground inland and to the north, continued to go short.

In order to make it easier for his patrols and foraging parties to go about their business unmolested by the enemy cavalry, Caesar ordered the construction of a line of fortifications running along the line of hills facing Pompey&rsquos position. He swiftly decided to extend the line with the object of completely enclosing the enemy, effectively besieging the larger army. To prevent this, Pompey set his own legionaries to constructing a line of fortifications facing Caesar&rsquos, and a number of skirmishes were fought as the sides struggled to control key positions. Caesar&rsquos men hurried to extend their wall and ditch to meet the sea, whilst Pompey&rsquos soldiers tried to construct their own line so that it would stop this from happening. Pompey had the advantage of greater manpower and a shorter distance &ndash some 15 miles as opposed to 17 &ndash to cover as he was hemmed in nearer the coast.

The use of lines of fortification to wholly or partially surround an enemy and restrict his movements and access to supplies had been used by Roman armies in the past and most notably by Crassus against Spartacus, Pompey against Mithridates, and Caesar against Vercingetorix. It was another reflection of the engineering skill and tenacity when undertaking massive projects which were the hallmark of the professional legions. In many respects it was also an extension of the traditional days or weeks of tentative manoeuvring between armies before fighting a battle. The defensive advantages offered by field works should not distract from their use on these occasions in a highly aggressive manner to restrict the enemy&rsquos activities and force the opposing commander to fight when he did not wish to, to withdraw, or, in the most extreme cases, to watch the slow destruction of his army by hunger. 9

Both armies had supply problems as they toiled to extend the lines of fortification to the south and eventually to the sea. At times Caesar&rsquos men were living almost exclusively on meat, instead of the balanced grain, vegetables and meat ration which was normally issued &ndash the claim that the legions were vegetarian and ate little or no meat is a myth based on a misreading of this and another passage in Caesar. Some of them foraged for the roots of a plant called charax and managed to turn this into an unpleasant, but edible substitute for bread. On seeing one of these Pompey is supposed to have declared that he was fighting animals rather than men. Morale does not seem to have suffered, and many of the veterans will have recalled similar privations at Avaricum. Pompey&rsquos army suffered more from a shortage of water than of food itself, for the main streams leading into their positions had been dammed by Caesar&rsquos men. Wells were dug, but could not offer a complete solution to the problem. Apart from his soldiers, his army had a very large number of cavalry mounts and baggage animals. The former were given priority after the men, and the train mules and horses soon began to die or had to be slaughtered in considerable numbers. Disease &ndash possibly typhus &ndash also began to spread amongst the soldiers.

The pitch of fighting increased as Caesar&rsquos men made a last, unavailing effort to complete the enemy&rsquos encirclement. Antony led Legio IX to secure a vital hill, but was driven from this by a Pompeian counter-attack, although he managed to withdraw with only minimal losses. Pompey then launched a series of attacks against the forts in one sector of Caesar&rsquos lines. Some initial headway was made, but the extremely stubborn resistance of the garrisons gave time for reserves to arrive and beat the enemy back. Pompey&rsquos attacking troops were supported by very large numbers of archers and slingers who laid down a barrage of missiles on the ramparts. In one fort the majority of men in the three-cohort garrison was wounded and four out of six centurions in one cohort lost an eye. The shield of a centurion called Scaeva was later found to have been hit by 120 missiles and he too was wounded in the eye. Feigning surrender, he waited until two Pompeian legionaries came towards him, before suddenly lopping the arm off one and killing the other. Somehow the position held and by the end of the day the attackers were fleeing in disorder. Many of Caesar&rsquos officers are supposed to have believed that had they might have won the war if they had followed up this advantage with an all-out attack, but Caesar&rsquos legate Sulla decided against this, feeling that it was not a subordinate&rsquos duty to take such a critical decision. Caesar, who was at a different sector of the line, fully concurred with this attitude in his account. 10

The heroic defenders of the fort were lavishly rewarded with extra pay, a number of promotions, and, which at the time may have been most satisfying, extra rations for all. The desertion to Pompey of two Gallic noblemen along with their personal warriors and retainers provided him with information which inspired a fresh attack on what they assured him was a weak spot in the enemy lines. This time the main column of legionaries advancing from the Pompeian lines was supported by a force of light infantry which had been taken by sea and landed behind Caesar&rsquos positions. Their target was the unfinished section of fortifications and once again the assault made some headway before bogging down. As Caesar and Antony both led reserves up to the threatened sector, the enemy began to collapse into rout.

This time the commander was present to order his own counterattack, which focused on a camp originally built by his own Legio IX, but subsequently abandoned and now occupied by the enemy. Concealed in woodland and dead ground, the Caesarean legionaries were able to approach unobserved and storm the position in a sudden onslaught. Yet, as the Pompeians themselves had found, such success often led rapidly to disorder and confusion. One column of Caesar&rsquos men got lost, mistaking a wall leading off in another direction for part of the camp&rsquos rampart and following it. Now it was Pompey&rsquos turn to hurry all available reserves to the area and overwhelm the attackers. Beginning with the most advanced units, panic spread through the bulk of the thirty-three cohorts Caesar had committed to the attack. Caesar himself was on the spot and tried to stop the rout by grabbing at standard-bearers as they fled. Seizing a standard or its bearer and trying to persuade the routers to rally around this symbol of their unit pride and identity was a common gesture for a Roman commander faced with such a situation. Sulla once did this successfully when fighting Mithridates&rsquo army in Greece. Two years later during the African campaign Caesar would take hold of one of his own signifers and physically turn the man round, telling him, &lsquoLook! That&rsquos where the enemy are!&rsquo This time his presence had no such steadying influence. At least one man left the standard in his commander&rsquos hands and ran on. Other accounts, though not the Commentaries, even maintain that one of the fleeing men tried to stab Caesar with the heavy iron butt of his signum (standard), and was only stopped when the general&rsquos bodyguard sliced his arm off.

The losses in this action were very heavy, amounting to 960 men and thirty-two tribunes or centurions killed and others captured. Pompey did not follow up his advantage, prompting Caesar to declare that the enemy &lsquowould have won today, if only they were commanded by a winner&rsquo. However, the speed with which initial success had degenerated into heavy defeat for both sides suggests that Pompey was right. Lines of fortifications staunchly defended and closely supported by strong reserves were exceedingly difficult for even another Roman army to capture. The already uneven and broken ground, divided further by walls and ditches, made it difficult for a commander to control any attack and so introduced an exceptionally high level of chance into the outcome of any combat. Pompey had won a victory and, as from the beginning of the campaign, time was on his side and there was no real advantage in seeking a rapid decision. The captured Caesarean soldiers were executed, although even Caesar says that this was not ordered by Pompey himself, even if he did not overrule the decision. Instead it was his old legate Labienus who harangued the captives and then had them killed. Labienus had switched sides at the beginning of the Italian campaign &ndash whether through dissatisfaction with the rewards and praise he received from his commander, an older loyalty to Pompey, or sheer political conviction is unclear. Caesar had ordered his personal baggage sent after him, but however lightly he treated the defection in public, it was a major blow which had deprived him of the ablest of his commanders. Labienus appears as a far more brutal figure in The Civil War than in The Gallic War, and was especially loathed by the officers who added books to Caesar&rsquos account. 11

On the following day, just as he had done at Gergovia, Caesar assembled his soldiers and tried to restore their morale. Several standard-bearers were very publicly demoted for cowardice. Caesar made no effort to offer battle to the enemy as he had done in Gaul, probably judging that this was too risky in case the enemy accepted. It was now clear that he had no prospect of blockading Pompey into submission, and he resolved to march away into central Greece and rebuild his army&rsquos confidence and health. Sending the wounded and sick ahead, he sent the baggage train out of camp at night and then followed with the main army. A few Pompeian cavalry noticed the retreat quickly enough to harass the rearguard, but these were soon driven off. The numerically inferior Caesarean cavalry were closely supported by a cohort of 400 picked legionaries marching ready for battle rather than weighed down with packs. Caesar had skilfully disengaged from close contact with the enemy, which was never an easy operation, but this and his own confident tone in the Commentaries should not hide the fact that he had suffered a serious defeat. 12

Crops were by this time beginning to ripen and as Caesar&rsquos army marched through land which had not been subject to the rampages of campaigning armies the men were able to harvest sufficient grain to meet their needs. To some Greek communities Caesar&rsquos legions looked like a beaten force and they were reluctant to offer them any aid lest it earn them the antipathy of the victors. After Gomphi had shut its gates to his officers and refused to hand over any food, Caesar stormed the city and put it to the sack. According to some of our sources the army&rsquos progress on the next day was more a drunken revel than a disciplined march. After this brutal object lesson, most towns and cities did not dare to refuse him anything. 13

Pompey followed, but kept at a distance, and seems to have wanted to continue his strategy of wearing his enemy down by depriving him of supplies. Many of the eminent senators in his camp were loud in their criticism, demanding that he get the war over with quickly by defeating Caesar in battle. Caesar, who obviously was not an unbiased source, claimed that they were already squabbling over who would receive the offices and honours currently in the possession of his own supporters. The pressure on Pompey was considerable, but it is by no means clear whether it was this which finally persuaded him to seek battle. It was now August, and both the season and freedom to move meant that Caesar&rsquos supply situation had greatly eased. The Pompeians had a marked superiority in infantry and an even greater one in cavalry, which made a battle, especially a battle in open country, an attractive prospect. At the beginning of the month the rival armies were near Pharsalus and spent several days in the familiar offers of battle and tentative manoeuvring. On the morning of 9 August 48 BC Caesar was about to march to a new campsite, for his men had largely exhausted the forage immediately available to them in their current position, when he noticed that the Pompeian army was once again offering battle. For the first time they had advanced beyond the high ground in front of Pompey&rsquos camp and were deploying in the level plain bordered by the River Enipeus. It was a sign of determination to risk an action which Caesar welcomed. Issuing an order for the men to down packs and prepare for battle, he led his troops out to face the enemy.

Caesar had 22,000 legionaries divided into some eighty cohorts &ndash a further seven cohorts were left to guard the camp &ndash and 1,000 cavalry. Resting his left flank on the river, he deployed the legions in the usual triplex acies. His best unit, the veteran Legio X, took up the place of honour on the right of the line, flanked by all the cavalry supported by some light infantry. On the left he placed a composite unit formed from Legio VIII and Legio IX, both heavily under strength, for the latter in particular had suffered heavily at Dyrrachium. Dividing the line into three sectors, Caesar placed Mark Antony in charge of the left, Cnaeus Domitius Calvinus in the centre and Publius Sulla on the right. The commander himself was free to move to any section of the front, but was in fact to control the battle from the right wing, spending much of his time with his favourite Legio X.

Across the plain Pompey&rsquos eleven legions were also deployed in three lines. Altogether they mustered some 45,000 men, and each of his cohorts was formed ten ranks deep &ndash Caesar&rsquos units, barely half their size, were probably in only four or five ranks. The best legions were stationed on the flanks and in the centre, and the entire line was divided into three commands, with Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus on the left, Pompey&rsquos father-in-law Scipio in the centre and Lucius Afranius on the right. Pompey himself joined Ahenobarbus and the troops immediately opposite Caesar. According to Frontinus, 600 cavalrymen were placed on the right flank next to the river. The remaining 6,400 horsemen &ndash or in all other sources the entire mounted arm &ndash were concentrated on the left with large numbers of slingers, archers and other infantry skirmishers in support. Placed under the command of Labienus, it was this force which was to deliver the main, and Pompey hoped decisive, attack, sweeping aside Caesar&rsquos outnumbered cavalry and then turning to take his legions in the flank and rear. The plan was not especially subtle, as the concentration of so many thousand cavalry in one section of the plain could not be concealed, but that did not mean that it would be easy for Caesar to devise a countermeasure. His response was to take one cohort from the third line of each legion and station them as a fourth line behind his own cavalry and probably echeloned back to the right. The Caesarean horsemen will have prevented the enemy from observing this move.

Both armies were confident. Passwords were issued on each side to reduce the confusion inevitable when fighting against opponents wearing the same uniforms and speaking the same language. Caesar&rsquos men had &lsquoVenus, the Bringer of Victory&rsquo in a reference to his divine ancestor, whilst Pompey&rsquos soldiers took &lsquoHercules the Unconquered&rsquo. In an exchange similar to those which were to shape the Napoleonic legend, a former chief centurion of Legio X now serving as commander of an ad hoc unit of 120 veterans called out to Caesar that &lsquoToday, I will earn your gratitude whether I live or die.&rsquo This man, Caius Crastinus, was in the front line, which now opened the battle by beginning to advance towards the Pompeians. The latter did not move. This was an unusual tactic, for Roman infantry normally advanced to meet enemy foot soldiers. Even Marius&rsquo men at Aquae Sextiae and Caesar&rsquos when he faced the Helvetii, although they had waited as the enemy wore themselves out attacking uphill, had at the last minute hurled their pilaand then immediately charged some 10 or 15 yards into contact. Caesar says the order to remain stationary originated with Caius Triarius, who had persuaded Pompey that it would prevent the cohorts from falling into disorder and would permit them to gain the best possible protection from their shields against enemy missiles. The belief that their formations would break up if they moved may have been a reflection of the perceived inferior quality of the Pompeian legionaries compared to Caesar&rsquos men. On the other hand Pompey may simply have wanted to bring Caesar&rsquos infantry as far forward as possible so that it would be easier for his cavalry on the left wing to envelop them. In the Commentaries Caesar is highly critical of the decision, arguing that an advance helped to encourage the soldiers and that a passive defence was detrimental to morale.

Before the lines of legionaries clashed, Labienus&rsquo cavalry charged against their Caesarean counterparts, driving them back after a brief struggle. In the process the Pompeian horsemen fell into disorder. It was rare to concentrate so many cavalrymen on such a narrow frontage and most of the units were very inexperienced. Neither Labienus nor his subordinate officers had much experience of leading and controlling so many mounted troops, and their task can only have been made harder by the thick clouds of dust stirred up by so many hoofs. These factors, combined with the natural tendency for a large number of horses packed so closely together to grow excited, seems to have turned the Pompeian left wing from ordered lines of individual squadrons into a single unwieldy mass. Before they could rally and re-form, Caesar ordered his fourth line to counter-attack. These cohorts suddenly appeared from the dust and confusion and advanced towards the stationary crowd of milling cavalry. The legionaries were ordered to use their pila as spears. On other occasions when Roman infantry tried to panic enemy cavalry they yelled and clashed weapons against shields. In one of the very rare instances where infantry have successfully charged cavalry in the open, Labienus&rsquo men began to give way, confusion turning to rout as the entire mass of horsemen stampeded to the rear. We do not know whether Caesar&rsquos own horsemen had rallied and were able to pursue the enemy, but it is clear that the enemy cavalry played no further part in the battle.

Pompey&rsquos main attack had failed and exposed the left flank of his heavy infantry, providing yet another reason why it might be unwise for these to advance. Caesar&rsquos cohorts had advanced and, in the usual fashion, accelerated into a running charge preparatory to throwing their pila when they were at most some 30 or 40 yards from the enemy line. When the Pompeians failed to conform to normal legionary tactics and finally advance to meet them, Caesar&rsquos soldiers checked and did not waste their own missiles when still out of effective range. For a while the entire line halted, the centurions and their subordinates re-forming the ranks which had become ragged during their abortive charge. The coolness of this manoeuvre when the enemy was so close testified to the quality, training and experience of Caesar&rsquos legionaries and their officers. Then, after this pause, the line moved forward again. It closed to within 15 to 10 yards, threw a volley of pila, and charged home, the men raising their battle cry and drawing their swords. To their credit, and to some extent in confirmation of Pompey&rsquos tactics, the Pompeians met them steadily enough and delivered a volley of their own pila. The fighting was fierce, the extra depth and tight formations of the Pompeian cohorts keeping them in the fight against their more experienced opponents. Crastinus was killed by a sword thrust to the mouth which was so powerful that the tip of his opponent&rsquos gladius emerged from the back of his neck. The cohorts of Caesar&rsquos second line, which always operated in very close support of the first, were soon fed into the fighting.

For a while neither side gained any marked advantage in this combat, until Caesar&rsquos fourth line turned to attack the left flank of Pompey&rsquos line. The Pompeian fighting line started to edge backwards and Caesar gave the signal which ordered his third line &ndash fewer in numbers than was usual owing to the creation of the fourth line, but composed of fresh troops &ndash to advance and join the combat. The pressure was too much and Pompey&rsquos legions collapsed into flight. Caesar claims that 15,000 enemy soldiers were killed and 24,000 captured along with nine legionary eagles and 180 signa (standards). He is supposed to have given orders for his men to spare fellow citizens whenever possible, but to slaughter the foreign auxiliaries. His own losses amounted to 200 soldiers and thirty centurions &ndash a proportion which reflects the aggressive and therefore risky style of leadership encouraged in the legions. 14

Pompey seems to have played little role in the battle after the failure of his cavalry attack. Caesar even maintains that he left the field before the fighting was over, despairing of his eventual victory in a manner unworthy of a Roman, and returned to his camp. When he saw that his own army was about to collapse, he took off his general&rsquos insignia and galloped away. Even in accounts favourable to him there is no trace of the vigour he had shown in earlier campaigns. As far as the Commentaries are concerned it was clear that the better man &ndash certainly the better Roman &ndash had won.

Joining his wife, Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was murdered by the courtiers of King Ptolemy XII, who hoped to gain favour with the victor. The first blow was actually struck by a centurion who had served under Pompey during his eastern campaigns, but was now with one of the two legions left in Egypt for some years who were generally believed to have &lsquogone native&rsquo. When Caesar arrived on 2 October 48 BC he was presented with Pompey&rsquos head, but refused to look upon it and granted his former ally honourable burial. Publicly he claimed that he regretted not being able to extend his famous clemency to his most distinguished opponent. This may simply have been for public consumption, but it is also possible that he still retained considerable affection and respect for his old friend. 15


Caesar spent the next six months in Egypt, thus giving time for the surviving Pompeians to form a new army in North Africa. The long delay before he returned to Rome baffled many of those such as Cicero who hoped that the Civil War was now over. Perhaps Caesar believed that without Pompey opposition to him would collapse, or maybe for the moment he found less satisfaction in his victory than he may have hoped. He became involved in the dynastic struggle between the teenage Ptolemy and his 21-year-old sister Cleopatra. The latter &ndash lively, intelligent, charismatic and attractive if not strictly beautiful by the standards of the day, and well educated in both Hellenistic and the older Egyptian culture &ndash is famously supposed to have had herself delivered to Caesar&rsquos headquarters hidden in a carpet or blanket, which was then unrolled to reveal its remarkable passenger. The pair, who matched each other in great wit, learning and massive ambition, were soon lovers, and the Egyptian queen made a far greater impression upon the promiscuous middle-aged Roman than perhaps any of his other paramours with the possible exception of Servilia, the mother of Brutus and great love of Caesar&rsquos youth.

Caesar defeated Ptolemy, who died in the confusion, and installed Cleopatra on the Egyptian throne. Even then he did not want to leave Egypt and the lovers are said to have gone for a long and luxurious cruise along the Nile. It was only the arrival of bad news from around the Mediterranean that finally forced Caesar to disturb his reverie. Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates who had turned against his father and been permitted by Rome to keep a much reduced kingdom, had invaded the Roman province of Pontus and defeated a Roman army. At the end of May 47 Caesar mustered a small force from the legions immediately available and marched against him. The Pontic army was utterly defeated at Zela on 2 August and the swiftness of his victory prompted the famous comment &lsquoI came: I saw: I conquered&rsquo (veni, vidi, vici). Yet for a moment the issue had seemed in doubt when Pharnaces broke all the rules of generalship in this period and attacked Caesar&rsquos army whilst it was constructing a camp on high ground. Attacking an enemy in a strong position gave the Pontic army the initial advantage of surprise, but the legions recovered quickly and swiftly destroyed the enemy. In a jibe at Pompey, Caesar commented on how fortunate a general was who won his reputation fighting such fragile opponents. 16

Returning to the west and his Roman enemies, Caesar&rsquos conduct of the remainder of the Civil War was energetic, impatient and increasingly ruthless. In December 47 he led an ill-prepared invasion of Africa, which was in some ways even bolder than the landing in Macedonia two years before. Once again his talent for improvisation and his refusal to question his ultimate success, combined with the high quality of the officers and men under his command, allowed the Caesarean army to survive its initial weakness until reinforcements arrived and the supply situation improved. In April 46 he faced the Pompeian army outside the town of Thapsus. The author of The African War for once suggests that Caesar was not in full control of his army:

Caesar was doubtful, resisting their eagerness and enthusiasm, yelling out that he did not approve of fighting by a reckless onslaught, and holding back the line again and again, when suddenly on the right wing a tubicen [trumpeter], without orders from Caesar but encouraged by the soldiers, began to sound his instrument. This was repeated by all the cohorts the line began to advance against the enemy, although the centurions placed themselves in front and vainly tried to restrain the soldiers by force and stop them attacking without orders from the general.

When Caesar perceived that it was impossible to restrain the soldiers&rsquo roused spirits, he gave the watchword &lsquoGood Luck&rsquo [Felicitas], and spurred his horse at the enemy front ranks. 17

In another, even less favourable tradition Caesar had to leave the field altogether because of an epileptic fit. Whatever the truth of these accounts, Caesar&rsquos legions won a rapid and decisive victory. It was not quite the end of the war, however, for Pompey&rsquos son Cnaeus Pompeius took control of Spain and had to be defeated at Munda in 45 BC. 18

Caesar had won the Civil War, spreading devastation throughout Italy and the provinces to defend his personal honour, but it remained to be seen whether or not he could win the peace. As dictator for life he held power equalled in the past only by Sulla, whom he declared a political illiterate for retiring from public life. The honours voted to him were greater than those ever granted to any one individual and the scale of his planned projects truly staggering. Throughout the Civil War Caesar had paraded his clementia, pardoning captured opponents, in some cases more than once. Many had feared that this was simply a cynical ploy, remembering how Sulla had at first acted in a conciliatory manner until victory allowed him full rein to his brutal vengeance. Fears that Caesar would do the same proved unfounded, for there were no proscriptions and the Senate came to include a large number of his former opponents, some of whom were even given high office. Yet if the dictatorship was not repressive, it was also clear that elections were closely controlled and the Senate had no real power or independence. Rumours were rife claiming that Caesar wished to be made a king &ndash a title which was still an anathema to the Romans centuries after the expulsion of the monarchy &ndash and to be deified. Sometimes it was said that he wished to rule with Cleopatra, whom he had brought to Rome, as his queen and establish a new dynasty. The motives of the conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius were many and varied, but had more to do with fears about Caesar&rsquos future plans than anything he had so far done.

The dictator&rsquos intentions cannot now be established, for the sources for the period were thoroughly muddied by the propaganda put about by both his supporters and his enemies after his death. It is, for instance, impossible to know whether the boy Caesarion was in fact the illegitimate offspring of Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar himself may not have been clear about his ultimate objectives, for his immediate plan was to revert to what he did best, leading an army in war. When he was stabbed to death at a meeting of the Senate on 15 March 44 BC, having publicly dismissed his bodyguard some time before, he was just about to depart for a campaign against the Dacians and then a further war with Parthia. The latter in particular was a task which would inevitably have taken several years to complete, and we cannot know what he expected to happen at Rome during his absence. With Caesar&rsquos assassination Rome was once again plunged into civil war. By a final irony the dictator&rsquos corpse fell at the foot of a statue of Pompey, for the Senate was on that day meeting in a temple attached to Pompey&rsquos theatre complex. 19


In the last chapters we have dealt with generals &ndash Marius, Sertorius, Pompey and Caesar &ndash all of whom at some point led their legions against other Roman armies. From the earliest days of the Republic, Roman politics had been fiercely competitive, but it was not until the first century BC that squabbles between rival senators erupted into civil war. It seems extremely doubtful that Scipio Africanus ever dreamed of fighting against the regime which forced him into premature retirement from public life. Had he done so, it is hard to imagine that any of his former soldiers &ndash now retired and dispersed to their homes &ndash would have been willing to use force in defence of their old commander. The legions were recruited from a cross-section of the propertied classes, all of whom were able to contribute to the political life of the Republic through voting in the Assemblies.

Yet within a century the relationship between the army, its commanders and the Republic had altered, so that in 88 BC and on many subsequent occasions generals both could and did lead their legions against other Roman armies. The change was profound and connected to the rise of the professional army, where the majority of legionaries were recruited from the poorest elements in society. For such men military service was not a duty owed to the State which interrupted their normal life, but a source of employment and a steady, if low, income. When they were discharged from the army the proletarii had nothing to go back to in the way of property or work in civilian life. Successive commanders such as Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar all at times pressed for the establishment of colonies and the grant of farmland to their veteran soldiers. In each case the plan was bitterly unpopular, largely because no senator wanted another to place so many citizens in his debt. The Senate as a whole was also reluctant to acknowledge that the legions were now recruited from the poor and refused to take responsibility for their welfare after discharge. This encouraged a closer bond between commander and troops so that the legionaries&rsquo loyalty focused far more in the person of their commander than in the Republic which offered them so little. The legions in effect became &lsquoclient&rsquo or private armies of popular and powerful commanders.

This traditional view of the changes brought about as a result of the Marian Reform is a little simplistic, and has been widely criticized, especially by those scholars who believe that the evolution of the army was gradual and that there was no sudden change under Marius. They note, for instance, that it is certainly untrue that every Roman general in the first century BC was capable of turning his legions against rivals in the State. Lucullus led his army in years of highly successful campaigning in the east and yet never succeeded in winning his soldiers&rsquo affection, so that they refused all his pleas to resist his replacement by Pompey. On numerous occasions during the civil wars unpopular generals were deserted or even lynched by their own men. Yet if many, perhaps even most, Late Republican generals could not hope to persuade their legions to fight against other Romans, the essential point is that some of them both could and did. Such an action had been impossible in the heyday of the militia/conscript army which had won Rome dominance in the Mediterranean and, though perhaps the intensity and high stakes of political competition had increased, civil war only became a possibility with the new nature of the legion. This is something which the advocates of a gradual change rather than sudden military reform have failed adequately to explain, although really there is no reason why the former should have any less powerful an impact than the latter. 20

Since some Roman commanders were able to build up such a close bond with their legionaries that the latter were willing to fight other Romans on their behalf, it is important to consider how they did this. Pompey was able to raise an army at his own expense and largely from his own family&rsquos estates in spite of his youth and lack of any legal authority. Few other men had the wealth to attempt such a venture, but a good deal of his success rested on personal charisma and traditional attachment of the local population to his family. In 88 Sulla was able to persuade his men to march on Rome because they were afraid that Marius would take other legions to the lucrative war in the east. However, although occasionally a man was able to rally the support of soldiers before they had campaigned with him, a shared period of successful active service did most to tie legionaries and general together. Pompey&rsquos and Sulla&rsquos men were confirmed in their loyalty in this way, whilst ten years of shared hardship and victory in Gaul ensured that there was never any question that Caesar&rsquos army would refuse to follow him across the Rubicon. Usually long and successful campaigning created a strong bond between general and soldiers, although Lucullus&rsquo experience shows that occasionally this did not prove to be the case. One of the chief reasons for his unpopularity was the belief that he was miserly in his distribution of plunder captured from the enemy. Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar all rewarded their men, and especially their officers, lavishly. At some point, possibly during the Civil War, Caesar doubled the pay of his legionaries to 225 denarii a year.

In the Commentaries Caesar repeatedly justifies his cause, often in passages claiming to recount addresses he made to his troops. This was a way of reinforcing his message for his literary audience, but similar appeals feature in most historians&rsquo accounts of the civil wars. To a greater or lesser extent, all the soldiers in an army during a civil war probably had some knowledge of the nature of its causes. Centurions and more senior officers such as tribunes certainly do appear to have taken an active interest in politics and needed to be persuaded of the justification and legitimacy of their commander&rsquos actions. Army officers, and especially the ordinary soldiers, doubtless had a different perspective on political disputes to the senatorial class, but that does not mean that their concerns or ideas of legitimacy were any less deeply held. It seems often to have been an army&rsquos officers who initiated widespread defections to the opposing side or the assassination of a general. Early on in the Civil War each of Caesar&rsquos centurions formally offered to pay for and equip a cavalryman at their own expense, identifying themselves strongly with his cause. 21

Marius was noted for introducing a less rigid form of discipline, except when actually on campaign and on occasions, as at Gomphi, Caesar allowed his men licence to celebrate in the most disorderly manner. He is supposed to have boasted that his men fought just as well &lsquoif they were stinking of perfume&rsquo. 22 Neither man overlooked serious offences and both were perceived to be very fair in their treatment of offenders regardless of their rank. A number of officers were publicly humiliated and dismissed when they failed to meet Caesar&rsquos standards. Marius, Pompey and Caesar were all also noted for the rigorous training programmes which they imposed upon their troops. Suetonius tells us that Caesar

never gave advance warning of a march or battle, but always kept them [his troops] ready and prepared for a sudden move whenever he chose. He often turned them out even when there was no emergency, particularly in wet weather or during festivals. And he would warn them to keep a close eye on him, and would then suddenly slip out of camp at any hour of the day and night, and make an especially long and hard march, to wear out those who followed too slowly. 23

Like Sertorius he equipped his men with impressive armour and weapons, the latter or their scabbards often inlaid with gold and silver, wanting them to take a pride in themselves and their appearance. The legionaries were encouraged to feel that their general, or senior officers who would report to him, always watched their behaviour and would as rapidly reward the brave as he would punish the cowardly. When Caesar addressed his men he always called them commilitones or &lsquocomrades&rsquo. In Gaul he is said to have had flagstones carried with the baggage train so that his tent could be provided with a paved floor, but in spite of such luxuries, which may in part have been intended to impress local chieftains, he tried to share the hardships of his men. Suetonius mentions how he

showed remarkable powers of endurance. On the march he led his army, usually on foot but sometimes on horseback, bareheaded in the sun or rain, and could travel very fast over great distances in a light carriage, taking minimal baggage he would swim unfordable rivers or float across on inflated animal skins, frequently arriving at his destination before the couriers he had sent to announce his coming. 24

Although the Commentaries describe the heroic actions of many individual soldiers, it is very rare for ordinary legionaries to be named. Most often their courage is praised collectively and specific legions often singled out for praise. We have already noted Caesar&rsquos talent for manipulating unit pride, as when he announced that he would advance against Ariovistus with only Legio X if the rest of the army was too timid. Following an incident in which part of this legion was temporarily given horses to ride so that they could act as Caesar&rsquos bodyguard, the unit adopted the informal title of equestris or &lsquoknights&rsquo, and soldiers joked that they would be elevated to the equestrian order by their generous commander. Soldiers identified strongly with their legions, especially in the best units, and the rivalry to prove that they were superior to the rest of the army was intense and actively encouraged. 25

Caesar&rsquos narrative pays particular attention to the deeds of his centurions. Successes are often attributed in no small part to their courage and inspirational example and defeats mitigated by their heroism. The praise they received in his formal accounts of the campaigns was matched by tangible rewards and promotions bestowed on them immediately. During the Gallic campaigns Caesar&rsquos army more than doubled in size, creating many opportunities for promotion to higher grades of the centurionate. Little is known about the origins of centurions in this period and it is uncertain whether most were directly commissioned or promoted from the ranks, although the latter course is never explicitly mentioned in the Commentaries. It is possible that they were mainly drawn from what might loosely be called the &lsquomiddle classes&rsquo in Roman society &ndash families which owned some property and possessed some education and may even have been quite prominent in smaller Italian communities. Certainly, once they became centurions they enjoyed pay and service conditions massively greater than those of the ordinary legionaries. The potential for advancement and reward was also on a greater scale. Scaeva, the centurion who distinguished himself defending one of the forts at Dyrrachium, was promoted to the rank of primus pilus and given a bounty of 50,000 denarii (100 years&rsquo pay for an ordinary legionary). An inscription which probably dates to the 30s BC refers to a Gallic auxiliary cavalry unit known as the ala Scaevae (Scaeva&rsquos regiment) and it seems very likely that this is the same man. A handful of Caesar&rsquos centurions were even enrolled in the Senate during his dictatorship. Centurions were rewarded lavishly but suffered disproportionately high casualties in their desire to win distinction. Appian claims that Caesar ordered his men to search carefully for the body of Crastinus amongst the carnage of Pharsalus and had him buried in a tomb away from the mass grave. He is also supposed to have laid a number of decorations for valour on the corpse, which, if true, would be an extremely powerful gesture since the Romans did not normally issue posthumous medals. 26

Caesar praised and rewarded his men, shared their dangers on campaign, and trained them hard. Successive victories, broken only by a handful of defeats, all of which were swiftly avenged, confirmed his legionaries&rsquo faith in his skill as a commander. Caesar himself continually reminded the world that he was not simply a gifted general, but also a lucky one. Only a few commanders in history have been able to win comparable devotion from their troops. Occasionally the relationship wavered from the absolute obedience depicted in the Commentaries, and the Civil War witnessed two major mutinies. In late 49 Legio IX protested that many men were overdue for both pay and discharge, but quickly gave way when their general arrived and berated them for ingratitude and lack of faith. Caesar put on an act of such fury, announcing that he would decimate the legion, that the soldiers were almost relieved when he ultimately ordered the execution of only twelve ringleaders.

His performance when much of the army, including his beloved Legio X, mutinied before the African campaign was even more overpowering. Once again it was probably inactivity and an absence of purpose whilst Caesar had been away in Egypt as much as anything else which had caused old discontents to come to a head. Sallust, the future historian and then one of Caesar&rsquos officers, narrowly escaped lynching as the mutineers angrily demanded back-pay and bounties. Then their commander arrived suddenly and appeared on the tribunal. An invitation to state their grievances shocked the assembled troops into silence, until voices yelled out that they wished to be discharged from service. Caesar, who was about to embark on a major campaign and so was obviously in great need of troops, replied without any visible emotion that they were demobilized, that he would win the war with other troops, but still give them everything he had promised after his victory. There does not seem to have been any real desire for discharge and the legionaries&rsquo mood swung from hostility to a sense of sorrow and shame that their old general did not appear to value their services.

Caesar said nothing more, until some of his senior officers &ndash quite possibly instructed in their role before the confrontation began &ndash loudly begged him to forgive the men who had endured so much under his command and excuse a few rash words. Hopes that he might relent were dashed when he spoke again and began by addressing them as &lsquoCivilians&rsquo (Quirites) instead of his habitual &lsquocomrades&rsquo. The mutineers started to shout out their repentance and begged to be allowed back into his service. When Caesar turned to leave the platform the shouts grew even louder, and the legionaries pleaded with him to punish the ringleaders in the disturbance and take the rest with him to Africa. The general made a show of indecision, letting the men grow ever more desperate, until he finally announced that he would take all of them on campaign apart from Legio X, whose ingratitude after his repeated favours could not be excused. Men from this unit now went so far as to beg him to decimate them if only he would take the legion to war. In the end, he decided that the flood of emotion was so strong that it was unnecessary to take any further steps. Legio X fought with distinction at Thapsus and made the critical breakthrough at Munda. After Caesar&rsquos assassination the remnants of this veteran unit remained loyal to his memory and fought for years and with great effectiveness on behalf of his adopted son Octavian. 27

Caesar knew how to play on his soldiers&rsquo emotions, most of all on their pride in their units and their own status as good and brave soldiers. Success in public life required all Roman senators to develop some skill in dealing with and winning over people, whether as individuals or in crowds in the Forum or military camp. Caesar through instinct and experience developed the knack of winning over and inspiring soldiers to a degree unrivalled by any of Rome&rsquos other great commanders, with the possible exception of Pompey.

Annihilation at Tannenberg

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 141st installment in the series.

August 26-30, 1914: Annihilation at Tannenberg

The saying “victory has many fathers” is especially true when it comes to the Battle of Tannenberg. One of the greatest triumphs in history—which saw the invading Russian Second Army totally destroyed by the German Eighth Army in East Prussia—Tannenberg was the unlikely offspring of successive commanders, aided, oddly enough, by miscommunication and downright disobedience on the German side.

Russians Rush Into Action

Like the other Great Powers, Russia’s general staff had drawn up elaborate plans for mobilization and opening moves in the case of war. One of the main goals was an immediate invasion of East Prussia, in order to keep Russia’s promise to its ally France. Both knew Germany would probably throw most of its forces against France when war broke out, assuming that Russia would take about six weeks to mobilize. By invading East Prussia much sooner than that—ideally within two weeks of mobilization—the Russians hoped to force the Germans to withdraw troops from the attack on France in order to defend the Fatherland.

Following the decision to mobilize against Germany and Austria-Hungary on July 30, 1914, the Russians kept their promise to France by rushing forces into the field before mobilization was complete, with the Russian First Army under Paul Rennenkampf (192,000 men) invading East Prussia from the east, and the Second Army under Alexander Samsonov (230,000) invading from the south. The armies were supposed to converge on the German Eight Army (150,000) under Maximilian von Prittwitz to complete a classic encirclement however there were some obstacles (literally) in the form of East Prussia’s patchwork of lakes, which made it hard to coordinate the movements of the Russian armies, while poor communications and logistical issues delayed Samsonov’s advance even more.

After crossing into Germany on August 12, Rennenkampf’s First Army suffered a minor defeat in the Battle of Stallupönen at the hands of Hermann von François, a headstrong corps commander in the German Eighth Army with a habit of disobeying orders, on August 17. Encouraged by François’ modest victory, Prittwitz decided to abandon his defensive stance and advance east against the Russian First Army, while the Russian Second Army was still struggling to move up from the south. However, the German attack was rebuffed at the Battle of Gumbinnen on August 20, leaving First Army in control of the field.

Alarmed by this reverse and the plodding advance of Samsonov’s Second Army, which (finally) threatened to encircle Eighth Army, Prittwitz decided to retreat to the Vistula River, sacrificing East Prussia to defend the route to Berlin. But German chief of the general staff Moltke was unwilling to give up the Prussian heartland so easily and fired Prittwitz, handing command of the Eighth Army to Paul von Hindenburg, an older general called out of retirement, advised by a young, dynamic chief of staff, Erich Ludendorff. Moltke also transferred one regular and one reserve army corps from the Western Front to East Prussia, further weakening the German right wing in Belgium and northern France (just as the Allies hoped).

As Hindenburg and Ludendorff hurried to East Prussia, Prittwitz’s talented deputy chief of operations, Colonel Max Hoffman, was devising a daring new plan. Eighth Army would use East Prussian railroads to suddenly shift François’s I Corps south and catch the Russian Second Army unprepared. To gain time XX Corps under Friedrich von Scholtz, currently the furthest south, would hold off the Second Army as long as possible.

This plan was very risky, since it left Eighth Army’s flank open to attack by the Russian First Army—but, luckily for the Germans, Rennenkampf showed no sense of urgency about following up the victory at Gumbinnen, and First Army advanced at a decidedly sedate pace. His delay provided a crucial window of opportunity for Hoffman’s plan, which was already in motion when Hindenburg and Ludendorff took over command of Eighth Army on August 23.

In fact, the new commanders had been contemplating a similar move, but they now faced huge logistical challenges, working to hurry the artillery for François’ I Corps south by rail, while Scholtz’s XX Corps staged a fierce fighting retreat against forward elements of Second Army, throwing the Russians back at Orlau-Frankenau on August 24. Then on the evening of August 24 the Germans had a stroke of luck, intercepting uncoded radio messages sent by the Russian Second Army headquarters, which gave away its location and direction of march. With this vital information in hand, Hindenburg and Ludendorff now made the crucial decision to order XVII Corps under August von Mackensen and I Reserve Division under Otto von Below to move south by forced marches to complete the encirclement.

The following day Hindenburg and Ludendorff ordered François, whose I Corps was now arriving west of the Russians, to attack—but the normally bellicose commander flatly refused because his artillery was still in transit. Furious at this open insubordination and worried by (exaggerated) reports that the Russian First Army was approaching from the north, the Eighth Army leaders paid a personal visit to François’ headquarters and forced him to issue the orders under their direct supervision. However François, stubborn as ever, found ways to put off their implementation until his artillery finally arrived.

As it turned out, François was probably right: delaying the attack created more time for Mackensen’s XVII Corps and Below’s I Reserve Corps to march south and defeat the Russian VI Corps on August 26, while Scholtz’s XX Corps brushed aside a division from the Russian XXIII Corps and kept the XIII and XV Corps busy in the center. After a fierce daylong battle the VI Corps was in a headlong, disorderly retreat towards the Russian border, leaving Samsonov’s right flank vulnerable and thus opening the way for encirclement. Meanwhile the Russian troops were hungry and demoralized after three days of marching with no food, due to supply failures resulting from the rushed deployment.

On the evening of August 26, with I Corps’ artillery in hand at last, François ordered an attack on the Russian I Corps guarding Samsonov’s left flank the next day, opening with a devastating “hurricane” bombardment at 4am. John Morse, an Englishman serving in the Russian Army, described the artillery duel in this area:

The air, the ground, everywhere and everything, seemed to be alive with bursting shells… Generally the sound of it was a continuous roar. The heavens were lit up by the reflections of discharged guns and exploding shells, and the pandemonium was dominated by a shrieking sound… [from] the rush of projectiles through the air.”

In terms of casualties, Morse noted, “Of course the loss of life was very great. I can only say the ground was heaped with dead and dying.”

As François’ I Corps pushed the Russians back on August 27, Scholtz’s XX Corps was locked in a ferocious battle with the Russian center, still attacking, while Mackensen’s XVII Corps and Below’s I Reserve Corps closed in from the northeast, officers urging exhausted troops towards the thunder of great guns to the south.

By the evening of August 27, the flanks of the Russian Second Army were in complete disarray, falling back towards the frontier all along the line. Alfred Knox, the official British military observer attached to Second Army, described the chaos unfolding just behind the front, on the Russian side of the border:

A long convey of wounded has entered the town… Losses, according to all accounts, have been dreadful, and chiefly from artillery fire, the number of German guns exceeding the Russian. A plucky sister [nun] arrived from Soldau with a cartload of wounded. She said there had been a panic among the transport and the drivers had run away, leaving the wounded… She said that the artillery fire of the Germans was awful.

And things were about to get much, much worse: Unbeknownst to the Russian troops streaming southward, by this time François’ I Corps had sent the Russian I Corps reeling back into Poland and thereby succeeded in turning Second Army’s left flank. On August 28 François followed up with a sweeping attack to the east—once again disregarding Ludendorff’s explicit orders—cutting Second Army’s line of retreat into Russian Poland and completing the encirclement.

The disaster was total: As the remnants of the Russian I and VI Corps dragged themselves to safety in Russian Poland, from August 28 to 30 the rest of Second Army was surrounded and annihilated. The scale of the defeat was breathtaking, as the Russians suffered around 30,000 killed and missing, 50,000 wounded, and 90,000 taken prisoners (below, Russian soldiers surrender) for a total of 170,000 casualties, versus just 14,000 casualties in all categories for the Germans. Along with the horrible human toll, another casualty of Tannenberg was the legend of the “Russian steamroller,” which would flatten all opposition in its irresistible progress to Berlin. Germany was safe, at least for now.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff had scored a victory that surpassed all their hopes, but in truth it was due just as much to Russian failings as German skill. Knox, the British observer, summed up the deficiencies:

The whole machine was inferior to the German machine. There was no proper co-operation between corps commanders. The men were worried by orders and counter-orders. The morale of all ranks was much affected by the number of the enemy’s heavy guns … [The generals] forgot the wonderful capacity of the East Prussian railway system. They sent the 2nd Army forward without field bakeries, imagining, if they thought of the soldiers’ stomachs at all, that a large army could be fed in a region devoid of surplus supplies.

Knox also recorded a firsthand account of the fittingly tragic denouement for Second Army’s commander, General Alexander Samsonov, who threw caution to the wind and rode to the frontline as the fortunes of war turned against him, then found himself cut off in the wholesale retreat:

All the night of the 29th-30th they stumbled through the woods… moving hand in hand to avoid losing one another in the darkness. Samsonov said repeatedly that the disgrace of such a defeat was more than he could bear. “The Emperor trusted me. How can I face him after such a disaster?” He went aside and his staff heard a shot. They searched for his body without success, but all were convinced that he shot himself.

Desperate Fight at Le Cateau

As the Russian Second Army was obliterated on the Eastern Front, on the Western Front the terrible Great Retreat continued, with the French and British armies falling back before the onrushing Germans following the battles at Charleroi and Mons, slowing them where they could with rearguard actions. On August 26, the British II Corps commander General Horace Smith-Dorrien disregarded an order from Field Marshal John French (apparently a frequent occurrence with headstrong commanders in the early days of the war) and decided to make a stand at Le Cateau, about 100 miles northeast of Paris.

The British II Corps faced three divisions from the German First Army under Alexander von Kluck. After an opening artillery barrage, the German infantry advanced in close formation over open ground towards the British lines, as at Mons, and with similarly bloody results, as massed rifle fire and shrapnel shells cut swathes in the attacking units. A British officer, Arthur Corbett-Smith, described the carnage:

A blue-grey mass of enemy infantry appears advancing with steady, swinging pace. At 500 yards or a trifle more one of your regiments opens rapid fire on them. You can actually see the lanes in the German ranks ploughed through by the British rifle-fire. Still they advance, for the lanes are filled almost immediately. Nearer and nearer, until that regiment which began the advance has almost ceased to exist. The remnant breaks and scatters in confusion, and as they break away another new regiment is disclosed behind them. Such is the method of the German massed attack, overwhelming by sheer numbers.

Philip Gibbs, a British war correspondent, quoted an ordinary “Tommy” (British soldier) with a similar, if more succinct view: “We kill ‘em and kill ‘em, and still they come on. They seem to have an endless line of fresh men. Directly we check ‘em in one attack a fresh attack develops. It's impossible to hold up such a mass of men. Can't be done, nohow!”

As casualties mounted, the Germans attempted to outflank the British from the west but were rebuffed by the newly formed French Sixth Army under General Michel-Joseph Maunoury, hastily created by chief of the general staff Joffre with troops from the Army of Lorraine. Nonetheless by mid-afternoon the German frontal assault was beginning to wear the British down and Smith-Dorrien, seeing himself hopelessly outnumbered and with a breakthrough imminent, organized an orderly retreat to the south, covered from the west by French horse artillery. The British had suffered 7812 casualties, including around 2500 taken prisoner, while 5000 Germans lay dead perhaps more importantly, Le Cateau helped delay the German advance on Paris.

After the battle the Great Retreat resumed, pushing French and British troops to the limit of their endurance. Gibbs, attached to a cavalry unit, recalled:

For twenty miles our cavalry urged on their tired horses through the night, and along the sides of the roads came a struggling mass of automobiles, motor-cycles, and motor-wagons, carrying engineers, telegraphists and men of the Army Service Corps. Ambulances crammed with wounded who had been picked up hurriedly from the churches and barns which had been used as hospitals, joined the stampede… Many who were wounded as they tramped through woods splintered by bursting shells and ripped with bullets, bandaged themselves as best they could and limped on, or were carried by loyal comrades who would not leave a pal in the lurch.

The retreat was made even more difficult by huge columns of refugees, mostly peasants and villagers fleeing Belgium and northern France. A British Corporal, Bernard Denmore, recalled:

The roads were in a terrible state, the heat was terrific, there seemed to be very little order about anything, and mixed up with us and wandering all about over the road were refugees, with all sorts of conveyances—prams, trucks, wheelbarrows, and tiny little carts drawn by dogs. They were piled up, with what looked like beds and bedding, and all of them asked us for food, which we could not give them, as we had none ourselves.

However there was a silver lining, as the journey was equally onerous for the pursuing Germans. John Ayscough, a chaplain with the British Expeditionary Force, wrote his mother: “A German officer taken prisoner yesterday say that their men had had nothing to eat for four days, and had to be driven to fight at the point of the bayonet.”

As the enemy closed in on Paris, the Allies began clearing out of vulnerable positions. On August 28 the British commander, Field Marshal French, ordered the evacuation of the British forward base at Amiens, followed the next day by the main supply base at Le Havre and the strategic channel port of Boulogne the new British base would be at distant St. Nazaire on the Bay of Biscay. Arthur Anderson Martin, a surgeon serving with the BEF, happened to be present at Le Havre, where he witnessed the chaotic scene at the harbor, involving all the trappings of a modern army:

Everyone was shouting and cursing contradictory orders were given… The stage between the ship and the big sheds was packed with all sorts of goods in inextricable confusion. Here were bales of hospital blankets dumped on kegs of butter, there boxes of biscuits lying packed in a corner, with a forgotten hose-pipe playing water on them. Inside the sheds were machine-guns, heavy field pieces, ammunition, some aeroplanes, crowds of ambulance waggons, London buses, heavy transport waggons, kitchens, beds, tents for a general hospital, stacks of rifles, bales of straw, mountainous bags of oats, flour, beef, potatoes, crates of bully beef, telephones and telegraphs, water carts, field kitchens, unending rolls of barbed wire, shovels, picks, and so on.

Meanwhile as August drew to a close the chief of the French general staff, Joseph Joffre, decided to relocate his headquarters from Vitry-le-François, located on the Marne River about 60 miles east of Paris, to Bar-sur-Aube, about 30 miles further south, and the military governor of Paris, General Joseph Gallieni, advised the government that the capital itself was no longer safe. Across the channel, on August 30, The Times published a brutally honest account by Arthur Moore, later known as the “Amiens Dispatch,” giving the British public its first unvarnished view of the war to date farsighted observers now understood that Britain was in for a protracted conflict that would require all her strength.

But unknown to even the highest authorities, the tide was already turning in the Allies’ favor. On the evening of August 30, von Kluck, commanding First Army on the German right, decided to shift his direction of march from due south towards the southeast, to pursue the retreating British. However this would open his fight flank to attack by the new French Sixth Army under Maunoury, drawing on troops scraped together by Gallieni from the garrisons in Paris. Meanwhile Joffre also created a new special army detachment under Ferdinand Foch, one of the most aggressive French generals, with troops from the Third and Fourth Armies.


Indeed the grain was falling short in Cao Cao's granaries and he considered a withdrawal. Such a situation called for immediate action. Shock troops were dispatched to burn Yuan Shao's grain carts, forcing him to send out for relief food supplies. In the tenth month, Chunyu Qiong's ten thousand-strong force returned with large reserves of grain and lodged around twenty kilometers from the main Yuan camp, in a place called Crow's Nest . The wisdom of such a position was questioned by Ju Shou, who argued that there were too few troops to guard such an important resource as grain. Soon, a defection from Yuan Shao's ranks alerted Cao Cao to this weakness and he seized the opportunity. Leaving the main camp in the hands of Cao Hong, a force of 5,000 elite infantry was led by Cao Cao himself into enemy controlled territory.

Traveling rapidly under the enemy banner at night and feigning to be Yuan's reinforcements, Cao Cao besieged Chunyu Qiong's supply camp, burning it along with much of Yuan Shao's grain. In the emergency, Yuan Shao refused to send his main forces to relieve Chunyu's defenders, as his commander Zhang He urged him to do. Instead he chose to send a smaller force of light cavalry, whilst attacking Guandu with the bulk of his army. By dawn, Wuchao had fallen to the furious attack and Cao's victorious soldiers then proceeded to defeat the small relief force. At Guandu, Yuan Shao failed to break through and army morale dropped sharply because of the capture of the food supplies. Zhang He and Gao Lan surrendered and their battalions burned their weapons. Cao Cao seized the day once more and attacked when the enemy was at its weakest. 70,000 of Yuan's force was destroyed and he lost countless provisions, escaping over the Yellow River with little more than 800 horsemen.

Third encirclement campaign against the Shaanxi–Gansu Soviet

The third encirclement campaign against the Shaanxi–Gansu Soviet was an encirclement campaign launched by the Chinese Nationalist Government that was intended to destroy the communist Shaanxi–Gansu Soviet and its Chinese Red Army in the local region. It was responded by the Communists' third counter-encirclement campaign at Shaanxi–Gansu Soviet (Chinese: 陕甘苏区第三次反围剿 ), also called by the communists as the third counter-encirclement campaign at Shaanxi–Gansu Revolutionary Base (Chinese: 陕甘革命根据地第三次反围剿 ), in which the local Chinese Red Army successfully defended their soviet republic in the border region of Shaanxi and Gansu provinces against the Nationalist attacks from August 1935 to October 25, 1935. Some Chinese communist historians also consider the Zhiluozhen Campaign fought a month later as part of this third counter-encirclement campaign at Shaanxi–Gansu Soviet.


The Federal Government of the American States is split into three separate branches: The Legislative, The Authoritative, and the Executive. The Legislative is the Federal Assembly, or the Congress. It comprises of two bicameral districts, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Authoritative is the Supreme Court, which explains, enforces, and applies laws necessary to the unity of the nation. The Executive is the powers of the President, Vice President, and the Cabinet.

The House consists of 500 members, each one of them representing a congressional district. The required age for a congressman ranges from 25-30, which depends on their possible abilities and maturity, which is needed so certain issues can be voted on respectively. This job also requires at least 3-5 years of study of politics and economics, to make sure that every member can understand the basis of certain political ideologies which others may be present with. A 2 week debating course is also held and determined before someone can be officially hired. The current speaker of the House is Helen van den Broek.

The Senate is comprised of 100 members, and is made up of 2 senators from every state, regardless of population or statistics. Seven year terms are given to each member, though this can differ via widespread vote or support. The requirements of the Senate are nearly the same as the House of Representatives, However the age limit is set to 35, due to the relatively small amount present. The job of the senate is to give advice or consent to ambassadors, naval officers, cabinet officers, federal judges, and department secretaries.

The job of both parties is to agree on legislative, economic, and political issues. This can include the passing of bills, improvement of military standards, and/or increasement of funds. (This is done to put any additional funds from transactions, trading deals, or loans from foreign countries into federal reserve banks, which are used to provide money to the nation and to the government in the event of a mass global recession)

The Authoritative, or the Supreme Court, is what enforces and applies the laws within the American States. It’s most major job is to decide on constitutional or regional issues, this involves the agreement of sending bills to the congress to decide on said issues, a process done to double-check the authenticity and integrity of any suggestions. Another role is to debate the interpretations of constitutional amendments, or the constitution itself. The main focus is to guarantee the precedent for any future presidents in office.

The Supreme Court can also rule any certain amendments that are deemed “unneeded” or “irrelevant” unconstitutional, though yet again this is based on certain authenticity. Debates are held, and sometimes required, for things such as criminal cases, state disputes, and civil lawsuits held between citizens or corporations. This must always be supported by existing evidence, and any tampering with certain documents of punishable by disqualification or a large fine by the opposing party.

The Executive powers are held by the President, the Vice President, and the Cabinet. Every President is to abide by the oath of office, which pledges to follow and defend the Constitution of the State. If a president obstructs power, falsely vetoes a bill, or does not follow the law given in the constitution they may be impeached or removed from office. The cabinet of the president must decide on certain decisions however, to check for any bias within words. Only three presidents have been successfully impeached, these include:

The President also holds the power to sign treaties with foreign countries, though this depends on approval from the Senate. If certain constitutional amendments are stuck in limbo, or cannot be decided upon, the President and his cabinet can vote on the issue, though this is a rare occurrence.

The current President is Joris Struik, a member of the Constitutionalist Party.