Chasing the Soft Underbelly

By Dave Watson

Given the thousands of books written about the Second World War, you might think nothing is left to write about. However, each year there are retellings of campaign stories, reinterpretations of events and new research that sheds light on a conflict that was vast in scale and touched so many lives.

What is new about my book, Chasing the Soft Underbelly: Turkey and the Second World War, is that it is the first military history about Turkey’s role in the conflict. It was when researching other aspects of the Balkans that I decided to write the book. Turkey was often referenced in operational plans, campaigns on its borders and in resistance and intelligence operations. This led me to a deep dive into the subject; the book is the outcome of that research.

I am often asked, ‘was Turkey in the Second World War?’ The answer is yes, but it didn’t declare war until February 1945, too late to take part in the fighting. Two divisions were being prepared to participate in the Italian campaign, but the war ended before they could be shipped there. The absence of action didn’t mean the conflict had no impact on Turkey. The country was on a war footing from 1940 onwards with more than a million men in the armed forces by 1942 out of a total population of 17.8 million. This affected the economy, with military expenditure taking up more than half the total government budget. Real wages dropped by 40 per cent, and bread rations were cut by half in May 1942. Troops also died in training accidents, and several thousand conscripted coal miners were killed or injured in the Zonguldak Basin.

The Turkish Air Force Cemetery includes many graves of pilots who lost their lives during the war (Picture, Onur Buyuran)

Turkey sought a non-belligerent approach seeking freedom of movement and avoiding alignment with power blocs, ‘Peace at home and peace abroad’ was the slogan. Turkey did avoid its treaty obligations to Britain and France, as well as other Balkan countries, by not entering the war earlier. However, I argue that the Turkish leadership cannot be blamed for insulating their people. Even if, for a country at a pivotal world crossroads, that would be a challenge.

The book focuses on British efforts to encourage Turkey to enter the war. This was an almost exclusively British project. The Soviets blew hot and cold on the project; the Americans were sceptical and, at best, went along with the British position. Even amongst the British leadership, there was considerable scepticism, which left Churchill as the most consistent advocate of the project throughout the war. Even at some personal risk when he flew to meet the Turkish President, Ismet İnönü, at Adana in January 1943.

The Turkish Armed Forces were ill-equipped to participate in the Second World War. They had a large army, but its equipment, tactics and doctrine had not moved on from the First World War and the subsequent War of Independence. The British supplied substantial equipment from their Middle East stocks under Operation Hardihood to rectify this. Infantry divisions received almost 100,000 items of small arms, including Lee-Enfield rifles, Sten and Thompson sub-machine guns, 81mm mortars, and PIAT anti-tank launchers. Artillery included 40mm Bofors AA guns, 3.7inch AA guns, 6-pdr ATGs, plus British and American trucks and jeeps. Armoured vehicles included 230 Valentine tanks, 222 Stuart light tanks, 25 Sherman medium tanks, 150 Dingo scout cars, 59 Bren carriers and 48 Bishop self-propelled guns. The Turkish Air Force was also reequipped with P40 and Hurricane ground attack fighters, around 200 Spitfires and a fleet of bombers. The Turkish Navy was the poor relation of this bounty, with a handful of destroyers, submarines and motor torpedo boats.

One of the 6-pdr ATGs supplied to Turkey. (Photo by Author, Istanbul Military Museum)

The Germans were also wooing the Turks. There were long-standing economic links between Turkey and Germany, which continued throughout the war with the supply of chromite and other minerals. Many senior Turkish officers had been trained in Germany, and others retained links from the First World War. German loans bought 34 Pkw IIIJ and 37 Pkw IVH tanks, among other military supplies. These were known as T3 and T4 in Turkish service and equipped the 6th Tank Regiment, held in reserve at Ankara. They also supplied 72 Fw-190A-3 fighter aircraft, an astonishing sale of advanced fighter aircraft given the growing pressure on German industrial production from Allied bombing.

All this meant that the Turkish Armed Forces had one of the more eclectic equipment mixes. This is reflected in over twenty colour plates in the book, which will also appeal to modellers and wargamers looking for a new challenge.

Of course, having modern equipment doesn’t automatically make an effective military force. The British provided military instructors who reported that only 20 per cent of the training had been usefully absorbed. Colonel Sleeman writing in June 1943 was particularly critical of Turkish officers;

This training will not be carried out without leadership and enthusiasm, both of which are totally lacking in the superior hierarchy of the Turkish army … Turkish senior officers, who do not want or try to understand. They are conceited, they continue to live in the glories of the War of Independence, give blind obedience to the Marshal and demand it of the army. They fear modern training methods, have so far proved incapable of being trained and have not admitted the need for training.

If this sounds like an outburst of British exceptionalism, he wasn’t the only critic. Turkish officers confirmed the pessimistic reports of Allied and Axis officers, as did the Chief of the General Staff in his warnings to the government that the armed forces were not ready for war.

In the final analysis, no amount of equipment or even Allied fighting units would convince the Turks that they could defend against a German invasion. Particularly an air attack against Istanbul, with its largely wooden houses. President İnönü recognised the risks of war and the need to allow Turkey to rebuild its economy after the wars of the early years of the century. Nonetheless, while hoping for peace, he did prepare the country for war.

The Sergeants and the Gun

Sander Peeters author of LatinAmerica@War Tropic Thunder in Suriname Volume 1 talks about 43 years of „Ingreep“ in Suriname.

This year marks the 43th Anniversary of the 25 February Coup in Suriname. The coup has had different names. Very soon after it took place, the events of 25 February 1980 were dubbed the “ingreep” (intervention). A year or so later, these were dubbed a Revolution (or the “Revo” in Suriname), when the military authority governing the country adopted a left-leaning socialist policy and gained a close relationship with other leftist governments in Latin America such as Cuba, Grenada and Nicaragua. But one of the names that stuck most was the Sergeantencoup (the coup of the Sergeants).

Suriname, located on the northeastern coast of the continent of South America, used to be a colony of the Netherlands from 1667 until 1975. After independence Dutch colonial forces, known as the TRIS (TRoepenmacht in Suriname) left the country. The Surinamese government formed the armed forces, known as the SKM, who would be responsible for the nation’s defence. The SKM had taken over all the equipment and infrastructure left behind by the outgoing TRIS, most of which was not the most modern, although it was functional. The personnel of the armed forces consisted of conscripts and a cadre of NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) and Officers. 

Surinamese platoon, 1 April 1975

Photo: Verhoeff, Bert, Nationaal Archief / Anefo Collectie

Many of the officers and NCOs had been trained in the Netherlands and had often served in the TRIS. However, before independence, a large group of NCOs of Surinamese descent serving the Royal Dutch Army were asked to join the fledgling SKM. These men were promised a supplementary income with Dutch benefits and career opportunities, in order to make it attractive for them to exchange Europe for Suriname. About 40 NCOs made the switch, including the current President of Suriname Desi Bouterse.

As the TRIS was basically an enlarged infantry battalion, the Suriname government wanted to extend the duties of the SKM with coastal and sea patrols. For this purpose, the Surinamese government had recently purchased ten patrol boats of which the most capable were the high-seas patrol boats designed by the Dutch engineering firm De Roos and built by the De Vries Shipbuilding company at the wharf “De Vlijt” in Aalsmeer.

The Group of Sixteen, the coupplotters of the 25 Feb 1980 Ingreep. Staged photo post-coup. Source: Jozef Slagveer, Nacht van de Revolutie

Depending on sources, these boats had the following specifications:

  • Length: 32m
  • Beam: 6.5m
  • Draft: 1.7m
  • Displacement: 127 tons (metric)
  • Engines: 2x 1020 HP Paxman 12YHCM diesel engines
  • Max. Speed: 20kts
  • Range: 1,200km @ 13.5 kts
  • Complement: 15

The boats (named S401, S402 and S403) were delivered without weapons and the Surinamese government chose to arm these vessels with two SAK-40/L70-315 40mm cannons, built by the Swedish armaments firm Bofors. Seven of these cannons were ordered and five members of the SKM were sent to Sweden to be trained on operating the “Bofors” cannons (often misnamed Beaufort in publications) and handling their ammunition. By the end of 1978, all boats were delivered and armed. The Bofors were the most powerful weapons in the Surinamese army at the time. Although several artillery cannons were available, these old QF-25s (towed 88mm cannons) were only used for ceremonial purposes.

S401 during test sail before delivery to Suriname (note Dutch flag) and before installation of armament in Suriname. Source:

In the years between 1975 and 1980, Suriname struggled with its newfound independence. The government received about a billion Dutch Guilders (valued at about 1.25 billion Euros today), which was mostly spent on infrastructural projects in the western part of the country. That money did not end up benefitting the average Surinamer. 

Due to a lack of maintenance, civil infrastructure went into decline. Concurrently unemployment increased. Many Surinamers left for the Netherlands in search of a better future, creating a drain of know-how and capital. In addition, the parliament was in a deadlock and no measures were taken to improve the economy, preferring to wait for new elections in March 1980.

In the SKM, the situation was not much better. The cadre of NCOs had formed a trade union to voice their grievances about the poor state of the army, the lack of clear purpose and the lack of promotions. The military high command and the government largely ignored the union and refused to acknowledge them. Thus, the union members went on strike.

On 30 January 1980, the police drove out the union members from the barracks. When three union council members were arrested, they were put on trial. When it was announced that the three would receive their sentencing on 26 February, a group of sixteen sergeants, decided to put a previously set up plan into action.

A Bofors SAK-40/L70-315 40mm cannon. This is the one supposedly used to fire at the police HQ. Source: Josef Slagveer – Nacht van de Revolutie

On the early morning of 25 February, fifteen NCOs snuck into the naval base in Paramaribo and managed to capture it, overpowering the guards. After bringing in some additional personnel, three NCOs from the group (Roy Tolud, Benny Brondenstein and Gefferie Ernst) got S402 armed and working, and took off with seven other SKM members, while the other revolting sergeants set off to capture the barracks and munitions depot in the city. 

Roy Tolud, commanded the S402 during the actions of 25 Feb. Source: Josef Slagveer - Nacht van de Revolutie
Benny Brondenstein, one of the Groep van Zestien members that was onboard the S402. Source: Josef Slagveer - Nacht van de Revolutie
Ernst Gefferie, one of the Groep van Zestien member on board the S402. Supposedly motivated one of the Corporals to open fire on the police HQ.
Source: Josef Slagveer - Nacht van de Revolutie

At four o’clock in the morning, S402 opened first with its rear Bofors cannon on the police headquarters in the city and ceased fire after two shots, waking up part of the city. The roof of the building had been hit. When members of the group signalled that the boat should continue firing, the boat did not reopen fire until seven.

The corporal who was assigned to firing the gun on the S402, was concerned that his brother, a police officer, was also present at the headquarters. He was persuaded to open fire on top of the building to allow the police to escape. After firing the first two shots, he had a nervous breakdown and was thinking of jumping overboard. He thus had to be locked up. This left the boat without an experienced gunner, and thus they had to make do with the men that they had.

In the meantime, the army barrack and munitions depot in the city had been captured. The conspirators brought in an armoured personnel carrier and opened fire on the police station around seven. By that time, S402 also resumed firing on the police station. By eight o’clock the police surrendered and shortly after leaving the police headquarters a high explosive incendiary shell hit the top of the building and started a fire that burned the police station down. 

This act marked the final military action of the day. As police were rounded up and incarcerated, the NCOs formed a military council that would take govern the country at least until a civilian government was installed as was claimed at the time. Suriname would be under military rule until 1987 when free elections were held. 

The high-seas patrol boats were involved in another coup and a civil war. Today, these boats are no longer in service. And the Bofors gun that started it all? That is currently on display in het Surinaamse Leger Museum located at the Memre Boekoe Barracks in Paramaribo.

The remains of the police HQ are now a monument for the Revolution. The location is now dubbed “Revo square”. Source: Waterkant website
Slagveer, Josef – Nacht van de Revolutie
Boom, Henk – Staatsgreep in Suriname
Klinkers, Ellen – De Troepenmacht in Suriname

Newspaper articles:
De Vrije Stem – 12 Juni 1978 – Patrouille Boten nog zonder kannonen
Amigoe – 1 July 1988 – Surinaamse Revolutie verslindt Sergeanten

Patrouilleboten voor Suriname 1977 – 1978

Fit to Command

Steve Brown, author of From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 title Fit to Command: British Regimental Leadership in the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars, talks to renowned Napoleonic author Bob Burnham, former editor of the Napoleon Series website, about the work that went into his book.

BB: A great idea for a long overdue book! So does your book consist of short biographies of field grade

SB: There is a fair amount of biographical information in there, but that is not the main purpose of the book. The primary focus is – who were the men who became COs (commanding officers) of British army units between 1793 and 1815? What was their social backgrounds? How much experience did they have? How old were they? How much training and preparation for the role did they have? And for those that survived by 1815, what rewards were in store.

BB: What inspired you to write the book?

SB: I read William Westerman’s Soldiers and Gentlemen: Australian Battalion Commanders in the Great War 1914-1918 a couple of years ago and then followed it up by reading Peter Eric Hodgkinson’s exhaustive thesis, British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War. It set me to thinking about doing something similar for British battalion and regimental commanders for the period 1793- 1815, given the historiography for this particular cadre of the British Army seems to be in somewhat of a vacuum. Nineteenth-century histories tending to be written from the top-down, such that the decisions of the commanding generals took primacy; the battalion commanders existed at the very bottom of that chain and so were infrequently seen. In contrast, contemporary works have concentrated on a bottom-
up view of history, placing the memoirs of the rank & file and junior officers as central to the action, and for these writers the battalion commanders generally existed at the rarely-seen outer edge of their regimental experience.
We are left with a documentary vacuum at field officer levels. Yet within this vacuum, battalion commanders – lieutenant-colonels and majors – were undertaking a very difficult task for which the British Army frequently failed to equip them for, intellectually or physically. Not only did they have to administer an organisation of maybe 1,000 men or more but were also responsible for directing small-unit tactics on the battlefield, as well as providing inspiring leadership to their men. Most commanders had to learn their craft on-the-job. There have been other books covering the general workings of the British Army of the era, but never one purely concentrated on field officers, and their contribution to unit leadership.

BB: How predominant were aristocrats at the field grade level?

SB: This varied enormously between regiments. The Foot Guards regiments had a high percentage, as we would expect. But the more, dare we say, ‘unfashionable’ regiments – especially the higher-numbered infantry regiments – had none.
The expeditionary force that the Duke of York took to Flanders in 1793 had none, but the supporting regiments that arrived in 1794 had plenty – men such as Lords Craven and Newark, Wellesley, Fox, Leveson-Gower, Bligh, Cathcart, and the Pagets. Lord Craven joined the army in September 1793 and purchased his way up to lieutenant colonel six months later at the age of twenty-three. Edward Paget took slightly over two years to do the same thing and was a lieutenant colonel commanding the 28th Foot at the age of eighteen. Leveson-Gower the same, the CO of the 63rd Foot at the age of twenty. It was such abuses of the system that gave purchase a bad name, and the Duke of York’s army such a poor reputation (although the same system gave us Wellesley and the Pagets in high command at an early age, so it was not all bad).

In 1808 the British Army contained 158 officers below the rank of colonel bearing hereditary or courtesy titles, rising to 195 in 1813. The 1808 figure represents just over one percent of the total officer corps. Compare this with the army of the Habsburg empire, which in 1809 counted seven aristocrats among the army’s nine corps commanders.

A study of 40 COs in the Waterloo campaign shows that only 10% were from the aristocracy, while 41% were from the landholding (esquire) classes, 18% were the sons of former officers, 8% were the sons of clergymen, and over 20% came from other sources – one was the son of an NCO. In the years from 1815 to the Crimea in 1854, the percentage of aristocrats actually went up, as did the percentage of sons of former officers (many of whom had acquired aristocratic status through service). We could say that the British army of 1815 was more meritocratic than it would be for another century.

BB: Purchasing rank… I have heard that it was a myth that most officers purchased their rank,
especially at the field grade level. Is this true?

SB: This varied quite a bit between eras and campaigns. The expeditionary force that landed with the Duke of York in the Netherlands in 1793 contained battalions in which one-third of the COs had purchased their current rank, whilst all the others had gained their current rank by brevet. Fast-forward to Egypt in 1801 and only one in five of the COs present had purchased their rank, with about a quarter gaining their rank by brevet and more than half being promoted to their rank without purchase, some through patronage.

Purchase amongst the brigadier and CO cohort was not even a presence in the expeditionary forces that landed on the east coast of Spain in 1813 or New Orleans in 1815; all the COs in those forces had been promoted without purchase. At Waterloo in 1815, about one in seven COs had purchased their rank, with almost half promoted without purchase, and the rest breveted. Of course, in the Ordnance no ranks were purchased – it was strictly seniority, all the way. An artillery officer might expect to be a lieutenant colonel at 55, rather than at 38 as in the infantry; so it is sobering to reflect this is what the entire army might have looked like without purchase and patronage.

BB: How much did patronage play a role in the promotions to substantive rank?

SB: Some – although we cannot over-state the influence of patronage, since the Duke of York was a busy man, and loath to bestow it unless absolutely necessary. The one exception he did make was to insist on making appointments to replace COs who had been dismissed from the service due to disciplinary action. It was, in a sense, the ultimate ‘big stick’ – to have one’s name featured in a negative report that passed under the Duke of York’s eye was to have one’s chances of advancement through patronage
squashed flat.

BB: What percent of the officers who later commanded battalion and regiments served in the West
Indies? The Low Countries in the 1790s?

SB: The ‘average’ CO at Waterloo had been in the army for nineteen years (i.e., commenced his career in 1796) and the ‘average’ brigadier for twenty-seven years (commenced in 1788). Therefore, in Flanders in 1793-1795 or the West indies in 1794-1796, most brigadiers of 1815 would have been subalterns or captains; and most 1815 CO’s probably started their combat careers at Helder in 1799 or Egypt in 1801. Of the eighty-seven British and KGL COs and brigadiers in the Waterloo campaign, fourteen had served in Flanders in 1793-1794, ten in the West Indies, eleven at Den Helder, ten in Egypt, and sixty-eight in the Peninsula.

The problem with the West Indies – especially in the period 1794 to about 1799 – was mortality due to fevers. Sir Charles Grey’s expeditionary force to capture Martinique landed with twenty-four brigadiers and COs, and by November only three were fit for service. Eleven had died or been taken POW, and the rest were too sick to serve.

BB: Let’s talk about military background. Modern officers are sent to schools to prepare them to be an
officer and then command. Was there any formal education system for junior officers? Did it make a
difference towards their success as a commander?

SB: The vast majority of subalterns learned their craft on-the-job, usually with the aid of the adjutant and the serjeant major. And dare I say it, the CO cohort of 1793-1815 was an under-educated lot. Very few went to military colleges prior to the establishment of the Royal Military College (RMC); and I have only been able to find four COs who received degrees from Oxford, and six from Cambridge. There was simply no culture of education for army officers.

This changed to some degree in 1799 with the establishment of the RMC (Junior Department at Great Marlow, and Senior Department at High Wycombe) but it was a process of baby steps. The Senior Department graduated somewhere between ten and thirty serving officers per year back to their regiments, and such men were invariably snapped up for staff positions in all campaigns from 1801 onwards. Therefore, their utility at regimental level was negligible; they were invariably absent doing staff duties. The Junior Department graduated a hundred or so entry-level officers to the army each year, but these subalterns were too junior to have made much of an impact at leadership level by 1815. However, Waterloo provided a first glimpse of the usefulness of RMC – of the 168 Junior Department graduates present in the campaign, 47 served in the Foot Guards, and another 15 in Adam’s Light Brigade; and RMC graduates made up one-fifth of Wellington’s staff.

This is all quite apart from the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, which provided an excellent technical education for all Ordnance officers, even if the branch itself offered a tediously slow career advancement path.

BB: What percent had combat experience prior to assuming battalion/regimental command?

SB: The simple answer is very few in 1793, but the vast majority by 1815. Of the fifteen brigadiers and COs present in Flanders in May 1793, only seven had seen active service, one (Abercromby) as far back as the Seven Years’ War. By 1801 in Egypt, only nine out of fifty-six brigadiers and COs had not seen combat, and four (Samuel Graham, Ross, Moore and Dalhousie) had served in four campaigns. By Salamanca in 1812 the average CO was thirty-eight years of age and had been in the army for twenty years; the average brigadier was forty-three years old and had been in the army for twenty-five years.

Most had been in the Peninsula for some time, and many had served in two or three campaigns prior to Spain. Two (Stirling and de Bernewitz) had served in the American War of Independence! The outlier for the era was Graham’s expedition to the Netherlands in 1813-1814, where only sixteen of the twenty-five brigadiers and COs present (in January 1814) had combat experience, and of those who had participated in more than one campaign, most were concentrated in the units comprising Gibb’s Light Brigade.

BB: On a side note, did being a Freemason help?

SB: Great question! Almost worthy of a book on the subject. We know that the Duke of York, Duke of Kent, Duke of Wellington, John Moore, Ralph Abercrombie, David Baird, Lord Lake, Eyre Coote, John Hely-Hutchinson, John Doyle, Lord Moira, Lord Cathcart, Sir John Stuart, Robert Rollo Gillespie, Lord Dalhousie, Stapleton Cotton, Charles Colville, John Byng, James Kempt, Benjamin D’Urban and Charles Napier were all Freemasons – acknowledging that Wellington was inducted but seemingly not at all active. The Royals (1st Foot) was a hotbed of Masonic activity, their regimental colonel the Duke of Kent being the Grand Master of England. Likewise, the 27th Inniskillings was an epicentre of Orange Lodges; their colonel, Lord Moira, was Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge of England from 1790 to 1813.

But as to how deeply the influences ran – such as determining whether a certain officer received preferential treatment – is a topic for another day.

BB: Tell me about the Irish Mafia… is there any truth in the story that the Irish tended to get more
commands under Wellington than others?

SB: Did not Wellington deny his Irishness by saying that being born in a stable did not make a man a
horse! In fact, for the period 1806-1815, which we could loosely term the ‘Wellingtonian’ era, I studied fifteen actions and determined that about 37% of all brigadiers and COs were English, 24% Scots, 19% Irish and 13% Hanoverian. If we go back to the period 1793-1801 (in which I studied seven actions) the proportion becomes 40% Scots, 39% English, and 18% Irish. So, the Irish contribution remained about the same, the Scots influence reduced after 1801, and the difference was made up by King’s German Legion officers.
So – no truth to the rumour!

BB: If an officer from outside a regiment purchased his majority or lieutenant colonel into the
regiment, was he more likely to succeed?

SB: In my view this entirely depends upon the officer. Regiment-hopping to acquire promotions as vacancies arose was extremely common, so the premise stated is in fact more likely to have been the rule rather than the exception. In the lower ranks it was common practice to rotate a soldier promoted to serjeant to another company, so that he was not suddenly having to exert authority over his mess-mates. Taking this one step further, and given that the British Army at the time was really a collection of regimental fiefdoms rather than a singular whole, the practice of regiment-hopping was no bad thing; since it provided opportunities to shake up the culture of the new regiment, to spread the experience pool far and wide, homogenising the army in total.

The other side of the coin being that the new man might be seen as being ‘not one of us’, the process required the incoming CO to exert their executive and morale authority as early as possible. And if he found the new regiment a hostile environment – well, he was free to exchange to another unit. Army Lists for the era are full of officers who came into a regiment and left for another a couple of months later. Many did this to take advantage of a new vacancy in a ‘better‘ regiment, but undoubtedly quite a few jumped after finding the grass was not as green as they had hoped.

BB: Who do you think was the best battalion commander?

SB: An awfully difficult question this – what constitutes best? Feared martinets who made their battalion the best disciplined in the army? Or the benevolent types who died beloved by their men, but habitually turned a (semi-)blind eye to infractions?

I think John Moore learned to be the exemplary trainer he later became as a regimental officer, and there is much anecdotal evidence to support this. Napier considered Kenneth Mackenzie the best commanding officer in the army, and John Colborne – a disciple of the former two – proved his talent at the decisive moment of Waterloo. Of others, I rate both John Camerons (9th and 92nd), Kempt, Pack, Barnard, Belson, Wallace, Sleigh, William Williams, Frederick Ponsonby, Gough, Ross and Barnes. Equally, Wellingtonian displeasure should not obscure the fact that ‘Black Jack’ Slade and Robert Ballard Long were excellent cavalry regimental officers. Even poor old William Keith Elphinstone, unfairly derided for the disastrous retreat from Kabul in 1842, was noticed as an exceptionally good CO of the 33rd Foot in 1815.

BB: And who was the worst?

SB: The dismissal of Nathaniel Levett Peacocke for cowardice in early 1814 certainly brings his name to the fore as a particularly bad example, and his incapacity for command was highlighted a year earlier when an observer recorded him cluelessly drilling his men to confusion at Shorncliffe. Any CO incapable of controlling his officer corps deserved a bad rap, and Henry Cuyler of the 85th was a shining example – things were so bad that the Duke of York sacked the 85th’s entire officer corps (except one) and replaced them with officers of his own choosing.

And having studied records of courts martial, I think particularly odious were the field officers of various West Indies regiments who were baled up for diddling their men out of ‘necessaries’ for profit, including one who was cashiered for selling them to his own men at exorbitant prices. These units also had the worst record of officer insubordination in the army – officers were three times more like to appear at courts-martial than the men. Knowing that these regiments had a high officer turnover rate, were usually widely dispersed across islands, and far away from the intense gaze of Horse Guards, ultimately the army is to blame for their lack of officer good conduct.

We should not forget that regimental colonels had a part to play in all this. Francis Dundas, as colonel of the 71st, should have seen that Peacocke was inadequate as a CO and sought to keep him out of action, but that is perhaps easy to say in hindsight. Peacocke was a baronet; and as well-connected as Dundas was, he had no title, so was considered socially inferior, and therefore perhaps unwilling to ‘cause a fuss’. The active and engaged regimental colonels – Moore, James Steuart, William Stewart, Thomas Graham as examples – did not hesitate to rid themselves of officers who did not meet their standards.

BB: Final question – was it difficult finding this information? What kind of sources did you use?

SB: I have been storing up a lot of information about the field officers of the period from my work on the British Regiments & The Men Who Led Them series, much of which has informed the work. I found inspection reports perhaps the single most revealing source of information, since they were a third-party examination of the state of a regiment and its officers, and, if the inspecting general was being diligent and honest, faults in leadership ought to have been pointed out. Times being as they were, direct language was usually avoided, so some were ‘damned with faint praise’! Insofar as finding about more about the individual officers, I have been a keen family historian for over forty years, so tracing individuals is something for which I have had years of practice. The book contains many references to who commanded regiments at individual actions, as well as biographical and experiential background information, all of which helped the data sets used to categorise the CO cohorts throughout the era. If you want to understand the social backgrounds, ages and years of experience for the British Army’s campaigns during the Revolutionary wars, this is the book for you.

You can purchase Steve’s book at:

Were Redcoats Taught to Aim?

Robbie MacNiven is currently working on a history of the 33rd Foot during the American War of Independence, due out later this year as part of our From Reason to Revolution series. In this blog, he talks about one of the major myths surrounding the British infantry in that war.

There is a myth involving British soldiers during the American Revolution that persists in popular histories and school textbooks in the USA. The claim runs that the smoothbore musket British soldiers were equipped with was, as an individual weapon, highly inaccurate, and that, because the British favoured massed formations of infantry using volley firing, British soldiers were neither taught to aim, nor to place any importance in accuracy. This is often contrasted with the forces of Congress during the Revolution, who are often held up as fine marksmen (a belief that twins well with the misconception that the rifled musket was a key weapon in winning the war for the fledgling United States). 

Like most myths, this one has some basis in reality. While not as hopelessly inaccurate as is often claimed, eighteenth-century smoothbore muskets were far from precision weapons, and their most efficient use was indeed in massed volleys delivered at close range – military theorists advised between fifty and one hundred yards (a reality infrequently reached during the American Revolution). However, favouring the use of close-order formations and volley fire did not preclude aiming, even if firing in unison on command made it more difficult. In fact, the idea that British soldiers were expectedly only to blaze away in massed formations, and that their officers therefore did not bother to instruct them in the art of accuracy, is wholly false. 

In order to help dispel this myth, I will approach it in three stages, looking at the following;

1: What period manuals instructed.

2: What period writers advised.

3: Period descriptions of actual accuracy training being conducted.

Part 1: Manual Instruction

Military doctrine relating to regulated training manuals was in its infancy in the eighteenth century. The 1764 Manual Exercise, a short document by modern standards, formed the basis for British Army (and initially Continental Army) drill and weapons-handling. At the order ‘present’ it noted that the ‘Butt end of the Firelock must be brought to an equal Height with your Shoulder, placing the left Hand on the Swell, and the Fore-Finger of the right Hand before the Tricker, sinking the muzzle a little.’

This is often used to claim British soldiers were not taught to aim, as it does not appear to specify picking a target. Meanwhile, the Continental Army’s drill manual replaces the order ‘present’ with ‘take aim,’ apparent evidence the Continentals were taught to aim and the British were not. Let us see the instruction that accompanied the order ‘take aim’ in the Continental drill:

Drop the muzzle, and bring up the butt end of the firelock against your right shoulder; place the left hand forward on the swell of the stock and the fore-finger of the right hand before the trigger; sinking the muzzle a little below a level, and with the right eye looking along the barrel.

As you can see, it is near-identical to the British instruction bar the final sentence. In fact, in the original manual the German author, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, had the order listed as ‘present’ as well, but this was changed to ‘take aim’ by the board of Continental Army officers reviewing his efforts. Even then, weapons accuracy was viewed as a very “American” trait. It is also worth noting that the 1775 version of the British 1764 Manual Exercise specified ‘the right Cheek to be close to the Butt, and the left Eye shut, and look along the Barrel with the right Eye from the Breech Pin to the Muzzel.’ This is quite clearly aiming. It is also important to note that, while some modern sources (especially reenactors) dismiss the nub at the end of a musket as merely the bayonet lug, period manuals actually describe it as the “sight.”

Part 2: Aiming Opinions

Now that we have looked at the Army’s limited official instruction, let us turn to something even more useful – written observations on aiming among officers of the period. Numerous commentators stressed the obvious, that soldiers should be taught to aim.

As early as 1751 one lieutenant colonel noted recruits should become ‘accustomed to take Aim when they Present, no Recruits want it more than Ours, few of them having fired or even handled Fire Arms before enlisted.’

Dr. Robert Jackson, the assistant surgeon to the 71st Highlanders during the American Revolution, noted ‘the firelock is an instrument of missile force. It is obvious that the… missile ought to be directed by aim, otherwise it will strike only by accident.’

Major General the Earl of Cavan instructed that soldiers should ‘have at have the breech [of the firelock] a small sight-channel made, for the advantage and convenience of occasionally taking better aim,’ the use of this clearly intended in conjunction with the front sight. Historian Don Hagist writes that ‘many surviving, regimentally-marked muskets have a neat groove filed into the top of the breech for sighting along the barrel… the original muskets give us clear evidence that aiming was important.’

Lieutenant General Gage wrote just prior to the battle of Bunker Hill: ‘Proper marksmen are to instruct them [recruits] in taking aim, and the position in which they ought to stand in firing, and to do this man by man before they are suffered to fire together.’ Gage also wrote that ‘the men [should] be taught to take good aim, which if they do they will always level well.’

Lieutenant General George Townshend even believed life and death could be decided by a single, well-placed shot. In 1772 he wrote soldiers were to be ‘taught to fire at Marks… Existence may depend upon a Single Shot’s taking place.’

Major George Hanger (in)famously wrote that a soldier firing at 200 yards with a smoothbore musket would have as much chance of hitting the moon as he would his target, but he also made clear the importance of aiming, writing, ‘The recruit is taken to fire ball at a target… Take steady aim, my lad, at the bull’s eye of the target; hold your piece fast to the shoulder, that it may not hurt you in the recoil; when you get your sight, pull smartly.’

Captain Bennett Cuthbertson noted; ‘as soon as possible be done… [recruits] are to be taught to load and fire singly, that each man may be distinctly instructed in the proper methods of using a Cartridge… they should be taught to fire at marks, at different distances.’ Another officer, Thomas Simes, wrote in 1772 that ‘great attention must be had in the instructing of recruits how to take aim.’ Simes and Cuthbertson wrote highly influential British military manuals in the 1760s and 1770s, and were subscribed to by over 600 officers each.

Part 3: In Practice

We have now seen that officers were aware of the importance of aiming. The question remains, did they put this awareness into practice by actually training their men? The answer is “yes.”

While restrictions on live firing in Britain meant soldiers only practiced with “ball and powder” occasionally during peacetime, during the Revolutionary War handling and firing live ammunition was common. 

To quote historian Matthew Spring, ‘In America, shooting at marks was a common element of the feverish training that preceded the opening of each campaign season; indeed, it occurred almost on a daily basis during the tense months before the outbreak of hostilities.’

A number of primary accounts describe just how the British went about live target practice. Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie, quartered in Boston at the start of the war, described the following;

The Regiments are frequently practiced at firing ball at marks… our Regiment is quartered on a Wharf which Projects into the harbour… we have fixed figures of men as large as life, made of thin boards, on small stages, which are anchored at a proper distance from the end of the wharf, at which the men fire. Objects afloat, which move up and down with the tide, are frequently pointed out for them to fire at, and Premiums are sometimes given for the best shots, by which means some of our men have become excellent marksmen.

A civilian observer in Boston in 1775, Dr Honyman, noted; ‘I saw a Regiment & the Body of marines, each by itself, firing at marks. A Target being set up before each company, the soldier of the regiment stept out singly, took aim & fired.’ Spring surmises that the ‘frequent target shooting undoubtedly improved soldiers’ marksmanship… repeated practice with the firelock probably did have the effect of influencing the soldier to take more care when shooting in action.’ 

We see the effect of good smoothbore marksmanship in the writing of Captain William Dansey. In a letter from 1776 he describes a run-in with rifle-armed Congressional troops during the New York campaign;

‘I was engaged with a 150 or 200 Riflemen for upwards of seven hours at their favorite Distance about 200 Yards, they were better cover’d than we were… they got the first fire at us… we had the Satisfaction of knocking several of them down and had not a Man hurt.’

In a later skirmish he noted in a letter to his mother how his own accuracy and coolness under fire had improved; ‘a Fellow jum’d from behind a Bush very near me ran behind a Tree and presented at us, I up with my Fuzee and knock’d him as quick as a Cockshooter wou’d a Cock, so don’t fear [for] me, who never was cool enough at home to kill a Woodcock, yet now am got cool enough to shoot a Man.’

Now, caveats. British shooting during the Revolutionary War was not especially effective compared to that of Congressional troops. British soldiers need not have feared riflemen as much as they did, but Continental Army firepower was consistently superior and noted as such. This stemmed from a number of factors, including the predilection among the revolutionaries for occupying defensive positions and their frequent numerical superiority. 

The difference did not, however, stem from British soldiers not being taught to aim, or the Army as an institution not considering it valuable. The idea that a military that armed its soldiers with ranged weapons would not also teach its soldiers to aim said weapons would be quite ridiculous. The misconception stems from the wider mythologising involving casting common British soldiers as dumb, flogged grunts blazing away mindlessly versus individualistic, liberty-loving frontiersmen who were crack shots with their Pennsylvanian long rifles. In reality, the triumph of the forces of Congress stemmed from the Continental Army becoming a match for the British in standard linear warfare. 

‘Enemy Women’

By David Clammer, author of Ladies, Wives and Women: British Army Wives in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815

Ladies, Wives and Women, as the subtitle indicates, is about the British army wives who accompanied their husbands’ regiments during the Napoleonic Wars. In the course of my research into the primary sources – the letters, diaries and memoirs of the eyewitnesses to these events – I came across a number of references to the women attached in one capacity or another to the French armies. Some of these were wives, although this appears to have been in the case of officers rather than the other ranks. Others were mistresses or lovers, but most seem to have simply been camp followers of various nationalities. I began to keep notes about these ladies under the shorthand heading of ‘enemy women’, which, if somewhat inaccurate, at least ensured that they did not get into the wrong slot in the filing cabinet.

There were of course the vivandières, the women who accompanied the French armies in the capacity of sutlers, selling a variety of small luxuries and comforts to the troops, and who had no counterpart in the British army. Few of the British eyewitness accounts mention them, perhaps because their presence was recognized as being officially sanctioned and hardly worth a comment. One who did, however, was Sir Richard Henegan of the Field Train, who noticed their presence during the fighting in the Pyrenees, but whose observation was far from complimentary, describing them as ‘that most unfeminine of the female gender yclep’d vivandière’.[1]

The presence of other women in the ranks of the French regiments became apparent quite early on in the war in Spain and Portugal. During Sir John Moore’s campaign, a sharp and successful cavalry action took place at Sahagún on 21 December 1808. As was usual, the dead were quickly stripped by the local peasantry, their naked bodies left in the gathering snow. Sir Robert Ker Porter was a civilian artist who had managed to attach himself to Moore’s army, and he took a walk to examine the battlefield. He described what he found in a letter to a friend. ‘I was surprised to discover a female amongst the groupe; how she became thus situated it is not easy to guess, unless we may suppose that she was some love-impelled damsel, and followed her soldier to the field; or, being enamoured like many an Amazon of war for its own sake, she became an appendage of the camp: and here, by some accidental shot, was deprived at once of life and her military ardour’.[2]

This unfortunate girl had presumably been in the ranks of the French cavalry and wearing uniform, and had not been recognized by the British troopers who cut her down. Other eyewitness accounts mention French troops accompanied by women either dressed in male costume or actual uniform. This would certainly have made riding astride easier, and was perhaps a security measure. Captain Kincaid of the 95th saw just such a woman on 19 March 1811, shortly after the army had crossed the Mondego river and he recorded the fact in a typically sardonic manner. ‘We, this day, captured the aide-de-camp of General Loison, together with his wife who was dressed in a splendid hussar uniform. He was a Portuguese, and a traitor, and looked very like a man who would be hanged. She was a Spaniard, and very handsome, and looked very like a woman who would be married again.’ [3] She was not the only woman Kincaid came across in the course of the fighting. Later in the war, there was a sharp encounter battle at San Milan on 18 June 1813. ‘Their general’s aide-de-camp, amongst others, was mortally wounded; and a lady, on a white horse, who probably was his wife, remained beside him, until we came very near. She appeared to be in great distress; but, though we called to her to remain, and not to be alarmed, yet she galloped off as soon as a decided step became necessary.’ [4] The Frenchman died shortly afterwards, and the lady on the white horse was not seen again.

Léon Schnug, ‘Madame Thérèse, cantinière’ (Anne S.K. Brown Collection)

Captain MacCarthy of the 50th came across something similar at the storming of Fort Napoleon at Almarez on 19 May 1812. ‘In the Fort was a French artillery officer’s wife; she was dressed in a kind of male attire, (as a personal security it was supposed,) but which was her equestrian costume, a travelling cap, pelisse, and Turkish trowsers, adapted for her mode of riding on horseback, (like a man,) to whom the British officers instantly gave protection.’ They could not, however, prevent the looting which was in full swing, and the lady lost all her baggage before order could be restored. Some of her wardrobe was recovered, ‘and she quitted the Fort in grief, leaning on the arms of her husband and Captain Stapleton, 50th regiment.’ [5] Someone found her a horse, and she rode off with her husband who was presumably now a prisoner of war.

Some of the most senior French generals also appear to have had a penchant for female company. When the French under the command of Marshal Massena arrived before Wellington’s army positioned along the ridge of Busaco, in September 1810, Ney urged Massena to attack at once. According to historian Michael Glover, however, Massena was otherwise engaged: ‘The prince was travelling with a Mme Henriette Leberton, and, according to one account, Ney’s ADC had to shout his message through the bedroom door. Certainly he had to wait two hours before Massena would see him’. [6] The attack was postponed until the next day.

Mme Leberton was not the only lady present with Massena’s army at that time. Lieutenant Colonel Leach, as he later became, who was present at Busaco with the 95th, later recalled that the French general Simon, who commanded a brigade in the 3rd Division of the French army, was captured ‘and a flag of truce came in, bringing General Simon’s baggage, and with it a pretty little Spanish woman, part of his establishment’. And he added, ‘The fair one was in tears, and appeared much agitated’,[7] as well she might have been. Leach was not the only eyewitness to this incident. Captain William Stothert of the 3rd Foot Guards noted some extra details. Simon, he wrote, was wounded and captured along with his aide-de camp. ‘A short time afterwards a young Spanish lady, whom the General had carried off from Madrid, and his baggage, were sent to the British head-quarters with a flag of truce’. [8] What became of these ladies captured with their husbands or lovers we are unfortunately not told. The wife of the officer taken prisoner at the storming of Fort Napoleon at Almarez, who was presumably French, may well have gone into captivity with the husband, but it seems unlikely that a Spanish woman who had been ‘carried off’ as Stothert put it, would have had that degree of loyalty.

An officer who had a rather unexpected encounter with a lady in the French ranks was Captain Thomas Dyneley of E Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. Dyneley was captured during the action at Majalahonda on 11 August 1812, and endured an exhausting forced march with his captors. On the 15th, he was accosted by General Chassé, who demanded to know ‘Are you the Englishman?’ On agreeing that he was, Dyneley was told ‘I marry one English lady … She wishes to speak to you’. He climbed off the baggage waggon on which he was riding, and was presented to the lady, and there followed a conversation as bizarre as it was unexpected.

  ‘Have I the pleasure to address a countryman of my own? ‘

  ‘Yes, you have certainly. ‘

  ‘From what part of England are you? ‘

  ‘London. ‘

  ‘Oh dear London, I should be the most miserable creature in the world if I did not feel certain I should die there. I am so very partial to everything that is English – look here. ‘

She pulled out a Twining’s tea-canister, which, as Dyneley said in a letter to his family (he later escaped) ‘certainly did cut me up a good deal’. [9] She did however give him some bread and meat, while continuing to talk. She was from Kent – as was Dyneley – and claimed to be the daughter of Admiral Drake. She had married General Chassé in Holland, where he had been forced into service by Bonaparte, which was how she came to be in Spain and on the wrong side. A strange encounter indeed.

All of these women were individual wives or mistresses, but the French forces also acquired numbers of camp followers. So had the British army, but Napoleon’s men appear to have operated on a somewhat grander scale, as became apparent towards the end of the war in the Peninsula, in the chaotic aftermath of the battle of Vitoria which took place on 21 June 1813. It was the sheer number of women attached to the French army which it impressed itself on a number of the British eyewitnesses. John Aitchison, an ensign in the 3rd Foot Guards, in a letter to his father, stated that ‘The [French] generals, about 500 of their ladies, the military chest (with much treasure) and the whole baggage of the army fell into our hands …’[10] This may have been an underestimate. When Captain Bowles of the Coldstream Guards sat down to write to Lord Malmsbury on 28 June, he had this to say: ‘Nearly the whole of the female establishment of the French army was captured, which rather overstocked us with that article. Upwards of 3,000 Mademoiselles of various descriptions were left behind by the beaten army in Vittoria’.[11]

Several of the British officers who wrote accounts of the war mentioned the presence of the Countess Gazan, wife of the commander of the French Armée du Midi. Thomas Browne described how she screamed for help as he passed, and how he recommended that she get back into her carriage, but that when he had gone, she got out and managed to lose her child in the chaos.[12] Francis Larpent, the army’s Judge-Advocate, also encountered the Countess: ‘In the midst of this, a lady in great distress, well dressed and elegant, with her carriage in the ditch, and she herself standing by, appealed to me, and, asking if I could speak French, said she was the Countess de Gazan, wife of the French General, and said that she wished to get back to the town, and, if possible, save her horses, mules and carriage’. [13] Larpent, with the assistance of two hussars, was happy to oblige. The lost child was discovered a week later, having been found amidst the wreckage by a British soldier.

Some of the French camp followers were dressed in hussar-style uniforms, but according to August Schaumann, one of the Deputy Assistant Commissary-Generals in the allied army, they got short shrift: ‘The unmarried ladies belonging to the French army, most of whom were young and good-looking Spanish women, dressed in fancy hussar uniforms and mounted on pretty ponies, or else conveyed in carriages, were first robbed of their mounts, their carriages and jewels, and then most ungallantly allowed to go’. They were however quick to change their allegiance. ‘But as all they wanted was protection and a new lover, both of which they soon obtained, they were to be had for the asking’.[14]

Schaumann’s view of the situation was corroborated by Captain Thomas Browne of the Adjutant General’s staff: ‘A friend of mine, Captn. During of the Adjt. Genl. Department seeing what he thought a smart young French Officer riding off, galloped after him, to stay his flight, when on getting alongside, it proved to be a beautiful Catalonian girl, who had been Mistress of a French Colonel, for two years – She implored our Captain’s mercy who sent her to his baggage – She changed Masters with admirable & cheerful composure, & remained attached to the Captns. Suite, until the entry of the British Army into France the following year’. This, recorded Browne, was by no means an unusual situation, and it was not long after the battle before ‘Spanish guitars were gaily sounding in the English Camp, & Spanish girls singing extempore praises of the immortal Wellington, with the same zeal & energy, as had no doubt so lately called forth similar strains, in honour of the great Napoleon – oh! Human nature what a Weathercock thou art!’[15]

Finally, there are the words of Wellington himself. Years later, in 1839, in conversation with Lord Stanhope, he recalled the aftermath of the Vitoria with some amusement: ‘The baggage and encumbrances of the French army were immense at Vittoria. A great many ladies too! One of their prisoners said to me after the battle, Le fait est, Monseigneur, que vous avez une armée, mais nous sommes un bordel ambulant [The fact is, my lord, you have an army, but we are a walking brothel]’.[16]


[1] Richard Henegan, Seven Years Campaigning in the Peninsula and the Netherlands 1808 – 1815 (Stroud: Nonsuch, 2005), vol.2, p.73.

[2] Robert Ker Porter, Letters from Portugal and Spain written during the March of the British Troops under Sir John Moore (London: Longman, 1809), pp.228–229.

[3] John Kincaid, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade (London: Maclaren, 1911), p.31.

[4] Kincaid, Adventures,p.104.

[5] Janes McCarthy, Recollections of the Storming of the Castle of Badajos (London: Clowes, 1836), pp.77–78.

[6] Michael Glover, The Peninsular War 1807 – 1814 A Concise Military History (London: Penguin, 2001) p.136.

[7] J. Leach, Rough Sketches of the Life of an Old Soldier (London: Longman, 1831), p.167.

[8] William Stothert, A Narrative of the Principal Events of the Campaigns of 1808, 1810 and 1811 in Spain and Portugal (London: Martin, 1812), p.192.

[9] Thomas Dyneley, Letters Written by Lieut.-General Thomas Dyneley CB. RA., while on Active Service Between the Years 1806 and 1815 (London: Royal Artillery Institution, 1896) p.47

[10] W.F.K. Thompson, (ed.) An Ensign in the Peninsular War. The Letters of John Aitchison (London: Michael Joseph, 1981), p.246.

[11] Earl of Malmesbury (ed.) A Series of Letters of the First Lord Malmesbury His Family and Friends from  1745 to 1820 (London: Richard Bentley, 1870), vol.II, p.359.

[12] R.N. Buckley (ed.) The Napoleonic War Journal of Captain Thomas Henry Browne 1807 – 1816 (London: Bodley Head, 1987), p.218.

[13] George Larpent (ed.), The Private Journal of Judge Advocate Larpent attached to the Head-Quarters of Lord Wellington during the Peninsular War from 1812 to its close 3rd ed. (London: Bentley, 1854), p.160.

[14] August Schaumann, On the Road with Wellington (London: Heinemann, 1824), p.380.

[15] Buckley (ed.), Napoleonic War Journal,p.214.

[16] Philip Henry Lord Stanhope, Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington 1831 – 1851 (London: Prion, 1998) pp.107–108.

More Furies Than Men’, The Irish Brigade in the service of France (1690-1792)

By Pierre-Louis Coudray

My interest for the military presence of Irishmen within the French army started when I was a freshman studying Irish culture and history at the University of Rennes in the late 1990s. Because of the imminent Good Friday Agreement, the lectures covered in great depths the Troubles and contemporary Ireland. Yet in most of the documents used, martial aspects of the Irish experience were reduced to mere footnotes. Such a situation always bothered me since Ireland had constantly been the focus of Britain’s military preoccupations until 1922 and also because I started reading Irish authors who offered glimpses of a fascinating belligerent past largely ignored in French academic circles. I just wanted to know more.  

Besides, being Breton made me aware from an early age of the special relationship established between Ireland and western France, but the local archives of my hometown lacked documents illustrating that supposed centuries-old friendship often saluted in books devoted to Franco-Irish links. To my surprise, letters and manuscripts held in western France depicted the Irish landing there in the late seventeenth century in derogatory terms. This discrepancy between historical facts and the received narrative of the Irish diaspora in France inspired me to confront the lore of the Irish Brigade in national and international archives. This book is a synthesis of this work and gives a more realistic image of the Irishmen who fought under the golden lilies. 

First, I focused on French local records before travelling to both Britain and Ireland to gather elements from the viewpoint of British authorities and personalities of the time. Since the Brigade’s past is full of repetitions, factual errors, exaggerations and omissions, it took me years to sift through the many primary and secondary sources available to make a new story emerge. The battles of Cremona and Fontenoy, two critical events in the life of these Irish units, obviously appeared as major stopping points that also had to be re-examined in this renewed military history of the Brigade. But beyond the day-to-day lives of Irish soldiers and officers fighting for France, I also wanted to show how the story of the Brigade itself came into being.

Officer, Dillon’s Regiment, c.1724 (NYPL Vinkhuizen Collection)

Years down the line, I can now assert that what we know about the Irish regiments in the service of France is obviously based on the brave actions of generations of fighters, but also rests on what was carefully crafted by legions of writers. First, people directly connected to the Brigade itself in the eighteenth century wrote to remind French people of the sacrifices made by the Irish Jacobites in the service of both the Bourbons and the Stuarts. Their version of events both corrected French misconceptions about the Irish regiments and produced a new narrative attached to these units and their connection to the Stuart family. Then, nineteenth-century Irish authors cemented that same narrative, rendering it almost immutable, but this time to create a distinctive Irish military history. They wanted to prove that the island and its inhabitants were strong enough to exist outside of Britain’s sphere of influence. Meanwhile, London also appropriated this military story for its own purposes by enrolling the experience of Irish soldiers abroad within the global and loose concept of ‘Britishness’. 

This book illustrates the idea that the pen is truly mightier than the sword by showing the reader how these different storylines were slowly merged into a single narrative that transformed the Irish Brigade serving France into a military legend.

The Tudor Art of War

By Jonathan Davies the author of ‘The art of shooting the great ordnance’ and ‘The Tudor Art of War, Volume One’. His new book the second volume of ‘The Tudor Art of War’ is going to be published in the spring of next year.

Incompetent and often absent officers, indifferent to their men and their suffering.

Inadequate and aged equipment, poorly maintained. 

Units manned by ‘paper soldiers’ while their officers enjoyed their pay and unearned privileges.

Casualties caused by carelessness, stupidity and tactical ineptitude.

Cruel and barbaric behaviour towards a civil population.

Endemic corruption from the very top to the very bottom, crippling the operational capacity of an entire army 

This is certainly a valid description of the abysmal performance of the Russian armed forces in their shocking invasion of Ukraine.  The headlines above could equally well apply to the conduct of the war by the army of Queen Elizabeth, which I have been studying and writing about for the past fifteen months. 

Why on earth would anyone bother reading about such a subject, let alone committing a quarter of a million words to paper?  The answer is quite simple, because it is both absolutely fascinating and very important.  The Elizabethan Army has been shockingly ignored.  There are only three substantial books on the subject, only one of which is remotely modern.  Quite frankly it is perceived by most as an embarrassment, better forgotten, so that we can concentrate on the naval side of things.  That is if we are interested in the part that war played at all.  Elizabeth’s reign has been characterised by the Armada, courtly caperings, religious turmoil, mob caps & pomanders.  In fact, war on land, if fought overseas, was the preoccupation of Queen, Court, Council and country and I hope my book demonstrates this. 

With reference to the Armada.  Firstly, it is questionable whether the Armada was defeated by anything other than its own fundamental weaknesses and an unfavourable wind.  Secondly far more men served and died in her army than ever served aboard royal ships.  Between 1585 and 1602, 95,000 men were sent to serve abroad, the equivalent these days of 1.5 million, or nineteen times the size of the current British army.  It was the army that emptied Elizabeth’s coffers and it was her army that she used brutally and effectively to support her, somewhat dubious, allies and needle her implacable enemies.   

There may not be a Bosworth or Boulogne, no Pinkie Cleugh or Flodden but there was plenty to engage the military historian.   This was an extraordinary period where equipment and tactics were developing at a remarkable rate.  Maurice of Nassau was only one of a number of Generals and captains who were experimenting with the combinations of weapons that could give them victory on the field.  

This was an age of innovation in equipment and tactics.  The arquebus gave way to the caliver and musket, the man-at-arms to the demi-lancer, the carbineer and the pistoleer.   The military literature of the time is stuffed with advice on how to wage war and quite often included increasingly complex and unlikely tactical formations.  These were designed to make the best use of the weapons and soldiers now to be found on the battlefield.   There is also a splendid and I think unique account of ‘basic drill’, with commands and detailed explanation that I have found and used extensively.  After writing the book on the history of artillery for Helion this year, I was disappointed that it played only a very small part in Elizabeth’s land forces.  I have, on the other hand, had the opportunity to dispel some of the myths surrounding what has been considered as a ‘supergun’, the cast iron ordnance manufactured in the Weald.  It is a tale that is far more complicated and darker than one might have thought.

The period is full of splendid characters.  Sir Roger Williams, the fluellen of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, a man who possessed the heart of a lion and the hearts of the common soldiers, offered a commission by Parma for his stout defence of Sluys.  There is the odious Earl of Essex who if you cannot admire, you have at least to try to understand the grand parts that he played in the world that he considered his stage.  Maurice Kyffin is my favourite, an intemperate Welsh civil servant who was almost unique in that self-serving age as actually working for the interests of the crown and its soldiers. He tried to convince captains that they should perhaps take some care of the men in their company!  He faced the hostility, contempt and threats from his superiors and his subordinates, for trying to stop the most blatant corruption.

It is easy to sympathise with Maurice.  It is more difficult and as important to comprehend the mindset of those whose conduct he found so repellent.  The outlook of the ‘swordsman’, his relationship to the classical past and the modern world and above all his concept of ‘honour’ have all been a real challenge to appreciate.  Why was it that heroes of the age, Drake, Ralegh, Essex and Vere, who commanded the ships entering Cadiz harbour, behaved like spoiled schoolboys?  They argued, cajoled and railed at each other.  They all sought to be the first to enter the harbour and brave the roundshot with the sang froid expected of them.  They got in each other’s way, on purpose, and even cut mooring ropes to discommode their rivals.  In the meantime, the greatest monetary prize that Elizabeth could have gained was allowed to escape from them.  What was it that made them behave so badly and still be considered worthy of command?  

The tales of George Silver and his fellow Masters of Defence taking on and trouncing the Italian masters of the rapier, who were poaching their most aristocratic and profitable clientele, is one worthy of retelling.  As is the sad account of the death of Sir Philip Sidney, from the gross negligence and cowardice of his medical ‘team’.  I have found many stories that have diverted and engaged me and which I hope will do the same for the reader.

I’ve been very fortunate in having the assistance of the well-known and well-respected Tudor Group in preparing the colour section of the next volume of the Tudor Arte of Warre.  They provide a superb representation of  a late Elizabethan trained band.   They are an extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful bunch of people and I had a great day out in the Autumn sunshine at the beginning of October taking the photos for the book.

At present I am checking the formatting of my 979 footnotes, which I assure you will take several days of patient toil.  Please, dear reader, if you find an error in them be forgiving of this poor soul.  I hope all will be completed before Christmas and ready for publication in the Spring.  If you do buy the book, I hope that it will give you as much pleasure in reading as it has given me in writing (a lot).

Supplying the New Model Army

By Century of the Soldier author Andrew Abram

On 10 September 1645, less than a week after the bloody storming of Bristol by the new Model Army, Harcourt Leighton and Thomas Herbert, two Commissaries residing with the Army reported to William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, ‘The General has desired Colonel Pindar [Quartermaster General of the City of London] to speed to Lyme, Taunton and Bridgewater to furnish us here with what powder and other ammunition their magazines can spare for the dispatch of this business. Pray hasten money to pay the army’.

It has been suggested by various writers that 17th-century armies relied more upon plunder and free quarter than any organized system of supply. Continental forces usually travelled with large supply trains which permitted them to extend beyond their own central magazines. Even so, more recent research suggests that during the British Civil Wars there were increasing changes to this custom, particularly among some ‘centralized’ Parliamentarian forces. The formation, politics, religion, leadership, and military campaigns of Sir Thomas Fairfax’s army have drawn the attention of various writers. But one crucial area that has received little attention is logistics – the discipline of planning and carrying out the movement, supply, and maintenance of military forces. 

The result has been a lacuna in the understanding of the recruitment, victualling, ordnance, ammunition, clothing, arming, and transportation methods employed by the Committee of the Army in both the initial establishment of the New Model and its subsequent field operations. As events dictated, the methods of sustaining this army of around 17,000 men required the rapid development of a system which operated at an increasingly considerable physical distance from London, and the army’s headquarters and magazine at Reading. The prevailing view is that provisions (for soldiers and horses), for instance, were obtained from local sources (in other words local communities and householders) during 1645 and 1646, but in practice Fairfax’s regiments increasingly relied on an organized system of supply from London by commercial means. 

As the army was too big to rely on the local economy, and no evidence is known that it supplied its own victuals – other than bread/biscuit and cheese (iron rations) – it appears from rather slim evidence that a market followed in its rear. The assumption is that via a system of contractors and victuallers the soldiers obtained much of their foodstuffs.

Some writers have made casual assumptions about the army’s supply. According to Mark Kishlansky, ‘in its composition and organization as much as in its material condition of pay and supply, the New Model Army exhibited few dissimilarities from the old armies’. Similarly, Glenn Foard described Fairfax’s army in Northamptonshire as having been mostly supplied by the county committees from local resources, employing evidence from the Civil War Loss Accounts of parishes, though from early in the Naseby campaign. However, during the New Model’s advance from Oxford to Leicester requisitioning from the countryside proved largely unsuccessful as most provisions from Buckinghamshire had been assigned to the Parliamentarian garrison at Newport Pagnell. 

In sustaining Fairfax’s army, especially at long-distance, the development of a logistical system – established upon civilian transport networks and routes – ensured that supplies of clothing, biscuit, cheese, weapons and ammunition were procured and stored in magazines, such as Reading and Windsor, and transported via internal routes (roads and rivers) and by sea. By the 1640s the term ‘magazine’ was used to describe storage of bulk stores in garrisons. Hence, during the campaign of 1645-6 a series of these was established at key locations such as Portsmouth, Lyme and Bridgewater. These sent out convoys to supply troops at the right place and the right time, sometimes establishing ‘supply dumps’ ahead of the army’s march. Initially this was in support of the relief of Taunton, but it was continued as the New Model Army advanced deep into the Southwest. 

My current research project takes the form of a reassessment of how the New Model Army was provided with the ‘sinews of war, by closely examining the procurement, storage, and distribution of clothing, arms and ammunition, in addition to the recruitment and pay of Sir Thomas Fairfax’s fighting forces, support arms and officials. Via pay warrants and muster lists it is possible to piece together not only some of the details of the system of recruitment operated, with the identities of recruits and their conducting officers, but also which regiments benefitted from batches of soldiers. This is especially important when attempting to evaluate the strengths of the New Model infantry, whose numbers fluctuated in lines with battlefield losses, sickness and desertion. The breadth and detail of the primary source material, much of which remains unpublished, allows for a focused and systematic approach to the topic. Though supply contracts (some of which are haphazard and incomplete), for instance, need to be considered alongside treasury warrants and receipts, which record what the army in fact received from suppliers, in either full or part of contracts, and when they received them. 

Lists of stores, in addition to records detailing the means and destinations of their transport also place the army’s matériel in time and place, whilst providing evidence of the nuts and bolts of its logistical machinery. Pay records in the form of treasury warrants, muster rolls and pay schedules also cast light on the strength, composition and history of regiments, troops, companies and other military units, as well as allowing an understanding of the mechanics of recruitment. These add context and detail to narrative sources such as contemporary newsbooks and letters.

  1. Receipt from the Officers of the Ordnance Office, dated 1 April 1645, ‘into his Majesty’s stores [ …] for the supply of Sir Thomas Fairfax his army’ from John Freeman for 3 tons of English match @ £30 per ton and 1 cwt of Dutch match ‘made up the English way’ (TNA, SP28/29/1, fol. 120r.)
  1. Warrant, dated 21 July 1645, authorizing the payment of £503 17s. 8d. to Colonel Richard Ingoldsby’s regiment, being 14 days’ pay according to a muster of 12 June. (SP28/31/1, fol. 76r.)

Reading Magazine, bundles of clothing, forming a consignment of 3227 pairs of breeches, 3205 soldiers’ coats, 2413 pairs of stockings, 3874½ pairs of shoes and 3512 shirts to be sent from to the army. (SP28/126/1, fols 1r.-5r.) The list allows some insight into the storage and distribution system employed in supplying the NMA. Each pack is numbered: ‘B400’ = 400 pairs of breeches, C280 = 280 coats.

  1. ‘List of impressed soldiers for recruits for Sir Thomas Fairfax’s army under the command of Captain John Andrews, taken at Abingdon 9 April 1645’. (TNA, SP28/123/2, unfol.)

In Memoriam: Christopher Duffy (1936-2022)

Some thoughts from Dr Alexander S. Burns

The community of military historians has lost one of its best. On the morning of 16 November 2022, Christopher Duffy passed away after a short stay in Lewisham Hospital. Despite being active as a military historian for over 60 years, Christopher Duffy’s work still holds a special place of attention. His books have become the natural starting place for Anglophone scholars studying the military history of German Central Europe in the eighteenth century, as well as all scholars interested in the military history of the Jacobite 1745 Rebellion.

What is truly incredible about Christopher’s professional life, however, is not the way that he has connected with fellow scholars, but with the public. Christopher taught generations of British officers during this time at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst from 1961 to 1996. In this period, teaching young officers alongside John Keegan, David Chandler, and Richard Holmes, Christopher thoroughly enjoyed work that he would have happily done for free. He retired as the Senior Lecturer in War Studies and spent the next several years as a research professor at De Montfort University.

Christopher Duffy was many things to many people. As the editor of his festschrift I’ve been asked to reflect on his life in a few places. Here, for Helion & Co, I want to reflect on him in the way that many of us thought of him: a historian for the wargamers. Over the last 60 years, professional academic historians have become increasingly disconnected from public life. Increasingly, historians write monographs, printed in very small numbers, designed to be included in a select few university libraries, and read only by other members of the historical professional. While these books give an ever more detailed and diverse understanding of the human past, the average member of the public may not be interested in a monograph about ‘violence and the image of the human body’ or ‘early modern militaries and the emotive landscape’.

What made Christopher such a popular writer with wargamers, reenactors, and enthusiasts, and a figure of disdain in the elite university system is that he refused to capitulate to trends in academic writing. Christopher’s written work was always penned in a manner that could connect to a general audience. He endeavored to understand the past as it occurred, focusing on military structures that could be analysed, and military narratives that could be shared. Christopher was delighted his books found such a wide readership, which he often attributed to the dual analytical and narrative structure that his books so often employed.

Instead of following academic trends, Christopher immediately seized upon the utility and importance of wargaming as a way of exploring and experiencing the past. As a 12-year-old in the United States, years before I actual read Christopher’s work, I came to be aware of him as a result of repeated references to his scholarship in the book Wargame Tactics written by Charles Grant (Sr.).

As early as 1974, Christopher had developed a keen appreciation for wargamers. He was the editor of the ‘Historic Armies and Navies’ Series, whose dust jackets proudly proclaimed:

We have taken into account several important developments in the reading public: the military historian is at least coming to appreciate that he must place his subject in its political and social framework, while the general historian and devotee of “war studies” are less content than before to pile generalization upon generaliztion when they are talking about military affairs; most important at all we have had to recognize that the history of warfare has remained one of the fields where the serious professional researcher has kept contact with the “general public”[.]… Lastly we have borne in mind that the growing band of war gamers represents one of the most discerning and knowledgeable elements of our readership. We refer these individuals in particular to our maps and diagrams, and the lists of units and uniforms.

Even in the early 1970s, then, Christopher realized the importance of wargamers as a body of the reading public. In Fire and Stone, which appeared thin 1975, Christopher actually offered a brief wargame ruleset designed to encapuslate early modern siege warfare.

In addition to his voluminous writings, Christopher also kindly donated his time in the service of the interested public, taking on speaking engagements in the United Kingdom and the United

States for private associations dedicated to the study of military history. His long connection with the Seven Years War Association fostered the study of the European Seven Years War in the United States, and Christopher developed long friendships with many members, such as the late wargame designers Jim Mitchell and Dean West. Many of these interested individuals in the United States and the United Kingdom joined Christopher, as he led tours of eighteenth-century European battlefields. He has never been afraid to devote time to the public, smashing the perception that rigorous researchers are disconnected from ordinary life.

In addition to writing and teaching, Christopher worked extensively in the service of a number of professional and public organizations related to his interests. He has served as a founding member and the Secretary-General of the British Commission for Military History (which he immediately pushed me to join upon our meeting) and served as the vice-president of the Military History Society of Ireland. As befits a scholar with an abiding interest in Jacobite military history, he served as the Chairman of the 1745 Association. Far from providing administration for these societies, Christopher has been at the forefront of the fight in Britain to preserve battlefields. Over the past 20 years, he has worked tirelessly with the National Trust for Scotland in order to preserve the Culloden Battlefield for posterity.

The vision of Christopher that will linger long in my mind is him stalking the wargame hall at the South Bend meetings of the Seven Years War Association. There, he examined the tables set up by Ken Bunger, Tod Kershner, Jim Purky, Dean West, and Dale Wood, all wargame designers influenced by his writings. They brought the world that so captured his imagination to life in ways that inspired him.

Christopher’s unique talents make him difficult to replace. As I have already alluded to, many academics are not writing with the general public specifically in mind. This makes the work of publishing companies like Helion even more important. Christopher was particularly proud to publish with Helion, and of the wide and varied work appearing there on eighteenth-century topics. In 2017, he commented to me, ‘Helion [is] a fast-moving newcomer in the publishing world and [is] snapping up some of the best of the new military historical writing’. Although Christopher is gone, we can be confident that the tradition he pioneered: rigorous academic writing written for a popular audience, will remain secure as we move into the twenty-first century.

Listen to a short audio of an interview that was conducted with Christopher Duffy on the below button:

The Armies & Wars of the Sun King 1643-1715 Volume 5

By Author René Chartrand author of Helion’s ‘Wars and Armies of the Sun King’ books

This latest volume is very different than the previous four in that it concerns men and events in essentially tropical America, namely the West Indies and their adjacent mainland territories with some diversions farther away in Brazil and the Pacific shores of Chile and Peru. The Sun King did not come to America, but his ambitions regarding the ‘New World’ were great. He too wanted sizeable territories in the West Indies and South America, but the field was already largely occupied by the Spanish and the Portuguese since the late 15th century. The Dutch, British and French late comers appeared mainly from the second quarter of the 17th century. The British had successfully occupied Jamaica; Louis XIV was determined that France should have at least the same.

For France, the smaller islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Kitts and other islands were somewhat settled from the 1630s with even the Order of Malta getting involved in settlement schemes with private monopoly companies that did not contribute enough soldiers to face indigenous and European enemies. In 1665-1666, royal army troops were sent to the West Indies and Guyana to secure them, but most were recalled or disbanded a couple of years later. In 1674, the incredible defence of Martinique where thousands of Dutch troops were routed by a handful of defenders spurred the Sun King to establish permanent garrisons of independent companies, eventually called “Compagnies franches de la Marine”, in the West Indies and Guyana. Details on their hitherto nearly unknown organisation, campaigns and material history is revealed. Thanks to archives documents, acclaimed artist Patrice Courcelle has recreated their dress and appearance, which is the first time such an accurate visual reconstruction has ever been done. 

Soldier, Compagnies franches de la Marine of the Islands, 1675-76

Buccaneers were quickly noticed by the Sun King who, from the late 1660s, even chose to send a buccaneering naval officer as governor of Tortuga as well as furnishing them with weapons. As early as the late 16th century, many French adventurers had ventured into the then unsettled part of what is now Haiti. They were soon hunted down by ruthless Spaniards who applied a near-genocidal policy inspired by the 1494 treaty that divided the  yet unexplored world between Spain and Portugal and a 1556 Spanish law that gave a licence to kill “any stranger of whatever nation” presumed to be a corsair or pirate caught in America in possession of “merchandise”. This was soon extended to anyone as shown in several rather sickening examples of wanton massacres described in the book. 

Soldier, Compagnies franches de la Marine of the Islands, 1678

The main result was to transform the buccaneers from wild hog and beef hunters in the jungles of Haiti into arguably the most fearsome warriors since the Vikings once they went to sea animated by a white-hot desire for revenge on Spaniards. They eventually had their own fleets that soon outclassed the Spanish warships. Their most notable raids are chronicled including those that had substantial help from the Sun’s troops and navy, notably at Cartagena de Indias (now in Columbia). 

Today, buccaneers are seen as being the same as pirates, but this was far from the case in 17th century reality. They were not against all flags and tables showing the nearly continuous European wars from the 16th century makes them out as more like corsairs. We relate their lifestyle, combat practices and armament, which includes their own “buccaneer” type of musket and appearance, which was nothing like what is eternally seen in Pirate movie productions. Actual descriptions and even sketches of buccaneers made by men who knew them are presented. Forget Johnny Debt’s pirate movies and Howard Pyle’s renderings; if you want to see the real thing, look at Patrice Courcelle’s beautifully recreated buccaneers showing for the first time their actual appearance. 

Usually forgotten are the many militiamen of the French Caribbean that were often involved defending their island and also quite active as part of raiding expeditions alongside soldiers and buccaneers. Many were Afro-Caribbean whose services, lauded in contemporary memoirs, have been somewhat forgotten until recently and we cite a few of these accounts. The arms and costumes of all militiamen were varied and there seems to have been no militia uniforms before the early 18th century.

Other topics in the book wondered what did actually happen to “Riches Beyond Comparison” found in America. Not easy to really know since a lot of it remained undeclared, hidden, was smuggled or might be captured. Once captured, there were rules for dividing riches before these golden doubloons vanished. To minimise risks, the Spanish had treasure fleet routes which were not totally safe so, after 1700, the French navy organised some convoys with their own warships. 

European events decided by the Sun King had an important influence in the New World. A sizeable French establishment appeared in Haiti while the other islands and Guyana were secured. The advent Louis XIV’s grandson as King Felipe V of Spain from 1700 totally changed the geo-strategic situation; Spain and France were thereafter allies thus ending the terrible 16th century inhumane policies. Indeed, the alliance heralded Spain’s ‘Age of Enlightenment’. And, even when hard pressed in Europe, the Sun King sent ships, weapons and advisors to secure the Spanish Indies. 

Insofar as the author is concerned, it was an amazing tale to relate with many unsuspected twists. Enjoy.


The Armies & Wars of the Sun King 1643-1715 Volume 5