It seems extraordinary that after 35 years my thesis on the royalists (and to a lesser extent the parliamentarians) in the Midlands has seen the light of day outside of university libraries. I am pleased to say that it still has a contribution to make. In the popular imagination the civil wars were a battle between Oliver Cromwell and Charles I – two contending behemoths of our collective histories. That it was much more than this still seems to be missed by documentary makers and the writers of fictional accounts of the war. It is a mark of the how Cromwell only rose to prominence during the war itself that he hardly appears in this book at all. In the Midst of the Kingdom is not just a study of the first civil war in the North Midland counties but also a look at who fought it and who paid for it.
There are two central elements to the work, both of which I carried through into my later studies of the civil wars. I was keen to find out how the royalists managed to fight a war for so long, given the traditional perception that it was parliament, based in the great city and port of London which had the ace up its sleeve as far as resources went. Both sides had established financial structures to fund the war, somewhat belatedly – i.e. after the war had begun and exhausted loans and ad hoc funding. These organisations, with some modifications, would go on to be the basis of funding a standing army after the Restoration. The tentacles of these systems stretched further into the social strata than most methods of taxation which preceded them, and for many years, those that followed. We can see this effect through the eyes of the men and women responsible for the collection of resources needed for the armies. County-based committees collected taxation in the form of cash and goods from people like William Cullen and Jane Kitchen of Upton in Nottinghamshire using troops of horse as the collectors. Constables Cullen and Kitchen in turn levied the collections on their fellow villages purchasing everything from cash to beer and beds. The midlands proved a rich ground for surviving constables’ account books which recorded their work in minute detail enabling us to view the war from new perspectives.
A second major theme was identifying the royalist soldiers and administrators who comprised the royalist war effort. This involved prosopographical work – collecting as much detail as possible about the lives and war records of these activists – to explore who and what they were. Their social standing, their experience and war-time careers were analysed. This revealed that the royalists were a mixed bunch largely speaking, neither drawn from the upper social stratum nor the lowest. So many of them have disappeared into the darkness of history that I was surprised to conclude that the familial success which got them an officer’s appointment in the first place was so fragile that few if any records survive of a good number of them.
I used my experience of hunting out the costs of war in later work, when I expanded my studies across the British Isles, seeking out similar information for the rest of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, showing how neither the North Midlands nor England was alone in finding the material resources and money to support the civil wars. In many ways this confirmed what I had found in the Midlands, but it also expanded my understanding of how people coped and how they recorded their experience of paying for the war whilst trying to maintain local administration methods not to mention their property, income and even lives.
It was only in the early years of this century that I began to look at Cromwell; firstly for a biographical dictionary which I completed just as the American company that commissioned it cancelled all of its foreign contracts! Luckily Routledge asked me to write his biography so not everything was wasted although the dictionary still rests in a folder on my laptop. A second book on Cromwell proved to be one of those ‘more questions than answers’ experiences, as the more I found out about how he became a general – the comparatively less I knew about the other generals. Thus I began a project to explore the histories/biographies of all the civil war generals – a project called Cromwell’s Rivals. At present, I am looking at 197 people, all but one of them men. I have returned to using prosopography to understand the backgrounds and experiences of these generals. It will be a long project and I have been helped along the way by enthusiastic students who have all made important contributions to the work. I want the project to have multiple outcomes. There will be a book, a database and magazine articles, etc. I also want the project to have some value for wargamers too. One of the aims is to understand military leadership and how it was exercised by these generals and how their contemporaries viewed success and failure. This could quite naturally be translated from both quantative and qualitative analysis into ‘fighting qualities’ for each and every one of the generals. In turn this might be used to interpret the capacities of wargames generals – special rules of staff rating – encompassed in many rulesets. At the very least it will introduce to a wider world a range of lesser and even unknown civil war general officers!
I haven’t given up on local and regional history on which I cut my teeth; I am still happy to discuss the civil war with local history enthusiasts, but wherever possible I bring into the discussion at least one of the 197 generals!
You can purchase In the Midst of the Kingdom: The Royalist War Effort in the North Midlands, 1642-1646 here.
Harwich Submarines in the Great War has been published on the 120th anniversary of the Royal Navy Submarine Service. Submarine Boat Number 1 was launched on 2nd October 1901. As I write the nuclear-powered attack submarine Audacious has just been commissioned as the latest addition to the Royal Navy’s conventionally armed submarine force. Somewhere in the world’s oceans a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine is on patrol carrying the U.K.’s strategic nuclear deterrent.
Technology has changed out of all recognition since the Submarine Service first went to war in 1914, only 13 years after it was founded. However, the uniquely challenging environment in which submariners operate stays the same. In his foreword, Rear Admiral Westbrook writes:
… being underwater in a submarine is, and always has been, a hazardous activity. To keep safe and be an effective and deadly fighting capability certainly requires a technological superiority, but it needs more than that; it needs a certain type of person willing to master the risks, environment and hardships and exploit them to achieve the upper hand on an adversary.
I set out in this book to tell the story of how the crews of the Harwich Flotilla achieved the upper hand over the German Fleet in 1914. In doing so they made a decisive contribution to the successful outcome of the Royal Navy’s campaign in the North Sea.
British submarines were in almost constant contact with the enemy right from the first day of the war. The crews had to adapt to new operational challenges on almost every patrol. Within days of war breaking out, E.5 had fired the first torpedo to ever be used in action by a Royal Navy warship, at a German destroyer in the Heligoland Bight.
The work was dangerous and difficult. All of the technology was new and untried in war. A mechanical failure or a lapse in drill could cause the loss of a boat and the entire crew. Collision on the surface in poor visibility or darkness was always a risk. The weather in the North Sea could inundate the exposed bridges of the boats, washing crew overboard to never be seen again, or smashing control gear. Any of these factors could be the reason why D.2 never returned from her last patrol. Both British boat D.7 and the French boat attached to the flotilla, Archimède, endured terrible beatings from North Sea storms and barely made it back to port. Mines became an increasing hazard over time and sank D.5 with the loss of most of her crew. The threat from the enemy was ever present. E.3 became the first submarine to be ambushed by another submarine and was lost with her entire crew.
Each crewmember endured the hazards and hardships for different reasons. For some it was the better pay that they received – ‘hard lying’ money. For others it was the chance to be part of a small crew away from the hierarchy and spit and polish of the big ships. Many of the officers were attracted by the adventure and risk of commanding a vessel filled with cutting edge technology. It was no accident that submarine captains were often keen enthusiasts of the new sport of motorcycle racing, or had taken up flying.
The story of the campaign is told from the perspective of those who took part, on both sides, using patrol reports, log entries, diaries, letters, and memoirs. The text is supported by charts, compiled from the reports, logs and chart traces of the vessels involved. Contemporary photographs of the boats, crews and ships support the text. British, German, and French records have been cross-referenced to confirm not just what really happened, but also the impact on British and German tactics and strategy.
The prominent role played by the Flotilla was due in no small part to the leadership of Commodore Roger Keyes. Together with his friend and ally, Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, who commanded the Harwich Destroyer Flotillas, Keyes was a driving force behind the offensive operations by the Navy in the North Sea during 1914. Behind both was Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, the political guiding force of the Navy and a vocal champion for the use of new technology, including submarines. The book charts the command intrigues and differences of opinion that surrounded the evolution and execution of British operations in the North Sea in 1914, focussing on the key role that both Keyes and 8th Flotilla itself played in shaping them.
Success also brought fame to a few, most prominent amongst whom was Lieutenant-Commander Max Horton of E.9. Horton torpedoed the first warship to be sunk by a Royal Navy submarine, the scout cruiser Hela. He quickly followed up by sinking the destroyer S.116. In celebrating each of his victories Horton also instituted a Submarine Service tradition; flying a Jolly Roger on return to port to mark a successful attack.
There were also frustrations and failures on the steep learning curve of these early patrols. Some captains would later rise to fame after the early disappointments, whilst others would face moves to less challenging commands or out of the Submarine Service entirely.
The book sets out to give a complete picture of every patrol of the Flotilla in 1914. The aim is to give a real insight into the story of each boat in the Flotilla, and how each crew met the different challenges that they faced. The way the patrols were planned and executed and the impact on tactics, strategy and the individuals caught up in the events are all explored. The real impact created by the unit was much greater than that of the warships it sank, playing a critical role in British intelligence gathering, operational planning and denial of the use of the Heligoland Bight to German surface forces.
British submarine operations have perhaps been overshadowed by the scale of the German campaign against commerce in both world wars. In writing this book I wanted to throw a new light on an unjustly neglected aspect of the First World War and the Royal Navy’s Submarine Service. I have also set out to tell the story in a way that should appeal to readers who are already very familiar with the naval side of the war, who will find much that is new to them, as well as tell a story that will appeal to those who have never read about the naval war in 1914.
The Flotilla maintained its fighting edge in the face of significant losses over this campaign during the first five months of the First World War. It held together through the professionalism, camaraderie and courage of the crews.
In assessing their achievements, perhaps the last word on the Flotilla and the strategic impact they had in this opening campaign should go to the commander of the German Fleet in 1914, Admiral von Ingenohl:
The submarine has entirely altered the conditions in our operational base in the German Bight, bringing constant danger and surveillance to this confined area, which we have no means of avoiding. In favourable weather conditions the German Fleet will be literally blockaded in the estuaries by enemy submarines unless it is prepared to expose itself to the risk of significant losses.
You can purchase Harwich Submarines in the Great War here.
It is unfortunate that overtime myths, like weeds in a lawn, take over our understanding of military history. They start as seeds in the form of gossip, or propaganda, but quickly spread once there is no longer a living memory of an event. Typically, this is feed by some desire to elevate one side over another or to raise an individual above their peers. These myths then quickly flower to emerge in secondary sources. It is here that they find fertile ground, to spread rapidly, as they are repeated, and reproduced, until they are transformed into reality. After this there is no way to stop their spread across the fertile ground of general history. After which these myths flower to spread even further into our consciousness.
Unfortunately, the Monmouth Rebellion is full of these myths, all repeated as facts across the general histories. One of these immensely popular myths is the constant story that Government commander at the battle of Sedgemoor, the Earl of Feversham, was asleep. To find a repetition of this story we need to look no further than the opening pages of Saul David’s, All the King’s Men. In this otherwise good work, we read ‘it was the rebels’ particular misfortune that, with Feversham still asleep in quarters nearby, the senior royal officer in camp at this moment was 35-year-old Major-General Lord Churchill…’ One can forgive Saul David because this perspective is stated as fact in many recent books and across the internet. This myth is normally expanded with the notion that Feversham was an incompetent, vain and inexperienced officer. In part, this is because Feversham’s second-in-command was Lord Churchill, the man that would become the Duke of Marlborough, after constantly defeating the French twenty years later.
Therefore, as Churchill was on the scene, it stands to reason that he must have won the battle, especially if Feversham was asleep during the encounter. This theory is occasionally supported by a quote from Oldmixon’sHistory of England, ‘the Alarm reach’d Weston, where Feversham was safe a-bed, and made not so much haste into the field, as to forget setting his Cravat string at a little paltry looking glass in one of the cottages.’ The immediate reaction for the reader, is that any general, worth his salt, would have thrown aside his useless cravat and raced to the battlefield in a dishevelled state. Therefore, with Churchill on the field, everything written about Feversham’s incompetence by Saul David and others must be true. But is it?
To answer this, we need to understand the mindset of the late 17th Century general. We know that Feversham, Churchill and the Duke of Monmouth all learnt the art of war in France under the great Comte du Turenne. It was here that they acquired useful battlefield experience and read the many French treaties on the art of war. These works covered more than weapon exercises, in truth they included everything from running a campaign to fighting a Battle, even detailing the duties of everyone from the General to lowest Lanspesade. It is within these forgotten manuscripts that we find the clarity needed to read between the lines within Oldmixon’s History of England and understand why Churchill was still in the Government camp, rather than asleep.
There are several late 17th Century treaties on the science of arms to explain the actions of Feversham and his ‘cravat’. One is called ‘Traite de la Guerre, ou Politique Militaire‘ and this details how a general should act and dress. It states that ‘it is not enough that the General excites the ardour of his soldiers by his speeches and by his joy, he must also excite them by the richness of his clothes, so that his exterior ornament stops the eyes of his troops on him. This gives his men a manner of admiration, that he proposes an extraordinary and magnificent adjustment. He must pass this day of the tumult on the battlefield, with the solemnity of Triumph.’ Therefore, far from being a sign of vanity and indifference to the situation, by checking his cravat, Feversham was demonstrating an understanding that he must always appear unflustered, calm and in control. Otherwise, his soldiers would fear the worst.
As to the reason why Churchill was in the camp, we need to turn to another French manual called the Art de la Guerre et la Maniere. This invaluable work formed the basis of the Abridgement of English Military Discipline, which was introduced into the British Army by Monmouth when Captain-General. Within these pages we find the military duties of the Major-General and learn that it was Churchill’s responsibility to ‘go every evening to take the orders from the general…and to distribute [these] to the majors of the cavalry, infantry and dragoon brigades to regulate the guards.’ It is, therefore, not Churchill’s superior generalship that puts him in the camp but his basic duty as Major-General and by Feversham’s direct command.
Once we look beyond the myth and understand the mind of the 17th Century general, rather than being lazy, incompetent, and asleep, it was Feversham’s actions and military discipline that won the battle. The incident with the cravat shows that when we recognize the duties of officers, we gain a fresh perspective on the battle of Sedgemoor. As if to underline the importance of these military treaties, when Monmouth was captured after Sedgemoor, he was found ‘to have his George, forty gold guineas and four books. The Duke’s pocketbook, a list of the Governments land and sea-forces, a manuscript on Fortifications, and a book on the Military Art.’ Clearly, Monmouth valued the science of arms enough to carry it with him, even when on the run.
In this pocketbook, Monmouth tells us that he read Traite de la Guerre, ou Politique Militaire in the months before the invasion. However, was this book the one on the military art that was found on the Duke, or was it the 1677 edition of the Art de la Guerre et la Maniere; or an original New method of Fortification; or an early French edition of De Werken van Mars of de KONST des OORLOGS; or may even have been Les Functions du Capitaine de Cavalerie, Les Functions de Tous les Officiers de l’Infanterie et Pratique et Maximes de la Guerre from 1675? We will never know, but Feversham’s cravat is just one example of how these books can remove the weeds that surround military history. To gain a new appreciation of the events of 1685, I have tracked down the military treaties read by Monmouth, Feversham, Churchill and the rest. The result is my next book to be published by Helion & Company, entitled Science of Arms. This new work will give the student of 17th Century warfare fresh insight into eyewitness accounts, news reports or battle maps. By using the original French and English texts, Science of Arms will enable the reader to understand the mind and training of every soldier, from the general to the musketeer, in the age of Monmouth from 1673 to 1685.
You can purchase Fighting for Liberty: Argyll & Monmouth’s Military Campaigns against the Government of King James, 1685 here.
 He received a message from Oglethorpe at around 12:45 in the morning, and the alarm was raised about 30 mins later. See Fighting for Liberty, Helion Publishing & Co 2020.
 Saul David, All the Kings Men, Penguin Books 2013, p.5
 Oldmixon, the History of England, p.703 (1720 edition)
 There are two editions of this work by Paul Hay, Chevalier Marquis of Chastelet, both printed in 1678. The first was published in Paris, the second and cheaper version was the Dutch copy printed in Amsterdam.
 This work by Louis de Gaya was first printed in Paris in 1677 and updated in 1678.
 The first edition was printed in London in 1678, to be reprinted with only the weapon exercises. By the 1684 edition it had been expanded to cover, matchlocks and flintlocks, and the 1685/6 version has grenadier drills.
 This work by Vauban was first published in Paris in 1677 with the title Veritable Maniere de Bien Fortifier
 This set of three volumes was printed in Amsterdam in 1686, but it was based on a French book called Les Travaux de Mars, ou L’art de la guerre by Allain Manesson-Mallet, which was first published in Paris in 1673 and updated in 1684. An English edition was published in 1688.
 This work originally by Captain De Lamont, Chevalier De La Valiere, was first publish in 1675 and revised and reprinted in 1693.
In this blog I look at my recently published book, Those Bloody Kilts, and look ahead to my forthcoming book on The British Infantry NCO in the Great War.
Those Bloody Kilts examines the experience of the Highland soldier during the Great War of 1914-1918. The experience of the Highland soldier had been somewhat romanticized and glamourized in popular accounts, the conventional picture being the semi-mythologised bayonet-toting hero from a martial race. In this book I have endeavoured to move away from the myth and explore the reality of his experience, working entirely from the evidence provided by the soldiers themselves.
The book is the culmination of research over a period of about ten years. The principal sources were the letters and eye-witness accounts of the Highland soldiers themselves, drawn from the Imperial War Museum, the Liddle Collection and the Regimental Museums, notably the Black Watch, at Perth, the Gordons at Aberdeen, the Argylls at Stirling, and the Highlanders Museum at Fort George, embracing the Seaforths and Camerons. The first two collections have been well exploited although not for this purpose, and there is of course new material constantly being received by the IWM. The revelation was the amount of material available in the regimental museums, extremely rich, but much less exploited.
The casual reader will find many first-hand examples of the life of the Highland soldier; the practicality of the kilt, the use of the pipes, comradeship, support from home, and behaviour in battle, with many fascinating or touching extracts from soldiers’ letters and diaries. I hope that he will be touched, amused, inspired, saddened, and occasionally shocked by the experiences described. The serious researcher will find a challenging analysis of the Highland soldier’s experience, the extent to which he was different, the dynamics of interactions within a battalion, the significance of identity, and the way morale actually worked.
All, I think, may be surprised at the normalcy of the Highland soldier, and the variations and contradictions in his behaviour. Thus, the pipes came increasingly to be used, not to pipe troops into battle, but to build morale behind the lines; alongside some informality, there co-existed the iron rod of discipline; alongside compassion and understanding between officers and men, there were some abject failures; amongst touching examples of comradeship are found disturbing examples of selfishness; amongst moving examples of compassion towards the enemy are found disturbing examples of brutality; and among inspiring examples of courage are found disturbing accounts of shattered nerves. It is therefore a ‘warts and all’ picture I present. But while I have been happy to debunk myths, I have, I believe, maintained respect for both the soldiers and regiments concerned.
This is my first book, and I am honoured to have been named Second Runner Up in the Best First Book category for 2019, by the Society for Army Historical Research. I am grateful that this has given me a platform for my second book, also to be published by Helion, on The British Infantry NCO in the Great War, with publication around 2025. Although much has been written about the life of the officers during the Great War, much less has been written about the N.C.O.’s. The book will examine the social background of the N.C.O.’s, and their roles and effectiveness in battle, in training and behind the lines. It will consider the role of the N.C.O.’s in maintaining discipline, maintaining morale and providing support both upwards and downwards. It will consider the relationship between N.C.O.’s and their officers and men, and between themselves at the same and different levels. As for Those Bloody Kilts, the research will be based on the recorded experiences of the soldiers themselves. The potential source material is vast, and this will be a labour of love.
As regards myself, I am a retired Civil Servant, living in Chessington, Surrey. I have a degree in geography from the University of Oxford and a PhD in the same from Durham, on the settlement of Armenian refugees in Syria and Lebanon after the First World War, and in the distant past had a couple of chapters published in geography texts based on this research. After completing my doctorate, I spent the bulk of my career involved in mapping and geographic support to the Armed Forces within the Military Survey organisation, while in my last eight years, I worked in MOD HQ. In addition, from 1980 I spent eight years in the Territorial Army (Royal Engineers), and retired as a captain in 1988. I took early retirement from MOD at the end of March 2008, in order, inter alia, to pursue my research interests.
Having played with Airfix figures from a tender age, the first metal figures I ever bought were five Hinchliffe ECW figures (an officer, drummer, and three musketeers). From the long-vanished ‘Bridle Models’ in Shirley, Croydon. This would have been 1973/4. I was about 12 years old. But I remember it as if it was yesterday – Dad inquiring if I really intended to blow my pocket money on little metal men at a princely 9p each. Plus a jar of Plaka orange, for the Earl of Essex’s army… The figures were duly decanted into a classy little blue Hinchliffe box of my very own. Five pristine silver figures, nestling in blue tissue paper… It was the start of something.
A mere 47 years and several different ECW armies later, I’ve finally reached the inevitable outcome of that profoundly formative childhood experience: I’ve started my own modest range of ECW figures, Bloody Miniatures.
Back in the glorious 1970’s, at school and the local wargames club, everything was WRG rules and big battles. I bought, painted, played with, and sold on more armies from more periods than I can now remember.
But I stopped wargaming at the age of 20 – other priorities, other hobbies: university; girls; career; mortgage; marriage; kids – you know how it goes.
I also got incredibly bored with the formulaic nature of wargaming back then. Endless bickering over the minutiae of 100-page rule books and gerrymandered army lists. Uptight people shunting (often unpainted) blocks of single-pose figures across upturned Subbuteo cloths. Games yes, but no fun at all. Entirely devoid of joy.
But the Force is strong, dear reader, and by my late 30s, I was back into it – only to discover a hobby transformed. Much better figures (inexplicably now 28mm, not 25mm) and many more of them. And in such different and interesting genres too. Pirates! Darkest Africa! Cossacks! Vikings! Also much less slavish adherence to the same old doctrinaire rulesets. So I started collecting and painting again, becoming quite proficient at both.
Over the ensuing 20+ years I’ve amassed several thousand figures, done a huge amount of modelling and painting, and become quite a well-known painter, mainly via my activities on Lead Adventure Forum.
I’ve built sizeable armies, but only play ‘large skirmish’ style games with them – often multi-player, and only with like-minded friends, with each player controlling, say, 20 – 60 figures. I use elegantly simple rules, but always play with beautiful figures and on extravagant terrain. For me, wargaming is about the visual aesthetics of the miniature worlds we create, and the narrative and period flavour which invariably emerges from a fun game played with good friends. There’s no arguing over complicated rules, nor fretting about pinpoint historical accuracy. Truthfully, it’s an entirely different hobby.
Despite having already owned (and sold on) three ECW armies, I couldn’t resist investing heroically when the excellent Bicorne and Renegade 28mm ECW ranges first came out. I built a sizeable collection – although for some reason, rarely played with them. Then one day, a year or two ago, I got them out, looked at them, and reminded myself how much I loved the figures, and the English Civil War setting in particular. Such turmoil. Such drama, fire and fury. And yet so peculiarly British and parochial.
So I began to build out my collection again. I also started playing ‘The Pikeman’s Lament’ (which happens to feature eye candy photographs of my ECW figures). Some people are a bit sniffy about Dan Mersey’s rulesets, but they suit my tastes perfectly. Plenty of period flavour, but dead simple mechanics. Almost guaranteed to deliver a fun, fast-moving game, whether for 20 figures a side, or 200.
I realised however, that despite the loveliness of Nick Collier’s sculpting (he did both the Bicorne and Renegade ranges), my 450-strong ECW collection had certain limitations. Even with myriad variants from those two huge ranges, they were all in basically the same set of stock poses – marching, firing, loading, advancing, and so on… Many different hats, but essentially a lot of similar figures. Oozing period character of course, because Nick is an absolute virtuoso at portraying mid-C17th soldiery. But somewhat limited and formal in pose. Ideal for set-piece battles; slightly lacking variety and individuality for skirmish type games.
Having taken indecently early retirement after a 35-year career in marketing, I suddenly found myself pondering a small range of my own to plug this gap. Could I? Should I?
Then Covid-19 and lockdowns arrived, so I decided to put dead time to good use. I managed to make contact with Nick, who thankfully was entirely up for it, and so Bloody Miniatures was born. The mission? To create a range of figures to complement his ECW ouevre for Bicorne/Renegade, but portraying the sort of characters never seen in ‘traditional’ ECW ranges.
The range is currently a small but perfectly formed four packs, with four more on the way. We’ve scoped out some 20 packs in total, including such gems as ‘ladies defending a siege’, ‘the Squire’s woodsmen’, and ‘moss troopers’. It probably won’t include rank and file types, since these are already very well catered for, so would rather defeat the object. One week in, and they’re selling like hotcakes and I’m getting lovely feedback. Including on the red tissue paper wrapping. Just my little nod to Hinchliffe… Now where did I put that Plaka orange?
Sixty years ago, on Sunday 13 August 1961, the citizens of Berlin woke up to a whole new reality – a divided city. In the early hours of the morning, East German police and border guards had created a physical barrier around the British, American, and French sectors of the city, cutting them off from the surrounding Soviet zone. The Berlin Wall was born.
Much has been written about the Berlin Wall, the Death Strip, the brave escape attempts, and the numerous human tragedies associated with it. My latest book, Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 2, The Berlin Wall, 1950 – 1961, explores the subject in some detail, but in this second volume of my mini-series on Cold War Berlin for Helion & Company, I’ve also tried to explain the background to the decision to build the Wall, the personalities involved and the wider political situation that prompted Walter Ulbricht, the East German leader to take these drastic steps. This blog post investigates that side of the Berlin Wall story.
East Germany (the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR, the German Democratic Republic) was formed on 7 October 1949 out of the Soviet occupation zone of Germany in response to the creation of West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG) on 23 May 1949, which was made from the British, American, and French occupation zones. Joseph Stalin, the leader of Soviet Union and the wider Communist world, gave the go ahead to Walter Ulbricht, the head of the East German Communist Party (the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED, Socialist Unity Party of Germany), to form a sovereign state, although there was never any doubt that the DDR was a ‘satellite’ or ‘client’ state of the Soviet Union. After the Second World War, Stalin had successfully built his Iron Curtain, a buffer zone of Soviet ‘puppet’ states between the Soviet motherland and the warmongers in the West, and the DDR was the last piece in that puzzle.
Berlin, the former capital of the Third Reich, was located 100 miles inside the DDR, and was divided into four sectors, administered by the four victorious Second World War powers in a similar way to the former occupation zones of Germany. However, although the former British, American and French zones had merged to become West Germany, the British, American and French maintained their individual sectors of the city, collectively forming West Berlin. East Berlin, the former Soviet sector was now the capital city of the DDR, while the Federal Republic had its capital in Bonn. This unique territorial split would be the cause of considerable international strife throughout the Cold War.
The DDR was founded as the ‘Workers’ and Peasants’ State’ under veteran Communist Walter Ulbricht. An avowed Stalinist, Ulbricht had succeeded in securing an unassailable position in East German politics through his relationship with the Soviet leader, with the Soviet Military Administration in Germany and through extensive lobbying in Moscow. He’d also managed to purge any meaningful opposition, with the SED ruling supreme, and with Ulbricht, as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, as its unquestioned leader.
Despite his status, Ulbricht was not respected by the Soviet leadership, and was tolerated as an able administrator rather than as an inspirational leader. However, Ulbricht was Machiavellian and a talented manipulator, who often got his own way by sheer persistence, wearing down his opponents. Following Stalin’s death in 1953, his ultimate successor, Nikita Khrushchev, did not share Stalin’s tolerance of Ulbricht, but was not yet strong enough to replace him with someone more compliant.
The DDR adopted a centrally planned Soviet style economy, with forced collectivisation of agriculture and privatisation of businesses. History had shown that such economies were doomed to failure, but Ulbricht persisted with Stalinist policies, even as Khrushchev was trying to liberalise some aspects of the Soviet Union. As well as being highly inefficient, with managers being promoted because of the political connections rather than their ability, the economy also suffered with most industrial production being exported as reparations to the Soviet Union, or to generate ‘hard’ foreign currency needed to purchase raw materials. The industrial sector had also not recovered after being comprehensively looted of infrastructure by a vengeful Soviet Union immediately following the war.
For the average East German, this meant a very poor standard of living, with constant shortages of food and consumer products. The reach of the Party could also be felt in every corner of society, where education and employment opportunities depended on party affiliation and fealty. Woe betide any deviation from the party line, where transgressions would have lifelong implications for the transgressor and their families. The infamous East German secret police, the Staatssicherheitsdienst or Stasi, had its tentacles everywhere and dissent was crushed with characteristic German efficiency.
For a growing number of East Germans, the suffocating repression and constant promises of ‘jam tomorrow’ led them to make the monumental decision to uproot their families and flee to the West. Such behaviour was frowned upon – the State called the refugees Republikflüchtlinge, literally those that flee the Republic, but immediately after the East German state was created, an increasing number of ordinary East Germans voted with their feet and moved to the West. This exodus was made easier by a long porous border between the DDR and the FRG, and several reception centres just inside West Germany began processing hundreds and then thousands of refugees a week. In 1950, an average of 3,804 East Germans a week made it to the West. By 1952, this was steady at 3,508/week. These were normal citizens who had turned their backs on Ulbricht’s workers’ paradise; skilled workers, technicians, engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, administrators, managers, along with a proportion of dissidents who had escaped the clutches of the Stasi. Most were young, educated and of military age – exactly the sort of people East Germany could not afford to lose.
Ulbricht had to stop the exodus that was bleeding his country dry. With Stalin’s blessing, he enacted the ‘Decree on Measures regarding the Demarcation Line between the German Democratic Republic and the Western Occupation Zones of Germany’ (26 May 1952) and closed the 1,400 km border between East and West Germany. This began with barbed wire, then with chain link fences, before developing into one of the most fortified borders on the planet (second only to the border between North and South Korea). This should have solved the problem for Ulbricht, but all it succeeded in doing was funnel the would-be refugees to Berlin. Travel within the DDR was unrestricted, and once inside the East German capital, it was reasonably easy to hop over the inter-sector border into West Berlin. Once there, refugees were directed to a purpose-built reception centre at Marienfelde, where they were processed and eventually flown over to West Germany to begin their new lives.
Berlin became the ‘escape hatch’ for the DDR and by 1960, an average of 3,831 refugees a week were making it to freedom and the number just kept increasing. In 1961, the crisis had reached a head. In the 12 years since the DDR was formed, about 2.8 million people had fled to the West out of a population of around 17 million (approximately 1 in 6), which was not sustainable for Walter Ulbricht’s socialist state. Ulbricht had been continually lobbying his Soviet masters for a solution to this crisis, and Khrushchev knew that he could only deflect the East German for so long. He needed stability on his western flank, and it was clear that he needed to act before the country reached meltdown.
Khrushchev sensed an opportunity with the election of the youthful John F. Kennedy as US President in November 1960 and even before Kennedy was inaugurated, he began ramping up the pressure on his new adversary. Khrushchev had given Kennedy’s predecessor, President Eisenhower, an ultimatum to quit Berlin back in 1958, but the Soviet was forced to back down and withdraw the threat to declare a unilateral peace treaty with the DDR and terminate the Potsdam protocols giving the victorious powers access rights to the city. In January 1961, however, he reinstated the ultimatum as a way of pressuring the President-elect and also placating Ulbricht. At every opportunity, Ulbricht nagged his boss about his country’s plight: moaning about the population exodus; complaining about the Western radio stations who were broadcasting uncomfortable material to his citizens; and accusing the West of using Berlin as a spy base against the Warsaw Pact (which wasn’t too far from the truth). He also blamed the Soviets for the state of his economy (which was only partially true) and used his many contacts in Moscow (known collectively as the ‘Ulbricht Lobby’) to lean on Khrushchev. For some months he’d been suggesting that the only solution was a hard closure of the inter-sector border between East and West Berlin, to effectively close that ‘escape hatch’, and he took the opportunity of Khrushchev’s new ultimatum to reiterate those demands.
Khrushchev didn’t want to be rushed and ignored Ulbricht’s increasingly plaintive cries while he tried to get the measure of the new US President. This came to a head in June 1961, in a very heated summit meeting between the two leaders in Vienna.
Kennedy was soundly outmatched by the wily old Bolshevik, but Khrushchev had discovered that his opposite number was not going to let go of Berlin without a fight. Ulbricht was quick to jump on the bandwagon post-Vienna and renewed the offensive on his boss to act decisively on Berlin. Picking up on some mixed messages coming out of Washington, Khrushchev began to think that Ulbricht’s closure plans might solve a number of problems, not least in getting that troublesome East German off his back, and indicated that he may consider a hard border closure. On 15 June 1961, Ulbricht called a press conference in East Berlin, which a number of Western journalists attended. Ulbricht droned on, bragging about what he would be able to do once the peace treaty with the Soviets had been signed and in a surreal piece of real-life theatre, Ulbricht, in an answer to a journalist’s question about the state border at the Brandenburg Gate, famously volunteered that ‘Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten’ – ‘Nobody intends to put up a Wall’, when no one had previously mentioned anything about a Wall. The significance of this was missed by almost everybody in the room.
The following day brought the biggest one-day exodus of East German refugees, numbering 4,770, which equates to an annualised total of 1,740,000, out of a population of just 17 million. On 6 July Ulbricht was informed that the Kremlin had approved in principle his proposals to seal off the sector borders in Berlin and that he should proceed with detailed planning for their implementation, although the East Germans had already been secretly working on the plans for some months. Ulbricht was delighted and tasked Erich Honecker (who ousted Ulbricht as leader in 1976) with responsibility for the detailed planning and subsequent implementation. The plans were submitted to Moscow on 25 July, and on 1 August, at a meeting in Moscow, Ulbricht was given the go-ahead. The date was set for Sunday 13 August 1961 and Berlin’s fate was sealed.
The operation to close the inter-sector border between East and West Berlin was christened Operation Rose and went down with typical Prussian efficiency in the early hours of Sunday morning. The operation itself, christened Stacheldrahtsonntag (Barbed Wire Sunday) by the West, is described in detail in the book, as is the Berlin Wall’s development until that fateful day in November 1989 when peoplepower tore it down, but it’s interesting to reflect on the decision to lock the East German population up behind a Wall, in effect creating a giant prison. The West were quick to point out the failings of a system of government that had to lock up its own people to stop them escaping, and this was borne out in the eventual collapse of the DDR, followed a couple of years later by the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end to Soviet Communism. In the intervening 28 years, it is truly tragic to consider how many lives were ruined by Walter Ulbricht’s obsession and history has gone on to demonstrate the complete moral bankruptcy of his regime.
Some 10 years ago I started researching my Swedish heritage, my mother being the daughter of Baroness Anne-Marie Armfelt (1904-87), a descendent of General Carl Gustav Armfelt (1666-1736). Having documented a remarkably extensive family tree and armed with my life-long interest in military history I started to delve in more detail into some of the most interesting personalities I had discovered on this journey.
I was soon drawn to researching the career of Carl Gustav Armfelt, inspired by a framed photograph of the David von Krafft Armfelt portrait at Drottningholm, one of many items I inherited from my grandmother, following her death in 1987. Having tracked down a copy of Eirik Hornborg’s 1953 book Karolinen Armfelt och kampen om Finland under stora nordiska kriget and commenced translating it for my own interest, I was inspired by his enthusiasm and empathy for his subject and thought that this may be of interest to a wider audience. I am delighted that Helion agreed and, with the enthusiastic support of Eirik Hornborg’s grandson, Professor Alf Hornborg at the University of Lund, the result is the first comprehensive account of the Great Northern War in Finland to be published in the English language.
Armfelt was born in Ingria, at the easternmost limit of the then Swedish Empire. Commencing military service in 1683 at the age of 16 as a corporal in the Nyland-Tavastehus cavalry regiment, to advance his career he went to France in 1688 and learnt the soldier’s trade through eleven years active service in the army of Louis XIV, returning home in 1699 and then serving his country until the Treaty of Nystad finally ended hostilities in 1721.
Too little is known about Armfelt’s life outside of the war for a comprehensive biography to be written so of necessity Hornborg’s account concentrates on his military career and is thus in equal measure an account of the campaigns in which he fought. In addition to the two most well known Finnish battles of Pälkäne 1713 and Storkyro 1714, and the Trondheim campaign 1718-19 with its tragic ending – the Carolean Death March – the book covers many lesser known engagements such the battle of Systerbäck 1703, the Ingrian campaign of 1708 (launched as a diversion in support of Charles XII’s invasion of Russia) and the Russian seaborne landing by the Tsar’s new galley fleet at Helsinki in 1713. After the war Armfelt never returned to his Ingrian homeland, which had been lost to Russia, but settled in Finland where he remained until his death in 1736.
Hornborg provides some brief notes on Armfelt’s descendants, perhaps the most famous being his great grandson, Gustav Mauritz, who was instrumental in obtaining Finnish autonomy from Russia after the war of 1808-09 and consequently seen by many in Sweden as a traitor. Certainly he ranks low in Hornborg’s opinion – brave, yes, but fickle, vain and selfish.
On the direct line of descent to my grandmother, his son Vilhelm (1715-61) entered military service in 1729 and reached the rank of Major. He had been wounded at Lappeenranta during the Russo-Swedish war of 1741-43 and was killed by Prussian Hussars in a skirmish during the Pomeranian War of 1757-62. Vilhelm’s son, Adolf Carl (1751-1807), saw service only between this war and the subsequent war with Russia of 1788-90 so did not see action, but Adolf’s son, Colonel Axel Armfelt (1785-1867), my grandmother’s great grandfather, fought in Finland, Germany and Norway during the Napoleonic wars and was decorated for bravery.
Amongst my ancestors on my grandmother’s mother’s side were Arvid Wittenberg, veteran of the Thirty Years War and Charles X’s invasion of Poland in 1655, and Henrik Horn, who’s exploits included commanding the Swedish fleet in the disastrous battle of Køge Bay in 1677 during the Scanian War under Charles XI, despite being an army general with no naval experience! Anne-Marie’s great grandfather was Captain Carl Magnus Hultin who, like Axel Armfelt, also served in the Swedish army during the Napoleonic wars. He published his memoirs in book form in 1872; such memoirs are rare, and I am well on with translation and research into another fascinating period of Swedish history. Watch this space …
You can purchase Carl Gustav Armfelt and the Struggle for Finland during the Great Northern War here.
Helion recently published my biography of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm (1768-1838), entitled The Sea is my Element. This Scottish sailor spent his entire active career at sea, commanding half a dozen ships as a captain, and then flying his admiral’s flag aboard several others. Mark Myers’ painting on the cover of the book depicts the ship with which he was most closely associated, HMS Donegal, as she races through stormy seas to join the British fleet after Trafalgar.
Like many ships in the Royal Navy, the Donegal was a prize, a ship captured from the French and transformed into a Royal Navy asset. A large 74-gun ship built to a very successful design by the naval architect Jacques-Noël Sané, she had been launched in 1794 at the Mediterranean naval base of Toulon. Initially named Barras, after an important political figure in Revolutionary France,as the political winds changed her name changed as well, ending up as Hoche, commemorating a famous revolutionary general who had died in 1797. The shipwas captured in 1798 by a British squadron as she attempted to land a force of French soldiers on the northern coast of Ireland to assist the Irish insurgents seeking to overthrow the British connection.
Since the ship was quite new and had suffered relatively little damage in the battle, she was purchased into the Royal Navy, and given the name Donegal to commemorate the location of her capture. As was customary, the ship was refitted to British standards: her masts and rigging were altered to make them more robust, and the French guns were replaced with slightly smaller British ones. At the same time the dockyard installed a new figurehead, portraying a fierce, kilted Irish warrior.
When rearmed the ship carried thirty 32-pounder guns on the lower deck and thirty 18-pounders on the upper deck, along with sixteen 12-pounders and eight close-range carronades fore and aft. In all, she could fire an 850-pound broadside at an enemy ship. By comparison, at Waterloo Wellington’s forces had a total of about 160 guns firing shot totalling roughly 1600 lbs. So the Donegal’s armament (remembering she had two broadsides) was more powerful than all the artillery of the allied army in the culminating battle of the Napoleonic Wars. These ships were massively-armed floating gun batteries, capable of inflicting enormous destruction on enemy vessels.
Between her commissioning in late 1802 and early 1805, the Donegal was commanded by Sir Richard Strachan, who had made his name as a frigate commander in the French Revolutionary War. The ship formed an important unit of Lord Nelson’s Mediterranean Fleet watching the French fleet at Toulon, and in 1804 captured a Spanish frigate. By January 1805, the rigours of blockade and storm had taken their toll of Strachan’s health, and he asked Nelson to be allowed to return to Britain to recover. Rather than lose a valuable warship, the admiral agreed that Captain Pulteney Malcolm, who had been sitting at anchor in the Bay of Naples for 14 months, could switch ships with Strachan. This allowed Malcolm, who had been pestering Nelson for a more active role, to join the fleet off Toulon in the Donegal, while Strachan took Malcolm’s ship, the leaky Renown, back to a British dockyard for repairs.
Thus began Pulteney Malcolm’s six years in command of one of the finest two-deckers in the Royal Navy. The ship was widely agreed to be among the most handsome in the fleet, and Malcolm took great pride in her appearance. For instance, in September 1810 he decided to have the crew paint the Donegal, but was upset that it rained soon after, streaking the wet paint. As he told his wife, it made his ship look like ‘a painted hag, returning by daylight from a fashionable party’. He claimed that he would be ‘as anxious to repair her charms on the return of sunshine, as the Lady would be before she makes her appearance in the world’. Sailors often attributed human characteristics to their ships.
Appropriately enough, many of her 640 crew were Irishmen—Malcolm delighted in their activity, though he regretted their tendency to get drunk whenever the opportunity presented itself. His style of man-management was both intelligent and humane. Punishments on board the Donegal were limited—only the captain could award floggings, since, as he said, he also had the power to mitigate such penalties. Malcolm was proud that he had never ordered a man court-martialled, and that many of his ex-shipmates approached him for assistance after they had left the vessel. He also encouraged competition with other ships in the squadron, to keep the men healthy and on their toes, fostering what today would be called ‘unit cohesion’. This approach explains why the ship received the nickname ‘the happy Donegal’ during Malcolm’s time in command.
This period (1805-1811) represented the height of the naval war against France, and the ship was involved in a number of dramatic events, as well as the protracted, grinding task of blockade. In the first few months of Malcolm’s command, the Donegal took part in Nelson’s long chase of the enemy Combined Fleet across the Atlantic and back, and came very close to participating in the Battle of Trafalgar, being the last big ship to leave the British fleet before the battle, and the first one to return. A few months later, she played a prominent role in the Battle of San Domingo, being instrumental in the capture of two French ships-of-the-line. Years of strenuous activity followed, as the ship and her crew blockaded the French ports of l’Orient and Cherbourg, were present at the Battle of Basque Roads, and landed the future Duke of Wellington and his army on the shores of Portugal. Throughout this time, Malcolm had only two, relatively brief periods of leave. During the first, when the Donegal was temporarily commanded by his friend (and ex-Bounty mutineer) Peter Heywood, she helped drive three French frigates ashore at Sables d’Olonne near Rochefort. During Malcolm’s second leave, the ship was used to transport the Marquess Wellesley (Wellington’s older brother) to and from Spain, requiring the crew to spend several months anchored in Cadiz harbour, waiting for the diplomat to complete his assignment.
By the spring of 1811, the Donegal needed a major repair. This would require her to be decommissioned, with her officers and crew being discharged and sent to other ships. Malcolm was sorry to leave his home of six years, but recognized that the work was overdue. After waiting a year or so in reserve at Portsmouth, she was moved around to Chatham for a ‘middling repair’, which cost over £50,000, and took about 18 months. This substantial investment (about two-thirds the cost of building a new ship) indicates the Admiralty believed the Donegal to be a valuable asset, with years of useful life ahead of her. However, by the time she emerged from the dockyard, the war was over, and her services were not needed. The ship spent the next 14 years in reserve, mostly at anchor in the backwaters of Sheerness, awaiting the next call to arms.
This came in 1829, when, after a £21,000 refit, she was recommissioned as a guardship, essentially a vessel manned and ready to go to sea at short notice. In 1832, Pulteney Malcolm walked her quarterdeck once again, but now as a vice admiral in command of the Channel squadron, which was used to conduct trials of new ship designs. Despite a reputation for speed, the Donegal proved rather slower than more modern ships, but this was partly attributed to the growth of weed on her hull since her last docking. She remained Malcolm’s flagship throughout the summer of 1832, and then again when he re-joined the ship for a difficult six months commanding an Anglo-French squadron blockading the Dutch coastline. This was his last encounter with the vessel in which he had made his reputation, but she soldiered on in active service for another ten years, finally going to the breakers in 1845. Malcolm did not live to see the end of his ship, since he had died in 1838, after a career of nearly 60 years, mostly spent at sea. The Royal Navy named two later warships Donegal, but neither became as famous as Malcolm’s ‘happy Donegal’.
The Sea is my Element: The eventful life of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm 1768-1838 is available to purchase here.
Personally, I am very glad that the French Revolutionary Wars are finally increasing in prominence, as they surely are with the From Reason to Revolution series. As a schoolboy and undergraduate I studied the Revolution itself but the wars it occasioned were always something that was going on elsewhere; to be manipulated by the various political factions in the National Assembly or a threat to the existence of the newly fledged Republic. The wars themselves rarely got a mention. I always thought this was odd as the Napoleonic Wars which came immediately afterwards are immensely popular with writers, wargamers, and those with an interest in history. The French Revolutionary Wars involved many of the same characters as those later wars, colourful costumes, a plethora of set piece battles, and can hardly be bettered for sheer drama. The great victories thrown away through folly, the brilliance and ineptitude shown in equal measure by both sides, and the chaotic unpredictability of the French Republic at war make for an exciting area of study.
Whilst working at the Museum of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment I came across reference to the Helder campaign. This, I read, was a campaign fought by the British army alongside Russian allies, to provoke a counter revolution in the Netherlands. Two battalions of the regiment had fought in this campaign but I had never heard of it and could find little written about it. So, I was drawn to this period through a lack of information, the exploration of something familiar and yet unknown. I later wrote my Masters dissertation on the failure of the Helder campaign and was moved to research the Duke of York’s previous campaign; that fought in Flanders 1793-95. This, as it turned out, was quite a large subject and is known to us today largely through the nursery rhyme ‘The Grand old Duke of York’, so I felt that this was a large gap in the history of the period which needed filling.
The Duke of York, as the nursery rhyme would imply, did little to enhance his military reputation in the course of this campaign which, like the later one, ended in an ignominious withdrawal on the part of British forces and the surrender of the Netherlands to French forces. There have been attempts in recent years to revive the reputation of the Duke of York; to paint him as an early Eisenhower, holding coalitions together with his diplomacy and a general able to defeat his enemy when allowed to exercise independent command. Unfortunately there is little evidence of any of this when we look closely at the conduct of this operation. As the famous Gillray cartoon, ‘Fatigues of the Campaign in Flanders’, suggests, York seems to have lived well on campaign (he was accompanied by a vast retinue of cooks and liveried footmen) while his troops struggled with supply issues. An English lady visiting the Duke said that he was constantly surrounded by a coterie of young staff officers and rarely dined with the commanders of his army which did not endear him to them or give him the opportunity to discuss issues with the army. When the outgoing Hanoverian commander, Marshal Freytag went to report to his Elector (George III of England) York wrote a very telling letter to his father, the King, saying that he wasn’t to believe anything the old veteran said about York being perpetually drunk.
York didn’t spend very much time with his army and when it wasn’t actually on the march he tended to find comfortable quarters away from camp. At the battle of Beaumont the army had to wait, drawn up to repel the French attackers, while York was fetched from his bed. It is not unsurprising therefore that the army, which is said by some to have been the worst to have ever left England, suffered some problems with indiscipline. In a war that was being pitched to the British taxpayer and the world in general as a crusade against the beastly excesses of republicanism, the British army committed a number of atrocities against the civilians it was supposed to be saving and upset almost as many allies as its commander did.
York’s biggest failing as a commander was perhaps the way in which acted towards his allies. In the later Helder campaign he was accused of being loudly critical of his Russian allies and it seems he was no different in Flanders. A young man, son of the King, fond of drink and rowdy company, he probably saw nothing wrong with his behaviour but his letters home are full of contempt for his allies, whom he blamed for every mishap he encountered.
This book has a number of themes but perhaps the central one is the difficulty of keeping coalitions together. The force that York was part of consisted of; troops of the Austrian Empire; Germans, Hungarians, Croats and Slavs, the Prussians and the Dutch, as well as various mercenary troops in the pay of Britain. All of the states involved had different motivations for being in the coalition and hoped for different things from the war. The various contingents were commanded by professional and experienced soldiers who doubtless resented York’s, widely broadcast criticism.
Whilst the personal feelings of the commanders did not have as much effect on the future of the coalition as the manoeuvring of their political masters, it almost certainly affected relations between the armies. Some commentators have even alleged that Austrian generals deliberately abandoned York to his fate at the Battle of Tourcoing due to their personal antipathy towards him. Remarkable as this is, by the end of the campaign the Dutch, the very nation that the British contingent had been sent to defend, were exhibiting more sympathy to the invading French than to their erstwhile allies and began negotiations while the British were still in the country.
So, this is a tale of personalities and alliances; it is also an account of a large number of battles. The campaign in Flanders seems to have been extraordinarily hard-fought: although the battles achieved little as the action see-sawed across Flanders, some towns changing hands several times, there were lots of them. For me one of the most interesting parts of this story is phenomenon of the republican war machine; the genesis of total war. This is a period that holds an almost mythological status in the annals of French military history; the ragged, starving, but ideological armies, led by men soon to be household names (Carnot, Jourdan, Vandamme, Macdonald, Bernadotte and Bonaparte to name a few) saved the republic from autocratic forces bent on its destruction. What we see is the entire resources of a nation flung with abandon against its enemies. This book examines the effectiveness of the forces they raised and casts a critical light on the legends.
After two years of bloody but fruitless campaigning the coalition failed. The vast hydra-like forces of the French Republic wore down the allies’ will to fight. Although generally successful on the field, the coalition lacked the clarity of vision to concentrate its efforts and was overwhelmed by French numbers and aggression. Numerous defeats did not seem to dent the republican war machine and as the coalition foundered it returned to the offensive. The Prussians went back to pick over the carcass of Poland, the Austrians fell back to their own territory, and the Dutch surrendered, becoming a satellite of France until 1814. York was removed from his post and sent home to command the army from Whitehall while his men endured one of those harrowing retreats which dot the landscape of British military history. They would return eventually, but spent most of the war nibbling at the rind of France in limited amphibious operations.
Since 1st January 2021, the UK has no longer been a member of the EU. This means that deliveries to EU countries are now subject to the receiving EU country’s rules and regulations for purchases from outside the EU. This is similar to what has always been the case for buying goods from, say, USA.
The EU has further changed its regulations from 1st July 2021, bringing more, smaller purchases within their VAT regulations and making them subject to charges.
The effect of this is that buyers of UK goods may now have to pay VAT, Customs duties and a handling charge imposed by the buyer’s country’s postal service. Previously, none of these charges would have been applicable. Goods passing through the buyer’s country’s Customs in this way may also be delivered more slowly.
There is a new mechanism – the EU VAT One Stop Shop (OSS) – that is intended to let sellers from outside the EU charge VAT according to the rates in the buyer’s country when goods are purchased. This requires the seller to store and charge different VAT rates for each country they are selling to in the EU. There are other bureaucratic steps necessary, as well as modifying websites, to enable this.
An alternative is for the UK seller to have an agent/distributor in any EU country, from whom all EU purchases would be made by buyers. As this would be inside the EU, external charges would not apply, although the buyer’s country’s VAT rate probably would apply.
Helion is investigating both of the above options – OSS and an EU distributor – but it will take some time to get any arrangements put in place. There are currently substantial delays in getting the OSS set up, both on the UK and EU sides, and an agent/distributor is a long-term business partnership that cannot be put in place overnight. As a relatively small business, Helion does not have the resources to focus purely on this issue in the short term.
Quite a lot of UK sellers have ceased supplying to EU countries altogether. Helion does not intend to do this, but buyers should be aware that their own country may well charge them VAT, Customs duties and a handling fee from now on for purchases from Helion.