Has there been any historical battle which became so universally well regarded, that military academies from across the world would would study it? Or are most military academies inherently biased towards studying battles in their own national history?
One classical example would be the Battle of Cannae, when Hannibal annihilated a larger Roman army. His unreservedly successful double envelopment on that day have since been regarded as one of the greatest displays of generalship in history. In addition to Cannae, several ancient battles have a reputation for being still studied at military schools worldwide.
Modern military academies such as the École Polytechnique [sic] in Paris, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Frunze Academy in Moscow, and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst continue to study and analyze famous ancient battles (Marathon, Thermopylae, Plataea, Leuctra, Chaeronea, Gaugamela, Cannae, Zama, Pharsalus, and Adrianopolis) and sieges (Syracuse and Alesia).
- Grafton, Anthony, Glenn W. Most, and Salvatore Settis. The Classical Tradition. Harvard University Press, 2010.
Note: The Ecole Polytechnique does not aim anymore to train officers. The Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint Cyr in Brittany is the one responsible for it.
Since they were fought during antiquity, these battles have no real substantive link to most modern nations, but are nonetheless analysed as examples of tactical brilliance. A curriculum might very well be more focused on the national or regional history, but frankly it is a bit nonsensical to think that the nationality of the participants would define whether an engagement is or isn't a great (in terms of execution) battle.
In addition to examples from ancient history, many other battles have been very highly regarded. For example, Napoleon's career, including his greatest victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, was studied as far as as the Army Military Academy in China.
The Impact of the Norman Conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England, led by William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087 CE) was achieved over a five-year period from 1066 CE to 1071 CE. Hard-fought battles, castle building, land redistribution, and scorched earth tactics ensured that the Normans were here to stay. The conquest saw the Norman elite replace that of the Anglo-Saxons and take over the country's lands, the Church was restructured, a new architecture was introduced in the form of motte and bailey castles and Romanesque cathedrals, feudalism became much more widespread, and the English language absorbed thousands of new French words, amongst a host of many other lasting changes which all combine to make the Norman invasion a momentous watershed in English history.
Conquest: Hastings to Ely
The conquest of England by the Normans started with the 1066 CE Battle of Hastings when King Harold Godwinson (aka Harold II, r. Jan-Oct 1066 CE) was killed and ended with William the Conqueror's defeat of Anglo-Saxon rebels at Ely Abbey in East Anglia in 1071 CE. In between, William had to more or less constantly defend his borders with Wales and Scotland, repel two invasions from Ireland by Harold's sons, and put down three rebellions at York.
The consequences of the Norman conquest were many and varied. Further, some effects were much longer-lasting than others. It is also true that society in England was already developing along its own path of history before William the Conqueror arrived and so it is not always so clear-cut which of the sometimes momentous political, social, and economic changes of the Middle Ages had their roots in the Norman invasion and which may well have developed under a continued Anglo-Saxon regime. Still, the following list summarises what most historians agree on as some of the most important changes the Norman conquest brought in England:
- the Anglo-Saxon landowning elite was almost totally replaced by Normans.
- the ruling apparatus was made much more centralised with power and wealth being held in much fewer hands.
- the majority of Anglo-Saxon bishops were replaced with Norman ones and many dioceses' headquarters were relocated to urban centres.
- Norman motte and bailey castles were introduced which reshaped warfare in England, reducing the necessity for and risk of large-scale field engagements.
- the system of feudalism developed as William gave out lands in return for military service (either in person or a force of knights paid for by the landowner). developed and spread further where labourers worked on their lord's estate for his benefit.
- the north of England was devastated for a long time following William's harrying of 1069-70 CE. , a detailed and systematic catalogue of the land and wealth in England was compiled in 1086-7 CE.
- the contact and especially trade between England and Continental Europe greatly increased.
- the two countries of France and England became historically intertwined, initially due to the crossover of land ownership, i.e. Norman nobles holding lands in both countries.
- the syntax and vocabulary of the Anglo-Saxon Germanic language were significantly influenced by the French language.
The Ruling Elite
The Norman conquest of England was not a case of one population invading the lands of another but rather the wresting of power from one ruling elite by another. There was no significant population movement of Norman peasants crossing the channel to resettle in England, then a country with a population of 1.5-2 million people. Although, in the other direction, many Anglo-Saxon warriors fled to Scandinavia after Hastings, and some even ended up in the elite Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors.
The lack of an influx of tens of thousands of Normans was no consolation for the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, of course, as 20 years after Hastings there were only two powerful Anglo-Saxon landowners in England. Some 200 Norman nobles and 100 bishops and monasteries were given estates which had been distributed amongst 4,000 Anglo-Saxon landowners prior to 1066 CE. To ensure the Norman nobles did not abuse their power (and so threaten William himself), many of the old Anglo-Saxon tools of governance were kept in place, notably the sheriffs who governed in the king's name the districts or shires into which England had traditionally been divided. The sheriffs were also replaced with Normans but they did provide a balance to Norman landowners in their jurisdiction.
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The Church was similarly restructured with the appointment of Norman bishops - including in 1070 CE, the key archbishops of Canterbury (to Lanfranc) and York (to Thomas) - so that by 1087 CE there were only two Anglo-Saxon bishops left. Another significant change was the move of many dioceses' headquarters - the main church or cathedral - to urban locations (Dorchester to Lincoln, Lichfield to Chester, and Sherborne to Salisbury being just some examples). This move gave William much greater administrative and military control of the Church across England but also benefitted the Church itself by bringing bishops closer to the relatively new urban populations.
The royal court and government became more centralised, indeed, more so than in any other kingdom in Europe thanks to the holding of land and resources by only a relatively few Norman families. Although William distributed land to loyal supporters, they did not typically receive any political power with their land. In a physical sense, the government was not centralised because William still did not have a permanent residence, preferring to move around his kingdom and regularly visit Normandy. The Treasury did, though, remain at Winchester and it was filled as a result of William imposing heavy taxes throughout his reign.
Motte & Bailey Castles
The Normans were hugely successful warriors and the importance they gave to cavalry and archers would affect English armies thereafter. Perhaps even more significant was the construction of garrisoned forts and castles across England. Castles were not entirely unknown in England prior to the conquest but they were then used only as defensive redoubts rather than a tool to control a geographical area. William embarked on a castle-building spree immediately after Hastings as he well knew that a protected garrison of cavalry could be the most effective method of military and administrative control over his new kingdom. From Cornwall to Northumbria, the Normans would build over 65 major castles and another 500 lesser ones in the decades after Hastings.
The Normans not only introduced a new concept of castle use but also military architecture to the British Isles: the motte and bailey castle. The motte was a raised mound upon which a fortified tower was built and the bailey was a courtyard surrounded by a wooden palisade which occupied an area around part of the base of the mound. The whole structure was further protected by an encircling ditch or moat. These castles were built in both rural and urban settings and, in many cases, would be converted into stone versions in the early 12th century CE. A good surviving example is the Castle Rising in Norfolk, but other, more famous castles still standing today which were originally Norman constructions include the Tower of London, Dover Castle in Kent, and Clifford's Tower in York. Norman Romanesque cathedrals were also built (for example, at York, Durham, Canterbury, Winchester, and Lincoln), with the white stone of Caen being an especially popular choice of material, one used, too, for the Tower of London.
Domesday, Feudalism & the Peasantry
There was no particular feeling of outraged nationalism following the conquest - the concept is a much more modern construct - and so peasants would not have felt their country had somehow been lost. Neither was there any specific hatred of the Normans as the English grouped all William's allies together as a single group - Bretons and Angevins were simply 'French speakers'. In the Middle Ages, visitors to an area that came from a distant town were regarded just as 'foreign' as someone from another country. Peasants really only felt loyalty to their own local communities and lords, although this may well have resulted in some ill-feeling when a lord was replaced by a Norman noble in cases where the Anglo-Saxon lord was held with any affection. The Normans would certainly have seemed like outsiders, a feeling only strengthened by language barriers, and the king, at least initially, did ensure loyalties by imposing harsh penalties on any dissent. For example, if a Norman were found murdered, then the nearest village was burnt - a policy hardly likely to win over any affection.
At the same time, there were new laws to ensure the Normans did not abuse their power, such as the crime of murder being applied to the unjustified killing of non-rebels or for personal gain and the introduction of trial by battle to defend one's innocence. In essence, citizens were required to swear an oath of loyalty to the king, in return for which they received legal protection if they were wronged. Some of the new laws would be long-lasting, such as the favouring of the firstborn in inheritance claims, while others were deeply unpopular, such as William's withdrawal of hunting rights in certain areas, notably the New Forest. Poachers were severely dealt with and could expect to be blinded or mutilated if caught. Another important change due to new laws regarded slavery, which was essentially eliminated from England by 1130 CE, just as it had been in Normandy.
Perhaps one area where hatred of all-things Norman was prevalent was the north of England. Following the rebellions against William's rule there in 1067 and 1068 CE, the king spent the winter of 1069-70 CE 'harrying' the entire northern part of his kingdom from the west to east coast. This involved hunting down rebels, murders and mutilations amongst the peasantry, and the burning of crops, livestock, and farming equipment, which resulted in a devastating famine. As Domesday Book (see below) revealed, much of the northern lands were devastated and catalogued as worthless. It would take over a century for the region to recover.
Domesday Book was compiled on William's orders in 1086-7 CE, probably to find out for tax purposes exactly who owned what in England following the deaths of many Anglo-Saxon nobles over the course of the conquest and the giving out of new estates and titles by the king to his loyal followers. Indeed, Domesday Book reveals William's total reshaping of land ownership and power in England. It was the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken in any medieval kingdom and is full of juicy statistics for modern historians to study such as the revelation that 90% of the population lived in the countryside and 75% of the people were serfs (unfree labourers).
A consequence of William's land policies was the development (but not the origin of) feudalism. That is, William, who considered all the land in England his own personal property, gave out parcels of land (fiefs) to nobles (vassals) who in return had to give military service when required, such as during a war or to garrison castles and forts. Not necessarily giving service in person, a noble had to provide a number of knights depending on the size of the fief. The noble could have free peasants or serfs (aka villeins) work his lands, and he kept the proceeds of that labour. If a noble had a large estate, he could rent it out to a lesser noble who, in turn, had peasants work that land for him, thus creating an elaborate hierarchy of land ownership. Under the Normans, ecclesiastical landowners such as monasteries were similarly required to provide knights for military service.
The manorial system developed from its early Anglo-Saxon form under the Normans. Manorialism derives its name from the 'manor', the smallest piece of land which could support a single family. For administrative purposes, estates were divided into these units. Naturally, a powerful lord could own many hundreds of manors, either in the same place or in different locations. Each manor had free and/or unfree labour which worked on the land. The profits of that labour went to the landowner while the labourers sustained themselves by also working a small plot of land loaned to them by their lord. Following William's policy of carving up estates and redistributing them, manorialism became much more widespread in England.
Trade & International Relations
The histories and even the cultures to some extent of France and England became much more intertwined in the decades after the conquest. Even as the King of England, William remained the Duke of Normandy (and so he had to pay homage to the King of France). The royal houses became even more interconnected following the reigns of William's two sons (William II Rufus, r. 1087-1100 CE and Henry I, r. 1100-1135 CE) and the civil wars which broke out between rivals for the English throne from 1135 CE onwards. A side effect of this close contact was the significant modification over time of the Anglo-Saxon Germanic language, both the syntax and vocabulary being influenced by the French language. That this change occurred even amongst the illiterate peasantry is testimony to the fact that French was commonly heard spoken everywhere.
One specific area of international relations which greatly increased was trade. Before the conquest, England had had limited trade with Scandinavia, but as this region went into decline from the 11th century CE and because the Normans had extensive contacts across Europe (England was not the only place they conquered), then trade with the Continent greatly increased. Traders also relocated from the Continent, notably to places where they were given favourable customs arrangements. Thus places like London, Southampton, and Nottingham attracted many French merchant settlers, and this movement included other groups such as Jewish merchants from Rouen. Goods thus came and went across the English Channel, for example, huge quantities of English wool were exported to Flanders and wine was imported from France (although there is evidence it was not the best wine that country had to offer).
The Norman conquest of England, then, resulted in long-lasting and significant changes for both the conquered and the conquerors. The fate of the two countries of England and France would become inexorably linked over the following centuries as England became a much stronger and united kingdom within the British Isles and an influential participant in European politics and warfare thereafter. Even today, names of people and places throughout England remind of the lasting influence the Normans brought with them from 1066 CE onwards.
Tom Hanks Says Schools Should 'Stop the Battle to Whitewash Curriculum'
In a New York Times op-ed published Friday, Hanks argued that teaching history that discomforts students creates a better American public.
"Should our schools now teach the truth about Tulsa? Yes, and they should also stop the battle to whitewash curriculums to avoid discomfort for students. America's history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people," Hanks wrote.
Hanks described dedicating four years of his education studying American history but never being taught about the massacre that marked its 100-year anniversary this week.
"Since then, I've read history for pleasure and watched documentary films as a first option. Many of those works and those textbooks were about white people and white history," he wrote.
"But for all my study, I never read a page of any school history book about how, in 1921, a mob of white people burned down a place called Black Wall Street, killed as many as 300 of its Black citizens and displaced thousands of Black Americans who lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma," Hanks added.
During the massacre, which started on the evening of May 31 and continued into the afternoon of June 1, 1921, a mob of white residents in Tulsa gunned down several hundred Black residents and burned their affluent neighborhood to the ground.
Hanks said he didn't learn of the massacre until last year when he came across an article in the New York Times.
"The truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence by some white Americans against Black Americans, was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears," Hanks wrote. "So, our predominantly white schools didn't teach it, our mass appeal works of historical fiction didn't enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn't take on the subject in films and shows until recently."
The Academy Award-winning actor questioned how different people's perspectives would be had they been taught about the Tulsa Race Massacre in elementary school and how it has impacted the world today.
"Today, I find the omission tragic, an opportunity missed, a teachable moment squandered," Hanks said.
The massacre's centennial anniversary has put a national spotlight on the historic event and raised concerns as to why the solemn day has not been omitted from history classes and textbooks across the country.
President Joe Biden became the first sitting president to travel to Tulsa to commemorate the tragedy on Monday, saying he hoped the visit would draw attention to a chapter of American history that has been largely ignored.
"You can't just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything," Biden said in Tulsa. "That's what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides, and we are a great nation. The only way to build common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild. I come here to help fill the silence because in silence wounds deepen."
Survivors of the massacre testified in front of Congress two weeks ago, offering firsthand accounts about how that day changed the trajectory of their lives and calling for justice that never came.
"I have lived through the massacre every day," 107-year-old Viola Ford Fletcher told members of Congress. "Our country may forget this history, but I cannot."
"We aren't just black-and-white pictures on a screen," Fletcher's 100-year-old brother Hughes Van Ellis added. "We are flesh and blood. I was there when it happened. I'm still here."
Historians estimate that up to 300 people were killed, 8,000 were left homeless and more than 1,250 homes were destroyed during the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The story of rhinos and how they conquered the world
Let's go back in time 30 million years, long before modern humans appeared. Tropical forests were shrinking and grassy savannahs were spreading. These lush grasslands were home to creatures long since lost: giant rhinoceroses.
Standing 5m tall at the shoulder and weighing up to 20 tonnes, the colossal Paraceratherium was the largest land mammal to ever live. Its skull alone was over 1m long and it had a much longer neck than today's rhinos, which helped the animal browse for leaves on tall trees. This monstrous creature roamed the open plains stretching from eastern Europe to what is now China.
Paraceratherium, with its enormous body and vast range, illustrates how rhinos lived when they were at their peak. It is the high point of a rarely-told story that spans 50 million years. During that time rhinos have migrated across continents, faced prehistoric hyenas and giant crocodiles, and endured the frigid wilderness of the ice age. But their story begins soon after the extinction of the dinosaurs, in roasting tropical heat.
Imagine a time when most of what is now Asia, Europe and North America was covered in dense forest. It was a very warm period in Earth's history, known as the Eocene. This biological epoch began 55 million years ago and ended 34 million years ago. It was then that rhinos first emerged.
Rhinos belong to a group of animals called perissodactyls. These animals all have hooves, and crucially, they have an odd number of toes on their rear feet.
Nobody is quite sure how perissodactyls evolved. A study published in 2014 suggested that they first appeared 55 million years ago in India, which at the time was not attached to Asia.
What is clear is that the early perissodactyls were the ancestors of rhinos, as well as all modern horses, zebras and tapirs.
The early rhinos that lived in the Eocene were quite different to today's.
The Asian hyracodonts would eventually evolve into giants
For example, amynodonts did not have horns and looked rather like modern tapirs &ndash which look like pigs with unusually long limbs. One group of these, the metamynodons, were rather like modern hippos and spent a lot of time in water.
Then there were the hyracodonts of North America, Europe and Asia. To our eyes they would barely look like rhinos at all, and instead seem to be bulky little horses.
The Asian hyracodonts would eventually evolve into giants such as Paraceratherium. That evolutionary growth spurt took place in the next period of Earth's history, the Oligocene.
It's not clear why Oligocene rhinos got so big. But it may have been a way of coping with the more open habitat, says Jerry Hooker of the Natural History Museum in London, UK.
Despite being so large, Paraceratherium wasn't safe from predators
As grasslands replaced forests, the rhinos had to travel further to find trees to feed on. They also had to make the most of food at the tops of trees, as there wasn't always much vegetation lower down.
"Giraffes today are pretty successful in Africa, as are elephants which also can high-browse because of their size and their trunks," says Hooker. "They often travel huge distances to find food."
For all its size, Paraceratherium had relatively slender legs and wasn't as bulky as a modern rhino. It also didn't have a horn, along with many Oligocene rhinos.
What's more, despite being so large, Paraceratherium wasn't safe from predators. It and other huge prehistoric rhinos were hunted by gigantic crocodiles.
Palaeontologist Pierre-Olivier Antoine of the University of Montpellier in France has found evidence of 10m-long crocodiles eating large rhinos. "In Pakistan we found many, many specimens," he says. "Bones of huge rhinos with the conical tooth prints of giant crocs."
There are no giant rhinos today
One such species, Crocodylus bugtiensis, is known from fossils found in Pakistan, where Paraceratherium once lived.
It's not clear that the crocodiles would have been able to regularly prey on healthy adult rhinos. But they might have snatched young or ill prey when they ventured into water.
Antoine has also found tooth prints, which he thinks were made by a Hemicyon: an extinct predator that looked like a cross between a dog and a bear. Clearly, even giant rhinos had plenty of predators to be wary of.
There are no giant rhinos today. It's not clear why they disappeared, but they may have been out-competed by a newly-evolved rival: elephants.
Elephants were "totally bad news," says Mikael Fortelius of the University of Helsinki in Finland. "They were just so much better at being super-large herbivores on land. They were more versatile and adaptable. The trunk is just such a marvel."
This enclosed habitat might not have suited the large rhinos
If elephants thrived and hampered rhinos' access to key food sources, that may well have spelled trouble for the giants, which needed to eat hundreds of kilos of vegetation every day.
Hooker points out that the giants also never made it to Europe, which was more densely forested than the other continents. This enclosed habitat might not have suited the large rhinos, which were used to more open spaces, preventing them from expanding westwards.
Still, even though they had shrunk a bit the rhinos were still very numerous.
From 23 million years ago, Earth entered a new period called the Miocene. The planet cooled by as much as 4 °C.
Rocks laid down in the Miocene contain an astounding range of rhino fossils, says Antoine.
An excavation in Montréal-du-Gers in south-west France uncovered five rhino species all fossilised together "in one pond", he says. In total, the remains of over 100 individuals were recovered. Similarly, in the Bugti Hills of Pakistan he once found up to 9 species.
Clearly, the planet was practically teeming with rhinos, and they came in all shapes and sizes.
For example, Chilotherium was a truly hippo-like rhino. It had little tusks sticking out from its lower jaw and an outsized head. With a small skeleton to support this heavy head, it seems likely that Chilotherium buoyed itself in water.
"I think there's decent evidence they are doing what hippos do elsewhere," says Fortelius. "They live in water, eating grass and other vegetation on the river banks."
There were also rhinos called Diceratherium that had two horns, but not one in front of the other. Instead, they were beside each other on the rhino's nose.
Furthermore, one of the most iconic of all rhinos has its roots in the Miocene. A group called Elasmotheriines evolved single horns on their heads, and as global temperatures continued to cool over the next few million years, they evolved into Elasmotherium.
It was 3m tall, which is impressive but much smaller than Paraceratherium. However, its most striking feature was its huge horn.
Rhino horns don't fossilise, though they are sometimes preserved in ice. No Elasmotherium horns have ever been discovered, but it is apparent from a base-like recess on the skull that a horn was once attached to it.
Earth finally plunged into a full-scale ice age
It's not clear exactly how large the horn was, and palaeontologists generally detest speculating about its exact length. Most, though, think it was enormous. It may have been more than 1m long.
Elasmotherium appeared on the scene around 2.5 million years ago, at the beginning of the Pleistocene. After millions of years of cooling, Earth finally plunged into a full-scale ice age, and sheets of ice spread from the Arctic to cover much of Europe and North America.
Faced with a frigid climate, rhinos evolved thick woolly coats. It's not clear if Elasmotherium was woolly, but plenty of other species were. The woolly rhinos may have had their origin in Tibet, before the ice age began.
The period between the Miocene and the Pleistocene is known as the Pliocene. It lasted from 5 million years ago until 2.5 million years ago.
At this time most of the world &ndash with the exception of Antarctica &ndash was relatively ice-free. But Tibet, because it is so high, was already iced up.
Woolly rhinos could not cope with deep snow
In 2011, a group of palaeontologists described the fossil of a primitive woolly rhino discovered in Tibet. That suggests woolly rhinos first evolved there, and then dispersed to the west when the Pleistocene ice ages began.
Unlike many prehistoric rhinos, woolly rhinos would be quite recognisable to us. They had a large front horn and second, smaller horn, plus stocky legs and a bulky body.
However, despite their thick coats, woolly rhinos could not have penetrated that deeply into the ice-covered regions. They could not cope with deep snow.
We often picture "woolly" ice age animals surrounded by snow and ice. But they would not have been able to exist in such places, says Danielle Schreve of Royal Holloway, University of London in the UK.
The woolly rhinos had a harder time than their Eocene and Oligocene ancestors
"It's one of the things that may have contributed to their extinction," says Schreve. "Because they've got such a stocky and compact body with relatively short legs, they're not good at moving through deep snow, so they need relatively snow-free areas."
Rather than plodding forlornly across ice sheets, then, woolly rhinos would have lived in an environment known as "mammoth steppe". The climate was cold and dry, but there were plenty of herbs and shrubs for them to eat.
All in all, the woolly rhinos had a harder time than their Eocene and Oligocene ancestors. According to Schreve, the Pleistocene is when life became truly difficult for many rhino species.
For one thing, towards the end of the Pleistocene the climate began fluctuating wildly. Temperatures rose and fell as much as 10 °C within a generation. For slow-breeding rhinos, dependent on stable food sources, these changes were disastrous.
All of the bone is scored with tooth picks, scratches and punctures
Predators were also a problem. Giant crocodiles didn't threaten European rhinos, but instead they were attacked by prehistoric hyenas.
Schreve has found evidence of hyenas eating baby rhinos. These dog-like carnivores would even have crunched the bones of their prey to get as much nutrition as possible.
"All of the bone is scored with tooth picks, scratches and punctures, so it was an important resource," says Schreve. "And yes, they seem to be taking and consuming adult rhinos as well."
If that wasn't bad enough, woolly rhinos were probably being hunted by humans as well.
Humans were probably the last straw, says Schreve. "You can probably lay some of the blame for extinction at their door, but really they're the final nail in the coffin," she says. The woolly rhinos had already "gone through millennia of rapid climate change that they were poorly suited to withstand."
Despite all this, woolly rhinos clung on until just 10,000 years ago. In February 2015, it was reported that hunters in Siberia had stumbled upon a preserved baby woolly rhino of about this age.
Unstable climates and human hunting put an end to many rhino species
Oher species were also feeling the brunt of human hunting. A site in Boxgrove in the UK has fossil evidence of early humans butchering rhinos for meat between 90,000 and 700,000 years ago. In some cases, carnivores have bitten through marks in bones already made by human tools, says Schreve. That suggests rhinos were first hunted by humans, and their carcasses then scavenged by other animals.
The combination of unstable climates and human hunting put an end to many rhino species. Until this happened, they were very common in Europe, along with other huge animals like elephants and mammoths. Such animals are now confined to Asia and Africa, if they even exist at all.
Today, all the diverse rhinos have been reduced to just five species. They have all been heavily hunted, and in recent decades poached for their horns, so none of them is in a good way.
Africa's white rhinos are divided into subspecies, northern and southern. While the southern subspecies is in fairly good shape, the northern one has been driven past the point of no return. There are only five left alive, and only one male. He is under constant armed guard to protect him from poachers, and has even had his horn removed to deter them.
The other African species, the black rhinoceros, is critically endangered. There are thought to be seven or eight subspecies, of which three are already extinct and another is nearly gone.
The smallest species is the Sumatran rhino, which unlike the other surviving species is slightly woolly. It is also critically endangered. One subspecies is represented by just three captive individuals. As well as the threat from poachers, rhinos are also hindered by their need to give birth in secluded, shrub-covered areas. Such places are becoming harder to find.
Unlike other rhinos, Javan rhinos are sparing with their horns: only males have them. They are also critically endangered, being confined to a tiny area on the western tip of Java. There may be only 40 left.
It's not all bad news, though. Indian rhinos are considered vulnerable, and while that's not ideal it is far better than critically endangered. They survive in northern India and southern Nepal. A recent count suggested that the Nepalese population had grown by 21% in four years.
At least some of the rhino species could start to recover and grow their populations
All sorts of ideas have been put forward for saving the remaining rhinos, but most experts agree that the best approach is also the hardest: nations working together to protect conservation sites and, crucially, to stop the illegal trade in rhino horns.
That means stopping the poachers who kill the rhinos, but it also means tackling a vast network of organised crime that ships the horns to China and other Asian countries, and sells them at a huge mark-up. It will also be important to end the demand: at the moment, rhino horns are status symbols in China, so people pay lots of money for them.
If this could be achieved, at least some of the rhino species could start to recover and grow their populations. It may well be too late for some of the species and subspecies, whose populations are now so small that they could never recover. But at least the black and Indian rhinos, surely, could be rescued.
Still, we are a long way from the time when many species of rhino roamed the landscapes together, some of them towering over every other land animal. Whatever happens now, the age when rhinos ruled the world is gone.
Are there any battles that have been extensively studied across the world? - History
The Top Ten Battles of All Time
By Michael Lee Lanning
Lt. Col. (Ret.) U.S. Army
Battles win wars, topple thrones, and redraw borders. Every age of human history has experienced battles that have been instrumental in molding the future. Battles influence the spread of culture, civilization, and religious dogma. They introduce weapons, tactics, and leaders who dominate future conflicts. Some battles have even been influential not for their direct results, but for the impact of their propaganda on public opinion.
The following list is not a ranking of decisive engagements, but rather a ranking of battles according to their influence on history. Each narrative details location, participants, and leaders of the battle, and also provides commentary on who won, who lost, and why. Narratives also evaluate each battle's influence on the outcome of its war and the impact on the victors and losers.
Battle # 10 Vienna
Austria-Ottoman Wars, 1529
The Ottoman Turks' unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529 marked the beginning of the long decline of their empire. It also stopped the advance of Islam into central and western Europe, and ensured that the Christian rather than the Muslim religion and culture would dominate the region.
In 1520, Suleiman II had become the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which reached from the Persian frontier to West Africa and included much of the Balkans. Suleiman had inherited the largest, best-trained army in the world, containing superior elements of infantry, cavalry, engineering, and artillery. At the heart of his army were elite legions of Janissaries, mercenary slaves taken captive as children from Christians and raised as Muslim soldiers. From his capital of Constantinople, the Turkish sultan immediately began making plans to expand his empire even farther.
Suleiman had also inherited a strong navy, which he used with his army to besiege the island fortress of Rhodes, his first conquest. Granting safe passage to the defenders in exchange for their surrender, the Sultan took control of Rhodes and much of the Mediterranean in 1522. This victory demonstrated that Suleiman would honor peace agreements. In following battles where enemies did not surrender peacefully, however, he displayed his displeasure by razing cities, massacring the adult males, and selling the women and children into slavery.
By 1528, Suleiman had neutralized Hungary and placed his own puppet on their throne. All that now stood between the Turks and Western Europe was Austria and its Spanish and French allies. Taking advantage of discord between his enemies, Suleiman made a secret alliance with King Francis I of France. Pope Clement VII in Rome, while not allying directly with the Muslim Sultan, withdrew religious and political support from the Austrians.
As a result, by the spring of 1529, King Charles and his Austrians stood alone to repel the Ottoman invaders. On April 10, Suleiman and his army of more than 120,000, accompanied by as many as 200,000 support personnel and camp followers, departed Constantinople for the Austrian capital of Vienna. Along the way, the huge army captured towns and raided the countryside for supplies and slaves.
All the while, Vienna, under the able military leadership of Count Niklas von Salm-Reifferscheidt and Wilhelm von Rogendorf, prepared for the pending battle. Their task appeared impossible. The city's walls, only five to six feet thick, were designed to repel medieval attackers rather than the advanced cast-cannon artillery of the Turks. The entire Austrian garrison numbered only about 20,000 soldiers supported by 72 cannons. The only reinforcements who arrived in the city were a detachment of 700 musket-armed infantrymen from Spain.
Despite its disadvantages, Vienna had several natural factors supporting its defense. The Danube blocked any approach from the north, and the smaller Wiener Back waterway ran along its eastern side, leaving only the south and west to be defended. The Vienna generals took full advantage of the weeks before the arrival of the Turks. They razed dwellings and other buildings outside the south and west walls to open fields of fire for their cannons and muskets. They dug trenches and placed other obstacles on avenues of approach. They brought in supplies for a long siege within the walls and evacuated many of the city's women and children, not only to reduce the need for food and supplies but also to prevent the consequences if the Turks were victorious.
One other factor greatly aided Vienna: the summer of 1529 was one of the wettest in history. The constant rains delayed the Ottoman advance and made conditions difficult for the marching army. By the time they finally reached Vienna in September, winter was approaching, and the defenders were as prepared as possible.
Upon his arrival, Suleiman asked for the city's surrender. When the Austrians refused, he began an artillery barrage against the walls with his 300 cannons and ordered his miners to dig under the walls and lay explosives to breach the defenses. The Austrians came out from behind their walls to attack the engineers and artillerymen and dig counter-trenches. Several times over the next three weeks, the invaders' artillery and mines achieved small breaches in the wall, but the Viennese soldiers quickly filled the gaps and repelled any entry into the city.
By October 12, the cold winds of winter were sweeping the city. Suleiman ordered another attack with his Janissaries in the lead. Two underground mines near the city's southern gate opened the way briefly for the mercenaries, but the staunch Viennese defenders filled the opening and killed more than 1200. Two days later, Suleiman ordered one last attack, but the Viennese held firm once again.
For the first time, Suleiman had failed. Scores of his never-before-defeated Janissaries lay dead outside the walls. The Turkish army had no choice but to burn their huge camp and withdraw back toward Constantinople, but before they departed they massacred the thousands of captives they had taken on the way to Vienna. Along their long route home, many more Turks died at the hands of raiding parties that struck their flanks.
The loss at Vienna did not greatly decrease the power of the Ottoman Empire. It did, however, stop the Muslim advance into Europe. Suleiman and his army experienced many successes after Vienna, but these victories were in the east against the Persians rather than in the west against the Europeans. The Ottoman Empire survived for centuries, but its high-water mark lay somewhere along the Vienna city wall.
Following the battle for Vienna, the countries of the west no longer viewed the Turks and the Janissaries as invincible. Now that the Austrians had kept the great menace from the east and assured the continuation of the region's culture and Christianity, the European countries could return to fighting among themselves along Catholic and Protestant lines.
If Vienna had fallen to Suleiman, his army would have continued their offensive the following spring into the German provinces. There is a strong possibility that Suleiman's Empire might have eventually reached all the way to the North Sea, the alliance with France notwithstanding. Instead, after Vienna, the Ottomans did not venture again into Europe the Empire's power and influence began its slow but steady decline.
Battle # 9 Waterloo
Napoleonic Wars, 1815
The Allied victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 brought an end to French domination of Europe and began a period of peace on the continent that lasted for nearly half a century. Waterloo forced Napoleon into exile, ended France's legacy of greatness, which it has never regained, etched its name on the list of history's best known battles, and added a phrase to the vernacular: "Waterloo" has come to mean decisive and complete defeat.
When the French Revolution erupted in 1789, twenty-year-old Napoleon left his junior officer position in the King's artillery to support the rebellion. He remained in the military after the revolution and rapidly advanced in rank to become a brigadier general six years later. Napoleon was instrumental in suppressing a Royalist uprising in 1795, for which his reward was command of the French army in Italy.
Over the next four years, Napoleon achieved victory after victory as his and France's influence spread across Europe and into North Africa. In late 1799, he returned to Paris, where he joined an uprising against the ruling Directory. After a successful coup, Napoleon became the first consul and the country's de facto leader on November 8. Napoleon backed up these aggrandizing moves with military might and political savvy. He established the Napoleonic Code, which assured individual rights of citizens and instituted a rigid conscription system to build an even larger army. In 1800, Napoleon's army invaded Austria and negotiated a peace that expanded France's border to the Rhine River. The agreement brought a brief period of peace, but Napoleon's aggressive foreign policy and his army's offensive posturing led to war between France and Britain in 1803.
Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France in 1804 and for the next eight years achieved a succession of victories, each of which created an enemy. Downplaying the loss of much of his navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon claimed that control of Europe lay on the land, not the sea. In 1812, he invaded Russia and defeated its army only to lose the campaign to the harsh winter. He lost more of his army in the extended campaign on the Spanish peninsula.
In the spring of 1813, Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Sweden allied against France while Napoleon rallied the survivors of his veteran army and added new recruits to meet the enemy coalition. Although he continued to lead his army brilliantly, the stronger coalition defeated him at Leipzig in October 1813, forcing Napoleon to withdraw to southern France. Finally, at the urging of his subordinates, Napoleon abdicated on April 1, 1814, and accepted banishment to the island of Elba near Corsica.
Napoleon did not remain in exile for long. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and sailed to France, where for the next one hundred days he struck a trail of terror across Europe and threatened once again to dominate the continent. King Louis XVIII, whom the coalition had returned to his throne, dispatched the French army to arrest the former emperor, but they instead rallied to his side. Louis fled the country, and Napoleon again claimed the French crown on March 20. Veterans as well as new recruits swelled Napoleon's army to more than 250,000.
News of Napoleon's return reached the coalition leaders while they were meeting in Vienna. On March 17, Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia agreed to each provide 150,000 soldiers to assemble in Belgium for an invasion of France to begin on July 1. Other nations promised smaller support units.
Napoleon learned of the coalition plan and marched north to destroy their army before it could organize. He sent part of his army, commanded by Emmanuel de Grouchy, to attack the Prussians under Gebhard von Bluecher in order to prevent their joining the Anglo-Dutch force near Brussels. Napoleon led the rest of the army against the British and Dutch.
The French army won several minor battles as they advanced into Belgium. Although the coalition commander, the Duke of Wellington, had little time to prepare, he began assembling his army twelve miles south of Brussels, just outside the village of Waterloo. There he arrayed his defenses on high ground at Mount St. Jean to meet the northward-marching French.
By the morning of June 18, Napoleon had arrived at Mount St. Jean and deployed his army on high ground only 1300 yards from the enemy defenses. Napoleon's army of 70,000, including 15,000 cavalrymen and 246 artillery pieces, faced Wellington's allied force of about 65,000, including 12,000 cavalry and 156 guns, in a three-mile line. Both commanders sent word to their other armies to rejoin the main force.
A hard rain drenched the battlefield, causing Napoleon to delay his attack as late as possible on June 18 so that the boggy ground could dry and not impair his cavalry and artillery. After ordering a sustained artillery bombardment, Napoleon ordered a diversionary attack against the allied right flank in the west in hopes of getting Wellington to commit his reserve. The British defenders on the west flank, including the Scots and Coldstream Guards, remained on the reverse slope of the ridge during the artillery bombardment and then came forward when the French advanced.
The attack against the Allied right flank failed to force Wellington to commit his reserve, but Napoleon pressed on with his main assault against the enemy center. As the attack progressed, Napoleon spotted the rising dust of Bluecher's approaching army, which had eluded Grouchy's, closing on the battlefield. Napoleon, disdainful of British fighting ability, and overly confident of his own leadership and the abilities of his men, continued the attack in the belief that he could defeat Wellington before the Prussians joined the fight or that Grouchy would arrive in time to support the assault.
For three hours, the French and the British fought, often with bayonets. The French finally secured a commanding position at the center at La Haye Sainte, but the Allied lines held. Late in the afternoon, Bluecher arrived and seized the village of Plancenoit in Napoleon's rear, which forced the French to fall back. After a brutal battle decided by bayonets, the French forced the Prussians to withdraw. Napoleon then turned back against Wellington.
Napoleon ordered his most experienced battalions forward from their reserve position for another assault against the Allied center. The attack almost breached the Allied defenses before Wellington committed his own reserves. When the survivors of Napoleon's best battalions began to withdraw from the fight, other units joined the retreat. The Prussians, who had regrouped, attacked the French flank, sending the remainder running in disorder to the south. Napoleon's last few reserve battalions led him to the rear where he attempted, without success, to regroup his scattered army. Although defeated, the French refused to give up. When the Allies asked a French Old Guard officer to surrender, he replied, "The Guard dies, it never surrenders."
More than 26,000 French were killed or wounded and another 9,000 captured at Waterloo. Allied casualties totaled 22,000. At the end of the one-day fight, more than 45,000 men lay dead or wounded within the three-square-mile battlefield. Thousands more on both sides were killed or wounded in the campaign that led to Waterloo.
Napoleon agreed once again to abdicate on June 22, and two weeks later, the Allies returned Louis to power. Napoleon and his hundred days were over. This time, the British took no chances they imprisoned Napoleon on remote St. Helena Island in the south Atlantic, where he died in 1821.
Even if Napoleon had somehow won the battle, he had too few friends and too many enemies to continue. He and his country were doomed before his return from Elba.
France never recovered its greatness after Waterloo. It returned territory and resumed its pre-Napoleon borders. With Napoleon banished, Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria maintained a balance of power that brought European peace for more than four decades--an unusually long period in a region where war was much more common than peace.
While a period of peace in itself is enough to distinguish Waterloo as an influential battle, it and Napoleon had a much more important effect on world events. While the Allies fought to replace the king of France on his throne, their leaders and individual soldiers saw and appreciated the accomplishments of a country that respected individual rights and liberties. After Waterloo, as the common people demanded a say in their way of life and government, constitutional monarchies took the place of absolute rule. Although there was post-war economic depression in some areas, the general plight of the common French citizen improved in the postwar years.
Through the passage of time, the name Waterloo has become synonymous with total defeat. Napoleon and France did indeed meet their Waterloo in southern Belgium in 1815, but while the battle brought an end to one age, it introduced another. Although the French lost, the spirit of their revolution. and individual rights spread across Europe. No kingdom or country would again be the same.
Battle # 8 Huai-Hai
Chinese Civil War, 1948
The Battle of Huai-Hai was the final major fight between the armies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party of Kuomintang (KMT) in their long struggle over control of the world's most populous country. At the end of the battle, more than half a million KMT soldiers were dead, captured, or converted to the other side, placing China in the hands of the Communists who continue to govern today.
Struggles for the control of China and its provinces date back to the beginnings of recorded history. While some dynasties endured for many years and others for only short periods of time, the Chinese had fought among themselves and against foreign invaders throughout history only to find themselves divided once again at the start of the twentieth century. Political ideologies centered in Peking and Canton. Divisions in the country widened when the Japanese invaded in 1914. During World War I, the Chinese faced threats from within, from the Japanese, and from the newly formed Soviet Union.
When World War I finally ended, the Chinese continued their internal struggles with local dictators fighting to control small regions. In 1923, the country's two major parties, the CCP under Mao Zedong and the KMT controlled by Chiang Kai-shek, joined in an alliance to govern the country. The two sides had little in common, and in less than five years, the shaky alliance had come apart when their leaders' views on support from the Soviet Union clashed. Mao encouraged Soviet support while Chiang opposed it.
By 1927, the two parties were directly competing for control of China and its people. Mao focused on the rural areas while Chiang looked to the urban and industrial areas for his power. From 1927 to 1937, the two sides engaged in a civil war in which Chiang gained the upper hand through a series of successful offensives. Chiang almost destroyed the CCP army in 1934, but Mao and 100,000 men escaped before he could do so. For the next year, the Communists retreated from the Nationalists across 6,000 miles of China to Yenan, a retreat that became known as the Long March. Only 20,000 survived.
In 1937, Chiang and Mao once again put their differences aside to unite against another invasion by Japan. Mao and his army fought in the rural northern provinces, primarily employing guerrilla warfare. Mao also used this opportunity to solidify his support from the local peasants while stockpiling weapons provided by the Allies and captured from the Japanese. His army actually gained strength during the fighting. Meanwhile Chiang faced stronger Japanese opposition in the south, which weakened his army.
Despite efforts by the United States to mediate an agreement, the Communists and Nationalists resumed their armed conflict soon after the conclusion of World War II. In contrast to their weaker position prior to the war, the Communists now were stronger than the Nationalists. On October 10, 1947, Mao called for the overthrow of the Nationalist administration.
Mao, a student of Washington, Napoleon, and Sun Tzu, began to push his army south into the Nationalist zone. Whereas the Nationalists often looted the cities they occupied and punished their residents, the Communists took little retribution, especially against towns that did not resist. Now the Communists steadily achieved victories over the Nationalists. During the summer of 1948, the Communists experienced a series of victories that pushed the major portion of the Nationalist army into a cross-shaped area extending from Nanking north to Tsinan and from Kaifeng east through Soochow to the sea.
Mao decided that it was time to achieve a total victory. On October 11, 1948, he issued orders for a methodical campaign to surround, separate, and destroy the half-million-man Nationalist army between the Huai River and the Lung Hai Railway--the locations that gave the resulting battle its name. Mao divided his battle plan into three phases, all of which his army accomplished more smoothly and efficiently than anticipated.
The Communists divided the Nationalist-held territory into three areas. Then beginning in November, they attacked each in turn. Early in the campaign, many Nationalists, seeing no hope for their own survival, much less a Nationalist victory, defected to the Communists. Chiang, who also was encountering internal divisions within his party, attempted to reinforce each battle area, but poor leadership by the Nationalist generals, combined with Communist guerrilla activities, made his efforts ineffective. Chiang even had air superiority during the entire battle but was unable to coordinate ground and air actions to secure any advantage.
Over a period of two months, the Communists destroyed each of the three Nationalist forces. Support for Chiang from inside and outside China dwindled with each successive Communist victory. The United States, which had been a primary supporter, providing arms and supplies to the Nationalists, suspended all aid on December 20, 1948. U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall stated, "The present regime has lost the confidence of the people, reflected in the refusal of soldiers to fight and the refusal of the people to cooperate in economic reforms."
Within weeks of the U.S. announcement, the Communists overran the last Nationalist position and ended the Battle of Huai-Hai. Of the six highest-ranking Nationalist generals in the battle, two were killed in the fighting and two captured. The remaining two were among the few who escaped. By January 10, 1949, the half-million members of the Nationalist army had disappeared.
Within weeks, Tientsin and Peking fell to the Communists. On January 20, Chiang resigned his leadership of the Nationalists. The remaining Nationalist army and government continued to retreat until they finally withdrew to the island of Formosa. On Formosa, renamed Taiwan, Chiang regained power and developed the island into an Asian economic power. Mainland China, however, remained under the control of Mao and his Communists, who are still in power today.
The Communist takeover of China achieved by the Battle of Huai-Hai greatly influenced not only that country but the entire world. Over the next two decades, Mao focused almost exclusively on wielding complete control over his country. He ruthlessly put down any opposition and either executed or starved to death more than 20 million of his countrymen in order to bring to China the "joys" and "advantages" of Communism. Fortunately for the rest of the world, Mao remained focused on his own country. He disagreed with the Soviets on political and philosophical aspects of Communism, and the two nations viewed each other as possible opponents rather than allies.
China's internal struggles and its conflicts with its neighbors have restricted its active world influence. Even though it remains today the largest and strongest Communist nation and the only potential major Communist threat to the West, China remains a passive player, more interested in internal and neighboring disputes than in international matters.
Had the Nationalists been victorious at Huai-Hai, China would have played a different role in subsequent world events. There would have been no Communist China to support North Korea's invasion of the South, or North Vietnam's efforts to take over South Vietnam. Had Chiang, with his outward views and Western ties, been the victor, China might have taken a much more assertive role in world events. Instead, the Battle of Huai-Hai would keep China locked in its internal world rather than opening it to the external.
Battle # 7 Atomic Bombing of Japan
World War II, 1945
The United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 to hasten the end of World War II in the Pacific. Although it would be the first, and to date the only, actual use of such weapons of "mass destruction," the mushroom clouds have hung over every military and political policy since.
Less than five months after the sneak attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbor, the Americans launched a small carrier-based bomber raid against Tokyo. While the attack was good for the American morale, it accomplished little other than to demonstrate to the Japanese that their shores were not invulnerable. Later in the war, U.S. bombers were able to attack the Japanese home islands from bases in China, but it was not until late 1944 that the United States could mount a sustained bombing campaign.
Because of the distance to Japan, American bombers could not reach targets and safety return to friendly bases in the Pacific until the island-hopping campaign had captured the Northern Mariana Islands. From bases on the Mariana Islands, long-range B-29 Superfortresses conducted high altitude bombing runs on November 24, 1944. On March 9, 1945, an armada of 234 B-29s descended to less than 7,000 feet and dropped 1,667 tons of incendiaries on Tokyo. By the time the fire storm finally abated, a sixteen-square-mile corridor that had contained a quarter million homes was in ashes, and more than 80,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, lay dead. Only the Allied fire bombing of Dresden, Germany, the previous month, which killed 135,000, exceed the destruction of the Tokyo raid.
Both Tokyo and Dresden were primarily civilian rather than military targets. Prior to World War II, international law regarded the bombing of civilians as illegal and barbaric. After several years of warfare, however, neither the Allies nor the Axis distinguished between military and civilian air targets. Interestingly, while a pilot could drop tons of explosives and firebombs on civilian cities, an infantryman often faced a court-martial for even minor mistreatment of noncombatants.
Despite the air raids and their shrinking territory outside their home islands, the Japanese fought on. Their warrior code did not allow for surrender, and soldiers and civilians alike often chose suicide rather than giving up. By July 1945, the Americans were launching more than 1200 bombing sorties a week against Japan. The bombing had killed more than a quarter million and left more than nine million homeless. Still, the Japanese gave no indication of surrender as the Americans prepared to invade the home islands.
While the air attacks and plans for a land invasion continued in the Pacific, a top-secret project back in the United States was coming to fruition. On July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Engineer District successfully carried out history's first atomic explosion. When President Harry Truman learned of the successful experiment, he remarked in his diary, "It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."
Truman realized that the "most terrible thing" could shorten the war and prevent as many as a million Allied casualties, as well as untold Japanese deaths, by preventing a ground invasion of Japan. On July 27, the United States issued an ultimatum: surrender or the U.S. would drop a "super weapon." Japan refused.
In the early morning hours of August 6,1945, a B-29 named the Enola Gay piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets lifted off from Tinian Island in the Marianas. Aboard was a single atomic bomb weighing 8,000 pounds and containing the destructive power of 12.5 kilotons of TNT. Tibbets headed his plane toward Hiroshima, selected as the primary target because of its military bases and industrial areas. It also had not yet been bombed to any extent, so it would provide an excellent evaluation of the bomb's destructive power.
At 8:15 A.M ., the Enola Gay dropped the device called "Little Boy." A short time later, Tibbets noted, "A bright light filled the plane. We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud . boiling up, mushrooming." The immediate impact of Little Boy killed at least 70,000 Hiroshima residents. Some estimates claim three times that number but exact figures are impossible to calculate because the blast destroyed all of the city's records.
Truman again demanded that Japan surrender. After three days and no response, a B-29 took off from Tinian with an even larger atomic bomb aboard. When the crew found their primary target of Kokura obscured by clouds, they turned toward their secondary, Nagasaki. At 11:02 A.M . on August 9, 1945, they dropped the atomic device known as "Fat Man" that destroyed most of the city and killed more than 60,000 of its inhabitants.
Conventional bombing raids were also conducted against other Japanese cities on August 9, and five days later, 800 B-29s raided across the country. On August 15 (Tokyo time), the Japanese finally accepted unconditional surrender. World War II was over.
Much debate has occurred since the atomic bombings. While some evidence indicates that the Japanese were considering surrender, far more information indicates otherwise. Apparently the Japanese were planning to train civilians to use rifles and spears to join the military in resisting a land invasion. Protesters of the Atomic bombings ignore the conventional incendiaries dropped on Tokyo and Dresden that claimed more casualties. Some historians even note that the losses at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far fewer than the anticipated Japanese casualties from an invasion and continued conventional bombing.
Whatever the debate, there can be no doubt that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan shortened the war, The strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only air battles that directly affected the outcome of a conflict. Air warfare, both before and since, has merely supplemented ground fighting. As confirmed by the recent Allied bombing of Iraq in Desert Storm and in Bosnia, air attacks can harass and make life miserable for civilian populations, but battles and wars continue to be decided by ground forces.
In addition to hastening the end of the war with Japan, the development and use of the atomic bomb provided the United States with unmatched military superiority--at least for a brief time, until the Soviet Union exploded their own atomic device. The two superpowers then began competitive advancements in nuclear weaponry that brought the world to the edge of destruction. Only tentative treaties and the threat of mutual total destruction kept nuclear arms harnessed, producing the Cold War period in which the U.S. And the USSR worked out their differences through conventional means.
Battle # 6 Cajamarca
Spanish Conquest of Peru, 1532
Francisco Pizarro conquered the largest amount of territory ever taken in a single battle when he defeated the Incan Empire at Cajamarca in 1532. Pizarro's victory opened the way for Spain to claim most of South America and its tremendous riches, as well as imprint the continent with its language, culture, and religion.
Christopher Columbus's voyages to the New World offered a preview of the vast wealth and resources to be found in the Americas, and Hernan Cortes's victory over the Aztecs had proven that great riches were there for the taking. It is not surprising that other Spanish explorers flocked to the area--some to advance the cause of their country, most to gain their own personal fortunes.
Francisco Pizarro was one of the latter. The illegitimate son of a professional soldier, Pizarro joined the Spanish army as a teenager and then sailed for Hispaniola, from where he participated in Vasco de Balboa's expedition that crossed Panama and "discovered" the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Along the way, he heard stories of the great wealth belonging to native tribes to the south.
After learning of Cortes's success in Mexico, Pizarro received permission to lead expeditions down the Pacific Coast of what is now Colombia, first in 1524-25 and then again in 1526-28. The second expedition experienced such hardships that his men wanted to return home. According to legend, Pizarro drew a line in the sand with his sword and invited anyone who desired "wealth and glory" to step across and continue with him in his quest.
Thirteen men crossed the line and endured a difficult journey into what is now Peru, where they made contact with the Incas. After peaceful negotiations with the Incan leaders, the Spaniards returned to Panama and sailed to Spain with a small amount of gold and even a few llamas. Emperor Charles V was so impressed that he promoted Pizarro to captain general, appointed him the governor of all lands six hundred miles south of Panama, and financed an expedition to return to the land of the Incas.
Pizarro set sail for South America in January 1531 with 265 soldiers and 65 horses. Most of the soldiers carried spears or swords. At least three had primitive muskets called arquebuses, and twenty more carried crossbows. Among the members of the expedition were four of Pizarro's brothers and all of the original thirteen adventurers who had crossed their commander's sword line to pursue "wealth and glory."
Between wealth and glory stood an army of 30,000 Incas representing a century-old empire that extended 2,700 miles from modern Ecuador to Santiago, Chile. The Incas had assembled their empire by expanding outward from their home territory in the Cuzco Valley. They had forced defeated tribes to assimilate Incan traditions, speak their language, and provide soldiers for their army. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the Incas had built more than 10,000 miles of roads, complete with suspension bridges, to develop trade throughout the empire. They also had become master, stonemasons with finely crafted temples and homes.
About the time Pizarro landed on the Pacific Coast, the Incan leader, considered a deity, died, leaving his sons to fight over leadership. One of these sons, Atahualpa, killed most of his siblings and assumed the throne shortly before he learned that the white men had returned to his Incan lands.
Pizarro and his "army" reached the southern edge of the Andes in present day Peru in June 1532. Undaunted by the report that the Incan army numbered 30,000, Pizarro pushed inland and crossed the mountains, no small feat itself. Upon arrival at the village of Cajamarca on a plateau on the eastern slope of the Andes, the Spanish officer invited the Incan king to a meeting. Atahualpa, believing himself a deity and unimpressed with the Spanish force, arrived with a defensive force of only three or four thousand.
Despite the odds, Pizarro decided to act rather than talk. With his arquebuses and cavalry in the lead, he attacked on November 16, 1532. Surprised by the assault and awed by the firearms and horses, the Incan army disintegrated, leaving Atahualpa a prisoner. The only Spanish casualty was Pizarro, who sustained a slight wound while personally capturing the Incan leader.
Pizarro demanded a ransom of gold from the Incas for their king, the amount of which legend says would fill a room to as high as a man could reach--more than 2,500 cubic feet. Another two rooms were to be filled with silver. Pizarro and his men had their wealth assured but not their safety, as they remained an extremely small group of men surrounded by a huge army. To enhance his odds, the Spanish leader pitted Inca against Inca until most of the viable leaders had killed each other. Pizarro then marched into the former Incan capital at Cuzco and placed his handpicked king on the throne. Atahualpa, no longer needed, was sentenced to be burned at the stake as a heathen, but was strangled instead after he professed to accept Spanish Christianity.
Pizarro returned to the coast and established the port city of Lima, where additional Spanish soldiers and civilian leaders arrived to govern and exploit the region's riches. Some minor Incan uprisings occurred in 1536, but native warriors were no match for the Spaniards. Pizarro lived in splendor until he was assassinated in 1541 by a follower who believed he was not receiving his fair share of the booty.
In a single battle, with only himself wounded, Pizarro conquered more than half of South America and its population of more than six million people. The jungle reclaimed the Inca palaces and roads as their wealth departed in Spanish ships. The Incan culture and religion ceased to exist. For the next three centuries, Spain ruled most of the north and Pacific coast of South America. Its language, culture, and religion still dominate there today.
Battle # 5 Antietam
American Civil War, 1862
The Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history, stopped the first Confederate invasion of the North. It also ensured that European countries would not recognize the Confederacy or provide them with much-needed war supplies. While the later battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg would seal the fate of the rebel states, the defeat of the rebellion began along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862.
From the day the American colonies gained their independence at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, a conflict between the United States North and South seemed inevitable. Divided by geographical and political differences, and split over slavery and state's rights issues, the North and South had experienced mounting tensions during the first half of the nineteenth century. Finally, the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860 provided the spark that formally divided the country. Although Lincoln had made no campaign promises to outlaw slavery, many in the South viewed him as an abolitionist who would end the institution on which much of the region's agriculture and industry depended. In December 1860, South Carolina, acting on what they thought was a "state's right" under the U.S. Constitution, seceded from the Union. Three months later, seven other southern states joined South Carolina to form the Confederate States of America.
Few believed that the action would lead to war. Southerners claimed it was their right to form their own country while Northerners thought that a blockade of the Confederacy, supported by diplomacy, would peacefully return the rebel states to the fold. However, chances for a peaceful settlement ended with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 12-14, 1861. Four more states joined the Confederacy a few days later.
Both sides quickly mobilized and aggressive Confederate commanders achieved success against the more reluctant and cautious Union leaders. While warfare on land favored the Confederates, they lacked a navy, which allowed the U.S. Navy to blockade its shores. This prevented the South from exporting their primary cash crop of cotton, as well as importing much-needed arms, ammunition, and other military supplies that the meager Southern industrial complex could not provide.
In May 1862, General Robert E. Lee took command of what he renamed as the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee soon became one the most beloved commanders in history. Yet, while his men adored him, his critics noted his inability to control his subordinate leaders.
Despite his shortcomings, Lee outmaneuvered and out-generaled his opponents in his initial battles. He turned back the Union march on Richmond and then moved north to win the Second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia, on August 30, 1862. Both Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis realized, however, that the South could not win a prolonged war against the more populous and industrialized North. To endure and succeed, the South would need war supplies and naval support from Britain, France, and possibly even Russia. While these countries were sympathetic with the Southern cause, they were not going to risk bad relations or even war with the United States unless they were convinced the rebellion would succeed.
Following their victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Lee and Davis devised a plan that would meet their immediate needs for supplies as well as their long-range goal of European recognition. They would take the war into the North. On September 6, the Army of Northern Virginia crossed into Maryland with the intention of raiding and gathering supplies in southern Pennsylvania.
Union General George B. McClellan paralleled Lee, keeping his army between the invading rebels and Washington, D.C., where Lincoln feared they would attack. On September 9, 1862, Lee issued Order Number 191, calling for half of his force to move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to control the region's rail center, while the other half marched to Harpers Ferry to capture the town's gun factory and to secure lines back to the South. Four days later, a Union soldier discovered a copy of the order in a field, wrapped around three cigars. He kept the cigars, but Lee's order was shortly in McClellan's hands.
Even though McClellan now possessed the complete Confederate battle plan and his forces outnumbered the rebels 76,000 to 40,000, he remained cautious because his own intelligence officers incorrectly warned that the Confederates' force was far larger. On September 14, McClellan began to close on Lee's army only to be slowed by small forces in passes in South Mountain. The brief delay allowed Lee to form his army along a low ridge near Antietam Creek just east of Sharpsburg, Maryland.
McClellan finally attacked on the morning of September 17, but his characteristic hesitation and poor communications caused the battle to be composed of three separate fights rather than one united effort. The battle began with a murderous artillery barrage, followed by an infantry assault on the Confederate left. Attacks and counterattacks marked the next two hours, with neither side able to maintain an advantage. Meanwhile, at midmorning, Union troops assaulted the rebel center that stood protected in a sunken road. By the time the rebels withdrew four hours later, the depleted, exhausted Union force was unable to pursue past what was now known as the "Bloody Lane."
In the afternoon, still another Union force attacked the rebel right flank to secure a crossing of Antietam Creek. Even though the waterway was fordable along much of its banks, most of the fight was concentrated over a narrow bridge. After much bloodshed, the Union troops pushed the Confederates back and were about to cut off Lee's route back south when rebel reinforcements arrived from Harpers Ferry. Even so, the third battlefront, like the other two, lapsed into a stalemate.
On the morning of September 18, Lee and his army withdrew back to Virginia. Since he was not forced to retreat, Lee claimed victory. McClellan, overly cautious as usual, chose not to pursue, although it is possible that if he had done so he could have defeated Lee and brought the war to a quick conclusion.
Between the two armies lay more than 23,000 dead or wounded Americans wearing either blue or gray. A single day of combat produced more casualties than any other in American history--more dead and wounded than the U.S. incurred in its Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined. Casualties at Antietam even outnumbered those of the Longest Day, the first day of the Normandy Invasion, by nine to one.
The influence of Antietam reached far beyond the death and wounds. For the first time, Lee and the rebel army failed to accomplish their objective, and this provided a much-needed morale boost for the Union. More importantly, when France and England learned of the battle's outcome, they decided that recognition of the Confederate States would not be advantageous.
The battle also changed the objectives of the United States. Prior to Antietam, Lincoln and the North had fought primarily to preserve the Union. Lincoln had waited for the opportunity to bring slavery to the forefront. Five days after Antietam, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the Proclamation did not free slaves in Union states and, of course, had no power to do so in areas controlled by the rebels, it did advance the freeing of slaves as an objective of the war.
Prior to the battle and the Proclamation, European nations, although opposed to slavery, still had sympathies for the Southern cause. Now with slavery an open issue and the Confederate's ability to win in question, the South would have to stand totally alone.
While it took two-and-a-half more years of fighting and the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg to finally end the war, the Confederate States were doomed from the time they withdrew southward from Antietam Creek. An improving Union army, combined with a solid refusal of outside support for the Confederacy, spelled the beginning of the end.
Antietam ranks as one of history's most influential battles because if the South had been victorious outside Sharpsburg, it is very possible that France, England, and possibly even Russia would have recognized the new country. Their navies would have broken the Union blockade to reach the cotton needed for their mills and to deliver highly profitable war materials. France, who already had troops in Mexico, might have even provided ground forces to support the South. Lincoln most likely would not have issued his Emancipation Proclamation and might have been forced to make peace with the rebels, leaving the country divided. Although future events, such as the two World Wars, would likely have made the former enemies into allies, it is doubtful that, in their state of division, either the United States or Confederate States would have been able to attain the level of world influence or to develop into the political, trade, and military power that the unified United States would become.
Battle # 4 Leipzig
Napoleonic Wars, 1813
The allied victory over Napoleon at Leipzig in 1813 marked the first significant cooperation among European nations against a common foe. As the largest armed clash in history up to that time, Leipzig led to the fall of Paris and the abdication of Napoleon.
After the Russian army and winter had handed Napoleon a nasty defeat in 1812, Europeans felt confident that peace would prevail after more than a decade of warfare. They were wrong. As soon as Napoleon returned to France from icy Russia, he set about rebuilding his army, conscripting teens and young men. He strengthened these ranks of inexperienced youths with veterans brought back from the Spanish front.
While Napoleon had been weakened by Russia, he believed that the other European countries were too distrustful of each other to ally against him. In early 1813, he decided to advance into the German provinces to resume his offensive. Just as he had done before, he planned to defeat each army he encountered and assimilate the survivors into his own force.
European leaders were correct to fear that Napoleon could accomplish his objectives, but they remained reluctant to enter into alliances with neighbors who were former, and possibly future, enemies. Karl von Metternich, the foreign minister of Austria, saw that neither his nor any other European country could stand alone against the French. Even though he had previously negotiated an alliance with Napoleon, he now began to assemble a coalition of nations against the French emperor.
Metternich's diplomacy, combined with the massing of the French army on the German border, finally convinced Prussia, Russia, Sweden, Great Britain, and several smaller countries to ally with Austria in March 1813. Napoleon disregarded the alliance and crossed into Germany with the intention of defeating each opposing army before the "allies" could actually unite against him.
Napoleon won several of the initial fights, even defeating the Prussians at Lutzen on May 2. He soon realized, however, that his new army was not the experienced one he had lost in Russia. More importantly, he had not been able to replace much of his cavalry lost in the Russian winter, limiting his reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
When Napoleon learned that armies were marching toward Dresden from the north, south, and east against him, he negotiated a truce that began on June 4. Metternich met with Napoleon in an attempt to reach a peace settlement but, despite generous terms that allowed France to retain its pre-war borders and for him to remain in power, Napoleon refused to accept the agreement.
During the negotiations, both sides continued to add reinforcements. On August 16, the truce ended and combat resumed. For two months, the Allies harassed the French but avoided a pitched battle while they solidified their plans for a major attack. Napoleon's army, forced to live off the land and to rapidly march and countermarch against the multiple armies around them, steadily became more exhausted.
In September, the Allies began a general offensive in which the French won several small battles. Yet the Allies forced them back to Leipzig in October. Napoleon had 175,000 men to defend the town, but the Allies massed 350,000 soldiers and 1,500 artillery pieces outside his lines.
On the morning of October 16, 1813, Napoleon left part of his army in the north to resist an attack by the Prussians while he attempted to break through the Russian and Austrian lines in the south. The battle raged all day as the front swept back and forth, but by nightfall both sides occupied the same positions as when the battle began.
Little action took place on October 17 because both sides rested. The battle on October 18 closely resembled that of two days earlier. Nine hours of furious combat accomplished little except to convince Napoleon that he could not continue a battle of attrition against the larger Allied force. The odds against him increased when the Swedish army arrived to join the Allies and a unit of Saxons deserted the French to join the other side.
Napoleon attempted to establish another truce, but the Allies refused. During the night, the French began to withdraw westward by crossing the Elster River. A single stone bridge, which provided the only crossing, soon created a bottleneck. Napoleon deployed 30,000 soldiers to act as a rear guard to protect the crossing, but they were stranded when the bridge was destroyed. A few swam to safety, but most, including three senior officers, were killed or captured.
Once again, Napoleon limped back toward Paris. Behind him he left 60,000 dead, wounded, or captured French soldiers. The Allies had lost a similar number, but they could find replacements far more quickly and easily than Napoleon. Other countries, including the Netherlands and Bavaria--which Napoleon had added to his confederation by conquest--now abandoned him and joined the Allies. On December 21, the Allies invaded France and, following their victory at Paris on March 30, 1814, forced Napoleon into exile on Elba.
Napoleon soon returned, but after only one hundred days he suffered his final defeat by the Allies at Waterloo on June 18, 1815 . Metternich continued his unification efforts and signed most of the Allies to the Concert of Europe, which provided a balance of power and a peace that lasted until the Crimean War in 1854. Most of the alliance survived another three decades until the ambitions of Germany brought an end to European peace.
The Battle of Leipzig was important because it brought Napoleon a defeat from which he could not recover. More important, however, was the cooperation of armies against him. This alliance is so significant that Leipzig is frequently called the Battle of the Nations. For these reasons, Leipzig ranks as one of history's most influential battles.
Leipzig also eclipses Waterloo in its influence. While the latter was certainly more decisive, a victory by Napoleon at Leipzig would likely have broken the alliance and placed the French in a position to once again defeat each of the other nation's armies. A French victory at Leipzig would have meant no defeat of Napoleon at Paris, no abdication to Elba, and no return to Waterloo.
Battle # 3 Stalingrad
World War II, 1942-43
Stalingrad was the last great offensive by the German Nazis on the Eastern Front. Their defeat in the city on the Volga River marked the beginning of a long series of battles that would lead the Russians to Berlin and Hitter's Third Reich to defeat. The Battle of Stalingrad resulted in the death or capture of more than a quarter million German soldiers, and denied the rich Caucasus oil fields to the Nazis.
Despite the lack of success by the German army to capture the cities of Moscow and Leningrad in their blitzkrieg offensive in the fall and winter of 1941, Hitler remained determined to conquer Russia in order to destroy Communism and gain access to natural resources for the Third Reich. With his army stalled outside the cities to the north, Hitler directed an offensive against Stalingrad to capture the city's industrial assets and to cut communications between the Volga and Don Rivers. Along with the attack against Stalingrad, German columns were to sweep into the Caucasus to capture the oil fields that would fuel future Nazi conquests.
In the spring of 1942, German Army Group A headed into the Caucasus while Group B marched toward Stalingrad. Initially both were successful, but the German army, depleted by the battles of the previous year, was too weak to sustain two simultaneous offensives. The Germans might have easily captured Stalingrad had Hitler not continued to redirect units to the Caucasus. By the time he concentrated the offensive against Stalingrad, the Soviets had reinforced the area. Stalin directed the defenders of the city that bore his name, "Not a step backward." Hitler accepted the challenge and directed additional forces against the city.
On August 23, 1942, more than a thousand German airplanes began dropping incendiary and explosive bombs. More than 40,000 of the 600,000 Stalingrad civilians died in the fiery attack. The survivors picked up arms and joined the soldiers in defense of their city. The next day, the Sixth German Army, commanded by General Friedrich Paulus, pressed into the edge of the town and assumed victory when they found it mostly in ruins. They were wrong. Soldiers and civilians rose from the rubble to fight back with small arms and even hand-to-hand combat as they contested every foot of the destroyed town.
Elements of the Soviet Sixty-second Army joined the fight. Clashes over the city's Mamaev Mound resulted in the hill changing hands eight times as the battle line advanced and retreated. Near the center of the city, the Stalingrad Central Railway station changed hands fifteen times in bitter, close infantry combat. German artillery and air power continued to pound the city, but the Russians maintained such close contact with their opponents that much of the ordinance exploded harmlessly to their rear.
By September 22, the Germans occupied the center of Stalingrad, but the beleaguered Russian soldiers and civilians refused to surrender. They provided Soviet General Georgi Zhukov time to reinforce the city's flanks with additional soldiers, tanks, and artillery pieces. On November 19, the Russians launched a counter-offensive against the north and south flanks of the Germans.
The two attacks focused on lines held by Romanian, Italian, and Hungarian forces who were allied with the Germans, rather than the better trained and disciplined Nazi troops. On November 23, the two pincers linked up west of Stalingrad, trapping more than 300,000 German soldiers in a pocket thirty-five miles wide and twenty miles long.
General Paulus requested permission from Hitler to withdraw prior to the encirclement, but he was told to fight on. Reich Marshal Hermann Goering promised Hitler that he could supply the surrounded Paulus with 500 tons of food and ammunition per day. Goering and his Luftwaffe failed to deliver even 150 tons a day while the Russians destroyed more than 500 transport aircraft during the supply effort. A relief column led by General Erich von Manstein, one of Hitler's finest officers, attempted to reach the surrounded army but failed.
The Russians continued to reduce the German perimeter. By Christmas, the Germans were low on ammunition, nearly out of food, and freezing in the winter cold. On January 8, 1943, the Russians captured the last airfield inside the German lines and demanded the surrender of the entire army. Hitler radioed Paulus, "Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their position to the last man and last round. " He also promoted Paulus to field marshal and reminded him that no German of that rank had ever surrendered on the battlefield.
The Germans did not hold out to the last round or the last man. By January 31, their numbers had plummeted to 90,000, many of whom were wounded. All were hungry and cold. Units began to give up, and within two days all resistance ceased. Field Marshal Paulus surrendered himself, 23 generals, 90,000 men, 60,000 vehicles, 1,500 tanks, and 6,000 artillery pieces.
Of the 90,000 Germans captured at Stalingrad, only about 5,000 survived the harsh conditions of the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps. Those who were not worked to death died of starvation and disease. Paulus, however, was not harshly treated by his captors but remained under house arrest in Moscow for eleven years. He was allowed in 1953 to return to Dresden in East Germany, where he died in 1957.
The siege of Stalingrad provided sufficient time for the German Army Group A to withdraw from the Caucasus. The loss of Army Group B in the rubble of Stalingrad and the toll experienced by Army Group A before its withdrawal, however, weakened the German army on the Eastern Front to the point where it could never again mount a major offensive. More than two years would pass before the Red Army occupied Berlin, but Stalingrad opened the way to the future victories that led to Hitler's Bunker and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Victory at Stalingrad did not come easily or cheaply for the Russians. Nearly half a million soldiers and civilians died in defense of the city. Almost all of its homes, factories, and other buildings were destroyed. But the Russians had won, and that victory united the Russian people, giving them the confidence and strength that drove them on to Berlin.
Stalingrad proved to the Russians and their allies that they could both stop and defeat the great German army. The battle was the turning point of World War II. Victory at Stalingrad for the Germans would have led to victory in the Caucasus Mountains. With the oil and other resources from that area, the German army would have been able to turn more of their power to the Western Front. If the German armies in the east had survived to face the British, the Americans, and their Allies in the west, the war definitely would not have concluded as quickly. Perhaps even the eventual allied victory might have been in doubt.
While Stalingrad was the turning point of World War II, and the valor of its defenders will never be in doubt, the Soviet brand of Communism in whose name the battle was fought has not survived. Stalingrad did not even survive to see the demise of the Soviet Union. In the purge of all references to Stalin after his death, the city was renamed Volgograd. Yet, the brave defenders of Stalingrad, who fought for themselves and their city, deserve recognition as fighting one of history's most decisive and influential battles.
Battle # 2 Hastings
Norman Conquest of England, 1066
The Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was the last successful invasion of England--and the first and only since the Roman conquest a thousand years earlier. Its aftermath established a new feudal order that ensured that England would adopt the political and social traditions of continental Europe, rather than those of Scandinavia. The single battle also gained the country's crown for the Norman leader William.
Prior to the Battle of Hastings, the Vikings ruled Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and much of the British Isles. Areas they did not directly control were still vulnerable to their constant raids. Earlier Viking victories in France had led to intermarriage and the creation of a people who called themselves the Normans. Other Vikings conquered the British Isles and established their own kingdoms. Royal bloodlines ran through the leaders of all of the monarchies, but this did not prevent them from fighting each other.
Claims of crowns and territories reached a state of crisis with the death of Edward the Confessor, the King of England in 1066, who had left no heir. Three men claimed the throne: Harold Godwin, brother-in-law of Edward William, the Duke of Normandy and a distant relative of Edward's and King Harald Hardrada of Norway, the brother of Harold Godwin.
Both Harald and William assembled armies to sail to England to secure their claims. Godwin decided that William presented more of a threat and moved his English army to the southern coast across from Normandy. Weather, however, delayed William, and King Harald's ten thousand Vikings arrived first. On September 20, the Vikings soundly defeated the local forces around the city of York and seriously weakened the English army in the region.
Hearing of the battle, Godwin turned his army north and covered the two hundred miles to York in only six days. At Stamford Bridge, he surprised the Vikings and soundly defeated them. The retreating Viking survivors filled only twenty-four of the three hundred ships that had brought them to England.
Godwin had inflicted the most decisive defeat on the Vikings in more than two centuries, but there was no time to celebrate. A few days later, he learned that the Normans had landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex and were marching inland. Godwin hurried back south with his army and on October 1 he arrived in London, where he recruited additional soldiers. On October 13, Godwin moved to Sussex to take defensive positions along the Norman line of march on Senlac Ridge, eight miles northwest of the village of Hastings. He did not have long to prepare because William approached the next day.
Godwin possessed both advantages and disadvantages. He had the advantage of the defense, and his army of 7,000 was about the same size as that of the Normans. Only about 2,000 of his men, however, were professionals. These housecarls, as they were known, wore conical helmets and chain-mail vests and carried five-foot axes in addition to metal shields. The remaining Saxons were poorly trained militiamen known as fyrds, who were basically draftees levied from the shires. Many of the fyrds, and most of the housecarls, were exhausted from their march as well as from the fierce battle with the Vikings.
William's army contained about 2,000 cavalrymen and 5,000 infantrymen, equally armed with swords or bows or crossbows. Despite the lack of numerical superiority and an enemy defense that would only allow for a frontal assault, William attacked.
The Normans advanced behind a rain of arrows from their archers, but the Saxon shields turned aside most of the missiles. Several direct attacks by the infantry fared no better. William then personally led a cavalry charge but was turned back by marshy ground and the Saxon defenses. Defeat, or at best stalemate, appeared to be the outcome of the battle for the invaders. The Normans were further demoralized when a story swept the ranks that William had been killed.
When the Norman leader heard the rumor, he removed his visor and rode to the head of his army. His soldiers, seeing that he was alive, rallied and renewed the assault. William also ordered his archers to fire at a high angle rather than in a direct line in order to reach behind the Saxon shields. The battle remained in doubt until William's cavalry turned and wildly fled from the battlefield. Whether the cavalry was retreating from fright or as a ruse, it had the same results. The Saxons left their defenses to pursue, only to be struck by the Norman infantry. At about the same time, an arrow hit Godwin in the eye, and he was killed by the advancing infantry. The leaderless Saxons began to flee.
William, soon to be known as the Conqueror, pursued the retreating Saxons and seized Dover. With little resistance, he entered London on December 25, 1066, and received the crown of England as King William I. Over the next five years, William brutally put down several rebellions and replaced the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with his own Norman followers. Norman nobles built castles from which to rule and defend the countryside. Norman law, customs, traditions, and citizens intermingled with the Saxons to form the future of England as a nation.
Later the adage would declare, "There'll always be an England." The fact remains that the England that eventually came to exist began on the Hastings battlefield, and 1066 became a schoolbook standard marking the expansion of English culture, colonization, and influence around the world.
Battle # 1 Yorktown
American Revolution, 1781
The Battle of Yorktown was the climax of the American Revolution and directly led to the independence of the United States of America. While others may have been larger and more dramatic, no battle in history has been more influential. From the days following their victory at Yorktown, Americans have steadily gained power and influence up to their present role as the world's most prosperous nation and the only military superpower.
The idea that a group of poorly armed, loosely organized colonists would have the audacity to challenge the massive, experienced army and navy of their rulers seemed impossible when the revolution's first shots rang out at Lexington and Concord in 1775. The rebels' chances of success seemed even more remote when the American colonies formally declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.
Despite the huge imbalance of power, the Americans understood that time was on their side. As long as George Washington and his army remained in the field, the newly declared republic survived. Washington did not have to defeat the British he simply had to avoid having the British defeat him. The longer the war lasted, the greater the odds that the British would become involved in wars that threatened their own islands and that the British public would tire of the war and its costs.
During the first year of the war, Washington had lost a series of battles around New York but had withdrawn the bulk of his army to fight another day. Many British commanders had unintentionally aided the American effort with their military ineptness and their belief that the rebels would diplomatically end their revolt.
Participants on both sides, as well as observers around the world, had begun to take the possibility of American independence seriously only with their victory at Saratoga in October 1777. The poorly executed plan by the British to divide New England from the southern colonies by occupying New York's Hudson River Valley had resulted not only in the surrender of nearly six thousand British soldiers but also in the recognition of the United States as an independent nation by France. The American victory at Saratoga and the entrance of the French into the war also drew Spain and the Netherlands into the fight against England.
By 1778, neither the British nor the Americans could gain the upper hand, as the war in the northern colonies had come to a stalemate. The British continued to occupy New York and Boston, but they were too weak to crush the rebel army. Washington similarly lacked the strength to attack the British fortresses.
In late 1778, British commander General Henry Clinton used his superior sea mobility to transfer much of his army under Lord Charles Cornwallis to the southern colonies, where they occupied Savannah and then Charleston the following year. Clinton's plan was for Cornwallis to neutralize the southern colonies, which would cut off supplies to Washington and isolate his army.
Washington countered by dispatching Nathanael Greene, one of his ablest generals, to command the American troops in the South. From 1779 to 1781, Greene and other American commanders fought a guerrilla-like campaign of hit-and-run maneuvers that depleted and exhausted the British. In the spring of 1781, Cornwallis marched into North Carolina and then into Yorktown on the Virginia peninsula flanked by the York and James Rivers. Although his army outnumbered the Americans two to one, Cornwallis fortified the small town and waited for additional men and supplies to arrive by ship.
Meanwhile, more than seven thousand French infantrymen, commanded by Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau, joined Washington's army outside New York, and a French fleet led by Admiral Paul de Grasse waited in the Caribbean, preparing to sail northward. Washington wanted de Grasse to blockade New York while the combined American-French armies attacked Clinton's New York force.
Rochambeau and de Grasse proposed instead that they attack Cornwallis. On August 21, 1781, Washington left a few units around New York and joined Rochambeau to march the two hundred miles to Yorktown in only fifteen days. Clinton, convinced that New York was still the rebels' primary target, did nothing.
While the infantry was on its march, the French navy drove away the British ships in the area at the Battle of Chesapeake Capes on September 5. De Grasse then blockaded the entrance to Chesapeake Bay and landed three thousand men to join the growing army around Yorktown.
By the end of September, Washington had united his army from the north with the rebel Southerners. He now had more than 8,000 Americans along with the 7,000 French soldiers to encircle the 6,000 British defenders. On October 9, 1781, the Americans and French began pounding the British with fifty-two cannons while they dug trenches toward the primary enemy defensive redoubts.
The American-Franco infantry captured the redoubts on October 14 and moved their artillery forward so they could fire directly into Yorktown. Two days later, a British counterattack failed. On October 17, Cornwallis asked for a cease-fire, and on the 19th he agreed to unconditional surrender. Only about one hundred and fifty of his soldiers had been killed and another three hundred wounded, but he knew that future action was futile. American and French losses numbered seventy-two killed and fewer than two hundred wounded.
Cornwallis, claiming illness, sent his deputy Charles O'Hara to surrender in his place. While the British band played "The World Turned Upside Down," O'Hara approached the allies and attempted to surrender his sword to his European peer rather than the rebel colonist. Rochambeau recognized the gesture and deferred to Washington. The American commander turned to his own deputy, Benjamin Lincoln, who accepted O'Hara's sword and the British surrender.
Several small skirmishes occurred after Yorktown, but for all practical purposes, the revolutionary war was over. The upheaval and embarrassment over the defeat at Yorktown brought down the British government, and the new officials authorized a treaty on September 3, 1783, that acknowledged the independence of the United States.
Yorktown directly influenced not only the United States but also France. The French support of the United States and their own war against Britain wrecked France's economy. More importantly, the idea of liberty from a tyrant, demonstrated by the Americans, motivated the French to begin their own revolution in 1789 that eventually led to the age of Napoleon and far greater wars.
The fledgling United States had to fight the British again in 1812 to guarantee its independence, but the vast area and resources of North America soon enlarged and enriched the new nation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States had become a world power by the end of the twentieth, it was the strongest and most influential nation in the world.
Before Yorktown, the United States was a collection of rebels struggling for independence. After Yorktown, it began a process of growth and evolution that would eventually lead to its present status as the longest-surviving democracy and most powerful country in history. The American Revolution, beginning at Lexington and Concord and drawing strength from Saratoga, culminated at Yorktown in the most influential battle in history.
Copyright 2005 Michael Lee Lanning All Rights Reserved
Michael Lee Lanning retired from the United States Army after more than twenty years of service. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served as an infantry platoon leader and company commander. The 'Top Ten Battles' article presented here is from his latest book: "The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles," illustrated by Bob Rosenburgh. Lanning has written fourteen books on military history, including "The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time."
"No more lethal than any other kind of rock"
A research team led by National Geographic grantee Carl Lipo of Binghamton University analyzed more than 400 Rapa Nui mata'a to see if there are any consistent patterns in shape and size that can suggest a particular function for the blades — say, a long, narrow, pointed form that can effectively penetrate flesh and pierce organs. While the mata'a ranged from 2.4 to 3.9 inches (six to ten centimeters) in length and width, the shapes varied so continuously that they were unable to identify any category of mata'a with a consistent form that would indicate design for a specific purpose. Rather, the vast variety of shapes indicate that mata'a most likely served as a multipurpose tool for all aspects of daily life on the island, including food cultivation and processing.
While the sharp edges of mata'a were ideal for cutting and scraping (a fact supported by earlier use-wear studies), their weight and asymmetry made them ineffective for inflicting deadly stabbing wounds, Lipo concludes, calling mata'a "no more lethal than any other kind of rock."
In a recent study of skeletal material from Rapa Nui, a team led by Douglas Owsley, Division Head of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, found that only two of 469 skulls had trauma that could have been inflicted by the slice of a mata'a. The vast majority of injuries resulted from blunt-force trauma from thrown rocks, a popular form of attack on Rapa Nui documented by European visitors who experienced such violence.
Archaeologist Paul Bahn, a proponent of the traditional collapse theory whose research has been cited extensively by Jared Diamond, dismisses the idea that mata'a could not have been used as effective tools of war. "Mata'a could certainly inflict lethal wounds," he says, "This is essentially a slashing tool. You could do terrible things to people without leaving a trace on bones."
Owsely is more circumspect. "In my experience, when you’re really trying to do someone in, you’re going to hit them in the head," he observes, "and a slash across the face would be picked up in the skeletal evidence."
The reliance on ethnographic accounts collected centuries after events allegedly occurred has also been a continual issue among Rapa Nui scholars. "This was a small population on a small island. Everyone knew everyone," Owsley observes. "Even the death of a few people, shared and repeated across the island over and over again can eventually make violence sound much more pervasive than it actually was."
The Ambush That Changed History
“This is the soil of 2,000 years ago, where we are standing now,” Susanne Wilbers-Rost was saying as a young volunteer pried a small, dark clod out of it. Wilbers-Rost, a specialist in early German archaeology, peered through wire-rimmed glasses, brushed away some earth, and handed an object to me. “You’re holding a nail from a Roman soldier’s sandal,” she said. Atrim, short-haired woman, Wilbers-Rost has worked at the site, which is ten miles north of the manufacturing city of Osnabrück, Germany, since 1990. Inch by inch, several young archaeologists under her direction are bringing to light a battlefield that was lost for almost 2,000 years, until an off-duty British Army officer stumbled across it in 1987.
The sandal nail was a minor discovery, extracted from the soil beneath an overgrown pasture at the base of Kalkriese (the word may derive from Old High German for limestone), a 350-foot-high hill in an area where uplands slope down to the north German plain. But it was further proof that one of the pivotal events in European history took place here: in A.D. 9, three crack legions of Rome’s army were caught in an ambush and annihilated. Ongoing finds—ranging from simple nails to fragments of armor and the remains of fortifications—have verified the innovative guerrilla tactics that according to accounts from the period, neutralized the Romans’ superior weaponry and discipline.
It was a defeat so catastrophic that it threatened the survival of Rome itself and halted the empire’s conquest of Germany. “This was a battle that changed the course of history,” says Peter S. Wells, a specialist in Iron Age European archaeology at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Battle That Stopped Rome. “It was one of the most devastating defeats ever suffered by the Roman Army, and its consequences were the most far-reaching. The battle led to the creation of a militarized frontier in the middle of Europe that endured for 400 years, and it created a boundary between Germanic and Latin cultures that lasted 2,000 years.” Had Rome not been defeated, says historian Herbert W. Benario, emeritus professor of classics at EmoryUniversity, a very different Europe would have emerged. “Almost all of modern Germany as well as much of the present-day CzechRepublic would have come under Roman rule. All Europe west of the Elbe might well have remained Roman Catholic Germans would be speaking a Romance language the Thirty Years’ War might never have occurred, and the long, bitter conflict between the French and the Germans might never have taken place.”
Founded (at least according to legend) in 753 b.c., Rome spent its formative decades as little more than an overgrown village. But within a few hundred years, Rome had conquered much of the Italian peninsula, and by 146 b.c., had leapt into the ranks of major powers by defeating Carthage, which controlled much of the western Mediterranean. By the beginning of the Christian Era, Rome’s sway extended from Spain to Asia Minor, and from the North Sea to the Sahara. The imperial navy had turned the Mediterranean into a Roman lake, and everywhere around the rim of the empire, Rome’s defeated enemies feared her legions—or so it seemed to optimistic Romans. “Germania” (the name referred originally to a particular tribe along the Rhine), meanwhile, did not exist as a nation at all. Various Teutonic tribes lay scattered across a vast wilderness that reached from present-day Holland to Poland. The Romans knew little of this densely forested territory governed by fiercely independent chieftains. They would pay dearly for their ignorance.
There are many reasons, according to ancient historians, that the imperial Roman legate Publius Quinctilius Varus set out so confidently that September in a.d. 9. He led an estimated 15,000 seasoned legionnaires from their summer quarters on the WeserRiver, in what is now northwestern Germany, west toward permanent bases near the Rhine. They were planning to investigate reports of an uprising among local tribes. Varus, 55, was linked by marriage to the imperial family and had served as Emperor Augustus’ representative in the province of Syria (which included modern Lebanon and Israel), where he had quelled ethnic disturbances. To Augustus, he must have seemed just the man to bring Roman civilization to the barbarous” tribes of Germany.
Like his patrons in Rome, Varus thought occupying Germany would be easy. “Varus was a very good administrator, but he was not a soldier,” says Benario. “To send him out into an unconquered land and tell him to make a province of it was a huge blunder on Augustus’ part.”
Rome’s imperial future was by no means foreordained. At age 35, Augustus, the first emperor, still styled himself “first citizen” in deference to lingering democratic sensibilities of the fallen RomanRepublic, whose demise—after the assassination of Caesar—had brought him to power in 27 b.c., following a century of bloody civil wars. During Augustus’ rule, Rome had grown into the largest city in the world, with a population that may have approached one million.
The German frontier held a deep allure for Augustus, who regarded the warring tribes east of the Rhine as little more than savages ripe for conquest. Between 6 b.c. and a.d. 4, Roman legions had mounted repeated incursions into the tribal lands, eventually establishing a chain of bases on the Lippe and Weser rivers. In time, despite growing resentment of the Roman presence, the tribes exchanged iron, cattle, slaves and foodstuffs for Roman gold and silver coins and luxury goods. Some tribes even pledged allegiance to Rome German mercenaries served with Roman armies as far away as the present-day Czech Republic.
One such German soldier of fortune, a 25-year-old prince of the Cherusci tribe, was known to the Romans as Arminius. (His tribal name has been lost to history.) He spoke Latin and was familiar with Roman tactics, the kind of man the Romans relied on to help their armies penetrate the lands of the barbarians. For his valor on the field of battle, he had been awarded the rank of knight and the honor of Roman citizenship. On that September day, he and his mounted auxiliaries were deputized to march ahead and rally some of his own tribesmen to help in putting down the rebellion.
Arminius’ motives are obscure, but most historians believe he had long harbored dreams of becoming king of his tribe. To achieve his goal, he concocted a brilliant deception: he would report a fictitious “uprising” in territory unfamiliar to the Romans, then lead them into a deadly trap. A rival chieftain, Segestes, repeatedly warned Varus that Arminius was a traitor, but Varus ignored him. “The Romans,” says Wells, “thought they were invincible.”
Arminius had instructed the Romans to make what he had described as a short detour, a one- or two-day march, into the territory of the rebels.The legionnaires followed along rudimentary trails that meandered among the Germans’ farmsteads, scattered fields, pastures, bogs and oak forests. As they progressed, the line of Roman troops—already seven or eight miles long, including local auxiliaries, camp followers and a train of baggage carts pulled by mules—became dangerously extended. The legionnaires, wrote third-century historian Cassius Dio, “were having a hard time of it, felling trees, building roads, and bridging places that required it. . . . Meanwhile, a violent rain and wind came up that separated them still further, while the ground, that had become slippery around the roots and logs, made walking very treacherous for them, and the tops of the trees kept breaking off and falling down, causing much confusion. While the Romans were in such difficulties, the barbarians suddenly surrounded them on all sides at once,” Dio writes of the preliminary German skirmishes. “At first they hurled their volleys from a distance then, as no one defended himself and many were wounded, they approached closer to them.” Somehow, the command to attack had gone out to the German tribes. “This is pure conjecture,” says Benario, “but Arminius must have delivered a message that the Germans should begin their assault.”
The nearest Roman base lay at Haltern, 60 miles to the southwest. So Varus, on the second day, pressed on doggedly in that direction. On the third day, he and his troops were entering a passage between a hill and a huge swamp known as the Great Bog that, in places, was no more than 60 feet wide. As the increasingly chaotic and panicky mass of legionnaires, cavalrymen, mules and carts inched forward, Germans appeared from behind trees and sand-mound barriers, cutting off all possibility of retreat. “In open country, the superbly drilled and disciplined Romans would surely have prevailed,” says Wells. “But here, with no room to maneuver, exhausted after days of hit-and-run attacks, unnerved, they were at a crippling disadvantage.”
Varus understood that there was no escape. Rather than face certain torture at the hands of the Germans, he chose suicide, falling on his sword as Roman tradition prescribed. Most of his commanders followed suit, leaving their troops leaderless in what had become a killing field. “An army unexcelled in bravery, the first of Roman armies in discipline, in energy, and in experience in the field, through the negligence of its general, the perfidy of the enemy, and the unkindness of fortune. . . . was exterminated almost to a man by the very enemy whom it has always slaughtered like cattle,” according to the a.d. 30 account of Velleius Paterculus, a retired military officer who may have known both Varus and Arminius.
Only a handful of survivors managed somehow to escape into the forest and make their way to safety. The news they brought home so shocked the Romans that many ascribed it to supernatural causes, claiming a statue of the goddess Victory had ominously reversed direction. The historian Suetonius, writing a century after the battle, asserted that the defeat “nearly wrecked the empire.” Roman writers, says Wells, “were baffled by the disaster.” Though they blamed the hapless Varus, or the treachery of Arminius, or the wild landscape, in reality, says Wells, “the local societies were much more complex than the Romans thought. They were an informed, dynamic, rapidly changing people, who practiced complex farming, fought in organized military units, and communicated with each other across very great distances.”
More than 10 percent of the entire imperial army had been wiped out—the myth of its invincibility shattered. In the wake of the debacle, Roman bases in Germany were hastily abandoned. Augustus, dreading that Arminius would march on Rome, expelled all Germans and Gauls from the city and put security forces on alert against insurrections.
Six years would pass before a Roman army would return to the battle site. The scene the soldiers found was horrific. Heaped across the field at Kalkriese lay the whitening bones of dead men and animals, amid fragments of their shattered weapons. In nearby groves they found “barbarous altars” upon which the Germans had sacrificed the legionnaires who surrendered. Human heads were nailed everywhere to trees. In grief and anger, the aptly named Germanicus, the Roman general leading the expedition, ordered his men to bury the remains, in the words of Tacitus, “not a soldier knowing whether he was interring the relics of a relative or a stranger, but looking on all as kinsfolk and of their own blood, while their wrath rose higher than ever against the foe.”
Germanicus, ordered to campaign against the Cherusci, still under the command of Arminius, pursued the tribe deep into Germany. But the wily chieftain retreated into the forests, until, after a series of bloody but indecisive clashes, Germanicus fell back to the Rhine, defeated. Arminius was “the liberator of Germany,” Tacitus wrote, “a man who, . . . threw down the challenge to the Roman nation.”
For a time, tribes flocked to join Arminius’ growing coalition. But as his power grew, jealous rivals began to defect from his cause. He “fell by the treachery of his relatives,” Tacitus records, in a.d. 21.
With the abdication of the Romans from Germany, the Kalkriese battlefield was gradually forgotten. Even the Roman histories that recorded the debacle were lost, sometime after the fifth century, during the collapse of the empire under the onslaught of barbarian invasions. But in the 1400s, humanist scholars in Germany rediscovered the works of Tacitus, including his account of Varus’ defeat. As a consequence, Arminius was hailed as the first national hero of Germany. “The myth of Arminius,” says Benario, “helped give Germans their first sense that there had been a German people that transcended the hundreds of small duchies that filled the political landscape of the time.” By 1530, even Martin Luther praised the ancient German chieftain as a “war leader” (and updated his name to “Hermann”). Three centuries later, Heinrich von Kleist’s 1809 play, Hermann’s Battle, invoked the hero’s exploits to encourage his countrymen to fight Napoleon and his invading armies. By 1875, as German militarism surged, Hermann had been embraced as the nation’s paramount historical symbol a titanic copper statue of the ancient warrior, crowned with a winged helmet and brandishing his sword menacingly toward France, was erected on a mountaintop 20 miles south of Kalkriese, near Detmold, where many scholars then believed the battle took place. At 87 feet high, and mounted on an 88-foot stone base, it was the largest statue in the world until the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. Not surprisingly, the monument became a popular destination for Nazi pilgrimages during the 1930s. But the actual location of the battle remained a mystery. More than 700 sites, ranging from the Netherlands to eastern Germany, were proposed.
Amateur archaeologist Tony Clunn of Britain’s Royal Tank Regiment was hoping for a chance to indulge his interest when he arrived at his new posting in Osnabrück in the spring of 1987. (He had previously assisted archaeologists in England during his spare time, using a metal detector to search for traces of Roman roads.) Captain Clunn introduced himself to the director of the Osnabrück museum, Wolfgang Schlüter, and asked him for guidance. The British officer promised to turn over to the museum anything he found.
“In the beginning, all I had ever hoped to find was the odd Roman coin or artifact,” Clunn, who retired from the army with the rank of major in 1996, told me, as we sat drinking tea in a café next to the Varusschlacht (Varus Battle) Museum and Park Kalkriese, which opened in 2002. Schlüter had suggested that he try the rural Kalkriese area, where a few coins had already been found. Clunn planned his assault with a soldier’s eye to detail. He pored over old maps, studied regional topography and read extensively about the battle, including a treatise by 19th-century historian Theodor Mommsen, who had speculated that it took place somewhere near Kalkriese, although few agreed with him.
As Clunn drove around Kalkriese in his black Ford Scorpio, introducing himself to local farmers, he saw a landscape that had changed significantly since Roman times. Forests of oak, alder and beech had long since given way to cultivated fields and copses of pine. Stolid modern farm buildings with red-tile roofs stood in place of the huts of the ancient tribesmen. The Great Bog itself had disappeared, drained in the 19th century it was now bucolic pastureland.
Using an old hand-drawn map he got from a local landowner, Clunn noted the locations of earlier coin finds. “The secret is to look for the easy route that people would have taken in ancient times,” he says. “No one wants to dig
a lot of unnecessary holes in the ground. So you look for the most logical spot to start searching—for example, a pass where a trail might narrow, a bottleneck.” Clunn focused on the area between where the Great Bog had been and Kalkriese Hill. As he walked, sweeping his metal detector from side to side, he noticed a slight elevation. “I sensed it was an old trackway, perhaps a path across the bog,” he says. He began following the elevation, working backward toward the hills.
Before long, a ringing in his earphones indicated metal in the earth. He bent over, carefully cut away a small square of turf with a trowel, and began to dig, sifting the peaty soil through his fingers. He dug down about eight inches. “Then I saw it!” Clunn exclaims. In his hand lay a small, round silvercoin, blackened with age—a Roman denarius, stamped on one side with the aquiline features of Augustus, and on the other, with two warriors armed with battle shields and spears. “I could scarcely believe it,” he says. “I was transfixed.” Soon he found a second denarius, then a third. Who lost these? He asked himself, and what had the coin carrier been doing—running, riding, walking? Before Clunn left the area for the day, he carefully logged the location of the coins on his grid map, sealed them in plastic pouches and restored the clods of dirt.
The next time Clunn returned to Kalkriese, his metal detector signaled another find: at a depth of about a foot, he discovered another denarius. This one, too, bore a likeness of Augustus on one side, and on the other, a bull with head lowered, as if about to charge. By the end of the day, Clunn had unearthed no fewer than 89 coins. The following weekend, he found still more, for a total of 105, none minted later than the reign of Augustus. The vast majority were in pristine condition, as if they had been little circulated when they were lost.
In the months that followed, Clunn continued his explorations, always turning over his finds to Schlüter. Along with coins, he discovered shards of lead and bronze, nails, fragments of a groma (a distinctive Roman road-surveying device) and three curious ovoid pieces of lead that German scholars identified as sling shot. “Slowly but surely a cohesive pattern began to emerge,” says Clunn. “There was every indication that a large contingent of people had splayed out from the area at the apex to the field, fleeing from an unknown horror.” Clunn began to suspect that he had found what was left of Varus’ lost legions.
Thanks to Schlüter’s contacts in German academia, the site was recognized, almost immediately, as a major discovery. Professional archaeologists under the direction of Schlüter and, later, Wilbers-Rost undertook systematic excavations. They were fortunate: sometime in the past, local farmers had covered the poor sandy subsoil with a thick layer of sod that had protected the undiscovered artifacts below.
Since the early 1990s, excavations have located battle debris along a corridor almost 15 miles long from east to west, and a little more than 1 mile from north to south, offering additional proof that it unfolded over many miles, before reaching its dreadful climax at Kalkriese.
Perhaps the most important single discovery was evidence of a wall 4 feet high and 12 feet thick, built of sand and reinforced by chunks of sod. “Arminius learned much from his service with the Romans,” says Wilbers-Rost. “He knew their tactics and their weak points. The wall zigzagged so that the Germans on top of it could attack the Romans from two angles. They could stand on the wall, or rush out through gaps in it to attack the Roman flank, and then run back behind it for safety.” Concentrations of artifacts were found in front of the wall, suggesting that the Romans had tried to scale it. The dearth of objects behind it testifies to their failure to do so.
The more the archaeologists excavated, the more they appreciated the immensity of the massacre. Clearly, Arminius and his men had scoured the battlefield after the slaughter and carried off everything of value, including Roman armor, helmets, gold and silver, utensils and weapons. Most of what archaeologists have unearthed consists of items the victors failed to notice, or dropped as they looted. Still, there have been some spectacular finds, including the remnants of a Roman officer’s scabbard and, most notably, a Roman standard-bearer’s magnificent silver face mask. They also uncovered coins stamped with the letters “VAR,” for Varus, which the ill-fated commander had awarded his troops for meritorious service.
In all, Wilbers-Rost’s team has found more than 5,000 objects: human bones (including several skulls gruesomely split by swords), spearheads, bits of iron, harness rings, metal studs, pieces of armor, iron nails, tent pegs, scissors, bells that once hung from the necks of Roman mules, a wine strainer and medical instruments. Many of these objects, cleaned and restored, are on display in the museum at the site. (Archaeologists also found fragments of bombs that Allied planes dropped on the area during World War II.)
Clunn, now 59, still works, as a staff officer, for the British military in Osnabrück. One recent afternoon, amid intermittent cloudbursts, he and I drove east from Kalkriese along the route that Varus’ army most likely followed on the last day of its harrowing march. We stopped at a low hill on the outskirts of the village of Schwagstorf. From the car, I could barely detect the rise in the ground, but Clunn assured me that this was the highest s ot in the vicinity. “It’s the only place that offers any natural defense,” he said. Here, he has found the same types of coins and artifacts that have been unearthed at Kalkriese he hopes that future excavationswill determine that the battered Roman forces attempted to regroup here shortly before they met their doom. As we stood at the edge of a traffic circle and gazed across a cornfield, he added: “I’m convinced that this is the site of Varus’ last camp.”
6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism
Despite enormous progress in recent decades, women still have to deal with biases against them in the sciences.
In April, National Geographic News published a story about the letter in which scientist Francis Crick described DNA to his 12-year-old son. In 1962, Crick was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA, along with fellow scientists James Watson and Maurice Wilkins.
Several people posted comments about our story that noted one name was missing from the Nobel roster: Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist who also studied DNA. Her data were critical to Crick and Watson's work. But it turns out that Franklin would not have been eligible for the prize—she had passed away four years before Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received the prize, and the Nobel is never awarded posthumously.
But even if she had been alive, she may still have been overlooked. Like many women scientists, Franklin was robbed of recognition throughout her career (See her section below for details.)
She was not the first woman to have endured indignities in the male-dominated world of science, but Franklin's case is especially egregious, said Ruth Lewin Sime, a retired chemistry professor at Sacramento City College who has written on women in science.
Over the centuries, female researchers have had to work as "volunteer" faculty members, seen credit for significant discoveries they've made assigned to male colleagues, and been written out of textbooks.
They typically had paltry resources and fought uphill battles to achieve what they did, only "to have the credit attributed to their husbands or male colleagues," said Anne Lincoln, a sociologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas, who studies biases against women in the sciences.
Today's women scientists believe that attitudes have changed, said Laura Hoopes at Pomona College in California, who has written extensively on women in the sciences—"until it hits them in the face." Bias against female scientists is less overt, but it has not gone away.
Here are six female researchers who did groundbreaking work—and whose names are likely unfamiliar for one reason: because they are women.
Born in Northern Ireland in 1943, Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars in 1967 while still a graduate student in radio astronomy at Cambridge University in England.
Pulsars are the remnants of massive stars that went supernova. Their very existence demonstrates that these giants didn't blow themselves into oblivion—instead, they left behind small, incredibly dense, rotating stars.
Bell Burnell discovered the recurring signals given off by their rotation while analyzing data printed out on three miles of paper from a radio telescope she helped assemble.
The finding resulted in a Nobel Prize, but the 1974 award in physics went to Anthony Hewish—Bell Burnell's supervisor—and Martin Ryle, also a radio astronomer at Cambridge University.
The snub generated a "wave of sympathy" for Bell Burnell. But in an interview with National Geographic News this month, the astronomer was fairly matter-of-fact.
"The picture people had at the time of the way that science was done was that there was a senior man—and it was always a man—who had under him a whole load of minions, junior staff, who weren't expected to think, who were only expected to do as he said," explained Bell Burnell, now a visiting astronomy professor at the University of Oxford.
But despite the sympathy, and her groundbreaking work, Bell Burnell said she was still subject to the prevailing attitudes toward women in academia.
"I didn't always have research jobs," she said. Many of the positions the astrophysicist was offered in her career were focused on teaching or administrative and management duties.
"[And] it was extremely hard combining family and career," Bell Burnell said, partly because the university where she worked while pregnant had no provisions for maternity leave.
She has since become quite "protective" of women in academia. Some individual schools may give them support, but Bell Burnell wants a systemic approach to boost the numbers of female researchers.
She recently chaired a working group for the Royal Society of Edinburgh, tasked with finding a strategy to boost the number of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math in Scotland. (Learn more about Bell Burnell.)
Born in 1922 in the Bronx, Esther Lederberg would grow up to lay the groundwork for future discoveries on genetic inheritance in bacteria, gene regulation, and genetic recombination.
A microbiologist, she is perhaps best known for discovering a virus that infects bacteria—called the lambda bacteriophage—in 1951, while at the University of Wisconsin.
Lederberg, along with her first husband Joshua Lederberg, also developed a way to easily transfer bacterial colonies from one petri dish to another, called replica plating, which enabled the study of antibiotic resistance. The Lederberg method is still in use today.
Joshua Lederberg's work on replica plating played a part in his 1958 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, which he shared with George Beadle and Edward Tatum.
"She deserved credit for the discovery of lambda phage, her work on the F fertility factor, and, especially, replica plating," wrote Stanley Falkow, a retired microbiologist at Stanford University, in an email. But she didn't receive it.
Lederberg also wasn't treated fairly in terms of her academic standing at Stanford, added Falkow, a colleague of Lederberg's who spoke at her memorial service in 2006. "She had to fight just to be appointed as a research associate professor, whereas she surely should have been afforded full professorial rank. She was not alone. Women were treated badly in academia in those days."
Born in Liu Ho, China, in 1912, Chien-Shiung Wu overturned a law of physics and participated in the development of the atom bomb.
Wu was recruited to Columbia University in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project and conducted research on radiation detection and uranium enrichment. She stayed in the United States after the war and became known as one of the best experimental physicists of her time, said Nina Byers, a retired physics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In the mid-1950s, two theoretical physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, approached Wu to help disprove the law of parity. The law holds that in quantum mechanics, two physical systems—like atoms—that were mirror images would behave in identical ways.
Wu's experiments using cobalt-60, a radioactive form of the cobalt metal, upended this law, which had been accepted for 30 years.
This milestone in physics led to a 1957 Nobel Prize for Yang and Lee—but not for Wu, who was left out despite her critical role. "People found [the Nobel decision] outrageous," said Byers.
Pnina Abir-Am, a historian of science at Brandeis University, agreed, adding that ethnicity also played a role.
Wu died of a stroke in 1997 in New York.
Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1878, Lise Meitner's work in nuclear physics led to the discovery of nuclear fission—the fact that atomic nuclei can split in two. That finding laid the groundwork for the atomic bomb.
Her story is a complicated tangle of sexism, politics, and ethnicity.
After finishing her doctoral degree in physics at the University of Vienna, Meitner moved to Berlin in 1907 and started collaborating with chemist Otto Hahn. They maintained their working relationship for more than 30 years.
After the Nazis annexed Austria in March 1938, Meitner, who was Jewish, made her way to Stockholm, Sweden. She continued to work with Hahn, corresponding and meeting secretly in Copenhagen in November of that year.
Although Hahn performed the experiments that produced the evidence supporting the idea of nuclear fission, he was unable to come up with an explanation. Meitner and her nephew, Otto Frisch, came up with the theory.
Hahn published their findings without including Meitner as a co-author, although several accounts say Meitner understood this omission, given the situation in Nazi Germany.
"That's the start of how Meitner got separated from the credit of discovering nuclear fission," said Lewin Sime, who wrote a biography of Meitner.
The other contributing factor to the neglect of Meitner's work was her gender. Meitner once wrote to a friend that it was almost a crime to be a woman in Sweden. A researcher on the Nobel physics committee actively tried to shut her out. So Hahn alone won the 1944 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his contributions to splitting the atom.
"Meitner's colleagues at the time, including physicist Niels Bohr, absolutely felt she was instrumental in the discovery of nuclear fission," Sime said. But since her name wasn't on that initial paper with Hahn—and she was left off the Nobel Prize recognizing the discovery—over the years, she has not been associated with the finding.
The nuclear physicist died in 1968 in Cambridge, England. (Learn more about Meitner's career.)
Born in 1920 in London, Rosalind Franklin used x-rays to take a picture of DNA that would change biology.
Hers is perhaps one of the most well-known—and shameful—instances of a researcher being robbed of credit, said Lewin Sime.
Franklin graduated with a doctorate in physical chemistry from Cambridge University in 1945, then spent three years at an institute in Paris where she learned x-ray diffraction techniques, or the ability to determine the molecular structures of crystals. (Learn more about her education and qualifications.)
She returned to England in 1951 as a research associate in John Randall's laboratory at King's College in London and soon encountered Maurice Wilkins, who was leading his own research group studying the structure of DNA.
Franklin and Wilkins worked on separate DNA projects, but by some accounts, Wilkins mistook Franklin's role in Randall's lab as that of an assistant rather than head of her own project.
Meanwhile, James Watson and Francis Crick, both at Cambridge University, were also trying to determine the structure of DNA. They communicated with Wilkins, who at some point showed them Franklin's image of DNA—known as Photo 51—without her knowledge.
Photo 51 enabled Watson, Crick, and Wilkins to deduce the correct structure for DNA, which they published in a series of articles in the journal Nature in April 1953. Franklin also published in the same issue, providing further details on DNA's structure.
Franklin's image of the DNA molecule was key to deciphering its structure, but only Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work.
Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958 in London, four years before Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received the Nobel. Since Nobel prizes aren't awarded posthumously, we'll never know whether Franklin would have received a share in the prize for her work. (Learn more about Franklin and Photo 51.)
Born in 1861 in Vermont, Nettie Stevens performed studies crucial in determining that an organism's sex was dictated by its chromosomes rather than environmental or other factors.
After receiving her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Stevens continued at the college as a researcher studying sex determination.
By working on mealworms, she was able to deduce that the males produced sperm with X and Y chromosomes—the sex chromosomes—and that females produced reproductive cells with only X chromosomes. This was evidence supporting the theory that sex determination is directed by an organism's genetics.
A fellow researcher, named Edmund Wilson, is said to have done similar work, but came to the same conclusion later than Stevens did.
Stevens fell victim to a phenomenon known as the Matilda Effect—the repression or denial of the contributions of female researchers to science.
Thomas Hunt Morgan, a prominent geneticist at the time, is often credited with discovering the genetic basis for sex determination, said Pomona College's Hoopes. He was the first to write a genetics textbook, she noted, and he wanted to magnify his contributions.
"Textbooks have this terrible tendency to choose the same evidence as other textbooks," she added. And so Stevens' name was not associated with the discovery of sex determination.
Hoopes has no doubt that Morgan was indebted to Stevens. "He corresponded with other scientists at the time about his theories," she said. "[But] his letters back and forth with Nettie Stevens were not like that. He was asking her for details of her experiments."
"When she died [of breast cancer in 1912], he wrote about her in Science, [and] he wrote that he thought she didn't have a broad view of science," said Hoopes. "But that's because he didn't ask her."
And now we'd like to ask: Who would you add to this list of female researchers who did not get the credit they deserved for their work?
After a century of decline, overall wild tiger numbers are starting to tick upward. Based on the best available information, tiger populations are stable or increasing in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Russia and China. An estimated 3,900 tigers remain in the wild, but much more work is needed to protect this species if we are to secure its future in the wild. In some areas, including much of Southeast Asia, tigers are still in crisis and declining in number.
There are two recognized subspecies of tiger*: the continental (Panthera tigris tigris) and the Sunda (Panthera tigris sondaica). The largest of all the Asian big cats, tigers rely primarily on sight and sound rather than smell for hunting. They typically hunt alone and stalk prey. A tiger can consume more than 80 pounds of meat at one time. On average, tigers give birth to two to four cubs every two years. If all the cubs in one litter die, a second litter may be produced within five months.
Tigers generally gain independence at around two years of age and attain sexual maturity at age three or four for females and four or five years for males. Juvenile mortality is high, however—about half of all cubs do not survive more than two years. Tigers have been known to reach up to 20 years of age in the wild.
Males of the larger subspecies, the continental tiger, may weigh up to 660 pounds. For males of the smaller subspecies—the Sunda tiger—the upper range is at around 310 pounds. Within both subspecies, males are heavier than females.
Tigers are mostly solitary, apart from associations between mother and offspring. Individual tigers have a large territory, and the size is determined mostly by the availability of prey. Individuals mark their domain with urine, feces, rakes, scrapes, and vocalizing.
Across their range, tigers face unrelenting pressures from poaching, retaliatory killings, and habitat loss. They are forced to compete for space with dense and often growing human populations.
*New Subspecies Classifications
Since 2017, IUCN has recognized two tiger subspecies, commonly referred to as the continental tiger and the Sunda island tiger. All remaining island tigers are found only in Sumatra, with tigers in Java and Bali now extinct. These are popularly known as Sumatran tigers. The continental tigers currently include the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese and Amur (Siberian) tiger populations, while the Caspian tiger is extinct in the wild. The South China tiger is believed to be functionally extinct.
Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig: World War I’s Worst General
Visiting the Somme battlefield in northern France is largely a matter of going from one Commonwealth Graves Commission cemetery to another. The graveyards are everywhere, some of them very small, comprising only a handful of white Portland marble stones, many bearing the inscription, A Soldier of the Great War / Known unto God. One sees so many of these cemeteries and so many stones—along with the vast memorial at Thievpal bearing the names of some 70,000 British soldiers whose bodies were never recovered—that after a few hours of it, you feel numb. Overwhelmed.
The magnitude of the battle still stuns the imagination. The Somme was an epic of both slaughter and futility a profligate waste of men and materiel such as the world had never seen. On the morning of July 1, 1916, 110,000 British infantrymen went “over the top.” In a few hours, 60,000 of them were casualties. Nearly 20,000 of these were either dead already or would die of their wounds, many of them lingering for days between the trenches, in no man’s land. The attacking forces did not gain a single one of their objectives.
Even so, a staff colonel had the cheek to write: “The events of July 1st bore out the conclusions of the British higher command and amply justified the tactical methods employed.”
Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, chief of staff of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and architect of the battle, evidently agreed. On the day after the debacle, stating that the enemy “has undoubtedly been shaken and has few reserves in hand,” he discussed with subordinates methods for continuing the offensive.
Which he did, with a kind of transcendent stubbornness, for another four months, until winter weather forced an end to the campaign, if not the fighting. By then, Haig’s army had suffered more than 400,000 casualties. For the British, in the grave judgment of noted military historian John Keegan, “the battle was the greatest tragedy…of their national military history” and “marked the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered.”
But Haig was not finished yet.
The great commanders of history fascinate us, and we read their biographies looking for one or more character attributes we believe accounted for their success. With Napoleon, for example, we think imagination. In Lee, we see audacity. Wellington, composure. Hannibal, daring. Of course, truly great generals seem to possess all these qualities to some degree. They are artists of a kind, blending in one person intelligence, intuition, courage, calculation and many other traits that allow them to see what others cannot and to act when the time is right. For students of military history, the question of what makes great commanders is inexhaustibly fascinating.
We are, naturally, not intrigued by unsuccessful generals any more than we like to read about ballplayers who hit .200 lifetime. There is nothing edifying in the biography of, say, Ambrose Burnside or any of the Union generals tormented by Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.
But Douglas Haig may be the great exception to this rule. First, because he still has defenders who—in spite of those many graveyards and inconclusive, costly battles—would claim he was not in fact an unsuccessful commander. At the end of the war, after all, the army he commanded—and had almost ruined—was, if not victorious, then plainly on the winning side. Still, at the other extreme, one can argue persuasively that Haig did not merely fail to achieve his stated objectives in the great battles of the Somme and Ypres. He failed in a much grander sense failed classically in the fashion of Pyrrhus, who lamented after the battle at Asculum, “Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone.”
While the controversy over Haig has never been settled, there was no question about his fitness for command when he took over the British forces on the Western Front after the failures of 1915. The battles at Arras and Loos had been badly planned and managed, captured little ground and resulted in what seemed at the time heavy casualties. Then–BEF commander Sir John French was exhausted, demoralized and lacked confidence in himself and that of his immediate subordinates. He was replaced by Haig, who was, in the words of Winston Churchill, “first officer of the British Army. He had obtained every qualification, gained every experience and served in every appointment requisite for the General Command.” And Haig was as confident as he was qualified. Churchill, again: “The esteem of his military colleagues found a healthy counterpart in his own self-confidence….He was as sure of himself at the head of the British army as a country gentleman on the soil which his ancestors had trod for generations and to whose cultivation he had devoted his life.”
The “country gentleman” meme is especially apt in Haig’s case. The man had a thing for horses, which is understandable in one who had been a cavalry officer during the infancy of the internal combustion engine. But Haig’s attachment to the horse was abiding and stubborn, and he went so far as to argue that the machine gun was an overrated weapon—especially against the horse.
Generals, the cynics like to say, are always fighting the last war. To the extent this is true, they can be excused, as they can’t possibly have any direct experience of the next war. But Haig continued to believe in the cavalry long after the war that he was actually fighting—World War I—had proven mounted soldiers absurdly vulnerable and obsolete.
Haig envisioned a vital role for the horse in his masterpiece, the Somme offensive. That battle is generally, and incorrectly, remembered as one decided through attrition. (It failed even on that score, since the Allies lost more men than the Germans.) Haig, popular thinking goes, attacked and kept on attacking—even when the ground his men gained, yard by bloody yard, was useless by any military measure—in order to wear down the Germans. Attrition is never an inspired strategy and is usually the refuge of a commander who cannot come up with anything better. And Haig was, if anything, unimaginative. As Paul Fussell writes in his indispensable volume The Great War and Modern Memory, “In a situation demanding the military equivalent of wit and invention…Haig had none.”
Still, in his defense, it’s clear Haig honestly believed a massive frontal assault by British infantry would punch a hole in the German line, through which his cavalry would then charge to glory. On several occasions mounted troops were brought up in anticipation of the breakout that, of course, never occurred.
Critics of Haig are remorseless on this point—the man was so confident in his outdated ideas that he never allowed actual battlefield experience to challenge them. His fantasies of cavalry charges across open country were matched by his insistence on sending infantry against the enemy in neat ranks at a slow walk, the better to maintain control. Andrew Jackson had demonstrated the flaw in this method of attack during the War of 1812, and the American Civil War had truly driven the point home on a dozen different occasions. But if Haig had ever heard of Cold Harbor, he plainly did not believe its lessons applied to British soldiers. And the Confederates who had cut down 7,000 Union troops in 20 minutes didn’t even have machine guns.
When the horrific 142-day ordeal of the Somme was finally over, the feeling in the British government was “no more Sommes.” The politicians, it seemed, had learned something, but Haig had not. He wanted to fight another battle, very much like the Somme, only bigger, and on terrain that was even less well suited for the offensive. This time, at the notorious Ypres salient in Flanders, he believed he would get it right and win the war. The cavalry, of course, would carry the day.
By the summer of 1917, frontal assaults had failed disastrously up and down the Western Front. After its last attempt at piercing the German line, the French army had broken and mutinied. Haig had no new tactics to offer, and the only technological advance that showed any promise was the tank. However, there may have been no terrain along the entire 300-plus miles of the Western Front less suited to tank warfare than the wet, low-lying ground of Flanders.
But Haig and his staff were sublimely confident, and as Churchill dryly points out, “hopes of decisive victory…grew with every step away from the British front line and reached absolute conviction in the Intelligence Department.” However, Haig’s civilian bosses in London were skeptical. The new prime minister, Lloyd George, wanted to fight defensively on the Western Front while waiting for the Americans, now in the war, to begin arriving in Europe in decisive numbers.
Haig waged the ensuing political battle with customary remorselessness and prevailed in the bureaucratic trenches. He got everything he wanted in the way of men and materiel for what became known as Third Ypres or Passchendaele, a battle remembered for, among other things, terrain so wet the entire world seemed to consist of nothing but mud and shell holes filled with vile water. Indeed, in no land battle in history did so many men die by drowning.
In Churchill’s devastating judgment, Haig “wore down alike the manhood and the guns of the British army almost to destruction.” Keegan is also merciless: “On the Somme, [Haig] had sent the flower of British youth to death or mutilation at Passchendaele he had tipped the survivors in the slough of despond.”
Of the final assault that carried the ruined, pointless little village of Passchendaele, British military historian J.F.C. Fuller, wrote, “To persist…in this tactically impossible battle was an inexcusable piece of pigheadness on the part of Haig.”
This is the key to Haig’s failure as a general. Every virtue becomes a flaw when pushed to excess. Daring becomes impetuosity. Prudence becomes irresolution. Will and resolution become stubbornness and pigheadedness. Haig evidently believed that will and resolve could carry any obstacle. Even mud and machine guns. Third Ypres was the battle that gave rise to the story of Haig’s chief of staff being driven to the front and, as he viewed the muddy wasteland, breaking into tears and saying, “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”
“It gets worse,” his driver said, “farther on up.”
Fussell, among others, finds that story a little too good, and some of Haig’s defenders consider it a slander to imply the field marshal and his staff were so blithely unaware of actual battlefield conditions. One wonders why they protest: It would seem worse if they actually had known and kept sending men up to the front, where in a literal quagmire the Germans, in Churchill’s memorable phrase, “sold every inch of ground with extortion.”
The indictment against Haig and his “pigheaded” insistence of fighting Third Ypres at a cost of more than 250,000 British casualties is not simply one of losses, though that would be enough. What secures Third Ypres’ status as one of history’s great military blunders is the fact that while Haig thought it a victory, the battle nearly lost the war for the Allies.
In late 1917 and early 1918 the Germans moved troops from Russia to the Western Front and began preparing for their own great offensive against a British army that had been so badly mauled it was compelled to reduce the number of battalions in a division from 13 to 10. The country was now, in Churchill’s chilling phrase, “driving to the shambles by stern laws the remaining manhood of the nation. Lads of 18 and 19, elderly men up to 45, the last surviving brother, the only son of his mother (and she a widow), the father, the sole support of the family, the weak, the consumptive, the thrice wounded—all must now prepare themselves for the scythe.”
There was no alternative. The men who should have been defending the line against Ludendorff’s great spring offensive were, in the words of that grim trench ditty, “Hanging in the old barbed wire.”
Haig needed reinforcements. There were troops available back across the channel, but Lloyd George wouldn’t send them for fear that Haig, like a teenager with a new credit card, would simply spend to the limit. And Haig had given him every reason for believing this. If there was deep mistrust between civilian and military leadership, Haig was to blame for it. Swathed in sublime self-confidence, he always promised great success and, as events unfolded, changed the definition of success. So he felt contempt for the politicians, and they for him. The politicians were in the right but didn’t have the courage to act on their convictions and fire Haig. The compromise—letting him keep his command but denying him the reserves he needed—was the worst of many bad alternatives.
When the German offensive broke like a huge wave on March 21, the British army lost more ground than it had gained in any of Haig’s great offensives. In the end, the British held, but just barely. And the Germans now paid the price of attrition, which in this war fell harder on the attackers than the defenders. The British and the French had squandered millions of men in futile offenses. But now the Americans were coming, to replace the wasted battalions. Germany did not have an America to come to its assistance.
So the tide turned, and with Haig still commanding the BEF, the Allies pushed the Germans back and forced first a cease-fire and then the fatally flawed Treaty of Versailles. They were too weak to drive the enemy entirely off the ground it had conquered in 1914, so the Germans believed they had never in fact been defeated. The Allies were unable to make the point emphatically enough because they had squandered too much strength on the Somme, around Ypres and in other inconclusive offensives. If Haig was a victorious commander, as his defenders maintain, his victory was not decisive enough to convince, among others, Adolf Hitler.
After the war, Haig became something of an awkward figure for the British government. He was popularly portrayed as a hero and given money and titles, but never another job. He worked selflessly on veterans’ causes, and when he died in 1928, 200,000 of them filed by his casket—men who had served under his remote, unflinching command, where generals slept in chateaus and drank champagne while soldiers lived in trenches and shell holes.
Early biographies were laudatory, and Haig did his best to ensure that by sending material to the authors. Then came the inevitable reappraisals. B.H. Liddell-Hart, a distinguished military historian who had been wounded on the Western Front, went from admirer to skeptic to unremitting critic. He wrote in his diary:
He [Haig] was a man of supreme egoism and utter lack of scruple—who, to his overweening ambition, sacrificed hundreds of thousands of men. A man who betrayed even his most devoted assistants as well as the Government which he served. A man who gained his ends by trickery of a kind that was not merely immoral but criminal.
Haig’s military reputation might even have figured in the prevailing attitude of appeasement. Nothing, the thinking went, was worth another Somme. But of course the world—including the British—did go to war again. For all the slaughter, Haig’s war had been inconclusive and had to be fought again. And after this one, the sea changes set in motion by the first of the world wars became starkly apparent. Britain was no longer an imperial power, and the old Edwardian certainties had crumbled. Like the social class that had produced him, Haig was not so much a figure of controversy as one of contempt. A dull, unfeeling, unimaginative, smug “Colonel Blimp” of the worst sort. Haig was cruelly mocked, first in the satirical musical Oh! What a Lovely War and then in the 1989 television comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth.
He still had his defenders, but they were in the last trench, barely holding on. Their books argued Haig was a curious, inventive soldier who had, in fact, appreciated the tactical value of machine guns and tanks. Before he died, however, Haig himself gave his critics ammunition by clinging publicly and stubbornly to his outdated certainties. As late as 1926, he was still capable of writing this about the future of warfare:
I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse—the well-bred horse—as you have ever done in the past.
Astonishing that any man who was there could still believe in cavalry 10 years after the Somme. But it is the bit about “the well-bred horse” that really gives the game away. Haig was undeniably a butcher, as his severest critics have claimed, but he was most of all a pompous fool.