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More of Traditional Chester

From where we parked it was a short walk into the city centre over the canal with a Roman wall high above it:-

Roman Wall, Chester

A street in Chester, showing typical timber-framed Tudor style buildings:-

Chester Rows

Another street. Contains a shop called Rigby. Note clock (a Deco touch?):-

Another Chester Street

The impressive Town Hall building dates from 1869:-

Chester Town Hall (maybe)

Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany – 1813 by F Loraine Petrie

Arms and Armour Press, 1977, 406 p, including Index, plus iii p Introduction by David G Chandler, iv p Author’s Preface, four sheets of Maps and Plans, iv p Contents. First published 1912.

 Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany cover

The Author’s Preface notes the Napoleonic Wars as an evolution, the time of change from war as involving only the clash of armies to something which involved whole nations instead.

The main body of the book follows the course of the campaign of 1813 from Napoloeon’s initial invasion to its culmination at Liepzig, the largest engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, with a brief description of the minor battle at Hanau in its aftermath. The essence of the tale is that the Russian adventure in 1812 had severely weakened Napoleon (not least in a deficit of cavalry in comparison with before, but also with many new recruits to be assimilated into his armies) if not his personal reputation as a master of war. His aura was still such that during the armistice in mid-1813 the Allies formed a pact not to engage separately the army of which the Emperor was directly in charge unless and until they had united and had a large superiority in numbers. This stricture did not apply to his Marshals who according to Petrie were very well-versed in tactical matters but a failure to train them in strategical considerations meant they were lacking at crucial junctures.

The decline in Napoleon’s abilities from his glory years is illustrated by contrasting his switherings in this campaign with his decisiveness at Jena seven years earlier. There was a fatal conflict of Napoleon’s priorities as Emperor, and dominator of Germany, compared with his military objectives. Here he tended to try to protect the land he held, specifically the city of Dresden, over his previous focus on destroying his enemies’ armies in the field. Petrie also quotes the man himself as saying experience in war does not count for much, that he thought himself as insightful in his youthful campaigns in Italy as he ever was later. His early battles were of course smaller affairs over which he could exercise a large degree of control. Noitwithstanding the fact that armies in 1813 were much more densely concentrated than in later times, by the time of Liepzig this sort of close oversight was perhaps beyond any one person.

It amused me when at one point Petrie wrote, “These extensive expeditions of considerable bodies of cavalry in the French rear are a peculiarity of this campaign which is the only instance of their employment on a large scale in a European War. Similar raids played a considerable part in the American Civil War of fifty years ago. In this case, as in 1813, the raids were generally carried out in a country the inhabitants of which were often sympathisers with the raiders, to whom they supplied food, forage, and information. Moreover, there were few or none of the modern facilities for sending information to the other side. It seems more than doubtful what success such raids could hope for in these days of telegraphs in Europe. (My emphasis.) Petrie notes a like raid by Petrushenko in the then recent Russo-Japanese War which, “can hardly be deemed a great success, and it was only possible to carry it out at all owing to the route being taken through an area devoid of telegraphs.” The thought of such wires being cut in the furtherance of raiding activities does not seem to have occurred to him. And didn’t the Boers in the also recent South African War in effect also use tactics like this? Of course the presence of technologies such as the telegraph, telephone, and radio, did not negate the opportunity for operations behind the lines in later wars.

The language of the text can be a little precious. Petrie uses unnecessary formulations such as “We left Oudinot, at 11 am,” “We now return to Ney,” etc, and there is the usual alphanumeric soup of divisions and Roman-numeralled corps. The four sheets of maps (seventeen diagrams in total) are more or less useless not only since they require awkward folding out but also because they are affixed to pages towards the end of the book, nowhere near the parts of the text they are meant to illuminate. Their appearance is also too cluttered.

Pedant’s corner:- “This broke down one” (broke down once,) England (The United Kingdom,) “6 per cent. on the then population” (of the then,) throu (through,) Friederichs’ (Friederichs’s,) many ionstances of names ending in s being treated this way – Dolffs’ (Dolffs’s,) Reuss’ (Reuss’s,) even one where the final s is not sounded and the possessive therefore positively demands “s’s” – a missing full stop, “unable note Bulöw’s advance” (unable to note,) Probetheida (Probstheida,) “came to nought” (nought = the number zero, ‘came to naught,’)|Naumburg (elsewhere Naumberg.)

Military History Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

This week’s entry for Judith’s meme from Reader in the Wilderness now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

This is the top shelf of the bookcase I featured on 26/7/20.

A lot of these are from Pan’s ‘British Battles’ series, spanning a chronology from The Spanish Armada to Arnhem, but also there are The Price of Glory and To Lose a Battle from Alastair Horne’s trilogy about Franco-German hostilities between 1870 and 1945. (His The Fall of Paris is on the shelf below.) Here too you’ll find Thomas Pakenham’s The Year of Liberty and Desmond Young’s Rommel.

Top Shelf History Books

Bookshelf Travelling for Even More Insane Times

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times was started by Judith and is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

The main thrust of this week’s post is to focus on books by Primo Levi.

The times Levi lived through were even more insane than these. An Italian Jew, he was rounded up in February 1944 and transported to Auschwitz, where his experience as a Chemist allowed him to gain a position as assistant in an I G Farben laboratory there. Ironically he was saved from almost certain death by being ill with scarlet fever and in the camp hospital when, on the approach of the Red Army, the SS evacuated the camp and forced the prisoners on a death march further away from the front.

He translated his experiences into a very readable series of books, nine of which are on these shelves (ten if you count This is a Man and The Truce as two.)

Primo Levi Books

Levi’s death forty years later was ruled a suicide by the coroner but he may have fallen from his flat as a result of dizziness.

This photo also shows Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, a Graham Greene omnibus, Mary Somerville‘s personal recollections in Queen of Science (which is the good lady’s and I have not yet read) plus Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits.

Jackboot by John Laffin

The Story of the German Soldier, Cassell, 1965, 241 p, including xii p Index and iv p Sources, preceded by i p Acknowledgements, ii p Contents, ii p List of Illustrations, iv p quotes describing “What the Germans Think About War” and iv p Introduction.

 Jackboot cover

The subtitle of the book is somewhat misleading, this is not, quite, the story of the German soldier. At least not of the individual. Very few instances of soldierly action are described, it is more the history of the Prussian and German states’ relationship to war as a profession and a duty, a guiding principle; their highest calling.

In his Introduction Laffin says the German is a born soldier, aggression and fortitude in his blood, needing to be trained, yes, but the material is there already, not base clay but refined. He contrasts modern national aptitudes for soldiering; none equals the Australian for dash, élan and initiative, but for dogged persistence and obedience to orders no-one can touch the English and Welsh, for fighting fury the Scots, for thoroughness Americans, fanatical courage the Japanese, the capacity to suffer and still keep fighting, the Russians. He claims none of these are complete soldiers, though, they fight only because it is necessary to do so. But Germans are complete soldiers, for them war is holy. “The complete soldier fully realises that his only logical end is death, that this is a soldier’s only privilege. The German knows this.” In modern times, he says, only Napoleon’s soldiers can be compared with them – and then only when Napoleon commanded them. He states that Prussians and Germans never considered themselves beaten in any conflict up to 1918 (later in the book he says not even then.) They had to admit defeat in 1945, bludgeoned by impossible odds, but even in extremis in December 1944 they launched the Battle of the Bulge, which, Laffin claims, “will for ever remain a magnificent feat of arms.” Despite younger Germans saying, “It will never happen again,” Laffin believes a German “can never evade his destiny: he does not really want to evade it. He is a soldier. A soldier fights.”

For how this came about you have to go back to landlocked Prussia, poor and barren, no cities worth the name, little industry and less culture, and to Frederick William (and his obsession with very tall soldiers) who expanded his army by impressing and enrolling men – many of them foreign – but it was his son Frederick the Great who devoted the resources of the state to it and realised that Prussia, surrounded by larger more populous countries, had to depend on organisation and speed and manœuvre in battle.

By Napoleonic times his lessons had largely been forgotten or outmoded. In 1808 crushing defeat at Jena and Auerstadt led to change, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau instituted a war academy and seven years later their influence bore fruit with Napoleon’s defeat at Liepzig. Their adherent Clausewitz formed his principles of war whose beliefs extend down the years since. An inculcation of military virtues via the school system (extended to the whole of Germay after unification in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870) laid the foundations for the nature of the German soldier and Kaiser Wilhelm introduced badges and awards for proficiency – a system brought to its greatest peak by the Nazis. Through all these years deference to a military uniform (indeed to uniforms of any stamp) was inbuilt in the German state.

In the context of France invading Germanic territory fourteen times between 1675 and 1813 Laffin quotes General Fuller as saying, ‘Few nations have had so bad a neighbour as Germany has had in France.’ (To which I can only reply, you should try being a Scot, mate.)

A piece of information that surprised me was that in the Nineteenth Century homosexuality was apparently rife in the Prussian army and not hidden, was indeed paraded, by those of that persuasion.

The German War Book stated the employment of “uncivilised and barbarous peoples in European wars” was an unlawful instrument of war, since “these troops had no conception of European-Christian culture, of respect for property and for the honour of women.” A footnote adds that this was a source of great bitterness during the Great War, quoting a Private’s letter to his parents (sensitivity warning; use of the ‘n’ word,) “The French have sunk so low as to use niggers against us. They are heathens and quite revolting and cruel. We fight fiercely against them because we know we can expect no mercy from these savages. You can smell them in the night.” (I’d have thought a smell – if any – would more likely have been produced by day than by night, but there you go. I suspect that any such perception was psychological anyway.)

Twice, re 1918 and 1945, Laffin asserts that the Germans were not beaten but overwhelmed – which, he says, is something different. For 1918 he cites a million troops left in the east to keep the conquered territories subdued and how they might have affected things in the west. (In this regard, the undefeated Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in Africa does stand out in his four year undefeated campaign of improvisation, holding down 300,000 British and Allied troops with a maximum strength of 20,000 of his own [including bearers,] while managing to inflict 60,000 casualties. After the armistice he for a short time contemplated holding out – much as some Japanese soldiers were to in the wake of 1945 – but in the end decided to honour its terms.) Laffin suggests a suitable counter to this perception might have been that rather than negotiating armistice with the civilian Erzberger, the Allies ought to have forced Hindenburg to the table amd made him surrender his sword; the symbolism of which would have been unmistakable. In 1945 the German soldiers considered themselves brutally crushed, not militarily defeated. Laffin says, “Others,” (I count myself among that number,) “might not be able to see the difference, but this is not important. The Germans know there is a difference.”

The book was published in 1965, only twenty years after the Second World War finished, at which time there were still many Germans who had experienced the upbringing that inculcated such a mindset. Laffin quotes a former soldier telling him that, “‘We are not finished with our jackboots yet,’” and, “‘Germany must triumph. Peace is ignoble.’” It is to be hoped that with the further 55 years since then of peace (however ignoble – yet welcome to those who hope it will never happen again) and of a sustained non-military education system in Germany that that attitude has faded away for good.

Pedant’s corner:- England (at the time covered by this book England no longer existed as a separate state. It was in a United Kingdom with Scotland. Britain, then. A few pages later we have, “The English made him [Count William of Schaumburg-Lippe] Field-Marshal of Portugal, but the role of British mercenary did not suit him.” British is required in both cases, etc, etc,) cameraderie (camaraderie,) sheath (sheathe,) onle (only,) “rend thy Germans” (the Germans.) In the Sources; idealogy (ideology.)

Yet More Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

A small portion of this shelf houses books on military history which I have read.

John Laffin’s Jackboot I have only just finished (review to come, it still has some of my markers for pages to be looked at again in it.) The others I read some time ago (except Goering Air Leader which I don’t recall reading and is on this shelf for reasons of space.)

The Australians in Nine Wars by Peter Firkins I reviewed here, The Great War Generals on the Western Front by Robin Neillands here, David Fraser’s And We Shall Shock Them, here, The Western Front by John Terraine, here. The others I read pre-blogging.

History Books

I Just Love This

Whoever cobbled this together (Chris Green?) is a man after my own heart:-

The Pedant's Revolt

Spy Fiction Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

This meme, originating with Judith, Reader in the Wilderness, has now been taken over by Katrina at Pining for the West.

Spy Fiction Books

Back in the days of the Cold War spy fiction was a big thing. The two main purveyors of the form – in the UK anyway – were my (sur)namesake Len Deighton (although he pronounces the “Deigh” part to rhyme with “day” rather than “die”) and John le Carré. I also have a le Carré omnibus of his early works shelved elsewhere.

These, too, are housed in the garage, below the last of my SF paperbacks (see last week’s post.)

I have read all the books by Deighton here. His book Fighter is not on these shelves because it’s a history of the Battle of Britain but then Blitzkrieg is also a history book and it is here. Winter is not a spy novel but reflects Deighton’s knowledge of Germany (specifically Berlin) in the first half of the twentieth century. Goodbye Mickey Mouse is a novel featuring members of the US Air Force which took part in the campaign in World War 2 in the lead up to the invasion of Normandy. SS-GB is an altered history set in a Britain where a German invasion of the UK in 1940 succeeded.

I’ve not read all the le Carrés. Spy fiction lost a lot of its resonance when the Cold War ended whereupon he moved on to other things. I always meant to get round to his later stuff but life (and other books) got in the way.

Britain in the the 15th Century

I’ve just been perusing the blurb on the publisher’s page for a book called Divine Heretic written by one Jaime Lee Moyer.

The blurb starts with the sentence, “Everyone knows the story of Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who put Charles VII on the throne and spearheaded France’s victory over Britain before being burned by the English as a heretic and witch.”

Britain? In the 15th century? That’s some Altered History! The United Kingdom didn’t become so until about 300 years later, 1707 in fact.

I wonder who at Jo Fletcher Books (for it was they) thought Britain had an army in the 1400s – or that back then such a country existed that could have one. Or doesn’t know the difference between Britain and its constituent parts. Or mistakenly thought they might offend some not English inhabitant of the present day UK by saying England (in which case they failed miserably.)

(At least they put the blame for Joan’s burning in the right hands.)

Dunbar Battlefield

The last major act in Scotland of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms – still known to some as the (English) Civil War – was the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

We’ve been to Dunbar many times and I had spotted a signpost pointing to the battlefield but at the time had an appointment elsewhere so couldn’t stop.

Last year the good lady and a friend had signed up to FutureLearn history course on the battle, their interest triggered by the discovery at Durham Cathedral of human remains which turned out to be those of Scottish soldiers captured during the battle, and taken to Durham to be kept imprisoned (under atrocious conditions) in the Cathedral, where some died.

So it was that last summer we made a concerted effort to find the battlefield. Yes, there was that signpost but there’s not much in the way of information boards at the battlefield itself or on the road the signpost pointed along. This very recently erected stone was set back from the road and commmemorates those taken prisoner at the Battle of Dunbar, 1650.

Dunbar Prisoners Memorial

However, I am not sure if the two pictures below are of the battlefield or not. (North Sea in background.) After we came home I read up a bit and found the site of the battlefield straddles the main A1 road but does lead down towards the sea.

Dunbar Battlefield

Dunbar Battlefield

Once back at the road from which the signpost points we discovered this memorial. On it is an inscription, “3rd September 1650,” and a quotation from Thomas Carlyle, “Here took place the brunt or essential agony of the Battle of Dunbar.” (In the background is a modern cement works – and a horse):-

Dunbar Battlefield (1650) Marker Stone


Battle of Dunbar, Carlyle Stone 1

A museum in Dunbar had a display about the battle including a piece of tapestry commemorating the Battles of Dunbar 1650, and Worcester 1651:-

Tapestry Panel, Dunbar Museum

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