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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.)

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

Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer

Picador, 1984, 715 p.

 Ancient Evenings cover

The main preoccupations of the novel as a form throughout the years have been with love, sex and death. This is not a love story and, since it revolves around reincarnation, that pretty much takes care of death. (Not entirely, there is a long description of the Battle of Kadesh, which isn’t exactly mortality free, and to be reborn one has to die, but these are all-but incidental.)

That leaves only sex, la petite mort. And boy, does it leave sex. You name it, it appears in these pages.

Not that there is much intimation of that to start with. We begin with someone – we quickly learn this person is named Menenhetet Two – waking up in the Great Pyramid of Khufu, assuming himself to be dead, and making his way up into the light. (Ancient Egyptians of course had an afterlife.) This is the first of seven Books in the novel, The Book of One Man Dead. The others are The Book of the Gods, The Book of the Child, The Book of the Charioteer, The Book of the Queens, The Book of the Pharaoh and The Book of Secrets, in all of which the chapters are preceded by that section’s descriptive Egyptian hieroglyph.

The first two are fairly turgid, the second, The Book of the Gods, being an account of Egyptian mythology but which doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose beyond illustrating their Gods’ convolutions. It is only in the third section that we begin to have some appearance of story. Here Menenhetet Two, as a seven year-old boy, accompanies his parents (mother Hathfertiti and father Nef-khep-aukhem, who in Egyptian tradition are half-siblings,) and his great-grandfather Menenhetet One, to a celebration known as the Night of the Pig (an unclean animal of course,) in the presence of Pharaoh Ptah-nem-hotep, also known as Ramses the Ninth, in the royal city of Memphi. The later chapters play out the ramifications of this evening and Menenhetet One’s reminiscences of his four lives so far, but are mostly set during the life and times of the Great Pharaoh Ramses the Second, (Usermare Setpenere,) whom Menenhetet One served in various contexts – as charioteer, then General, then governor of the little queens in the House of the Secluded (the Pharoah’s harem,) then guard to Ramses’s Queen, Nefertiri, and later to the Pharaoh’s third Queen, the Hittite princess Rama-Nefru, but also, in Menenhetet One’s second life, as High Priest – during his long reign.

Egyptians, due to the influence of the Nile, are privy to other people’s thoughts and Menenhetet Two experiences all of this – and knowledge of his mother’s desire to actually have sex with Ptah-nem-hotep (eventually fulfilled) – mostly by pretending to be asleep. So it is that Menenhetet Two learns his great-grandfather and his mother have been long-time lovers and his real father is Ptah-nem-hotep, conceived by Hathfertiti through devious means.

Mailer makes a fair enough attempt to mimic ancient Egyptian speech patterns and phraseology but in the main the novel is overwritten, which renders it hard going to start with. The details of Menenhetet One’s first life though do manage to conjure some interest but there are still significant longueurs within most of his reminiscences.

My overall memory of this book, however, is likely to be of the quite ridiculous amount of sex it contains.

Pedant’s corner:- On the backcover “Nefititi” (In text it’s always Nefertiri.) Otherwise; lay (lie,) Isis’ (Isis’s,) Osiris’ (Osiris’s,) Horus’ (Horus’s.) “The air alt red” (altered.) “My means might be one-seventh of what once it had been” (of what once they had been.) “Ahead were nothing but mountains covered with trees” (Ahead was nothing but…,) paniers (panniers,) “the first of our advantages were the bows” (the first … was the bows,) staunch (x 2, stanch.)

Old Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

This week’s contribution to Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.

So, I hear you ask, is it old books or an old bookcase?

Well, it’s both.

This is known in our house as, “my Dad’s bookcase,” (or, depending on who is speaking, “your Dad’s bookcase.”)

The top three shelves contain classic books, some of them leather-bound, and poetry collections; the lower two have reference books and military history.

Old Bookcase

History Bookshelf Travelling for Insane times

Another entry for Judith, Reader in the Wilderness‘s meme.

This bookcase is in our living room. Top shelf is Military History with my extensive collection of Pan’s “British Battles” series and more. The second shelf contains more Military History, books by Primo Levi plus some novels, the third is a miscellany, some omnibus editions, hard back Hilary Mantel books plus at the extreme right books on International Exhibitions:-

History Books (and some more)

The books below are in a display cabinet. These are mostly about World Wars 1 and 2 but also there is Thomas Pakenham’s The Boer War:-

History Books

Same display cabinet. Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples, Conan Doyle’s The British Campaign in Flanders and Son of the Morning Star.

More History Books

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate, 2020, 889 p, including 4p Author’s Note and 1 pAcknowledgements, plus ii p Contents, vi p Cast of Characters and ii p Tudor and Plantagenet descendant family trees.

The Mirror and the Light cover

As we have come to expect of Mantel this is exquisitely written. Each word, it seems, has been chosen with care, the prose burnished to perfection. At nearly 900 pages, though, it is not a quick read.

This final instalment of Mantel’s Tudor trilogy is bookended by two executions, that of Anne Boleyn and Cromwell’s own. Despite the reader’s knowledge of its narrator’s ultimate fate (surely no-one coming to this book could be unaware of it?) there is no sense of tension defrayed. We are in the moment – often in his past moments – with Thomas Cromwell in his efforts to serve Henry VIII and to frustrate the king’s enemies both at home and abroad (and for Cromwell to climb the greasy pole as high as possible while incidentally enriching himself, his family and his entourage.)

The Tudor dynasty is still on insecure ground, its already tenuous claim to the throne threatened by the lack of a male heir, Catholic pretenders (the Poles and the Courtenays) intriguing against Henry with the Spanish Emperor’s envoy and with the Pope, gossiping and insinuating against Cromwell but in the aftermath of Anne Boleyn’s death the most urgent task in the king’s households seems to be to chip out the HA HA insignia from all the heraldic emblems on the walls and to unstitch them from the embroidered cushions. Meanwhile the king’s latest marriage – to Jane Seymour – goes well, bringing benefits to the Seymours and Cromwell both, not least the marriage of Cromwell’s son into the Seymour family. Then, after producing a legitimate son for Henry, Jane dies; and, though Prince Edward thrives, everything is thrown into the air again.

This is an easy to absorb foray through the history of the times as seen through the eyes of one of its prime actors; the uprising against the King’s religious policies in the North of England that became known as The Pilgrimage of Grace, allayed by worthless promises and later crushed by the Duke of Norfolk; the diplomatic dance surrounding the marriages of James V of Scotland with French heiresses; the dissolution of the monasteries and the bounty that brings, both to the crown and to its servants; the arm’s length negotiations for Henry’s marriage with Anne of Cleves; that project’s dismal failure on the pair’s first sight of each other; the insinuation by the Duke of Norfolk of his flighty niece Katherine Howard into the King’s orbit; rumours that Cromwell seeks to marry the King’s first daughter, the Lady Mary. All goes well for Cromwell until suddenly it doesn’t, things he said in innocence are twisted against him, hoist by his own petard.

There are some quotable moments. Thinking of his dead wife, Cromwell remembers, “She kept a list of his sins, in the pocket of her apron: took it out and checked it from time to time.” (She needed to write them down?) Under questioning by Cromwell, Margaret Pole comments on the position of aristocratic women, “‘I have noticed’” she says, “‘common men often love their mothers. Sometimes they even love their wives.’” At one point Cromwell reflects that, “men pay for crimes, but not necessarily their own.”

However, at times I found myself struggling to concentrate on the text, perhaps due to this third Cromwell book’s length (or even its weight) or that I was reading it during lockdown with other things on my mind.

It is obvious in retrospect, though, that the whole trilogy has been the thoughts of Cromwell on the scaffold, scrolling through his life as he awaits the axe.

Overall, this trilogy is a tour-de-force, a great feat of evoking another time, of imagining another mind, and a brilliant achievement.

Pedant’s corner:- “her family sweep in” (sweeps in.) “None of them have kept their looks” (None of them has kept her looks.) “‘I am sure you she remembers you’” (no need for the ‘you’, or else ‘I assure you’ was meant,) burger (x2, burgher,) dottrels (dotterels.) “‘Did you not use to be’” (Did you not used to be’,) “lands at the town of Fife” (Fife is not a town, it’s a county, though it’s still sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Fife.) “His party travel” (His party travels,) pyxs (pyxes,) “to see that that” (only one ‘that’ needed,) “spout it from their maws” (a maw is a stomach, not a mouth.)

Scone Palace

Scone Palace isn’t actually a palace but an old house, near the village of Scone itself near Perth, Perth and Kinross.

The name palace derives from the site being that of an Abbey with its accompanying Abbot’s Palace.

The Palace’s grounds contain the ancient coronation site of the Kings of Scotland where the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, was situated on Moot Hill.

Scone Palace from drive:-

Scone Palace from Drive

Closer view:-

Scone Palace

Old gates. These are not on the main drive but nevertheless a few years ago some delivery driver tried to get through them and knocked the cebtral stones down. The arch has been well restored:-

Scone Palace Gates

Chapel on Moot Hill:-

Chapel on Moot Hill, Scone Palace

Chapel and Stone of Destiny, Moot Hill. You have to look really yard from this angle to see the Stone:-

Chapel and Stone of Destiny, Moot Hill, Scone Palace

Stone of Scone replica (or is it?) There have always been rumours that the stone Edward I of England removed to Westminster Abbey and on which the monarchs of England and, from 1701, the UK have been crowned was not the original:-

Stone of Destiny, Moot Hill, Scone Palace

Scone Palace is also renowned for its peacocks (and peahens):-

Peacocks, Scone Palace

They are reasonably tame and will eat out of your hand:-

Peacock Feeding, Scone Palace

Dundrennan Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway

Dundrennan Abbey was the place where Mary, Queen of Scots spent her last night in Scotland before fleeing over the Solway Firth to England, imprisonment and eventual execution. She didn’t sleep in the Abbey itself but in the commendator’s house in the west range.

Dundrennan Abbey from the car park:-

Dundrennan Abbey in Dumfries and Galloway

Dundrennan Abbey ruins from side:-

Dundrennan Abbey Ruins From Side

Walls and west range:-

Dundrennan Abbey, Walls


Dundrennan Abbey, Arches

More Arches, Dundrennan Abbey

Choir screen – now detached and situated in the west range:-

Dundrennan Abbey Choir Screen

Carved graveslab:-

Dundrennan Abbey, Carved Graveslab

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