Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Anexio 1216 (1)

It's not generally known that in the Medieval ages a French army successfully invaded England, there were bloody sieges of Dover and Windsor, a guerrilla war in the Kent countryside and a French prince was proclaimed King of England in London.

King John

It was all, unwittingly, due to King John, like so much else from Magna Carta to the legend of Robin Hood. John had signed Magna Carta in June 1215 but characteristically ignored it. Frustrated, the Barons rose in revolt, the "First Barons War". Bizarrely, they were legally entitled to do this by a clause in Magna Carta, clause 61, which allowed the barons to override the King if he broke the agreement, basically an application of the principle that unpaid debts can be recovered by force.

Anyway, the situation soon got past issues of Magna Carta, and it was clear John had to go.

Louis, later when he was King of France

In desperation, the barons offered the crown to Prince Louis of the House of Capet, the ambitious heir to the French crown. He enthusiastically agreed. In May 1216 Louis's army landed in Kent, captured the Cinque Ports, but not Dover, and headed for London. John bolted to Winchester, and Louis entered London virtually unopposed. Partly due to Johns unpopularity, partly sensing which way the wind was blowing, many nobles came to pay homage, and Louis was proclaimed king of England. Even the Scottish King Alexander II came down to acknowledge him, although he did annex Carlise on the way, which presumably belonged to Louis now.

Anyway, although John still had a significant army in the field, Louis soon controlled much of England. The only significant castle holding out against him was Dover, which he had bypassed in the invasion, and which lay on one of his main supply routes.

The siege of Dover

Dover is the closest port to France, and has always been strategically important. Although the castle was not as large as nowadays, it was still pretty impressive, with the keep and inner and outer bailey walls completed. A barbican and two towers protected the gate.

If Louis was lucky to have John as King of England as an opponent, that was balanced by John's generals, some of whom were remarkably competent men. Dover was under the command of the 56 year old Hubert de Burgh, who seems to have been an inspiring, and innovative leader. Hubert was of the de Burgh family from Norfolk and had been part of John's household from an early age. He obviously impressed as he had been made High Sheriff of Dorset, Somerset and Berkshire over the years, and castillan of various castles on the Welsh Marshes and Wallingford in Berkshire. He is destined to play a large part in this story.

Hubert de Burgh (a later representation)

Dover was one of the strongest castles in England, with a strong garrison of 140 knights, many men at arms and plentiful supplies. Louis returned on July 19th and lay siege, billeting his troops in and around the town. Presumably, many of his men were quartered in the fishing village on the east side of the river Dour, nearest the castle, the rest in the better accomadation in the town on the west bank, or local manor houses. He did the right things, seizing high ground to the north and using perriers and mangonels (trebuchets and catapults) to bombard the walls while he undermined the barbican defending the gate with miners. Perriers are a fairly primitive form of trebuchet, basically a high seesaw with a long beam on one side from which hung a sling contatining the rock, and a short beam on the other side from which hung ropes. When the crew, usuually 20-40 men, pulled on the ropes the rock was flung up into the air. This idea is not especially powerful, and also has a range similar to archery, so the crew needed protection or shielding. It's not clear exactly what was meant by a mangonel, as the term meant different things at different times.

Siege engines like this weren't just knocked together on the spot. For instance, for the siege of Bytham in Lincolnshire just 7 years later, 12 carts were used to transport artillery from London in sections. Whether Louis used the Royal stores in London, or had access to his fathers stores in France, which might have been more handy for Dover, is not clear.

A perrier

Mining, though slow, was more effective against such a strong castle as Dover. It was simply a tunnel or even a cavity, shored up with beams, dug not so much to enter the castle as to arrive under the walls. This would then be deliberately collapsed, or exploded, and the wall would fall - obviously someone had to really know what they were doing! In this case someone did, the barbican fell and miners were sent on to topple the two towers of the gate itself. When one tower fell the castle was stormed. Here things started to go wrong, as de Burgh's men drove off the attack, and blocked the breach with timbers taken from castle buildings, and Louis was back where he started.

Meanwhile, Kent was the battlefield for a guerrilla war....

"A certain youth, William by name, a fighter and a loyalist [to King John] who despised those who were not, gathered a vast number of archers in the forests and waste places [of the Kent and Sussex Weald], all of them men of the region, and all the time they attacked and disrupted the enemy, and as a result of their intense resistance many thousands of Frenchmen were slain". Roger of Wendover, Flores Historiarum, II. 182".

William´s origins are a bit of a mystery, he may even have been one of John´s many Flemish mercenaries, but he does seem to have been only about 21 at the time. Somehow he raised thousands of volunteers amonst the archers of the Weald in Kent and Sussex and harrased the French wherever he could. With most communications between London and Dover, or London and France, passing through Kent he was holding the jugular. William has probably suffered historically by starting on the wrong side, which is a pity as with this and his later exploits he makes Robin of Lockesley look very small beer.

We'll meet William of Cassingham and Hubert de Burgh again later, but for now Louis was thinking he didn't have time for all this. On October 14th he called a truce and marched back to London.

Death of John

On October 18th Louis had more bad news, John had died at Newark Castle. Now, the death was so convenient, for so many people, that rumours immediately started. It was poisoned ale, poisoned plums, Shakespere, writing centuries later, has a monk giving the poison. Frankly, its hard to say now how he died. He had apparently contracted dysentery in Lynn (now Kings Lynn) which might well have killed him. Anyway, his body was taken to Worcester where he was buried in the cathedral.

However it had occurred, Johns death changed the game completely. Opposing a cruel and despotic king was one thing, serving a foreign prince quite another. John had an heir, Henry, and attention now focused on him. Nine year old Henry was crowned in Gloucester on October 28th, 1216. They didn't have London, they didn't even have a crown, using a gold necklace, but they had the papal legate in attendence, and crucially, they had a figurehead.

We now meet the third of Louis's nemesi, William Marshall. William was already a major player. At 69 years old he had served Henry II and Richard the Lioneart, and then John. Starting as the younger son of a fairly minor noble, Marshall now was a major landowner in his own right and hugely respected. It was in large part Marshall who had kept John in the game as long as he had, and it was apparently Marshall who John entrusted with Henry´s care on his death bed. On November 11th 1216 the Kings Council appointed Marshall as Regent in Henry's name. The fight back had begun.

Further reading

The sieges of Dover

A Note on William of Cassingham
G. R. Stephens
Speculum, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Apr., 1941), pp. 216-223

An online guide to trebuchets

Medieval Dover

Friday, 12 August 2011

Red City - the Mutinies of Semarang

Semarang in Indonesia is now known locally as the Red City, after it´s Communist links. It was where Dutch immigrants started the local Communist party in 1920, and promptly started fighting with the Socialists. The city has had a troubled history.

The African mutiny, 1840

Local (left) and African soldiers in the KNIL

The Dutch in the 1830s faced a problem. They had a burgeoning empire in the East Indies, but it had to be policed. There were good local soldiers available, for instance the Amboinese, but there had already been one Javanese revolt in 1829 and arming more locals did not seem a good idea. Equally there were few Dutch willing to volunteer, and it was illegal to send Dutch conscripts to the East. The solution was to recruit African soldiers, who it was presumed would cope better with the climate, and have little reason to align themselves with the local population. To further ensure their loyalty, they were promised "European" status in terms of pay and conditions.
The original idea was to recruit Ashanti warriors, who had a superb reputation. Unfortunately, the Ashanti saw little point in volunteering for 15 years service in a distant land when they had a good thing going at home. But they were amenable to selling some of their slaves to the Dutch. These slaves were then technically "freed" (important to prevent interference from Royal Navy anti-slavery patrols on the West African coast) and the fee regarded as an advance on their pay. Over 2,000 were shipped to join the Dutch East Indies Army, the KLIN.

Now, the "European" status might have been seen as a bureaucratic slight of hand in the Hague, but it was taken very seriously by the Africans. On the other hand, to the Dutch officers in Batavia, they were unaccustomed to any European ways let alone military training, and of course hardly any spoke Dutch, or even the same African languages. By 1838 there were reports of disturbances throughout the army, Dutch officers reported that the Africans were "'choleric, quick-tempered and extremely insolent" and recommended only one African company per battalion, although "during military expeditions they demonstrated bravery and fearlessness, even more so than the Europeans. In combat their ardour needed to be tempered, otherwise they ignored the orders of their officers". Importantly, "it was repeatedly emphasised that the Africans looked down on the native population."

In December 1840 the military tribunal in Semarang tried a case of mutiny. This wasn´t the first incidence of trouble, but it was the first to go to court. In the garrison town of Kedong Kebo in central Java the 4th Infantry battalion had mutinied, or rather the 3rd, 4th and 5th African companies did. The cause was not a general sense of "anti-colonialism", but a feeling that they were losing their status as "Europeans" and being treated like "natives". Actually, a justified grievance as their bedding had been removed and their pay down graded. On 16th April the 3rd and 5th companies disobeyed their officers and stormed into the kitchens, from where they returned armed with wooden sticks. With the 4th company they then went for the arsenal "shouting rebellious slogans", but the commander had had prior warning, and filled it with European troops. The mutineers were dispersed and fled into the bush, followed by armed patrols. With little local support they were soon captured, and the ring leaders sentenced to 25 lashes and 2 years in prison, the rest to 14 days in prison. In 1841 there was another revolt on Sumatra that left 2 Africans dead, and in December 1841 recruitment in West Africa was stopped altogether

The use of African soldiers in the KNIL is discussed in more detail in "African mutinies in the Netherlands East Indies" (2003) by Ineke van Kessel, available by open access on the web

The Swiss mutiny, 1860

Lt Romswinckel

By 1860 Semarang was a major commercial centre, with about 30,000 people employed in import and export businesses, and a trade of 30 million guilders per year. The European population was 2nd only to Batavia. Nonetheless the KLIN still had the same manpower problem, and now they turned to the Swiss. The most famous mercenaries in Europe, surely this couldn´t go wrong? In Semarang it did. The "numerous" Swiss garrison revolted and terrified the merchants of the city with the prospect of "murder and looting". Fortunately for them a Dutch officer, Lt Joost Hendrik Romswinckel was on hand. He had already seen service in Boni, where he won the Military Order of William, and he had a reputation for calmness under fire. In one case he had hidden a leg wound from his native troops and only attended to it later in secret. This calmness served him well again, with a "handful" of loyal troops he faced down the mutineers and reestablished order. The city awarded him a jewelled sword in gratitude.

The Japanese mutiny, 1945

Japanese troops in Semarang, 1942

Like the rest of Java, Semarang was occupied by the Japanese in WW2. When they surrendered this left a vacuum which Indonesian nationalists immediately filled, declaring Independence on 17th August 1945. Unfortunately, in effect, this meant a complete breakdown in law and order, with murder and looting rife. Although the 5,000 Dutch in Semarang were worried, the 40,000 Chinese were terrified - they had suffered particularly under the Japanese and now were targeted by the Indonesians.

By this time British and Dutch troops had reestablished control in Batavia, but the Indian troops in Semarang were struggling. They had successfully evacuated many POWs, but power and water had been cut off and thousands of British, Dutch and Eurasians were forced into internment camps. There was another source of troops however. The Japanese battalion in Semerang under Major Kido had been confined to barracks since the surrender, though they had occasionally been used under strict Indian control to maintain order. Now Kido took matters into his own hands. In the early hours of October 15th the Japanese left their barracks, without permission, and moved into the city. They cleared the immediate area and then secured the internment camps. Next day, under heavy machine gun and sniper fire, they stormed the town jail, finding the bodies of 85 murdered Japanese, but rescuing another 50, and over 300 Europeans due to be executed the next day.

More Indian and British troops arrived, especially the 10th Gurkha Rifles and 5th Parachute brigade and the city came back under control. Electricity and water were reestablished, and in 1946 the city was handed back to Dutch troops. Kido's "mutiny" was soon over, but it saved a lot of lives, as Captain D.B. Friend, of the Gurkhas reported - 'There is little doubt that the internees at Semarang owed their lives to Kido and his men, for it was they who prevented the Indonesians from capturing the camps and massacring the inmates before the arrival of British troops'

The most famous mutiny of all

The mutiny

Ok, the Mutiny on the Bounty didn't start in Semarang, but Bligh and his companions did pass through on their way home, on Thursday September 24th 1789. As well as remarking that "the Custom among the dutch is to go to Sleep immediately after Dinner their time of Dining being precisely at Noon", he left this description...

"In the Morning Mr. de Bose did me the favour to show me the environs of this place . Its situation is pleasant, with fine Roads like Bowling Greens, for the Country except far back is level without any rising Grounds and is well Watered. The generality of the Houses are not well calculated for the Country but none of the superior ones particularly this of Mr. de Bose are Airy and built with Taste. The Chinese Town is apart from the Europeans, and so are the industrious people. The Markets are Large and supplied with great abundance of Legumes and Fruit and every article of Food is to be got at a very cheap rate.

But what does great honor to the Europeans here is a publick Hospital under the direction of Mr. Johannes Jacobus Abegg who is first Surgeon. Perhaps a more Airy, or a Situation more desirable for a Sick Man cannot be found, or is it possible for more cleanliness to be observed in any place whatever.

Here's also a public School supported by contributions and some other Helps from such Scholars as are able to pay for their education.The Mathematical Sciences are regularly and well taught and every young person may be properly educated to form a Complete Sea Officer. The Head Master Mr. Stainmitz is possessed of a few necessary Instruments but he wants a little practical knowledge of the use of them and of the manner of making Observations.

The Town is fortified and surrounded by a Wall & Ditch, on the whole perhaps they can mount 80 peices of Cannon. The Troupes are Commanded by a Colonel and their number may amount to 300 effective Europeans. Among those Officers who have honord me with a Visit was a Mr. C. C. Van Arnschild an Hanovarian Officer now in the Company Service whose Father is a General in Hanover".

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Austrian Light (2) - the Austrian cavalry in action

Between 1859 and 1866 the Austrian light horse found itself at war with Frenchmen, Italians and Prussians. It has to be said that, despite almost suicidal bravery, it did not go well. Part of the problem seems to have been that they were, well, light. Idolisation of the charge, and disdain for firearms (as expressed to General McClellen in 1855), meant that they flung themselves at the enemy at every opportunity. Against infantry this was disastrous, but even against cavalry it was unwise. In a swirling cavalry melee, man against man, it often came down to sheer physical strength, and time and again contemporary commentators report how they lost to heavier men on larger horses, especially the Prussians, even Prussian hussars.

Not that there wasn't glory to be won.....

The 10th Hussars at Solferino, June 24 1859
Modern tactics of the three arms by General MW Smith 1869

The 10th Hussars at Solferino

The front of the Austrian line was covered by artillery, which came into action at from a thousand to twelve hundred yards' range. The four batteries of the first and second French divisions galloped forward to the line of skirmishers, and came into action. Two tumbrils of the Austrian artillery were blown up, after which they retired. It was at the commencement of this engagement that General Auger lost his arm.

During the artillery action, the 10th Austrian hussars, moving under the cover of the trees, which covered the ground, approached the left of the second French division, with the intention of turning the left of the second corps d'armee. Passing the line of skirmishers, they charged; but Gaudin de Villaine's brigade of cavalry encountered them. They charged three times, but were finally driven among the squares formed by the first brigade of the second division. The successful action of the cavalry, and the fire from the Duke of Magenta's position, held the enemy in check on this point of the battle field.

The 13th Uhlans at Custoza
24 June 1866

The charge of the 13th lancers at Custoza

Near the town of Custoza the Austrian army of 75,000 men was facing 120,000 Italians. It was early morning, and the light brigade under Pulz was shadowing two Italian infantry divisions, one commanded by the Piedmontese crown prince, Umberto, and a division of heavy cavalry (20 squadrons).
Neither commander was under much inclination to attack just yet, but Lt. Col. Maximilian Rodakowski of the 13th “Trani” Uhlans had other ideas. He rode along the front of his lancers, shouting in Polish “Follow me! And when you can no longer see the regimental standard, look out for the plume of my czapka to see where the action is, and show what the Trani-Ulanen can do!
Peeling off his 4 squadrons of Uhlans he charged directly at the Italians.

Pulz assumed that Rodsakowski could not possibly be so stupid as to attack, it must be a feint to draw the Italians off their position. He was wrong. It wasn't just the Austrians caught by surprise, the Italians desperately formed squares and Umberto, taking a morning stroll, only just made it into one in time.

The lancers thundered across the open ground, directly into the murderous fire of two divisions, as Pulz followed their progress as a dust cloud in the distance, with the rapidly increasing sound of rifle and artillery fire. Rodakowski's lancers crashed through a gap between the two divisions, only to run into a deep ditch that send horses somersaulting into the air. Those lancers still upright were halted, making easy targets. Worse, the 1st “Kaiser Franz Josef” Hussars had followed Rodakowski in, and suffered the same fate.

The survivors fled back to their lines, but half the Austrian cavalry had been slaughtered. Incredibly, the Austrians still won. The Italian supply train bolted, blocking bridges preventing the arrival of reinforcements, and panic spread in the rear divisions. Dello Roca, the Italian commander, believed this must be the start of a major attack, and halted advances on his left where the Austrians were weak. After a confusing day in which both sides thought they had lost, an Austrian attack finally broke through and Della Roca retreated.

The Alexander lancers at Sadowa, 3 July 1866
Modern tactics of the three arms by General MW Smith 1869

From the Prussian perspective

Not Sadowa, but Austrian lancers in action against Piedmontese, 1866

The first cavalry division under Major-General V. Alvensleben had, about three o'clock in the afternoon of the day of the battle, received orders to support the Elbe army; in consequence, the light cavalry brigade, Rheinbaden, consisting of one dragoon regiment of the guard, at the head, followed by the first and second Lancer Regiments of the Guard, broke tip from Johanneshof, where the division had been concentrated for some time, and marched in the direction of Nachanitz. The brigade during their march were exposed to a continuous fire, and Ridingmaster V. Bodelschwing, of the First Dragoons of the Guards, when near Lubno, fell mortally wounded.

The brigade crossed the Bistritz at Nechanitz soon after four p.m. The Commandant of the Dragoon Regiment, Lieut.-Colonel V. Barner, had received the order to report his arrival upon the scene of action personally to General V. Herwarth, commanding the Elbe army. It was impossible to find the General in the midst of the tumult and confusion raging on all sides, and nothing remained for him but to use his own discretion, and ride forward into the action; so putting himself at the head of his own regiment he took the direction of Problus; the advance of about five or six miles over broken and intersected ground, mostly covered with standing corn, at an uninterrupted trot, had considerably exhausted the horses during their advance; they encountered different parties of their own cavalry, the fifth, sixth and seventh Lancers, and a portion of the Neumark Dragoons were seen in the direction of Streselitz. As they still advanced they came in sight of a body of the enemy's cavalry to the east of Problus, which had hitherto been concealed from their view, consisting of the brigade Meugden. The King Ludvig of Bavaria's Cuirassiers on the right, the 11th (Alexander) Lancers on the left, and Count Neipperg's Cuirassiers in reserve: these troops had not as yet been in action.

The Alexander Lancers detaching themselves from the left of the brigade moved forward in the direction of the dragoons, who deployed at once and attacked, both regiments charged well home and mutually broke through each others ranks, a general melee and hand-to-hand conflict ensued, and for some minutes, the fighting masses surged hither and thither. Some files of the Austrian lancers rode between the intervals of the guns of Captain Caspasy's battery, which was attached to the Prussian regiment, and which, during the intermingling of friend and foe, had ceased firing. The dragoons at last prevailed in the desperate struggle.

The lancers were forced back, the greater portion towards Streselitz, and the remainder took a southern direction. The first were encountered by the regiment of Blucher's Hussars, under the command of Colonel V. Flemming, which had just appeared upon the battle-field from Unter Dohalitz; in spite of their disordered formation, the lancers stood the charge of the hussars bravely till taken in flank by the fourth squadron of the regiment, they broke and fled towards Streselitz.

At this moment, the first lancers of the guard of the brigade, Bheinbaben came upon the ground, and Colonel V. Colomb, commanding the regiment, was ordered by General V. Bheinbaben to take up the pursuit, and the lancers suffered severe losses in their retreat.

Generals V. Alvenslaben and Rheinbaben took part personally in this part of the action. In general, the different parties of the enemy's cavalry, scattered in retreat towards Streselitz and Laugenhof, mostly succumbed to the fire of the Prussian artillery and infantry stationed in the above-mentioned places; but one body of the Alexander Lancers held together in a most extraordinary manner till they reached the neighbourhood of Lipa, where his Majesty the King had taken up his temporary position; they had the temerity to dash forward and attempt a surprise, but a battalion of the thirty-fifth Prussian infantry received them with a murderous volley, and most of these brave men were sacrificed.

The Hesse Cassel hussars at Saar, 10 July 1866
The Seven Weeks War by HM Hozier 1867

NB. The author gives the name of the Austrian regiment as the Hesse Cassel hussars. Although at this time Hesse Cassel was a separate state, allied to Austria, this appears to be a regiment of the Austrian army and there are references to it in, for example 1854. He describes the prisoners as Hungarians, who would have served in the Austrian army and the description of a blue pelise with yellow facings would match the Austrian regiments.

The monotony of the march was relieved by a spirited cavalry skirmish in the little town of Saar, which is about six miles to the west of Neustadt. On the previous night the Austrian hussars of the regiment of Hesse-Cassel held Saar. The Prussian cavalry was to proceed on the 10th to Gammy, about a mile in front of Saar, and the 9 th regiment of Uhlans formed its advanced guard on the march. The Austrians intended to march the same day to the rear towards Briinn, and the hussars were actually assembling for parade previous to the march when the first patrols of the Prussian Uhlans came rattling into the town. The Austrians were collecting together from all the different houses and farmyards; mounted men, filing out of barns and strawhouses, were riding slowly towards their rendezvous in the market-place; men who had not yet mounted were leading their horses, strolling carelessly alongside them, when, by some fault of their sentinels, they were surprised by the Prussians. The Uhlans were much inferior in number at first, but their supports were coming up behind them, and this disadvantage was compensated for by the Austrians being taken unawares. The Uhlans quickly advanced, but did not charge before one Austrian squadron had time to form, and only while most of the men of the remaining divisions were quickly falling into their ranks, though some were cut off from the rendezvous by the Prussians advancing beyond the doors from which they were issuing, and were afterwards made prisoners.

In the market-place an exciting contest at once began. The celebrated cavalry of Austria were attacked by the rather depreciated horsemen of Prussia, and the lance, the "queen of weapons," as its admirers love to term it, was being engaged in real battle against the sword. The first Prussian soldiers who rode into the town were very few in number, and they could not attack before some more came up. This delay of a few minutes gave the hussars a short time to hurry together from the other parts of the town, and by the time the Uhlans received their reinforcements the Austrians were nearly formed.

As soon as their supports came up the lancers formed a line across the street, advanced a few yards at a walk, then trotted for a short distance, their horses' feet pattering on the stones, the men's swords jingling, their accoutrements rattling, and their lances borne upright, with the black and white flags streaming over their heads; but when near the opening into the broader street, which is called the Market-place, a short, sharp word of command, a quick, stern note from the trumpet, the lance-points came down and were sticking out in front of the horses' shoulders, the horses broke into a steady gallop, and the lance flags fluttered rapidly from the motion through the air, as the horsemen, with bridle hands low and bodies bent forward, lightly gripped the staves, and drove the points straight to the front.

But when the Prussians began to gallop, the Austrians were also in motion. With a looser formation and a greater speed they came on, their blue pelisses, trimmed with fur and embroidered with yellow, flowing freely from their left shoulders, leaving their sword-arms disencumbered. Their heads, well up, carried the single eagle's feather in every cap straight in the air; their swords were raised, bright and sharp, ready to strike, as their wiry little horses, pressed tight by the knees of the riders, came bounding along, and dashed against the Prussian ranks as if they would leap over the points of the lances. The Uhlans swayed heavily under the shock of the collision, but, recovering again, pressed on, though only at a walk. In front of them were mounted men, striking with their swords, parrying the lance-thrusts, but unable to reach the lancer; but the ground was also covered with men and horses, struggling together to rise; loose horses were galloping away; dismounted hussars in their blue uniforms and long boots were hurrying off to try to catch their chargers or to avoid the lancepoints. The Uhlan line appeared unbroken, but the hussars were almost dispersed. They had dashed up against the firmer Prussian ranks, and they had recoiled, shivered, scattered, and broken as a wave is broken that dashes against a cliff. In the few moments that the ranks were locked together, it seems that the horsemen were so closely jammed against each other that lance or sword was hardly used. The hussars escaped the points in rushing in, but their speed took them so close to the lancers' breasts that they had not even room to use their swords. Then the Prussians, stouter and taller men, mounted on heavier horses, mostly bred from English sires, pressed hard on the light frames and the smaller horses of the hussars, and by mere weight and physical strength bore them back, and forced them from their seats to the ground; or sometimes, so rude was the shock, sent horse and man bounding backwards, to come down with a clatter on the pavement.

The few Austrians who remained mounted fought for a short time to stop the Prussian advance, but they could make no impression on the lancers. Wherever a hussar made a dash to close three points bristled couched against his chest or his horse's breast, for the Austrians were now in inferior numbers in the streets to the Prussians, and the narrowness of the way would not allow them to retire for their reserves to charge. So the Prussians pressed steadily forward in an invulnerable line, and the Austrians, impotent to stop them, had to fall back before them. Before they had gone far through the town fighting this irregular combat more Prussian cavalry came up behind the Uhlans, and the Austrians began to draw off. The lancers pushed after them, but the hussars got away, and at the end of the town the pursuit ceased. One officer and twenty-two non-commissioned officers and privates taken prisoners, with nearly forty captured horses, fell into the hands of the Uhlans, as the trophies of this skirmish. Some of the prisoners were wounded; a few hussars killed, and two or three Prussians were left dead upon the ground.

One or two of the privates taken prisoners were Germans, but by far the greater number were Hungarians—smart, soldierlike-looking fellows, of a wiry build; they looked the very perfection of light horsemen, but were no match in a melee for the tall, strong cavalry soldiers of Prussia, who seemed with one hand to be able to wring them from their saddles, and hurl them to the ground.

The Battle of Tischnowitz, 11 July 1866
2nd Prussian Guards Dragoons' regiment against Graf Wallmoden Lancers.

Translated from Der deutsche Krieg von 1866, Volume 1, Part 2
By Theodor Fontane 1870

The battle in Tischnowitzmarket square

To the left of the Hann division, which formed the extreme right wing of the I. Army, was the light cavalry brigade of Duke William of Mecklenburg. The second Guards 'Dragoons' regiment,, under the command of Colonel von Redern led the brigade.

The advance was difficult insofar as the right and left of the terrain led through wooded ravines and steep hills, making searching more difficult. In OIschy, half a mile from Tischnowitz, was found the first enemy, (the Wallmoden Lancers, we later discovered), who appeared in front and both flanks. Colonel v. Redern conducted a squadron immediately right and left, enough to suppress the enemy detachmentment, while the advance half continued under Lieutenant von Dieskau to Tischnowitz.

Tischnowitz was located on the left, beyond its suburb "Vorkloster". A bridge connects the city and suburbs across the Schwaraza river.
In Vorkloster our advanced half encountered a train of enemy lancers, threw themselves at him and chased him across the bridge, into Tischnowitz. Here, however, the attack faltered. In the marketplace were two Austrian squadrons, and with the cry:" The Prussians are here, " threw themselves into the saddle (they had just dismounted) and fell on the advancing Dragoons and drove them out of the city.

But not for long. Just now appeared the first Squadrons under Captain v. Korff and the second attack on Tischnowitz started. On the Schwarzawa bridge between city and suburb, the troops collided. The Lancers seemed to want to form an impenetrable line, but our forwards attacked with dragoon sabers and the horses could only go in the last moments between their horses and so fell in between the Lancers. Major von Schack was wounded by a lance on the left shoulder however the dragoons went so close to the enemy that the lances were unusable.

The scuffle lasted only a few moments, Captain vd Knesebeck, the leader of the enemy squadrons, was carved from his horse, which turned the Lancers and they retreated into the city. The dragoons pursued, but their officers kept strict command, they did not come out of order. When they had gained the road leading to the marketplace, the Lancers tried again to make a front, but once more Dragoons attacked and again pushed the enemy back by the sheer weight of the horses and the force of the blows. The tough battle lasted a long time. The riders were so close together in each other that they could hardly use their weapons and they fought with each other and sought to seize the horses, which, frightened and made wild, reared, and struck out. The force of Prussia prevailed and they pressed their opponents back on the market, where a picture of the Madonna on a high column looked down. Here an Austrian officer was with almost unbelievable power thrown from the saddle, the lighter Austrian riders were not at all able to stand against the greater strenght and violence and turned and hurried out of the city to join regiments outside. A pursuit took place, but was halted by the inequality of forces. The loss of the enemy was 2 officers and 53 men, partly dead and wounded, others trapped. Our part, we had 2 men killed and 10 wounded.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Austrian Light (1) - the Austrian light cavalry of the 1850s

Reading about the exploits of the Austrian hussars and lancers in Mexico inspired me to look a little further into the Austrian light cavalry of the Victorian age. Once again I am indebted to Major General McClennan for his guide to European armies in 1855/6*, after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, and before the Franco-Austrian war of 1859.


In the Austrian army there are 16 regiments of heavy cavalry—i.e. 8 of cuirassiers and 8 of dragoons; and 24 of light cavalry—i.e. 12 of hussars and 12 of lancers. Each regiment of light cavalry has 8 active squadrons; the men and horses of the hussars being Hungarian and Transylvanian; those of the lancers are, for the most part, from Poland.

Each regiment has a colonel, one field officer for every two squadrons, an adjutant, paymaster, quartermaster, and judge advocate. The squadron is the unit for the administration and interior service; the division of 2 squadrons commanded by a field officer is the tactical unit. Each division has a standard.

A squadron of light cavalry consists of: 1 captain commanding. 1 2d captain. 2 lieutenants. 2 sub'lieutenants. 2 sergeants. 12 corporals. 2 trumpeters. 1 saddler. 1 veterinary. 200 men and 201 government horses.


The overcoat for all the cavalry is of thick white cloth, with sleeves and a long cape; it is made very long and loose. It may here be stated that this white cloth, of which the uniform coats of the infantry are also made, is stated by the Austrian officers to be excellent for the field; it is cleaned by washing and pipe-clay; and they seem to prefer it to any other color.

The uniform coat is a short, double-breasted frock, with a standing collar, cut away in front; the lancers alone wear epaulettes. This coat is white for the heavy cavalry; dark green for the lancers; light or dark blue for the hussars. A spencer, of the same color as the coat, is worn by all the cavalry on certain occasions; it has a rolling collar, and is made so loose that it may be worn over the uniform coat. The pants are of the colour of the coat; those of the hussars fit perfectly tight to the leg, and are worn under the boots; those of the other cavalry are reenforced with leather as far up as the knee.

The hussars wear boots reaching nearly to the knee; the rest of the cavalry wear half-boots. No spare boots are carried on the march The stable-frock, neatly made of coarse white linen, serves as a uniform coat in the summer. No linen pants are issued or worn. For service in cold weather, gray cloth overalls are issued; they button all the way up, on the inside and outside of the legs. On the march, in winter, the men wear the vest, uniform coat, spencer, cloak, pants, and overalls.

The lancers wear the well-known Polish lancer hat. The hussars wear a cylindrical shako, with a peaked visor. The forage-cap is the same for all the cavalry, it is of a very dark color, and is somewhat of the shape of the French kepis, the visor being more peaked, and the top larger.


Lancer (uhlan) 1854

For the cavalry, equitation is of the greatest importance. It consists not only in the ability to sit the horse, but also in knowing how to conduct and use him under all circumstances. The walk is the easiest gait for the rider, and the natural gait of the horse; it should be at the rate of about 120 steps per minute. The trot is the most lasting pace of the horse, but the hardest for the rider; as it does much towards giving a good seat, the men should be much exercised at it; the common trot is at the rate of about 250, the trot out 300 steps per minute. The full gallop is at the rate of 500 steps per minute; the hand gallop somewhat slower. The charge is at the rate of about 600 steps per minute.

Marches are conducted at the rate of from 3 to 4 miles per hour, (for the most part at a walk,) and usually last about 5 hours. About half an hour after starting, a short halt is made, to allow the horses to urinate. Over very rough or steep ground the horses are generally led. The hussars march long distances at the trot, and know no obstacles; rivers, marshes, mountains, and obstructed ground, check their course but little.

Since it is often necessary for light troops to swim their horses, they should be taught beforehand to throw the carbine over the shoulder, to allow the curb-reins to hang loosely, and to guide the horse by the snaffle, not straight across the stream, but a little against the current. The rider must grasp the mane, and never look at the water, but at the bank, lest he become giddy. In the event of being swept from the saddle, he can still keep above water by keeping hold of the mane; if he loses this advantage, he must endeavor to seize the horse's tail, and allow the animal to take him ashore.

The firearms are only used on guard, vedette, &c., to give the alarm, it being taken as a maxim to trust only to the steel. There were several instances during the Hungarian war when the Hungarian hussars stopped to fire; the result invariably was that they were ridden over by the lancers.

The order of battle of a brigade of light cavalry is, one regiment with all its divisions deployed in line, the other formed in line of columns, with closed intervals, 500 paces behind the centre of the front line. Independently of the reserves above mentioned, every body of cavalry which charges detaches, at the moment of taking the trot, a portion of its own force to secure its flanks and rear.

When a single division charges, the flank platoons fall out, and form, in columns by platoons, about 300 paces in rear of the centre; the captains on the flanks close in on the charging platoons; their whole duty is to watch and protect the flanks of the charging body.
When a regiment charges, the flank squadrons act in the same manner, but each squadron remains behind the flank to which it belongs.

In the manoeuvres of large bodies of cavalry, the Austrians form them in one line, throwing in advance the' artillery, and a few squadrons, intended to make false attacks, and to clear the way for the main body: their reason for this is, that if the 1st line is broken it is very apt to carry the 2d with it.

While we were in Vienna, on the morning of the 9th January, at 6 A.M., the 12th lancers were suddenly alarmed; in 40 .minutes the regiment was formed in marching-order, baggage packed, platoons told off, officers at their posts, &c. This was considered sharp work for quarters. The whole garrison was alarmed at the same moment; this is done, not unfrequently, by the emperor.


Radetsky hussar 1854

Hussars - Sabre, pistol, and carbine.
Lancer - Lance, sabre, and two pistols; 16 men in each squadron have a carbine in the place of one of the pistols.

The light-cavalry sabre has a blade about 32 inches long, and not much curved; the scabbard and guard of steel. It is rather heavy, and not particularly well balanced. Many of the officers think that the sabre should be more curved, as they prefer cutting to pointing. I was informed that although the steel scabbard dulls the sabre it is regarded as being, on the whole, better than wood, as not being so liable to injury by fire &c. In the field the sabres are first ground, and afterwards whetted every two or three weeks. It is a well-recognized principle that a dull sabre is entirely useless.

The lance has a point 8 inches long above the knob; two iron straps extend some 3 feet down the shaft, which is about 9 feet long; the butt tipped with iron; pennon black and yellow; the ordinary lance-sling. In time of war the lance-points are kept sharp by filing.

The ordinary carbine and pistol present nothing remarkable; the pistol has no strap to the butt. The pistol-carbine has been introduced, and will probably supplant the old firearms. It is a long single-barrel pistol, with a carbine-stock, which is attached by two spring catches, so that it may be used either as a pistol or carbine; the stock, when detached, is carried in one of the holsters.
The two holsters are strapped to the saddle; two slits in the scbabraque, which may be closed by buckles, allow the pistols to be drawn.

No pains are spared to perfect the men in the use of their weapons; for they regard this and individual horsemanship as the most important qualifications of the cavalry soldier.

The light-cavalry horses are excellent; they are of fine appearance, active, hardy, intelligent, and seldom vicious. They are mostly from Hungary, Transylvania, and Poland. Large numbers are imported from Russia. The horses of the same squadron are not necessarily of the same color. If he rides him for 20 years, he becomes the owner of the horse and equipment, and may take him away when he leaves the service.

Comparison of Austrian and United States cavalry

Uhlan lieutenant 1854

The imperfect sketch of the Austrian cavalry given in the preceding pages will show that, as might have been expected, it presents many things well worthy of imitation, and much to be avoided.

The foundation of the efficiency and well-deserved reputation of the Austrian cavalry would seem to be the great perfection of the individual instruction of the men: without this, no organization, however perfect it maybe, can lead to good results; with it, the defects of a very bad organization may be overcome or lost sight of. The exercises preliminary to the instruction in equitation are worthy of imitation; while it would by no means be advisable to follow blindly all their conditions for a good seat.

The manner of posting the officers in a division is worthy of the most attentive consideration. There may well occur exceptional cases in which it is absolutely necessary that the officers should be in front of the men to lead and encourage them in desperate situations; but it would seem that the Austrians have good reasons for placing the officers in the ranks. They say that since the officers have, as a general rule, perfect control over their horses, they will keep them in the proper direction, and thus prevent the men from opening out, the charge being thus rendered compact and effective: they state that this formation results from the experience of actual charges upon an enemy.

The system pursued in the purchase of horses is good. The general features of their veterinary system might be followed in our service to great advantage. Their system of depot squadrons is good, and produces good results. The cooking-utensils seem to be well adapted to the end in view.

The tactical unit would appear to be entirely too large to permit the great mobility and celerity which are the essential conditions of the success of cavalry; this defect is probably overcome only by the perfection of individual instruction. The number of non-commissioned officers is too small, in comparison with the number of privates.

The articles of clothing would appear to be altogether too bulky: no doubt the comfort of the man is a very important consideration; but, if that object is gained at the expense of the efficiency of the horse, the result cannot be doubtful. The number of things carried by the men, and the excessive weight of the equipment, seem pernicious and absurd in the extreme. I was informed by cavalry officers that the men usually manage to throw away the greater part of their load before many days passed in the field.

In conclusion, I would state that much valuable information may be demed from the Cavalry Tactics, Nadosy's "Equitations-Studien," Halfzensir's "Innern Dienst der Cavallerie," and other works; those mentioned are in the possession of the War Department, and should, by all means, be consulted by any officers engaged in the preparation of a revised system for our own cavalry.


Sea Horses

Britain was the preeminant naval power of the Victorian age, not only guaranteeing her from invasion, but allowing domination of trade routes, and force projection almost anywhere on the globe. In theory, but in the 19th century, expeditionary forces meant cavalry, and horses are a lot pickier in their conditions than men. The Royal Navy was tasked with finding a solution.

HMS Himalaya was purchased from P&O as an emergency measure during the Crimean War to transport cavalry to the front. Originally designed as a passenger ship she was large (3,000 tons, the largest P&O ship at the time) and steam powered with a huge 18ft propeller, although she was also fully rigged. Despite being bought as a stopgap she was destined to remain on the books until 1920, carrying troops to India, South Africa and North America.

McClellan's Report

Fortunately, we have an eye witness of her use in the Crimea. Major General George McClellen (later one of the main American Civil War generals) toured Europe to assess the armies of the major powers with the aim of improving the army of the United States. Well, also probably checking out potential enemies, he had already carried out such a mission in Santo Domingo. Anyway, he seems to have enjoyed extraordinary access, not least as an observer in the Crimean war. Fortunately his report still survives and is freely available on the internet*. This is what he says about the Himalaya.

"The Himalaya was regarded as the most perfect horse-transport; the following description is based upon notes taken during a visit to that vessel in the harbor of Balaklava".

She "is commanded by Captain. Priest, R.N. To the courtesy of that very intelligent officer we are indebted for the details contained herein." The Himalaya "can carry 380 horses, as follows: on the spar-deck 200, main deck 130, orlopdeck 50; the corresponding number of troops can be carried at the same time."

"As a proof of the perfection of the system pursued on the Himalaya, it should be mentioned that Captain Priest had transported 3,000 animals while in command of her,—some of these direct from England to Balaklava. Out of this number but three (3) died."


The horses were housed in stalls, each held by a sea haltar ("so that it cannot interffere with it's neighbours"). "The material used is felt, or raw hide, (the latter objectionable on account of the odor,) stuffed with cow's hair wherever the animal can gnaw it, with straw in other parts; the pads were from 2" to 3" thick. The feed-trough is of wood, the edges bound with sheet iron or zinc, and attached to the head-board by two hooks. The feed-troughs, head-boards, and stalls are whitewashed and numbered."

"Whenever it is possible, a staging is erected alongside, that the horses may be walked on and off the ship." However, each horse had a sling, which "with the addition of a breast-strap and breeching, is used for hoisting the animals in and out." as well as in "cases of necessity; that is, when the animal shows signs of weakness in bad weather; in this case, about 1" play is 'given to the sling, as it is only intended to prevent the animal from falling."

Preparing horses for embarkation to the Crimea


"Not the slightest disagreeable odor could be detected on the Himalaya. The decks are washed everyday, and the stalls cleaned after every feed, —especially at 7 P.m. All wooden parts are washed with some disinfecting compound, or simply whitewashed. Chloride of zinc is freely used. The feed-troughs and the. nostrils of the horses are washed every morning and evening with vinegar."

"Great attention is paid to ventilation. Although the orlop-deck is so hot that the animals perspire a great deal, the animals carried there came off the voyage in better condition than the others. From the spar and main decks the stale passes off through the scuppers; from the orlop-deck it passes to the hold, and is pumped off by the engine."


"The usual hours for feeding are 6 A.m., 11 A.M., 5 P.M.; if any horse refuses his food, the fact is reported at once. The horses drink condensed steam. The regulation ration at sea is: 10 pounds of hay, 6 pounds of oats, a peck of bran, and 6 gallons of water,—as a maximum. It was thought that this was generally too great, and that two-thirds of this allowance, except the water, would be ample, as it is found that there is great danger from over-feeding at sea. No grain is given the day they come on board,—only a mash of bran, which, latter is regarded as the best habitual food at sea."

"The horse-guard always remain at their posts, and send for the farrier or non-commissioned officers in case of necessity."

The troopers

In contrast to the care taken with the horses, "in regard to the transportation of men, bunks and hammocks are generally used. Standing bunks are found to be very objectionable, on account of the difficulty of keeping them clean; hammocks are regarded as preferable for men in good health, while many officers consider it best to provide neither hammocks nor bunks, but to allow the men to lie down on the fore-decks with their blankets and overcoats."

McClellan on the Light Brigade

So it was in ships like this that the horses of the Light Brigade arrived in the Crimea. Incidentally, McClellan has this to say about the light cavalry - "It may be a question whether they have light cavalry, in the true sense of the term, except, perhaps, some of the regiments who have been serving in India and are mounted on Indian horses; for the men and horses of the light cavalry are scarcely to be distinguished from those of the heavy, and it may be doubted whether they would stand the severe work, exposure, and short rations which usually fall to the lot of light cavalry in campaign, as well as the less imposing but lighter and more active material of the light cavalry of other nations".


Monday, 1 August 2011

The Dutch East Indies

In the mid 19th century the islands that we now know as Indonesia were the Dutch East Indies. Well, most of it. Some parts such as Batavia (modern Jakata) had been Dutch since the 1600s, other Sultanates and kingdoms were only acquired during the late 19th century, such as the Sultanate of Aceh, whose conquest took from 1873 to 1913, and the Balinese kingdoms in 1906 and 1908.

The Cities

Batavia (modern Jakarta)

Batavia Bay

Bataivia had been Dutch for centuries and was the administrative capital. Situated on the island of Java, it was where most technological developments tended to be introduced, such as horse trams and railways.

Buitenzorg (Bogor)
About 60kn from Batavia, and Dutch since 1694, it was the summer residence of the Governor General. The city was famous for it's botanical garden, which rather like an eastern Kew, was designed to both to increase knowledge of plants and to encourage agricultural development in the colony.
A Dutch sugar factory 1851

Soerabaia (Surabaya)
On the north coast of Java, and site of the main naval base due to a safe deep water harbour. In 1868*** the population was about 100,000 and the port included shipyards, docks, construction and retail warehouses. Soerabaia was defended by Fort Erfprins,on the seaward side and Fort Prins Hendrik on the landward side, with a substantial garrison. The Resident lived outside the city in the more congenial Simpang.

Located 2,500 ft above sea level and surrounded by mountains, Bandung has a cooler climate than most of Java and was the centre of the tea industry, as well as the growth of cinchona plants, introduced for quinine production.

Main port on the island of Celebes (Sulawesi) . Much of the island was under local rulers at this time, but Makassar was Dutch, protected by Fort Rotterdam and the Dutch enclave was named Vlaardingen. It was, and is, a major trading port, including the hair oil named after it (hence anti-makassars are cloths placed on the head rests of chairs to protect the upholstery from oil).

The capital of Dutch Borneo and a Dutch protectorate from 1794 until 1860 when it was formerly annexed after the Banjarmasin war.

The Celebes in action against Dayack tribesmen in Borneo in 1859

The Army

The Dutch East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger; KNIL) was technically separate from the Dutch army as such, and it was actually illegal to send Dutch conscripts from Europe to the Dutch East Indies. Of course Dutch volunteers were welcome, and also many from Switzerland, Germany and Belgium, but at this time only about 40% of troops were of European descent, the rest a mixture of local Javanese, Timorese and other groups including Africans from Ghana. The officers and artillery gunners were always Dutch, but the sergeants often of the same race as the troops. In fact the various ethnic groups were usually quartered in separate buildings. In 1868 the army was approximately 20,000 strong*** divided amongst numerous garrisons and forts.

KNIL Malay soldiers in Sumatra 1873

There was no real external threat to the Dutch possessions at this time, but numerous operations expanding Dutch possessions, putting down revolts, or against pirates

1859-63 Bandjermasin War (Borneo)
1860 Riots on Ceram (Moluccan Islands)
1860 Revolt of Swiss army mercenaries at Semarang
1861 Defeat of pirates on the island of Saljusu
1862 Destruction of a pirates’ fleet near the Sangir Islands
1862 Expedition to Manipi, Tutungan and Mandar on Celebes / Sulawesi
1863 Expedition to Nias
1863 Expedition to the Toradja area on Celebes / Sulawesi
1864 Expeditions to Sintang and Marahunu
1865 Expedition to pirates near Menado / Manado, North-Celebes / Sulawesi
1865 Riots on Ceram (Moluccan Islands)
1865 Riots at Amunthai on Borneo
1866 Expedition to Pasumah, near Palembang on Sumatra
1866 Expedition to Ceram (Moluccan Islands)
1867 Expedition to Mandar on Celebes / Sulawesi
1868 Riots on Bali

The Navy

The Medusa in Japan 1864

Dutch naval forces in contrast remained part of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The Dutch navy was relatively strong and had a good reputation, but with Europe becoming an increasingly dangerous place the strongest vessels were kept in home waters. In 1859 it was composed as follows*

2 ships of the line of 84 guns each
3 ships of the line of 74 guns
7 first-class frigates (3 of them screws), 54 to 45 guns
8 second-class frigates, 38 to 36 guns
1 second-class rasee, 28 guns
10 corvettes (5 of them screws), 19 to 12 guns
7 brigs, 18 to 12 guns
10 screw schooners of 8 guns
27 smaller craft, mounting together 98 guns.
57 gunboats, (2 of them screw) mounting together 178 guns

In Asian waters, HNLMS Celebes was involved in operations in Borneo in 1859, and the squadron under de Man involved in the bombardment of Shimonoseki in 1864 was as follows;**

Medusa; Steam corvette. 18 guns, Captain Casembroot

Metalen Kruis.Screw corvette, 16 guns, Captain de Man, arrived from the Netherlands

Djambi. Screw corvette 1st class, 16 guns, Captain Van Rees

Amsterdam. Paddle steamer, 8 guns, Captain Muller

On separate occasions a party from the Medusa under Capt Casembroot and 200 Dutch sailors and marines under Lt Binkis were involved in landing operations against onshore fortifications.

*The navies of the world; their present state and future capabilities By Hans Busk 1859
**De Medusa in de wateren van Japan in 1863 en 1864 By F. de Casembroot 1865
*** Nederland, zijne Provincien en Kolonien: Land en Volk beschreven door By J. Kuijper 1868