Patterned as she was on the revolutionary French Battleship Gloire, on paper she seemed formidable. She was 194 feet in length, 31.5 feet at the beam, drew 15.75 feet of water and displaced 1560 tons. Her hull was protected by 4.5 inches of armor amidships tapering to 3.5 inches at the bow and stern. Up to 24 inches of hardwood backed this iron carapace. A casemate forward sheathed in 5.5 inches of iron housed a pivot mounted, breech loading, 300 pounder Armstrong gun. A fixed turret aft covered in 4 inches of armor contained two 70 pounder breech loading Armstrong guns. In keeping with naval tactics at the time, she was also equipped with a ram. Steam powered with a top speed of 10.8 knots, twin screws coupled with twin rudders made her remarkably maneuverable for a ship of her size and displacement. Unfortunately her bunkers held only 280 tons of coal limiting her ability to steam for prolonged distances. For longer voyages she was fitted with a bowsprit and two square rigged masts. Steam power, thick armor and modern guns made her a ship to be feared.

In reality she was poorly constructed, leaked badly, drew too much water and wallowed dangerously in heavy seas. Several months of extensive repairs were required to make her truly sea worthy. Only then would she begin to live up to her reputation.

A Tangled Web

Her name was Sphynx; her sister ship was called Cheops. Ostensibly they were being constructed by Jean-Lucien Arman, one of France’s most respected shipbuilders, for the Egyptian Navy, but that was a ruse. In 1863 the Confederate States of America were being slowly strangled by the Union blockade. The Confederacy had sufficient industry to cobble together a few ironclads that performed surprisingly well in riverine warfare and in coastal waters. These warships had an impact far greater than their numbers. Ocean going ironclads capable of breaking the blockade that was choking the Confederacy were beyond her capability however. Accordingly, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory sent agents to Europe to procure ironclad warships that would splinter the mostly wooden hulled Union Navy. His agents, John Slidell and James Bulloch, had some success in England obtaining the famous or infamous, depending upon your point of view, CSS Alabama, among others. As the American Civil War drug on however, Britain became an increasingly difficult partner. Turning to France, Napoleon III agreed to provide warships but since this act was against French neutrality laws, only if their ultimate destination remained secret, hence the fiction of Sphynx and Cheops. A shipyard clerk scuttled that subterfuge by going to the United States Minister in Paris and informing him of their true destination. When the United States officially protested, the sale was cancelled. Albeit illegally, the devious shipbuilder, Arman, was able to sell the Cheops to Prussia and the Sphynx to Denmark, who were currently involved in the Second Schleswig War.

Renamed the Saerkodder (Strong Otter), she left Bordeaux on 21 June 1864, sailing with a Danish crew. The voyage to Copenhagen revealed numerous sea keeping problems and construction flaws. A very disappointed Danish government demanded repairs and a steep reduction in price. Negotiations between the Danes and Arman became contentious, drawn out and finally broke down. By this time the war between Denmark and Prussia had ended and Danish interest in the Saerkodder ended with it.

The Sphynx / Saerkodder kept returning to Arman. The scheming shipbuilder approached Bulloch regarding Confederate interest. By this point in the war only a few southern ports were still open, most had been captured or were closed by blockading Union warships. Desperate times called for desperate (and expensive) measures. The CSS Virginia had sown panic in the north during her all too brief career. An even more powerful ironclad might do the same. It was slim hope, but it was hope. Accordingly Arman was able to broker a deal through his agent, Arnous de la Rivière, to resell the Saerkodder to the Confederate States for 450,000 francs. Thus on 07 January 1865 the Confederate States Navy acquired its first and only European built oceangoing ironclad. Now called Olinda to maintain the fiction of legality, she sailed from Copenhagen toward the English Channel with a makeshift crew, under a Danish captain, and with Captain Thomas Jefferson Page, CSN, onboard. The plan was to rendezvous with the blockade runner City of Richmond at sea to take on supplies and her permanent crew, primarily sailors from the CSS Florida which had been seized 04 October 1864. A severe gale forced Olinda to take shelter in Kristiansand, Norway and drove the City of Richmond into Cherbourg, France. The two ships finally met on 24 January 1865 near the island of Houat off the coast of Brittany. The crews transferred and in a brief ceremony at sea the Danish flag was hauled down and the Confederate ensign raised. Thus the Olinda became the CSS Stonewall, in honor of General Stonewall Jackson, mortally wounded at Chancellorsville. Before she could cross the Atlantic however, additional supplies, full bunkers of coal and repairs to damage caused by the gale were necessary. Stonewall first took refuge in Á Coruña, Spain and then on 12 February 1865 moved to El Ferrol which had better repair facilities. The United States government argued that Stonewall should be considered a pirate vessel and offered no assistance. Spain ignored those diplomatic protests and ship and crew were offered every courtesy in accordance with neutrality law.

Steaming from El Ferrol on 24 March 1865 Stonewall was confronted by the steam screw frigate USS Niagara and the steam screw sloop of war USS Sacramento. These ships were under the overall command of a naval officer with the unfortunate name of Commodore Thomas T. Craven. In spite of an untried ship and an untested crew Captain Page eagerly sought battle. Although Niagara was larger than Stonewall and both of his ships were faster, threw a greater weight of shell (1) and were manned by veteran crews, Commodore Craven, based solely on Stonewall’s reputation, took council of his fears and declined to engage the Confederate ironclad. For his inaction Commodore Craven was later tried by Courts Martial.

The non-battle off Ferrol was was a great disappointment to her citizens who were hoping to witness something like the epic duel between the USS Kearsage and the CSS Alabama. Instead the Union ships used their greater speed to remain out of range. Unable to engage their reluctant enemies, Stonewall made way for Lisbon, Portugal, arriving on 28 March 1865 to take on supplies and coal. Before crossing the Atlantic she made one last stop at Tenerife (01 April 1865) to take on coal and resupply. Departing Tenerife she sailed for Nassau in the Bahamas arriving on 06 May 1865. There her crew learned of the surrender at Appomattox. Resolved to capitulate on his own terms, Captain Page steamed to Havana, Cuba. On 19 May 1865 (2) Captain Page sold the Stonewall to the Spanish Captain General of Cuba for sixteen thousand dollars in order to pay off his crew. In July 1865 Spain transferred the Stonewall to the United States for the same amount. Moved to the Naval Shipyard in Washington, DC Stonewall was decommissioned and sat in lay up for nearly three years until the Japanese expressed an interest in her.

Forging an Empire

Preparing for war with the Imperial Japanese government during the Meji Restoration (3) the Tokugawa Shogunate offered the United States $30,000 down and $10,000 upon delivery of the vessel. The offer came at an opportune time for in 1868 the United States was rapidly demobilizing its army and navy which, during the Civil War, had become the largest in the world. The victorious Union had a surplus of vessels, among them the vessel described above, the former ironclad ram CSS Stonewall, which were being decommissioned and hurriedly laid up as their crews were discharged. The United States also had huge war debts to pay off. The offer was accepted and manned by a Japanese crew with a small American training crew onboard the Stonewall became the Kotetsu (Ironclad) and set sail for Japan.

During the time it took to sail from the Washington D.C. Navy Yard where she was berthed to the port of Shinagawa in Tokyo Bay the Boshin War between the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Imperial Japanese (Meiji) government erupted. In keeping with International Neutrality Laws the American Resident Minister, Robert B. Van Valkenburg, voided the sale and ordered the vessel placed under United States flag. Fatefully in February 1869 that decision was reversed and the transfer completed but to the Meiji government rather than the Tokugawa Shogunate who had purchased her.
Kotetsu became the flagship of the Imperial fleet and commanded by Captain Shiro Nakajimo immediately sailed with a squadron of seven warships to the island of Hokkaido. Kotetsu was instrumental in the 25 March 1869 victory over Shogunate forces at the naval battle of Miyako Bay. The Imperial fleet, including Kotetsu, supported the invasion of Hokkaido which led to the conclusive attack on the Shogunate stronghold of Hakodate. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of Kotetsu, the most modern and most powerful warship in the Imperial fleet, the remaining forces of the Tokugawa Shogunate surrendered to Meiji forces on 25 May 1869. Japan became an empire and America became a kingmaker.

Renamed Azuma (East) on 07 December 1872, ironically, Azuma played a major role in the suppression of the Saga rebellion, the Satsuma uprising and the expedition to Formosa (Taiwan) in 1874. Azuma was decommissioned on 28 January 1888 but continued to serve as a training and barracks ship for another ten years. After serving under French, Danish, Confederate, Spanish, American and Japanese flags she was broken up and scrapped in 1908.


Had the Stonewall and the other warships (4) ordered by the Confederacy been completed and delivered in a timely fashion they might have been a factor in the outcome of the American Civil War. As it was the Stonewall never fired a shot in anger as a Confederate States Ship. As the Kotetsu however she played a prominent role in the outcome of the Boshin War, thus ending the 268 year reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate, launching Meiji rule, setting Japan on the course to Empire and eventual conflict with the nation that provided her.


(1) Niagara was armed with twelve 11 inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns. Sacramento carried one 150 pounder rifled gun, two 11 inch smoothbore guns, one 30 pounder rifled gun, two 24 pounder howitzers, two 12 pounder rifled guns, and two 12 pounder smoothbore guns. Moreover both ships were manned by veteran crews and had spent considerable time at sea whereas the Stonewall and her crew were untested.
(2) Preying on Yankee whaling ships in the Sea of Okhotsk Captain Waddell, commanding the CSS Shenandoah, did not learn the war was over until 02 August 1865 when he hailed a passing British merchantman. Like Captain Page, Waddell was determined to surrender on his own terms. Sailing for England Shenandoah reached Liverpool on 06 November 1865 and was turned over to British authorities. She was the last Confederate military force to lay down arms, six months after Appomattox.
(3) This is a gross oversimplification of a very complex period in Japanese history however endnotes should not be longer than the story they enhance. For the sake of brevity suffice it to say that from 1600-1868 the Japanese lived with the fiction of a divine emperor residing at the Imperial Court in Kyoto while the Tokugawa Shogunate actually ruled the island nation. Residing in Edo (Tokyo), the Shogun held the true reins of power. All that changed on 03 January 1868 when Mutsuhito became Emperor and, supported by the Satsuma and Choshu daimyos began the Meiji Restoration. The feudal military government of the Shogun was stable, well established, well organized and powerful. It was also inflexible, isolationist, old, reactionary, stagnant and stratified. Run by cautious bureaucrats, plagued by outdated, inefficient economic policies the Tokugawa Shogunate was in decline and had been for quite some time. It had no good answers when confronted by Western nations demanding trade agreements; nor did it have a counter to the temptations of industrialization and modernization those Western nations brought with them. On 03 January 1868 a coup d’état in Meiji’s name brought to power a group of young, visionary samurai from the regional domains. They were pro-commerce, pro-western, pro-modernization, pro-reform; the very antithesis of the Shogunate. Their watchword was “kuni no tame” (for the sake of the country) and no matter what the cultural cost, they were determined to make Japan a modern, industrialized, international power unlike China which had been carved into fiefdoms by the Western powers. The clash between these two forces led to the Boshin War which did not end until June 1869. For another ten years Imperial rule was tenuous at best as the Meiji struggled to consolidate power, establish policy, implement change and win the hearts and minds of the Japanese people during a period of dramatic, often drastic change. For better or for worse, from 1880 forward Japan was a force to be reckoned with as the Czar learned in 1904.
(4) The original contract with Arman called for two ironclad rams and four conventional frigates. These warships would have been a powerful addition to the Confederate Navy.


The Iron Horse, The Horseless Carriage & Wellesley’s Horse


History seems fixed; a series of dates and events recorded in dusty tomes, such as the voyage of Columbus in 1492, leading to the colonization of the New World, war between the great powers of the time – Spain, France and England – revolution, independence and so on, one incident following another as links in a causal chain, resulting in the inevitable present. It is not! In his treatise on the fall of the Soviet Union, entitled 1989 WITHOUT GORBACHEV, respected historian Mark Almond writes:

“The collapse of Communism is now history. Already it seems inevitable. But it is worth remembering that no major event in modern history was less predicted by the experts than the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the hauling down of the red flag for the last time from the Kremlin in 1991. The rubble left behind by great revolutions and the collapse of great empires is always impressive and its very scale makes it tempting to look for fundamental, long-term causes. However, looking for the deep roots of historical change is the deformation professionelle of historians. Sometimes what happened did not have to be; or to put it another way, it only became inevitable very late in the day.”

Indeed the chronicle of mankind is quite malleable, the outcome of occurrences as great as World War II and as small as the virus that caused the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. History is the result of myriad interconnected cultural, economic, political, religious, scientific, social and technological factors. Integral to this mixture is the role of men and women who are either born to greatness or, in most cases, have greatness thrust upon them. Remove those people through accident or disease and the outcome of what went before, what we call history, becomes quite different. Much of history also falls into the province of chance and the realm of unintended consequences. Consider Alfred Nobel. Grievously underestimating mankind’s capacity for self-destruction, Nobel believed his invention of dynamite would usher in an age of peace for warfare would become too horrible for any civilized nation to contemplate. In the same manner the revolution in transportation that began with the domestication of the horse, and culminated centuries later in the development of the train and the automobile, both intended to replace the horse, have had a far greater impact upon the course of human events than anyone could have imagined. The crossroads where horses, iron horses, horseless carriages and the movers and shakers of recorded history meet is a remarkable junction abounding with opportunities for fascinating detours.

The Iron Horse

For good or ill few machines developed during the Industrial Revolution have had greater impact on history than the railroad. Trains moved the army of Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas Junction in time to turn the tide of battle in the first great clash of the American Civil War. In that battle the First Brigade of Virginians and its commander, an eccentric former instructor at the Virginia Military Institute, General Thomas J. Jackson, earned the sobriquet “Stonewall.” Given a Union victory at Manassas / Bull Run the Civil War would have ended in 1861. A Confederate victory set in motion the deadliest war in United States History. Following four years of internecine warfare the Iron Horse opened the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific to mass migration, exploitation and industrialization.

The events of August 1914 presented Kaiser Wilhelm II with several poor choices; among them: ignore the plight of his ally, Austria-Hungary, Drang Nacht Osten or implementation of the Schlieffen Plan. In that era the first was unthinkable. The second had much to commend it for war in the east would give England and France no causus belli to enter the war. Unfortunately for millions of soldiers strict adherence railroad schedules which, in turn, dictated mobilization schedules, precipitated yet another four year bloodbath between the Great Powers of Europe. Of all the events, great and small, associated with trains however, perhaps the most significant occurred not at the beginning but during the course of the War to End All Wars.

1916 was the year of great battles – Verdun, Isonzo, Jutland, Somme and the Brusilov offensive. Millions of lives were exchanged for a few square miles of shell cratered, blood soaked earth and the net result of that tremendous sacrifice was continued stalemate. By year’s end the Central Powers faced three new enemies – Italy, Romania and Portugal; one fearsome new weapon – the tank; and slow strangulation by air raids and naval blockade which were devastating their ability to wage war and maintain morale. American entry into the war was a matter of when rather than if due to German U-Boat activity however the U-Boats were Germany’s only counter to British naval supremacy. Caught on the horns of this strategic dilemma Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Imperial General Staff were desperate for any solution that might break the impasse. Fatefully an initiative begun in February 1915 began to bear fruit at this time.

Israel Lazarevich Gelfand was a Russian revolutionary who took the nom de guerre “Parvus” (the little one). Fleeing from the Okhrana, Czarist Russian secret police, he made his way to Germany in 1891 where he wrote for various left wing newspapers and met with fellow exiles Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky. After Bloody Sunday on 22 January 1905 Gelfand returned to Russia fomenting revolution. Imprisoned in Siberia he managed to escape, making his way to Turkey. For a dedicated communist he proved quite adept at capitalism. Forging a business empire in Constantinople he became very wealthy. Gelfand even owned a bank. These business activities served as a legitimate front for his true calling – war profiteer – selling weapons, cognac, caviar, cloth, etc., to anyone and everyone who could meet his price. Near continual war in the Balkans at this time created a plentiful supply of patrons and near limitless proceeds. Gelfand never lost his revolutionary fervor however. When the turmoil of the Balkans engulfed the Great Powers in August 1914 Gelfand saw an opportunity to advance the communist cause. Gelfand first approached the German Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire with a detailed plan to topple the Czar. Intrigued the Ambassador referred him to the Foreign Office in Berlin where he was received in February 1915. There he laid out an operation based on subversion and sabotage culminating in a coup. Guided by the principle, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Germany allocated two million Deutsche Marks to support revolutionary propaganda in Russia. Coordinated by the German Ambassador in Copenhagen, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, “propaganda” in the form of weapons and dynamite were smuggled through Sweden into Finland, then a Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire.

The February Revolution of 1917 toppled the Czar and established a provisional government. To the Kaiser’s chagrin however, Russia staggered on, her armies remaining in the fight. At that point Germany took more direct action. On 09 April 1917 thirty-two Russian exiles, among them Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to history as Lenin, left Zurich on a chartered train provided by the Kaiser. No train has ever carried a more dangerous passenger. One week later they reached Petrograd and set to work fomenting insurrection culminating in the October Revolution of 1917. In the long term the October Revolution precipitated a civil war which ended with Lenin firmly in control of a communist dictatorship. That civil war and the Allied Entente involvement on behalf of the White Armies shaped the nature and the world view of the USSR until its fall in 1991. Although she would not formally withdraw until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in the short term the October Revolution of 1917 effectively ended Russian involvement in World War I. Lenin saw this action as a necessary step in the consolidation of power. The Allies viewed this decision as an act of betrayal. In either case Russian capitulation allowed Germany to transfer seventy divisions to the Western Front where she hoped to wage the final, decisive battles of the Great War. The Kaiserschlacht failed to break the British or the French; worse the Kriegsmarine had failed to stop the US convoys and the American buildup was underway. After first contact with American soldiers and marines Chateau Thierry, Germany was doomed.

German participation in the Russian Revolution did nothing to change the outcome of World War I and, ironically, that covert operation sowed the seeds of her utter ruin in World War II. For Germany, seldom, if ever, in the annals of human history has such a venture paid so little in return in the short term or proved such an unmitigated disaster in the long term. Reckless disregard of consequences directly impacted global events from 1918 until 1991. Millions suffered and died as a result of expediency. The consequences of that decision continue to this day as Russia attempts to regain her place on the global stage.

The Horseless Carriage

Just as trains have influenced world events, automobiles have also had a storied place in history far beyond mere conveyance of people and goods. For the wealthy expensive sedans are symbols of status. For the masses vehicles provide unprecedented freedom of movement. National leaders love to be seen in cars. Consequently automobiles figure prominently in the annals of Empire and thereby, lend themselves to many intriguing ventures into alternate history.

Emperor Frederick III, head of the House of Hapsburg, German King (1440-1493), Holy Roman Emperor (1452-1493) and last Emperor receiving an Imperial Coronation at Rome is noted for reuniting the family lands under Hapsburg dominion. His greatest coup however, was the acquisition of Burgundy, the Netherlands and Belgium setting Austria on the course to Empire. To be sure there were numerous setbacks in this process for Frederick was not a particularly strong king. He was however, an astute politician, single minded of purpose and had the good fortune to outlive most of his opponents. Frederick’s guiding principle throughout his long reign is summed up in the initials A. E. I. O. U., which he had inscribed on all his personal possessions as a constant reminder of his ultimate goal and daily affirmation of his final objective. In Latin his dictum read, “Austriae Est Imperare Orbi Universo.” (It is Austria’s destiny to rule the world.) In German the maxim reads, “Alles Erdreich Ist Oesterreich Unterthan.” (The whole world is subject to Austria.)

The fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire began on 28 June 1918 near the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo. Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1) escaped a bombing attack at 10:10 A.M., only to fall victim to a 9MM slug fired from a Belgian Fabrique Nationale model 1910 semi-automatic pistol that same afternoon. En route to the hospital to visit those injured that morning; the Archduke’s driver took a wrong turn. That mistake placed the Archduke and his wife in the path of Gavrilo Princip(2), a Serbian nationalist, as he emerged from hiding after the failed bomb attack. That the Hapsburgs no longer rule anywhere, not even in Austria, is apt commentary on the transient nature of political and military power. Continuing conflicts between Serbian, Croatian and Muslim groups in the Balkans serve notice on the limits of nation building in the former Austria-Hungary (or anywhere for that matter) and the far-reaching effects when Empires fall. How the Hapsburgs and Austria met their demise due to a wrong turn is further testament to Caesar’s dictum, “Great events are the result of small causes.”

In similar manner, December 1931 was not an auspicious month for future leaders with regard to automobiles. In New York City for a lecture tour a famous adventurer, author, politician, soldier and statesman left the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where he was staying to visit the home of Bernard Baruch on Fifth Avenue. Late in the evening of 13 December 1931, the taxi in which he was riding dropped him off across the street from his intended destination. Accustomed to the traffic patterns in his native England he checked for cars as he normally would and stepped into the roadway. There an automobile driven by Mario Contasino struck him. Travelling between thirty to thirty-five miles per hour the vehicle dragged him several yards before throwing the unwary visitor to the street. Severely injured, but still conscious, the gallant gentleman told the investigating police officer, “I am entirely to blame; it is all my own fault.” Rushed to Lenox Hill Hospital, Doctor Otto Pickhardt treated his patient for a three-inch, “up deep to bone” cut on the forehead, a fractured nose, fractured ribs, shock, and “pleurisy, right, traumatic with hemorrhage.” The accident nearly killed him but it did not break his spirit. On 14 February 1931, he wrote that he had, “broken the back of the lecture tour without feeling any ill effects.” Displaying the pluck that had served and would continue to serve him throughout his life he capitalized on the event with an article in The Daily Mail entitled MY NEW YORK MISADVENTURE published 04 January 1932.

Eleven days after Churchill’s accident Adolph Hitler was injured while riding in a vehicle with General von Epp. They were returning from the wedding of Doctor Joseph Goebbels at Kyritiz when they crashed into another car. Thrown against a window, Hitler, unfortunately, sustained only minor bruises and a broken finger.

February 1933 was not much better. On the 15th newly elected Franklin Roosevelt gave an impromptu speech from the back of an open car in the Bayfront Park area of Miami, Florida. Armed with a .32 caliber pistol Giuseppe Zangara, an impoverished Italian immigrant, fired five or six rounds at Roosevelt. Zangara missed Roosevelt but wounded Chicago mayor Anton Cermak (who was traveling with Roosevelt and later died of peritonitis) and four others who grappled with him after the first shot. His motives were unclear but in the Dade County Courthouse jail Zangara confessed stating, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” His final statement prior to execution (3) in the electric chair was, “Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! Push the button!” Had Roosevelt been hit and died rather than Cermak would his Vice President, John Garner, been able to lead the United States out of the Depression? Would his eventual successor have supported England via “Lend Lease” through the first two years of World War II or, given the prevalent isolationist sentiment in 1939, remained strictly neutral until 07 December 1941?

At the 1955 Churchill Conference in Boston, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. addressed the issue in this manner, “Would the next two decades have been the same had the automobile that hit him killed Winston Churchill in 1931, and the bullet that missed him killed Franklin Roosevelt in 1933? Would Neville Chamberlin or Lord Halifax have rallied Britain in 1940? Would Vice President John Garner have produced the New Deal and the Four Freedoms? Suppose in addition that Lenin had died of typhus in Siberia in 1895, and Hitler had been killed on the Western Front in 1916? Would the 20th century have looked the same?” Individuals do make a difference in history. Frequently their mode of transportation is a factor in that difference as well.

Wellesley’s Horse

General Sir Arthur Lord Wellesley (4) is best remembered for his pivotal role commanding Anglo-Allied forces during the Waterloo campaign, the culmination of twenty-eight years of distinguished service to the British Empire. In Wellesley’s opinion however, his hardest fought confrontation and greatest achievement was the Battle of Assaye. It was a close run thing and but for the capricious nature of battle could have terminated the incredible career of the future First Duke of Wellington early on.

On 23 September 1803 then Colonel Wellesley, brevetted to Major General, led a small army (5) of 5000 infantry, 4500 cavalry and 17 guns against a Maratha Confederacy force consisting of approximately ten to twelve thousand French trained infantry, an estimated ten to twenty thousand irregular infantry, somewhere between thirty to forty thousand light cavalry and 100 guns ranging from light artillery pieces to 18 pounder cannons. This action was the result of events that began in 1802. Civil war within the Maratha (in some references Mahratta) Empire, a loose confederation of principalities, led to the defeat of the Peshwa, a position similar to that of Prime Minister, Baji Rao II, its nominal ruler. Rao sought refuge with the East India Company (hereafter EIC) to whom he pledged allegiance in return for assistance in reclaiming his position. Lord Mornington, the Governor General of India, saw in this request an opportunity to remove the final obstacle to English dominance of the sub-continent. Subsequently in March 1803 a small army of approximately 15,000 British and EIC troops commanded by Wellesley advanced on Poona while a smaller force of about 10,000 men commanded by Colonel James Stevenson paralleled the line march protecting his left flank. Poona fell and on 13 May 1803 Baji Rao II was reinstated to power. This action greatly angered Daulat Scindia (also spelled Sindhia) and Ragaoji Bhonsle (in some texts Bhonslar), the Raja of Berar, two of the more powerful rulers of the remaining Maratha principalities, who, forming an alliance, declared war on the upstart British. Eager to wrest control of India from the French, Lord Mornington was happy to oblige.

Wellesley then marched on Ahmednagar. Rather than initiate a time consuming siege Wellesley took the city in a short, violent and bloody escalade setting the tone for the remainder of the campaign. Although costly, the victory gave his men, most of whom were native EIC infantry and cavalry units, added confidence in their leader and themselves and was a profound psychological shock to the Maratha army.

After a series of inconclusive marches and counter-marches in pursuit of an elusive foe, Wellesley and Stevenson met at Budnapoor on 21 September. Believing the enemy to be encamped at Borkardan they devised a plan whereby each element would march in separate columns and converge on Borkardan three days hence. It is a truism of military science that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Such was the case at Assaye. At about 1300 (1 PM) on 23 September 1803 Wellesley found the Maratha army not at Borkardan but strongly entrenched behind the River Kaitna (also known as the Kailna) guarding the only readily apparent ford.

At first glance it was a formidable position. Running from West to East the River Kaitna and its tributary, the River Juah to the North, form an isthmus of land. The town of Assaye sits on the south bank of the Juah while the villages of Waroor and Peepulgaon are sited on the north and south bank of the Kaitna respectively near the confluence of the two rivers. As stated some ten to twelve thousand French trained, mercenary led infantry loyal to Daulat Scinda (6) and 80 cannon faced south defending the only visible crossing. Another ten to twenty thousand irregular infantry commanded by the Raja of Berar and 20 cannon garrisoned Assaye protecting the Maratha left flank. Thirty to forty thousand loosely organized and lightly armed horsemen known as Pindarries (to call them cavalry would give them too much credit for they were more akin to mounted bandits useful only in raiding defenseless villages and riding down broken armies) covered the Maratha right flank.

Garrisons at Poona and Ahmednagar and the need to leave detachments to guard his extended line of supply had reduced Wellesley’s initial force of 15,000 troops to just 5000 Infantry, 1500 horse, a small contingent of approximately 3000 irregular light cavalry (7) and 17 cannon – eight 12 pounders, two 5.5 inch howitzers and 7 lighter pieces. In spite of the disparity in numbers Wellesley opted for an immediate assault declining even to wait to join forces with Colonel Stevenson whom he assumed would march to the sound of the guns (8).

To cross the Kaitna, advance up its steep banks on the far side and assault a force twice the size of his own much smaller army, would have been not war but murder. Personally leading a small cavalry force, Wellesley sought some way to outflank his opponent. While reconnoitering Wellesley observed the village of Peepulgaon on the south side of the Kaitna and its neighbor Waroor on the opposite bank. Assuming a ford must connect the two villages, although his native guides denied it, Wellesley ordered a closer examination of the area. There he found a quite passable ford did, indeed, exist.

By now it was around 1500 (3 PM), rather late in the day to begin a major engagement especially considering the disparity in numbers. Fearful that the enemy might slip away and counting on British discipline to carry the day Wellesley, without hesitation, ordered his army to cross the river at Peepulgaon and attack the Maratha left flank. Sited as they were facing south the Maratha artillery was unable to greatly hinder the British move but in its harassing fire did succeed in decapitating an orderly riding close to Wellesley as he crossed the ford.

Once safely over the Kaitna, Wellesley ordered his six battalions of infantry and supporting artillery into a line abreast facing west with his cavalry in reserve. Although it nearly halved his numbers, the EIC Madras Native Cavalry remained on the south bank to counter the Maratha Cavalry if they attempted to cross the Kaitna and guard the line of retreat should that become necessary. Wellesley knew that on this day only the iron nerves and cold steel of his superior infantry mattered. If they could not carry the field, nothing would.

As Wellesley completed these maneuvers and his army made ready to advance, Colonel Pohlmann realigned his three brigades in line abreast facing east, artillery to the immediate front. With his right flank anchored on the Kaitna and his left flank protected by the guns and garrison of Assaye, Pohlmann’s position was formidable. Wellesley was determined to come to grips with the enemy however, counting on the discipline and training of his British and Indian (Madras) troops to carry the day. Given the order to advance with fixed bayonets the infantry suffered grievously from grape, canister and round shot. Nevertheless they continued to close ranks and press on. At fifty yards they unleashed a volley of musket fire, charged and took their revenge on the Maratha gunners with cold steel. Once past the gun line the British and EIC infantry reformed and began to advance on the waiting Maratha line. Not all the Maratha artillerymen had been killed however, many had feigned death hiding under their cannons, nor had there been time to spike the guns. These men now brought their cannon about and poured shot and shell into the rear of the British and Madras forces. Observing triumph turn into disaster Wellesley personally led the 7th Madras Native Cavalry to retake the guns. This time none of the Maratha gunners were spared. No longer assailed front and rear the allied forces pushed forward into the teeth of Pohlmann’s line. Having witnessed the courage and discipline of the British and Indian infantry under fire, not to mention the destruction of 80 cannon with their attendant gun teams, the Maratha infantry broke. The first to flee were the European officers and sergeants, the rank and file hot on their heels, retreating northwards over the Juah. A formidable force remained in Assaye but rather than face the victorious and vengeful allied army they abandoned their position joining the retreat around 1800 (6PM). True to their bandit nature the Pindarries followed shortly thereafter. Months later Wellesley stormed the last remaining Maratha fortress at Gawilghur ending the Second Anglo-Maratha War thus ensuring England’s dominance of the Indian sub-continent. This campaign also secured his reputation as a battle tested commander who made the most of his resources and found ways to win no matter the situation or the odds. Even greater challenges would soon follow for Wellesley in Spain, Portugal and Belgium when Napoleon came to power in France and began to forge a continental empire.

Following the battle Wellesley informed Stevenson, “I should not like to see again such a loss as I sustained on the 23rd September, even if attended by such a gain.” Assaye was a costly albeit significant victory: 428 killed, 1138 wounded and 18 missing; a total of 1584 – over one third of those engaged in combat. Later in life Wellesley referred to the battle as “the bloodiest for the numbers that I ever saw.” And so it was, personally as well as professionally. Of the ten officers forming his staff, eight were wounded or had their horses killed. Wellesley himself lost two horses; one shot during the assault on Pohlmann’s right and his favorite charger, Diomed, speared as he led the charge to recapture the Maratha guns. During that desperate fight Wellesley was unhorsed and momentarily surrounded by the enemy. In his long military career it was his closest brush with death.

Following Waterloo, to avoid the carnage of another Napoleon aspiring to empire, the great nations of Europe convened the Congress of Vienna in September 1814. The Concert of Europe or Congress System it created ushered in 100 years of relative peace on the continent. Without Wellesley in command of the Allied Forces at Waterloo it is possible Napoleon might have emerged victorious in that pivotal battle. Almost certainly the nations of a war weary Europe would have rallied, as they had so many times before, to crush France and its Emperor. How long it would have taken to mobilize the forces to do so and what Europe would have looked like in the century following Napoleon’s ultimate defeat is a matter of conjecture. Thus the iron horse, the horseless carriage and Wellesley’s horse take us into the intriguing realm of Alternate History.

(1) Franz Ferdinand was an advocate of increased federalism and favored tri-lateralism. Under this concept Austria-Hungary would have been reorganized by combining the Slavic lands within the Empire into a third crown. A Slavic kingdom would have eased tensions in that heterogeneous nation and served as a safeguard against Serbian irredentism. Consequently, the Archduke was seen as a threat by Serbian Nationalists. Indeed, Princip testified at his trial that preventing Franz Ferdinand’s planned reforms was one of the motivating factors in the assassination.
(2) After learning that the bombing attempt had failed Princip went to Schiller’s Delicatessen. When Princip came out later he saw Franz Ferdinand’s car reversing, having taken a wrong turn. The car then stalled giving Princip the opportunity to approach and shoot the Archduke and his wife at short range.
(3) Zangara has one other interesting claim to fame. When sentenced to death the state prison at Raiford had only a single “death cell” and it was already occupied. Since Florida law stipulated that convicted murderers must be incarcerated separately prior to execution prison officials were forced to add an additional cell. Hence, the term “death cell” became “death row.”
(4) At that time in England first sons of the wealthy inherited; the remainder had a choice of service in the church or service in the military. Service in the military, if successful, often lead to a career in politics. There were exceptions of course but as a general rule landed gentry did not go into the professions (law, medicine, etc.) and they certainly did not dirty their hands at business except as investors. Born the fifth son of Garrett Wesley, First Earl of Mornington, Arthur Wellesley chose a career in the army. Commissioned an Ensign in the 73RD Regiment of Foot on 07 March 1787 over the next twenty-eight years Wellesley served the British Empire with distinction in the Netherlands, India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain and Belgium. In 1793 Wellesley purchased a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 33RD Regiment of Foot. Noted for bravery and coolness under fire during the siege of Seringapatam (05 April- 04 May 1799) during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War against the Tipu Sultan, Wellesley truly came into the ascendant when his eldest brother, Richard Wellesley, Second Earl of Mornington, recently appointed Governor General of India, brevetted Arthur to Major General and gave him command of British and Indian Sepoy troops from the Madras Presidency in the Second Maratha War against Madhaji Scindia, one of the principal rulers of the Maratha Confederacy. This series of wars fomented by and undertaken on behalf of the East India Company would determine whether England or France would rule India.
(5) As an historian one must take care not to judge the past by current standards. That being said the British Army from 1700 – 1900 was a peculiar institution comprised of a confusing profusion of units with time-honored names reflecting its storied past: regulars, militia, fencibles, associations, volunteers, yeomanry, rangers, local militia and provisional cavalry. Despite the wide variety of designations, enlisted men generally entered service in one of three manners. Recruitment parties and press gangs were used to fill the ranks of the regular army. Per the Militia Act of 1757, militia units were raised by ballot and roughly similar to our modern National Guard, part-time forces, called volunteers, formed the third element of the army. Daily life in a military encampment was dirty, pay was low, food was poor, order was strict, discipline was rigid, punishment (which included running the gauntlet, branding and flogging for even minor infractions) was harsh and disease was a greater threat to health than battle. The army provided very little beyond the basic necessities creating a shadow army of sutlers and camp followers who trailed the army everywhere it deployed. In spite of all that there was no shortage of men for depressed economic conditions in the large urban areas and a lack of opportunity in remote rural areas made army life attractive in comparison. Many officers came from the militia; a small number were gentlemen volunteers who served as soldiers but messed with officers until vacancies became available. Commissions could also be purchased by those who could afford them. The status conferred upon becoming an “officer and a gentleman” not to mention, improved future prospects, enticed many men to incur the considerable expense of acquiring a commission and the even greater cost of maintaining the horses, uniforms, field gear, etc., expected of a proper gentlemen. The final path to officer status was battlefield commissions for acts of extraordinary bravery. Although not unheard of, these promotions were infrequent. The result was a mixed bag in leadership ranging from incompetent to brilliant. Fortunately for the Empire career sergeants made the system work just as their counterparts, the Centurions, backbone of the Imperial Legions, made the Roman army successful. For all its eccentricities the British army was highly effective achieving results far out of proportion to its numbers.
(6) Organized into three brigades, these were the best trained and most disciplined troops of the Maratha (Mahratta) army thanks to a cadre of mercenary officers and non commissioned officers. Colonel Anthony Pohlmann, a Hanoverian, former sergeant in EIC employ and deserter, commanded the largest brigade comprised of eight battalions. Colonel Jean Saleur, a Frenchman, commanded another brigade consisting of five battalions. Finally, Major John James DuPont, a Dutchman, led a small brigade of four battalions. It was not unusual to find European and even American soldiers of fortune in service to the Maratha Confederacy. Recognizing that only European style soldiers could stand against the highly professional British army the Maratha paid handsomely and offered greater opportunities for advancement, far better indeed than the EIC, for veterans with proven martial skills. Former Sergeant, now Colonel Pohlmann was a case in point. Although the troops were paid and supplied by Daulat Scinda overall command in combat during battle fell to Colonel Pohlmann.
(7) Order of Battle: HM 19th Light Dragoons, HM 74th Highland Regiment of Foot, HM 78th Highland regiment of Foot (The Ross-Shire Buffs), 4th EIC Madras Native Cavalry, 5th EIC Madras Native Cavalry, 7th EIC Madras Native Cavalry and one battalion each from the 4th EIC Madras Native Infantry, 8th Madras Native Infantry, 10th Madras Native Infantry and 12th Madras Native Infantry.
(8) Colonel Stevenson did march to the sound of the guns however a devious native guide, whom the Colonel later hanged as a spy, led Stevenson’s column astray. Thus the supporting force did not arrive in time to take part in the battle of Assaye. Since Wellesley’s force had been rendered temporarily combat ineffective and needed time to recover, it did play a major role in the pursuit of the broken Maratha army. In the months that followed Assaye, the rout at Argaon and the storming of the fortress of Gawilghur which forced Scindia and Berar to sue for peace ended the Second Anglo-Maratha War.


August 28, 1898 (PM)

     It has been thirteen years since the death of General Gordon; thirteen years since the sack of Khartoum. During those thirteen years the peoples of the Sudan have suffered grievously under the cruel Dervish yoke of the Khalifa. At long last retribution is at hand. At long last liberation is at hand. At long last we are within days of our objective.
     The journey to this point began two years ago and has been quite an adventure in itself for it is more than 1000 miles from Cairo to Omdurman. To bypass the Great Bend of the Nile a portion of the army have constructed a railroad 400 miles in length from Wadi Halfa through the trackless Nubian desert to Abu Hamed while the remainder drag our gunboats, transport craft and supply vessels through the cataracts. What sights that ancient river has witnessed. It is an Augean labor but an essential effort if we are to have the wherewithal needed to complete the task at hand. To move an army of 25,000 men that distance, in such a fashion, with all the necessaries required to sustain it is a remarkable testament to modern engineering and English pluck.

September 1st, 1898 (AM)

     Finally, after a 1000 mile trek by rail and river transport, often marching at night to avoid the pitiless heat of the day, we are encamped at El Ageiga on the East bank of the Nile within striking distance of Omdurman the Dervish capital. What the natives call a “zariba” (thorn wall) protects our front; gunboats guard our flanks. Should the Dervish attack they will be met by some 80 thoroughly modern pieces of quick firing field artillery, 40 water cooled Maxim machineguns and thousands of single shot Martini-Henry and bolt action, magazine fed Lee-Metford rifles in the capable hands of British, Egyptian and loyal Sudanese troops. Some of our units even carry Lee-Enfield rifles of the very latest design. Although outnumbered two to one I have no doubt of the outcome. Our personal differences aside, I freely admit to the inescapable fact that Major General Sir Herbert Kitchener, Sirdar of the combined army, is a meticulous, methodical leader who leaves nothing to chance as abundantly made clear by this well planned and well executed advance. It remains to be seen if his scrupulous attention to logistic detail is matched by an equal measure of tactical acumen. Should that prove to be the case, on the morrow we shall, undoubtedly, avenge the death of General Gordon, cleanse the stain of Khartoum from the English banner, eradicate the Dervish threat to civilization and end French designs in this region. Soon thereafter, Her Royal Majesty shall add the Sudan to her growing Empire.

September 1st, 1898 (PM)

     Dined with John George Stewart-Murray, Marquess of Tullibardine. He fears the Mahdiyya will use the next few hours to attack for, given our vast superiority in arms, the cover of darkness is their only advantage; their overwhelming numbers their only hope of success. Wisely, General Kitchener keeps the men busy with preparations for tomorrow’s events.

September 2nd, 1898 (Dawn)

     Our fears proved unfounded for the tense night passed uneventfully. We could hear the heathen call to prayers earlier and now we begin to see dust clouds rising in the hills all around us. The Dervish are on the move. The excitement and the fear in our ranks are palpable. Steady. Steady. They swarm as locusts and here they come! At 3000 yards our 12 pounders, 75 mm cannon and 6 cm Krupp’s crash like thunder. Five inch howitzers aboard the gunboats add to the din. The high explosive lyddite shells scream overhead and upon impact, tear great holes in the tightly massed ranks of the Mahdists. At 1800 yards the Maxims hammer out death, cutting down the enemy like scythes through ripe grain. All along the line I hear officers and sergeants bellowing, “Hold your fire. Hold your fire. Hold! Hold!” We give them the first volley at 1000 yards. The discharge of thousands of rifles adds its noise to the cacophony and the world dissolves into smoke and chaos. It is devastating; the most signal triumph ever gained by the arms of science over barbarism (1).
     It is over! The wild charge is broken. For all their fury no man has come closer than 500 yards to our lines. From where I stand our casualties appear negligible while the field before me is littered with dead and dying men. I hear the bugles call to form ranks. The time is come to counterattack and turn defeat into disaster for the foe. I must hurry if I am to ride with the 21st Lancers.


As darkness fell General Hector Macdonald sat brooding in his tent. It had been a close run thing for him and his Sudanese brigade two days prior. The initial charge broken, General Kitchener foolishly surmised he could take Omdurman by coup de main. Accordingly he ordered his forces out of the laager to pursue the fleeing enemy. The Dervish, although terribly bloodied, were not beaten however. Some 25,000 Mahdists previously hidden behind the surrounding hills took the pursuing formations, now exposed on open ground, in the flank. Fortuitously for General Kitchener his Brigadiers were capable men and his troops well trained, steady and of good morale. As the last unit in the line of march General Macdonald and his men had been temporarily isolated and withstood the brunt of this second great charge. Timely reinforcements, a rain of death from the supporting gun boats and disciplined fire prevailed. Now as his men recovered and the field of battle was cleared there were the inevitable reports to be made. This report was especially delicate. Firstly, to shelter behind the zariba had been foolhardy. Although casualties had been light, proper trenches would have served better in keeping the loss of life to an absolute minimum. Secondly, it had been bloody rash to abandon the laager and march on Omdurman without proper reconnaissance. His brigade had suffered dearly and unnecessarily on that accord. Whatever his talents as an engineer, clearly Kitchener was out of his depth as a field commander. Those of a mind to speak their mind agreed . . . in the privacy of their tents that is. No doubt he was inept but Kitchener was lucky and he was victorious. Let him coast on the laurels won by others. It would not be prudent to criticize someone who would, surely, be lauded by Lord Salisbury’s government for this splendid victory. Pushing those thoughts aside General Macdonald breathed a deep sigh and returned to the subject at hand. He had no time for this matter but he was a creature of duty and duty called. Seated at the field desk in his tent, the journal before him dimly lit by the glow of a kerosene lamp, General Macdonald reread the last entry, carefully closed the diary and glanced sharply at the Aide de Camp who had brought it to his attention.

“This war correspondent, what was his name?”

“Churchill, Sir. Winston, I believe. On leave from the Queens Own 4th Regiment of Hussars and temporarily attached to the 21st Lancers. Fine fellow from what I’ve gathered and quite a gift for the Queen’s English from what I’ve read of his reports to The Morning Post. Since Churchill served under Colonel Martin, I would have taken this to him but Martin is still abed in the hospital.”

“Quite. Obviously not a cautious man if he rode with the 21st. He was certainly under no obligation to do so. He could have remained in camp and filed his account safely after the fact. Shame Churchill did not survive his wounds. Might have had an interesting career; one to watch.”

“Indeed, Sir. Good family; well connected. But we are all motes of dust adrift on the currents of history are we not? And it’s not like Parliament was in his future.”


Not for the first time and certainly not for the last the forces of Western Civilization and the forces of radical Islam, in this case the Mahdi Militant Revivalist Islamic Movement, clashed on 02 September 1898. The conflict began in 1881 when Mohammed Ahmed, a boat builder, assumed the title Mahdi, the military leader predicted in Sunni tradition to rid the Islamic world of evil and impurity. Ignited by a revival of radical fundamentalist ideology, fueled by antipathy for the inept and corrupt Egyptian administration of the region and fanned into flames by anti-imperial, anti-infidel sentiment, the insurrection reached its zenith in 1885 with the fall of Khartoum and the establishment of a caliphate in Sudan. Presaging Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS in the Middle East and Al Shabaab and Boko Haram in Africa the Mahdist or Dervish theocracy ruled over the Sudanese with brutal cruelty. It took thirteen years for England to muster the forces and the political will to respond. That response was driven not only by the humiliation brought about by the fall of Khartoum (and with it the Gladstone government) and the danger the Dervish movement posed to British rule but also by growing Belgian, French, German, Italian and Portuguese interests in Africa. One of England’s goals was to control the Nile from its headwaters to the delta and the Dervish were an impediment to that ambition.

During the Battle of Omdurman 8,200 British and 17,600 Egyptian and Sudanese troops fought a decisive engagement with 52,000 Dervish soldiers. The battle was, as war correspondent for The Morning Post Winston Churchill noted, “A mere matter of machinery.” British losses were 48 killed and 434 wounded. Dervish losses were catastrophic – 9,700 killed, 10-16,000 wounded and 5,000 captured. That said General Kitchener’s mastery of tactics did not match his skill as a Woolwich trained engineer. His approach march was a model of meticulous planning and attention to logistic detail (2) but he nearly squandered his technological advantage with a premature advance on Omdurman after the initial Dervish onslaught had been repulsed. Coolness under fire by his men and his Brigadiers prevented a disastrous repeat of Khartoum. Mahdism in the region destroyed, Sudan became an Anglo-Egyptian colony which Germany in World War I and Italy in World War II would covet.

Winston Churchill had previously faced danger with Bindon Blood’s Malakand Field Force when it marched into the Swat Valley of India, now Pakistan, in 1897 to battle the Mohmand Rebels and in 1895 when he fought with the Spanish, once more as a correspondent, during the Cuban War of Independence. He did so again when he rode with the 21st Lancers at Omdurman. The 21st Lancers was raised in Bengal in 1858 by the East India Company and incorporated into the British army in 1862. Forty years later, saddled with the motto “Thou shalt not kill” by other units, the 21st was the only cavalry regiment in the British army without battle honors, a distinction its commander, Colonel Martin, was overly eager to rectify. Its attack at Omdurman, in which Churchill participated, was reminiscent of the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava forty-four years earlier (3). Indeed most of the casualties at Omdurman came during the charge of the 21st when toping a rise 400 horsemen crashed headlong into and fought through 2000 Dervish warriors concealed in a wadi. Churchill was fortunate that he was not among those killed or wounded. Churchill would risk his life yet again during the Boer War (4) and in the trenches of World War I. Like Theodore Roosevelt, Churchill’s military exploits (5) launched his political career which was noted for its dizzying heights and depths of despair, Gallipoli probably being the absolute nadir. That he survived both war and politics and emerged from the “wilderness” in 1940 was nothing short of miraculous. Fortunately miracles do happen. It is hard to imagine England standing alone without Churchill at the helm during World War II (6).


(1) The British entered World War I with essentially the same weapons present at Omdurman. Having witnessed firsthand the power of industrialized warfare just sixteen years prior to the Great War, how they expected a different outcome on the battlefields of 1914 is puzzling indeed. It is a truism that Generals always fight the last war. This paradox can be explained by another axiom, “History must be lived forwards but it can only be understood backwards.”
(2) Foreshadowing the equally careful and equally infuriating Bernard Law Montgomery, Kitchener would not move until every bean, bullet and bandage was in place no matter what the situation or who placed pressure upon him.
(3) Kitchener’s orders to the 21st reveal much about his mastery of tactics, “Annoy them as far as possible on their flank and head them off if possible from Omdurman.” This near debacle was the last cavalry charge of the British army.
(4) Winston Churchill lived a remarkable life even by Victorian standards. By the age of twenty-five he had participated in four wars on three continents; every adventure undertaken as a stepping stone toward future greatness. Taken captive by the Boers, his escape from a POW camp and trek through 300 miles of hostile territory to safety in Portuguese East Africa is an extraordinary tale. But it does not end there. He returned to the army in time to cover the Battle of Spion Kop and march with the army into Pretoria when it fell in June 1900. Like Patton Churchill believed with every fiber of his being that he had a significant role to play in world history and that military glory was the key to unlock that destiny.
(5) Recorded in the books The Story of the Malakand Field Force and The River War. The latter did for the 21st what Tennyson had done for the Light Brigade; that is shroud miscommunication, borderline incompetence and undeniable courage in romantic glory.
(6) Without Churchill if England had fought at all it most likely would have come to terms after the fall of France. The first requirement for the invasion of France was air superiority followed by shipping, manpower and a logistic train of unprecedented magnitude. Without England as staging area opening a second front becomes highly problematic. Nor can we ignore the contributions of England, Australia and New Zeeland in the Pacific. The end result: a European continent dominated by either Hitler or Stalin, Imperial Japan ascendant in the Pacific and a radically altered timeline.


The enemy of my enemy is my friend…until he becomes my enemy.

On 07 December 1941, Japan launched a blitzkrieg that swept across the Pacific. In just six months, Japan added Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines and much of the British Western Pacific Territories to her empire. Japanese air and naval forces conducted raids on Darwin and Columbo. A push into the Solomons threatened to isolate Australia. In the wake of the Japanese juggernaut, the United States sought allies wherever she could find them regardless of their political stripe. One such group was the Viet Minh, an independence movement that first fought against the Vichy French and then the Japanese after they occupied what was then known as Indochina. The leader of that movement would play a major role in world events from 1938 until his death in 1969.
His name was Nguyen Sinh Cung (aka Nguyen Tat Thanh, aka Nguyen Ai Quoc). He was born in Hoang Tru, the village of his mother in 1890. He grew up in Lang Sen, the village of his father. As a concession to his father, a Confucian scholar, teacher and imperial magistrate, Nguyen received a French education – attending lycee (secondary school) in Hue. At twenty-one Nguyen signed on as a cooks helper on a ship bound for America. From 1912-1919 he divided his time between the United States and the United Kingdom working at various jobs – more often than not, as a waiter, chef or baker. In 1919, Nguyen settled in France where a friend introduced him to the Socialist Party of France. Socialism appealed to Nguyen but he felt its doctrines did not go far enough to address the injustice of colonialism. Increasingly radicalized Nguyen became a founding member of the Parti Communiste Francais. His political activities brought him to Moscow where he served as the Comintern’s Asian authority specializing in colonial warfare. Nguyen used this time to hone his expertise in propaganda, sabotage and revolutionary support. In 1923, he enrolled at the Communist University of the Toilers in the East and attended the Fifth Comintern Congress in June 1924. November 1924 found Nguyen in Canton organizing Youth Education Classes and giving lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. The anti-communist coup of 1927 led by Chiang Kai-Shek forced Nguyen into exile. He drifted from Moscow to Paris, then Brussels, Berlin, Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong (where he was briefly jailed but released by the British), Milan and finally back to Moscow. In 1938, Nguyen returned to China serving as an advisor with the Chinese Communist army. In 1940, Nguyen took the name by which he is now most recognized – Ho Chi Minh (He Who Enlightens). In 1941, Nguyen / Ho took control of the independence movement in Vietnam fighting first the Vichy French and then the Japanese occupying forces. It was here that he perfected the craft of revolutionary warfare , which he pursued with a ruthlessness and single mindedness on a par with Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Ironically or tragically, depending upon your point of view, in April 1945 an OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA) agent with the unlikely name of Archimedes Patti met with Ho offering support in return for intelligence information on the Japanese. Ho readily agreed and the OSS began sending supplies, equipment and military teams to train the Viet Minh. In the interim Ho fell critically ill with malaria and dysentery. An OSS doctor assisted in his recovery.
The rest as they say is history. Following the August Revolution in 1945, Ho became Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. On 02 September 1945, following the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai, Ho Chi Minh declared independence for Vietnam with himself as premier. A communist government on his southern border was an anathema for Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalist Chinese government, who, as the war with Japan ended, now found themselves in a life or death struggle with Mao Tse Tung. The Republic of China dispatched an army of 200,000 men to Hanoi ending Ho’s revolution. It was a temporary setback. When Chiang traded Chinese influence in Vietnam in return for French concessions in Shanghai, the Viet Minh quickly recouped their previous position. In the ensuing power struggle thousands of members of rival factions such as the Constitutional Party, the Party for Independence, National Party of Vietnam and Dai Vet National Party were jailed, exiled or killed. After a failed coup in July 1946, all opposition parties were abolished and the purges intensified in order to tighten control and eliminate any possible future resistance. These purges were but a harbinger of things to come. Of course, the French had other plans for their former colony in Indochina. The French saw the Viet Minh as a useful tool to eliminate Vietnamese nationalists and counter the Chinese who were also attempting to exert control in the region. They offered to recognize Vietnam as an autonomous state within a reconstituted Indochinese Federation; in other words a colony by another name within the French Union. Return to the status quo ante bellum was unacceptable to Ho. On 19 December 1946, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam declared war on France, beginning the First Indochina War. The debacle at Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French involvement and the beginning of America’s war with her former friend, Ho Chi Minh.

Lessons Learned – None

You would think some corporate knowledge would have been passed down as the OSS evolved into the CIA or that President Truman would have left a cautionary note regarding former friends for his successors but that was not the case.
For thirty-five years, the United States followed President Truman’s policy of containment regarding the Soviet Union. Over time, containment devolved into detente and detente into accommodation allowing a government responsible for an estimated 100 million deaths to dominate nearly forty nations, shape events throughout the world and foment revolution from Angola to Nicaragua. In 1980 that paradigm radically changed – “We win and they lose.” Immediately upon taking office, President Reagan directed his National Security Council to formulate a strategy to defeat what he labeled “an evil empire” and the mortal enemy of the United States. The end product was a series of National Security Decision Directives summarized below:
• NSDD-32 support anti-soviet movements (including covert action)
• NSDD-66 disrupt the Soviet economy
• NSDD-75 bring about fundamental change
At every opportunity, President Reagan used the national and international stage to verbally attack the Soviet Union while lauding those who opposed it such as Lech Walesa. By implementing a massive build up of the United States military, including the Strategic Defensive Initiative or Star Wars program as its detractors called SDI, he forced the Soviet Union into an economic competition it could not win. In addition to the public relations campaign and what amounted to economic warfare in October 1983, President Reagan intervened in Grenada, directly challenging the Brezhnev Doctrine that the USSR would use force if necessary to ensure that a Socialist state remained Socialist as brutally demonstrated in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968. Another opportunity to “beard the lion” came when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. During Operation Cyclone (1979-1989), the CIA provided money and weapons, most importantly Stinger missiles, to the mujahedeen through Pakistan’s Intelligence Service, which, in conjunction with the Pakistani Army, trained Islamic insurgents.
America prevailed. Due to Reagan’s multi-front offensive, the inherent internal contradictions of communism, resurgent nationalism in the Soviet Union’s client states and the fact that in the emergent electronic age the Political Bureau could no longer control the information its citizens received, the USSR ceased to exist in December 1991. Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia, described this event as “on the same scale of historical importance as the fall of the Roman Empire.” Victory over the “evil empire” came a high price however, for in vanquishing one foe the United States played midwife to a perhaps even more dangerous, certainly more insidious enemy.
The son of a billionaire construction magnate with close ties to the Saudi Royal family Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Raised as a devout Wahhabi Muslim, bin Laden attended Al-Thager Model School and King Abdul-Aziz University. As an adult bin Laden inherited an estimated 25-30 million dollars, which he used to found his own construction company and, later on, to fund terrorist activities.
Increasingly radicalized bin Laden’s convictions came to include the belief that:
• the Saudi Royal family had betrayed Islam by allowing infidels to occupy the two holiest sites of Islam – Mecca and Medina
• the United States had oppressed, killed and exploited Muslims and as a decadent, multi-cultural society was the mortal enemy of Islam
• the imposition of Sharia law by violent jihad was God’s will and the only way to save true believers
• civilians, including women and children, were legitimate targets in the war against infidels
• non believers, to include Shia Muslims, were heretics that must be converted by the word or the sword
• Pan-Arabism, socialism, communism, democracy, etc. were an anathema to Islam
• Afghanistan under the Taliban was the one true Islamic nation and the model for a worldwide caliphate

Bin Laden was true to his beliefs, extreme though they were. In 1979 bin Laden went to Pakistan where he joined forces with Abdullah Azzam, using his own money to support the Mujahedeen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. After five years, that effort grew into the Maktab al-Khidamat, an organization that funneled money, arms and fighters from around the Arab world to Afghanistan. Based inside the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, Al-Khidamat provided tickets, quarters, false identification and other paperwork, training camps, etc. to the “faithful” who sought to join the holy war. To assume a more active role in 1988 bin Laden split from al-Khidamat to form al-Qaeda a group that, in his words, would be an “organized Islamic faction, its goal to lift the word of God, to make his religion victorious.”
Emboldened by the defeat of the USSR and angered by the American “occupation” of Mecca and Medina the two holiest shrines of Islam bin Laden denounced the Royal family. Banished by Saudi Arabia he promptly established new base of operations for al Qaeda in Khartoum. There he came in contact with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. This group formed the core of al-Qaeda. In 1996, pressured to leave Sudan, bin Laden returned to Jalalabad, Afghanistan. There he forged close ties with Mullah Mohammed Omar. In that same year, he declared war on United States for its continued occupation of Saudi Arabia and its support of Israel. He also took over Ariana Afghan Airlines. Bin Laden used the airline to ferry Islamic militants, arms, cash and opium through the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. The international arms smuggler Viktor Bout helped run the airline that CIA agent Michael Scheuer termed a “terrorist taxi service.”
Bin Laden’s strategy, as it had been with the Soviets, was to lure the United States into a long war of attrition and “bleed America to the point of bankruptcy.”
In February 1998, he co-signed a fatwa with Ayman al-Zawahiri in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. In this declaration, he called for the murder of North Americans and their allies by any means and decreed it the duty of every Muslim to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) and the holy mosque (in Mecca) from their grip. Thus began the series of attacks and bombings culminating in the attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001. He justified that action in the following statement:

“God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the Towers, but after the situation became unbearable – and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon – I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed – when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the US Sixth Fleet. As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way: to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children.”

To understand why American efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are so difficult it is necessary to look beyond the purely military aspects of these operations to the broader political, social, economic and cultural elements that produce Muslim extremists and why they view the United States as vulnerable.
For all its wealth, the Middle East is a region in crisis. In the year 2000, its population stood at 304,055,000. By 2015 that figure is projected to rise to 400,085,000. The population is largely young (less than 20), poorly educated, impoverished, alienated and, consequently, easily manipulated. Far too many live in crumbling cities overwhelmed by a burgeoning population; victims of weak, often corrupt governments which fail to provide even basic public services such as education, housing, garbage collection, transportation and health care or utilities such as sewage, potable water and electricity. The government’s inability to fulfill or outright abandonment of its obligations creates a void in the social contract. The local mosque fills that void providing Islamic schools, clinics, hospitals and welfare services. In the hands of zealots such as the Wahhabis, these institutions are used to recruit new adherents and support extremist causes. The feral cities of failed states are breeding grounds for terrorists who exploit the alienated for their own ends. Palestine is a perfect example of a government, which deliberately keeps its people in poverty and ignorance in order to promote its political agenda perpetuating a vicious cycle of violence and hatred for its own ends.
Unlike Christianity Islam is both religion and sociopolitical system. There is no separation between church and state so revered in the west. In a system where God’s rule (Hakimiyat) and divine law (Sharia) originate from the same source, the Koran, man-made political orders are blasphemy. According to the righteous, those who live in moderate Arab states reside in ‘the abode of the infidels’ (dar al Kufur). It is the duty of the pious to struggle (Jihad), even wage holy war (Harb Mukaddasah) against the infidel until all know the blessings of Allah. No wonder a rich, secular and polyglot nation such as the United States is seen as the ‘Great Satan’ corrupter of the faithful. Support for Israel and our superpower status further exacerbates the problem.
President Clinton responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 bombings in Saudi Arabia, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 1998 bombing of U. S. embassies in Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole with much rhetoric and token gestures. His timorous, ineffectual response to these events coupled with our perceived defeat in Somalia emboldened our adversaries especially Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden’s own words are noteworthy, “Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place in 1983? And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you leave Aden in less than twenty-four hours! But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where – after vigorous propaganda about the power of the United States and its post-cold war leadership of the new world order – you moved tens of thousands of an international force, including 28,000 American soldiers, into Somalia. However, when tens of your soldiers were killed in minor battles and one American pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you…. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew. The extent of your impotence and weakness became very clear.” Osama Bin Laden viewed the United States as a ‘paper tiger’ and having defeated one super power in Afghanistan felt fully capable of and morally justified in taking on another.
Although Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is a hydra. As current events have amply demonstrated al-Qaeda, its affiliates and like-minded organizations are growing in reach and power throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Capitalizing on the fervor of religious extremists and utilizing the tactics of asymmetrical warfare terrorists will be a significant threat to the United States for the foreseeable future.




A little neglect may breed great mischief:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost, For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For want of a horse the rider was lost, For want of a rider the battle was lost,

For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac of 1757



A.  Thesis

“He is not impressed with the necessity of building ships.”  John N. Maffit entered those prophetic words in his diary following a meeting with Jefferson Davis shortly after the civil war began.  Future Captain of the commerce raider CSS Florida, Maffit was one of the first United States naval officers to resign his commission and offer his services to the South.  Those ten words make a fitting epitaph for the Confederate States Navy, and with it, the Southern cause.

In 1861, the Union Army mustered only 16,000 men.  Worse, most of the regular Army troops were scattered in small garrisons throughout the western territories.  In light of the North’s initially weak position, General Winfield Scott proposed a gigantic siege of the Confederacy.  First, the navy would establish a blockade of the Southern coast.  Then, in joint operations the army and the navy would seize control of the Mississippi River splitting the Confederacy in two.  This strategy would not only weaken the South but also give the North time to mobilize its enormous resources.  Northern forces would then utilize the inland waterways and other natural invasion routes in simultaneous and concentric campaigns to further subdivide and eventually crush the South.  His goal was to gain time to raise, train and equip overwhelming Union force and to minimize casualties in hope of a more amicable restoration.  Much derided in the Northern press, Scott’s “Anaconda” plan proved not only sound but also remarkably prescient.  The carnage of the various “on to Richmond” campaigns in 1861, 1862 and 1863 awoke the leaders North and South to the impact of the rifled musket on the modern battlefield. After three years of great expectation and repeatedly dashed hopes, President Lincoln finally found a leader in General Grant with the ability and determination to successfully execute Scott’s much maligned strategy.

For the Confederacy, the only chance of survival lay in a protracted conflict with eventual recognition by and assistance from England and/or France.  Given the superiority of weapons available over tactics in use at the time, a decisive land battle leading to quick victory was highly unlikely.  Strategic defensive on land, wearing down the resolve of the North and gaining recognition from Europe was, consequently, the best hope for Southern victory.  As John Keegan observes in Fields of Battle:


Given the Confederacy’s strong natural frontiers, enormous size, and intermittent connection with the national communications system, there were the best of reasons for standing on the defensive, guarding the key points of northern Virginia, the head of the Mississippi, New Orleans, and the Cumberland or Tennessee rivers, while building up a navy to protect the coastline and interrupt blockade, and, at the same time pressing by sober diplomacy for recognition abroad.[i]


Successful execution of such a policy of strategic defensive required preventing the Union blockade of Southern ports; thereby, allowing the export of cotton to finance the war and import of vital war materials.  For lack of skilled manpower and industrial capacity, the South could not hope to match the Union in construction of conventional ships.  Success required a revolution in technology.  The Ironclad was that technological revolution.  Like the British with HMS Dreadnought in 1906, the Confederacy with its Ironclads had a brief window of opportunity in 1861 to negate the Union fleet.  Like the German U-Boats in World War I, with the armies stalemated on land the potential war winner, the Ironclad, was at sea.  In view of her limited resources, a policy of strategic defensive offered the best hope for Southern independence.  The Ironclad was essential to the execution of that policy.

Between April 1861 and April 1865, the South launched over two-dozen Ironclads.  During this same period, the Confederacy laid down or contracted for another thirty-six Ironclads.  This was in addition to numerous conventional warships, commercial ships and river steamers, blockade-runners, commerce raiders, gunboats and smaller craft.  A prodigious effort by any standard, the extremely limited shipbuilding and industrial capacity of the South in 1861 makes this feat even more remarkable.  Could this effort have been more successful, even war winning?  Reviewing the construction history, service history and eventual fate of the Confederate Ironclad fleet will demonstrate the unrealized potential of the Confederate Ironclad.   This paper will examine those fundamental policy changes and reallocation of resources necessary for a Confederate victory in the American Civil War.

B.  Background.

No review of the Confederate Navy would be complete without mention of the two primary figures involved in its creation, struggle for survival and ultimate demise.

Jefferson Davis did not seek the presidency of the Confederate States.  A graduate of West Point, class of 1828, Davis served in the North West from 1828 to 1833, fought in the Black Hawk war and left the army a Lieutenant.  Resigning his commission in 1835, he became a planter, read extensively and eventually entered politics.  Davis took a seat in Congress December 1845 only to resign in 1846 to re-enter military life at the outbreak of the Mexican – American war.  Joining his regiment in New Orleans he succeeded in arming them with the latest percussion rifles, prepared a drill manual, devised tactics for employing the new arm and drilled his officers and men diligently in its use.  Thanks to his thorough preparation, Davis added to Zachary Taylor’s army one of its most effective volunteer regiments.  He led his well-disciplined command in a gallant charge at Monterey, 21 September 1846, winning a brilliant victory in the assault on Fort Teneria.  At Buena Vista, his Mississippi riflemen and some Indiana volunteers, expertly supported by a young artillery Captain named Braxton Bragg, turned the course of battle into victory for the Americans with a bold charge under heavy fire against a much larger body of Mexican troops.  Although severely wounded in the foot during this engagement Davis remained on the field until victory was assured.  General Taylor’s dispatch of 6 March 1847 makes special mention of the courage, coolness under fire and successful service of then Colonel Davis and his command.  At the end of the war, President Polk appointed Davis Brigadier General but he declined the commission.  Davis returned from the war a hero and soon re-entered political life.  Sent to Congress in 1847, he was an advocate of compromise in the increasing factionalism between North and South.  Appointed Secretary of War by his friend in Congress and comrade in arms from the Mexican War President Pierce, Davis served with distinction in that post.  He returned to the Senate in 1857 acknowledged as a statesman in counsel, a leader of the people, ranking among the most respected of living Americans.  Until January 1861 he continued to fight for compromise introducing a series of seven resolutions he hoped would appease the factions and preserve the Union.  When reason failed, Davis, like so many others, reluctantly followed his state into secession.  Governor Pettus of Mississippi immediately commissioned Davis a Major General in overall command of the state forces, a position he earnestly sought and for which he was eminently qualified.  A few weeks later however, Davis became President of the Confederacy – a responsibility he earnestly shunned. Accepting his fate, Davis fought for his new country with all the vigor and loyalty he had once given the Union.  Davis devoted most of his time and energy organizing an army.  His years at West Point, service in Mexico and experience as Pierce’s very capable Secretary of War served him well in this work.  Unfortunately for the Southern cause, in times of crisis, this frustrated Major General frequently interfered with his generals in the field, often changing or countermanding their orders.  Furthermore, Davis never fully appreciated the critical role the Confederate States Navy, especially the Ironclad, would have to play if the South were to survive.  From his landlocked point of view, Davis could not understand the importance of sea power.  Davis was astute enough to appoint his former colleague in the Senate, Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy but not astute enough to give him the support he needed to help the Confederate Navy realize its full potential.

If Jefferson Davis was well suited by training and experience to organize the Confederate Army, Stephen Mallory was equally well qualified to develop the Confederate Navy.  The Mallory family moved to Key West, Florida in 1820 when Stephen was nine.  From 1830 to 1834, he read the law, specializing in Admiralty Law and passed the Bar in 1834.  Appointed Customs Inspector for Key West in 1833, while still a student, Mallory left that post to take command of a small vessel in the war against the Seminole Indians in 1836.  Returning to private life Mallory served as county judge from 1837 –1845.  At that time, he resumed his post as Customs Collector at Key West.  Elected to the United States Senate in 1850, Mallory returned for a second term in 1856.  Appointed Chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee in 1853 Mallory became a major spokesman for naval personnel policy reform, a vocal proponent of naval power and a dedicated advocate of new technology.  During this period, Mallory strongly supported the Stephens Battery, an early attempt to create a seagoing ironclad warship.  Its design called for an armored casemate and an armament of heavy rifled guns.  Ignored by the pre-war U. S. Navy, the Stephens Battery became the prototype Confederate Ironclad.  Like Davis, Mallory opposed secession.  He reluctantly resigned his seat in the Senate 21 January 1861 after Florida left the Union.  Recognizing his experience, Davis lost no time appointing Mallory Secretary of the Navy.  He was confirmed 4 March 1861.  Realizing the enormity of his task, Mallory, in turn, lost no time organizing the nascent Confederate Navy.

Mallory faced a daunting task.  According to the 1860 census the southern population was 9 million, the northern 20 million.  White males aged 15 – 40 numbered 1,140,000 in the south, 4,070,000 in the North.  Industrially the statistics were even worse.  The north had 110,000 manufacturing plants of all kinds, the south 18,000 – 1,300,000 industrial workers compared to 110,000.  Massachusetts alone produced over sixty per cent more manufactured goods than the entire Confederacy.  Pennsylvania produced nearly twice as much.  New York produced more than twice.  Only in land area did the south exceed the north – 780,000 square miles compared to 670,000 square miles.  However, the north had 22,000 miles of railway to move men and material, the south only 9000.  From his days in the Senate Mallory knew his navy would always be inferior in numbers of ships.  He also understood the South would never be able to match the industrial capacity of the North.  Fully realizing the enormous odds against them, the former Senator from Florida and Chairman of the United States Naval Affairs Committee drew upon that experience to quickly develop a five part naval strategy designed to give the Confederacy a fighting chance.  His overall strategy is summarized as follows:

  1. Construction at home or purchase abroad of Ironclad ships for defense of major ports and inland waterways.
  2. Construction or purchase of conventional ships of the line to serve as commerce raiders. (By preying upon the North’s merchant fleet, Mallory hoped to disrupt or, at least, discomfort the Northern economy and draw off blockading ships.)
  3. Arming all Confederate naval vessels with large caliber rifled guns of the type invented by Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke.
  4. Establishment of shipyards and ironworks to support construction goals.
  5. Placement of the best people in key positions. A system of promotions and appointments based on demonstrated courage and merit replaced the United States Navy tradition of promotion based on seniority.

When President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, President Davis countered with a call for 100,000, authorized Privateering and began issuing letters of Marque and Reprisal.  President Lincoln responded by proclaiming a blockade of the southern coast.  It soon became evident the North also intended to split the Confederacy in two with a thrust down the Mississippi culminating at New Orleans.  This necessitated the addition of four more items to Mallory’s naval strategy:

  1. Construction or purchase of blockade-runners to export cotton and bring in vital war materials.
  2. Increased emphasis on Confederate built Ironclad vessels to protect vital ports and European built Ironclads to break the blockading Union fleet.
  3. The addition of gunboats and torpedo warfare (naval mines laid in static fields or delivered by submersibles or torpedo launches) to supplement the Ironclads.
  4. Increased navy interest in costal fortifications, up to this point a function of the Army, State or local militia.

To implement his strategy, Mallory organized the Confederate Navy into four offices.  These offices were equivalent to the bureaus of the United States Navy with which he was familiar.  The Office of Provisions and Clothing responsibilities included manufacturing, acquiring and distributing uniforms and equipment to the Navy.  It also acted as Paymaster to all Officers, sailors, contractors and civilian employees.  The Office of Medicine and Surgery saw to the health of the sailors and set up Naval Hospitals.  The Office of Orders and Detail oversaw the Navy’s paperwork, made personnel assignments and set personnel policies.  Lastly, the Office of Ordnance and Hydrography was charged with design, construction and armament of naval vessels.  As the war evolved, a Submarine Battery Service was added to develop and fully employ torpedo (mine) warfare.  A Secret Service was also added to the Navy Department.  This office was not concerned with gathering military intelligence as its name might indicate.  Its function involved procuring warships and associated supplies and equipment abroad.  Mallory did not favor privateering because it alienated the English and eroded their support.  In an attempt to regulate this segment of the war effort, Mallory organized all personnel into Regular Navy, Volunteer Navy or Provisional Navy billets.

C.  Relative Strengths and Weaknesses

In 1860, the population of the twenty-three states remaining in the Union numbered approximately 20 million.  The population of the eleven seceding states was 9 million, out of which 3.5 million were slaves.  Two factors mitigate this huge disparity in numbers.  The labor of the 3.5 million slaves allowed a greater percentage of white Southern males to serve while almost half of the Union forces were employed in garrisons or guarding lines of supply.  Of the remaining Union forces, almost half served in some logistical or other support element.  Given further reductions for illness, leave, etc. at any given time only one quarter of the men in blue were actually available for front line combat.  Still it was rare for a Confederate force to come close to parity much less outnumber a Union force.

Geographically the balance of power was a tossup.  The South’s 3600 nautical mile coast line with 10 major ports and 180 inlets, bays and river mouths would be difficult to defend but equally difficult to blockade.  The Appalachian Mountains gave some protection to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.  The Mississippi River, her tributaries and numerous other inland waterways were natural supply lines and therefore tempting routes of invasion.  They were also natural barriers, which in the age of the rifled musket greatly enhanced defense.  The lack of improved roads and limited railway net (only ten southern seaports had rail connections; of those only six had interstate rail connections) in the South that hampered strategic movement of troops, supplies and vital war materials also limited any Union offensives into those areas. Geographically then victory would go to him who could first, best and most wisely utilize the natural features of the land.

In 1860, the South produced 3 per cent of the nation’s firearms, 6 per cent of its cloth and overall only 1 per cent of the nation’s total industrial output.  Granted, it would take some time for the North to mobilize its industrial base.  Despite Herculean efforts, limited manufacturing capability of all types was one area that would plague the Confederacy throughout the war.  Most telling was the South’s dependency upon the North for locomotives, rolling stock, rails, boilers and steam engines. Only unrestricted trade with Europe could overcome the deficiency in industrial capacity, especially heavy industry, and skilled labor.

PART II  1861 – Lost Opportunities

When the war began the Union navy numbered, on paper at least, ninety ships.    Forty-eight were unfit to go to sea, in extended lay up or in shipyards for overhaul and, therefore, not immediately available.  That left forty-two vessels in active commission.  Of those forty-two, only twenty-four were modern steam powered vessels.  Eighteen of those were on foreign station and would take some time to recall.  This left six modern steam ships and eighteen older sailing vessels to initially implement President Lincoln’s blockade.  Other sources state, of the ninety vessels on the Navy Register in 1861, forty-eight were unfit and twenty-eight were on foreign station, leaving only fourteen immediately available for blockade duty.  In either case, the Union and Confederate navies were as close to parity as they would ever come.  Within four years, the Union would purchase 418 warships and construct an additional 208 (including 65 Ironclads).  The Union navy would peak at 670 vessels, crewed by 51,500 officers and men, but that was years away.  (During this same period, the Confederacy built or purchased 130 vessels and peaked at 5200 officers and men.)  In 1861, there was a brief opportunity for the Confederacy to seize the initiative.

Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Mallory was well aware of this rare and fleeting opportunity.  When established 21 February 1861 the Confederate navy consisted of the Fulton, an old side wheel steam ship built in 1837 and laid up at Pensacola for repairs, four captured revenue cutters, three commandeered slave ships and two small steamers – a total of ten ships mounting fifteen guns.  Even by incorporating the state navies Mallory could not hope to match even fourteen Union men of war currently ready for duty, much less those that would rapidly become available.  Mallory further realized the Confederacy could never hope to match the Union in manpower or industrial output.  Therefore, as early as 26 April 1861 he wrote:

I propose to adopt a class of vessels hitherto unknown to naval service.  The perfection of a warship would doubtless be a combination of the greatest known ocean speed, with the greatest known floating battery and power of resistance.[ii]

On 10 May 1861, Mallory clarified his intentions in a letter to the Chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs stating:

I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the first necessity.  Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the United States; prevent all blockades, and encounter, with a fair prospect of success, their entire navy.  If we cope with them upon the sea we follow their example and build wooden ships, we shall have to construct several at one time; for one or two ships would fall an easy prey to her comparatively numerous steam frigates.  But inequality of numbers may be compensated by invulnerability; and thus not only does economy but naval success dictate the wisdom and expediency of fighting with iron against wood, without regard to first cost.[iii]

Accordingly, construction of Ironclads began at Norfolk, New Orleans and Memphis.  Almost immediately, the weakness of the Southern economy became apparent.  In a parallel effort, agents were dispatched overseas to purchase European armored vessels.  The French and English were not anxious to sell their most modern and powerful warships to an untested Confederacy.  Negotiations began for construction of others but the South would have to act quickly before neutrality laws became an issue

Jefferson Davis did not share Mallory’s appreciation of the vital role of sea power.  Davis chose to ignore the critical precautionary statement “without regard to first cost.”   The first setback for the infant Confederate navy came with the first budgets.  From April 1861 to August 1862, congress allocated over $330,000,000 to the army.  Less than $15,000,000 was budgeted for the navy.  To make matters worse, the navy did not have direct control of its funds.  After negotiating with contractors at home or agents overseas for purchases, it had to apply to the Treasury Department for payment.  This added layer of unnecessary bureaucracy was more than inconvenient.  The payment delays it caused would shortly prove critical.  In spite of Mallory’s best efforts, only seven Ironclads were laid down in 1861.  Of those seven, only the Manassas, a commandeered privateer, saw action in the opening year of the war.

In addition, at the beginning of the war the Union retained Fortress Monroe in Virginia, Forts Taylor and Jefferson at Key West and Fort Pickens near Pensacola.  On 29 August, Union forces under Flag Officer Stringham and General Butler captured Forts Hatteras and Clark closing Pamlico Sound.  The Confederacy lost use of almost two hundred miles of North Carolina coastal waters in this one action.  In September, Ship Island, between Mobile and New Orleans fell to Union forces.  On 7 November, Flag Officer DuPont captured Port Royal, South Carolina south of Charleston.  In the euphoria following First Manassas, the implication of these defeats was lost on Davis and the Confederate government.  The Union gained bases and anchorages necessary to implement an effective blockade in the event of a prolonged war.  In the hubris following First Manassas however, few anticipated a prolonged war.  It was not an auspicious beginning for the infant Confederate navy.

PART III.  1862 – Triumph and Disaster

When completed promptly, the ironclads of 1862 served with distinction.  Enduring some of the most brutal combat of the war, they routed or held at bay Union fleets twenty times their number.  Gallant as they were, their careers were altogether too brief.  In addition, the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in February and Island Number Ten in April opened the Tennessee, Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers to Union invasion.  Natchez, Vicksburg and Memphis were now vulnerable to Union attack.  The loss of Roanoke Island in February, Fernandina, St. Augustine, Jacksonville and New Bern in March, Fort Pulaski in April and Norfolk in May was an unmitigated disaster for the Confederate Navy.  Their loss gave the Union an unbroken chain of bases, anchorages and coaling stations from Fort Monroe to New Orleans to serve the blockading fleet.  Only Wilmington, Charleston and Mobile remained open to commerce.  Most grievous was the loss of New Orleans.  Diplomatically, it discouraged the ambitions of Napoleon III in Mexico and, with them, possible support of the South.  It lifted Northern morale in a year bereft of major Union victories.  Second only to New York in population, wealth and commerce, the Crescent City should have been defended with the same tenacity as Richmond later in the war.  Instead, the 30,000 troops raised, trained and equipped in the first year of the rebellion served in Tennessee and Virginia.  Only 3,000 local militia, two incomplete forts and one immobile Ironclad faced Admiral Farragut in April 1862. For the Confederate navy, New Orleans’ considerable shipbuilding potential would never be realized. Coupled with the loss of Norfolk, Southern shipbuilding efforts were drastically set back.  Many claim the war was lost on 24 April 1862.  The Seven Days battle in June, Second Manassas in August and Fredericksburg in December blinded the Richmond government to all this however.  On land they still felt invincible.  The loss of a few ships and coastal fortifications, even the loss of New Orleans, were of little consequence in their view.

PART IV  1863 – A Mortal Blow

The loss of so many ports, islands and fortifications along the Southern coast had three main effects.  One, it tightened the blockade making import of vital war materials more problematic.  In 1861 the chances of avoiding the blockade were 1 in 9.  In 1862 the odds dropped to 1 in 7.  Now they fell to 1 in 4.  Two, the presence of Union forces in North Carolina threatened the Wilmington and Weldon railroad, the principal supply line of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  Three, the very real threat of raids or invasion by Union forces now stationed in those areas pushed the Confederate shipbuilding effort inland, fragmenting and greatly reducing its efficiency.  Naval works were established in such unlikely places as Atlanta, Columbus, Selma, Montgomery, and Charlotte.  Ironclads were constructed in clearings along riverbanks.  These ‘shipyards’ consisted of forges requisitioned from local plantations, employing those blacksmiths and carpenters not yet enlisted in the army.  While relatively safe from Union incursion, these out of the way places suffered from a lack of transportation connections.  Materials, if they could be found, were difficult to deliver.  Vital supplies often sat for months in warehouses awaiting shipment.  Finding skilled labor in remote locations further slowed an already slow process.  Many of the carpenters, ironworkers, machinists and mechanics desperately needed by the Navy were already serving in the Army.  Secretary Mallory made repeated request for their release.  Without Jefferson Davis’ support, those requests were largely ignored.  If delayed until late summer when water levels fell, many vessels were unable to reach their intended area of operation until the fall rains came.  Hence, only one major naval engagement, involving ironclad the Atlanta, took place in 1863.

On land, the defeat at Gettysburg ended Confederate offensive operations in the North.  Without an Ironclad to help protect her Vicksburg also fell.  Of the two, the surrender of Vicksburg proved most decisive.  As President Lincoln observed in 1861, “The Mississippi is the backbone of the Rebellion.  It is the key to the whole situation.”  Control of the Mississippi gave the Union great freedom of operation.  Cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana could be largely ignored.  The loss of troops and supplies from those areas severely impacted the remainder of the Confederacy in its ability to continue the war.

PART V  1864 – Lost Victories

The Confederate Ironclads of 1864 also served with distinction keeping vital ports open until the last days of the conflict.  Had they been augmented with only a few sister ships in the first year of the war, the outcome of the rebellion might have been considerably different.  Time was running out for the Confederacy, however.

As Mallory observed:

The United States have a constructed Navy; we have a Navy to construct…but naval defenses of a country have ever necessarily been of tardy growth, and in this age, when the steam engine is as essential to the warship as her battery…the difficulties, delays, and expenses of creating a navy are immeasurably multiplied and increased. [iv]

Compounded by the calamities of war, those ‘difficulties’ included:

* An underdeveloped, decentralized and fragmented industrial base

* An inadequate, and rapidly deteriorating, transportation system

* A lack of skilled labor exacerbated by a bureaucratic payment method leading to     strikes and short sided army personnel policies, which the Davis government refused to correct

* A lack of experienced seamen

* An inadequate coastal defense system causing the loss, destruction or transfer inland to less efficient sites of industrial facilities

* The destruction of numerous Ironclads before completion

* States rights (many states withheld vital troops and supplies)[v]

* Allocation of funds to the Army and Navy

* Poor policy decisions such as the cotton embargo, authorizing privateers and, even, the location of the Confederate capitol

* An overly aggressive strategy on land.  (Lee and a virulent Southern press persuaded Davis to forego the defensive posture he initially favored)

As a result, many Confederate Ironclads did not survive the prolonged construction process.  Those actually commissioned required fifteen months or more to complete.  Their opponents required six months or less from keel laying to combat.

PART VI  1865 – Gotterdammerung

New technology is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand it can give a country a decisive advantage.  On the other hand, developing and applying new technology takes time.  For the South in 1861, steam powered, armored warships were the key to victory but they were not granted the time to develop them.  Union incursions into vital areas resulted in a fragmented construction system.  In the case of the CSS Jackson, her boilers and engines were manufactured in Columbus; her shafting came from Charlotte, her cannon from Selma, the sights from Atlanta and the carriages from Charleston.  All depended upon an increasingly unreliable railroad controlled by the army.  The army’s first priority, naturally, was delivery of food, uniforms, ammunition and powder to her units in the field.  Skilled labor is also required for new technology.  There too, a short sighted army was increasingly reluctant to release soldiers, no matter how urgently needed by the navy or how vital to the country.  A total lack of standardization also made completion of Confederate Ironclads in a timely manner impossible.  No two Confederate ships were exactly alike.  While ingenious and necessary, using the boilers from one ship, the engines from another, the shafting and propellers from yet another and whatever labor was available meant each ship was unique.  Each part required custom fitting.  Each vessel varied drastically in quality.  The shortage of such basic items as oakum, nails and bolts often halted construction.  When (if) completed, fitting out with anchors, chain, line, and other naval supplies could add weeks, if not months.  Officers were plentiful; trained crews were not.  The Confederacy proved remarkably innovative and made great strides in four years but the South ran out of time.  In the case of the Jackson, she never fired a shot in anger.  After two years of effort, just weeks prior to completion, raiding Union cavalry destroyed her.  Resourceful and resolute to last, the Confederate navy could not overcome the inherent weakness of the Southern industrial base and the forces arrayed against it.  In the end, it was too little, too late.

PART VII. Conclusion

Excellent records exist on many Confederate Ironclads.  Others are extremely sketchy.  Many of the specifications in the index, therefore, are approximate.  When in doubt, I have indicated them as ‘uncertain’ or ‘unknown’.  In my research, I found at least partial records on sixty Confederate Ironclads.  Their fate is listed as follows:

Lost due to accident – 3

Surrendered – 4

Captured – 3

Impounded – 4

Destroyed to prevent capture – 20

Never completed – 25

It is interesting to note that only one Confederate Ironclad was sunk in combat.  Although roughly constructed and crude compared to Union vessels, the Confederate Ironclad was undeniably effective.  The impact of just one Ironclad at Vicksburg, Hampton Roads, Mobile and Plymouth is well documented.  Where they served in squadrons (Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah) the cities they protected held out, in spite of overwhelming Union naval force, until the last days of the war when taken from the land.

If the Confederacy had fought a war of defensive maneuver on land, conserving her resources and giving up space for time as Joe Johnston did in the Atlanta campaign, the price of Union victory might have been too high.  The will of the North was a fragile thing.  Without the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the election of 1864 could have gone to someone willing to recognize the South.  In conjunction with a strategy of defensive maneuver on land, if Jefferson Davis had given greater support to the Confederate Navy, without question a greater number of Ironclads would have been completed and seen action much earlier in the conflict.  Their presence would have prevented or, at least, delayed opening of the Mississippi to Union invasion; the capture of Vicksburg, New Orleans, Mobile and the South’s other major ports.   As far as overseas commerce was concerned, the average life expectancy of a blockade-runner was four and one half voyages.  Weakening, much less, eliminating the Federal blockade would have increased the import of vital war materials, no doubt prolonged the war and made European intervention more likely.

But the outcome of any war is far more than numbers, resources and industry; all of which the Confederacy lacked.  It is also the story of personalities and politics.  Short sighted political decisions, an overly aggressive military strategy, poor economic decisions (such as the embargo of cotton), unfavorable manpower and monetary allocations and lack of appreciation for and support of the navy doomed the Confederate Ironclad as much as any lack of resources, industry or manpower.  Ben Franklin’s cautionary tale certainly applies.  Stephen Mallory made perhaps the best assessment of the Confederate navy however:

I am satisfied that, with the means at our control and in view of the overwhelming force of the enemy at the outset of the struggle, our little navy accomplished more than could have been looked or hoped for; and if I have ever felt any surprise connected with its operations, it was that we accomplished so much.[vi]

[i] John Keegan, Fields of Battle (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 206

[ii] Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Ser. II, Vol. II, 51

[iii] Ibid., 67-69

[iv] Report of the Secretary of the Navy to the President, 27 February 1862

[v] Ironically one of the major causes of the secession would be one of the major downfalls of the Confederacy.

[vi] Letter from Mallory to Rochelle, 21 May 1867

Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda


In his war commentary, Bellum Gallicum, Julius Caesar wrote, “In war great events are the results of small causes.”  History is replete with examples of this dictum; stirring sagas of courage under fire; gallant stands by a handful of men against overwhelming odds; small battles that disproportionally influenced the outcome of major wars; epic chronicles that inspire us to this day.

In 480 B. C. Xerxes led a Persian host estimated at 200,000 against the Greek city-states.  The upstart Greeks were fomenting trouble in Ionia with their radical ideas regarding democracy, ideas the all-powerful autocrat despised.  Knowing they could not match Persian numbers in open battle the Hellenes abandoned northern Greece choosing instead to make a stand at Thermopylae.  At the middle gate the defile along the coastal plain spans a mere fourteen feet.  At this perfect defensive point superior Greek arms, armor and tactics negated Persian numbers.  For three days Leonidas, King of the Spartans, with 7000 hoplites mustered from the various Greek city-states stood firm.  Then a traitor revealed a little used mountain track around their position to the enemy.  Outflanked by the Immortals, Xerxes elite infantry, many Greek contingents fled.  Spurning surrender Leonidas and his Spartans fought to the death buying precious time for their countrymen to prepare.  Despite their sacrifice at Thermopylae, Athens was lost.  When combined with the subsequent naval victory at Salamis however, Greece was saved.

In 1854 French, British and Turkish forces invested Sevastopol.  On 25 October Prince Alexander Sergeievich Menshikov attempted to lift the allied siege.  After a three hour preliminary bombardment Russian infantry charged and carried a Turkish redoubt.  Russian heavy cavalry poured through the broken line and raced for Balaklava the British supply base.  In a bloody clash the remnants of retreating Turkish forces and the ‘Thin Red Line’ of the famous 93rd Highlanders threw the Russian Cuirassiers back.

In the context of valiant struggles against long odds the Battle of the Alamo, Rorke’s Drift and the RAF during the Battle of Britain also come to mind.  In that vein, this article will address the lesser known but equally deserving Battle of the Kokoda Trail which saved Australia and profoundly influenced the War in the Pacific.


            The editors of Life magazine could not be accused of sensationalism for their 02 March 1942 cover page banner headline, NOW THE U. S. MUST FIGHT FOR ITS LIFE.  In the spring of 1942 Allied prospects were indeed grim.  Rommel was on the offensive in North Africa.  In Europe the Wehrmacht survived the debacle at Moscow, blunted the Russian winter counter attack and would shortly launch campaigns in the Balkans and the Caucasus.  The Japanese blitzkrieg continued unabated in Burma, China, the Dutch East Indies, French Indo-China, Malaya and the Philippines.  Feature articles pondered Japanese invasions of Australia, Hawaii, even the United States.  With only 100,000 hastily mustered, poorly trained, ill-equipped and inadequately supplied troops to defend the entire Pacific coast these stories were not as farfetched then as they appear now.

If America was unready, then Australia was even less prepared.  Her best units were fighting with the British 8th Army or languishing in Japanese POW camps after the fall of Singapore.  Protection by the Royal Navy sank with HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales.  With the remainder of the fleet fighting for England’s survival in the Atlantic no additional ships could be spared for the Pacific.

During World War II airfields drove strategic decisions in the Pacific.  Land based air power projected sea control / sea denial capabilities out 300 miles or more.  If Imperial Forces captured the airstrips around Port Moresby, New Guinea isolation of Australia was probable; invasion of Queensland quite possible.  In either case damage to the Allied cause might be irrevocable.  The naval battle of Coral Sea (3 – 8 May) ended the sea borne threat to Port Moresby.  Well aware of New Guinea’s strategic significance, on 21 July 1942 the Japanese countered by landing 11,000 troops at Buna and Gona on New Guinea’s northern coast.  With 6000 troops Major General Tomitaro Horii immediately pushed inland along the Kokoda Trail toward Port Moresby 130 miles south.  It was now a race against time for both the Australians and the Japanese.  Thousands would fight and die in some of the worst terrain imaginable along the Kokoda Trail, the narrow track that crosses the Owen Stanley Range linking Gona and Port Moresby.

New Guinea:

            The world’s second largest island, New Guinea is geologically young with volcanic peaks reaching 16,000 feet.  The Owen Stanley Range divides the island North and South.  Numerous streams and rivers further split the island East and West.  Located just eleven degrees below the equator, constantly inundated with heavy rainfall, covered with dense vegetation, most of New Guinea is a hot, humid, equatorial jungle.  Violent rains dump up to an inch of water in five minutes.  Rivers rise as much as nine inches per hour.  Yet at altitude trekkers suffer from hypothermia brought about by sudden hailstorms.  To call New Guinea inhospitable is an egregious understatement.  It is a primordial world, like something penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Jules Verne.  Not even the discovery of gold in the 1930’s could tame New Guinea.  As James Bradley writes in The Boys Saved Australia, “a road just seventy miles long was deemed impossible to build and planes had to ferry supplies in and ore out.”

To reach their objective the Japanese first had to traverse the formidable Owen Stanley Range via the Kokoda Trail.  Trail implies a peaceful, winding path.  The Kokoda Trail is nothing of the sort.  A dangerous, narrow track hacked out of the jungle and carved out of the mountains, it crosses the Owen Stanley Range at 7000 feet via a series of twisting switchbacks and rough-hewn steps cut into steep slopes.  Prior to the war it was considered passable only by natives and provincial officers.  The optimistic figure of 130 air miles from Gona to Port Moresby held a far different reality on the ground where exhausted soldiers struggled first through dense jungle followed by a backbreaking climb.  As if thick rain forests, rugged mountains, swift, treacherous streams and muddy, precipitous drops were not daunting enough obstacles in themselves a plethora of poisonous insects, dangerous wildlife, tropical diseases and cannibalistic headhunters awaited those who strayed too far from the beaten path.

Australian versus Japanese Forces:

            To counter the Japanese threat Australia rushed a militia unit, the AMF 39th Battalion, up the Kokoda Trail.  Clad in Khaki uniforms appropriate for desert conditions but completely unsuited for jungle warfare, shod in leather boots which soon rotted away, equipped with World War I vintage Enfield rifles the Aussies were supported by nothing heavier than light mortars and Bren and Lewis machine guns.  Further the 39th had just completed basic training, had no combat and certainly no jungle experience.

In contrast Major General Horii’s command, designated the South Seas Detachment (Nankai Shitai), was comprised of elite troops, veterans of earlier campaigns.  Clothed in green camouflage uniforms, shod in functional jungle boots they carried little food (hoping to live off the land and captured supplies) but large quantities of ammunition.  They also carried heavy mortars, heavy machine guns and even mountain artillery for support.

For the Japanese success depended upon speed.  They must cross the Owen Stanley Range capturing Port Moresby before Allied reinforcements arrived in substantial numbers.  Once in Japanese hands its airfields would ferry in the troops, supplies and equipment necessary for further operations.  Foregoing provisions for mobility Horii counted on Yamato Damashii (Japanese Spirit) and overwhelming firepower to carry the day.  Pushing forward relentlessly, scouts sprinted ahead of the main body sacrificing their lives to flush out and target enemy positions.

For their part the 39th pushed across the Kokoda Trail first halting the Japanese at Wasida 23 – 27 July.  Outnumbered and outgunned for sixty days the Aussies conducted a heroic fighting withdrawal, turning to face their determined opponents at Kokoda (28 July), Deniki (29 July – 11 August), Seregina (2 – 5 September), Efogi (8 September), and Menari (16 September).  The final confrontation took place at Ioribaiwa 17 – 26 September.  At that point the depleted South Seas Detachment held positions within thirty miles of Port Moresby.  At night its lights beckoned the weary Japanese.  Scourged with malaria, racked with dysentery, weakened by hunger the Japanese could advance no further.  On 23 September, two months after the Japanese landings at Buna and Gona, the 7th Australian Division counterattacked.  Now it was the Japanese who conducted a bitter fighting withdrawal over the Owen Stanley Range.  By November the remnants of Horii’s force were entrenched in the Buna – Gona area.  Reinforced by the American 32nd Division Gona fell to Allied forces on 9 December.  Buna finally capitulated in January 1943.

The Human Cost:

            Fighting in New Guinea was especially gruesome.  With so much at stake, rugged terrain, foul climate, tenuous supply lines and the desperation of both combatants magnified the always-brutal nature of close quarters combat.

Provisions were limited to what the soldiers carried and what could be packed in.  Ammunition got top priority, food second, hospital supplies third.  Consequently medicine was always in short supply, often non-existent.  Lacking any other medical care Jim Moir and many other soldiers allowed blowflies to lay eggs in their wounds.  The resultant maggots ate their rotten flesh keeping the wound clean and preventing gangrene.

Out of necessity stretcher-bearers were limited to only the most severely wounded.  When Japanese machinegun fire shattered his lower leg medics fabricated a splint out of banana leaves.  Refusing a litter, Charles Metson wrapped his hands and knees in rags and crawled down the trail he had so laboriously climbed just days before.  Such was the spirit and the fortitude of the 39th Battalion.


            The Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific never visited the front, ignored reports on conditions and dismissed intelligence estimates on Japanese strength.  Far removed from the desperate fighting, comfortably housed and safely ensconced at their Brisbane Headquarters “Dugout Doug” and his “Bataan Bunch” (as the Aussies derisively labeled MacArthur and his staff) railed against the Australians, first over their continuous retreat, then for the time-consuming counter offensive.  In a dispatch to Washington MacArthur cabled, “The Australians lack fighting spirit.”  MacArthur further damaged relations when he signaled, “Operation reports show that progress on the trail is not repeat not satisfactory.”  Given an undeservedly deficient reputation by the refugees from the Philippines, Australian units were relegated to secondary fronts for the remainder of the war.

MacArthur’s questionable opinion does not bear close scrutiny.  Fighting horrendous conditions as well as the Japanese the Australians gave Japan its first defeat on land.  The significance of that achievement cannot be overstated for a Japanese victory in New Guinea changes the entire strategic picture of World War II in the Pacific.  Japanese planes based in Port Moresby could have interdicted Allied supply lines isolating Australia.  To ensure she remained in the war, troops earmarked for the Solomons would have been diverted, postponing the invasion of Guadalcanal for six months or a year.  Given additional time to dig in the inevitable Allied counterattack becomes even more costly.

The battles described in the prologue were not chosen randomly.  The naval victory at Salamis overshadowed the deadly confrontation at Thermopylae just as the naval engagement at Midway eclipsed the battle of the Kokoda Trail.  Even though they fought courageously in the Crimean War the Turks were vilified by Lord Raglan (covering his own desultory performance and deadly tactical mistakes) and used as human pack animals for the remainder of the conflict.  So too, MacArthur used the Australians badly, maligning them publicly, giving them subordinate roles in inconsequential areas for the balance of World War II.

Never the less if Midway was the turning point for the United States, then New Guinea was the defining moment for Australia.  Although comparatively few troops were engaged their spirit was unmatched and the battle of the Kokoda Trail greatly influenced the outcome of the Pacific War.  On 29 August of each year Australians rightfully observe ‘Kokoda Day’ to honor the young men who endured so much.


            “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

George Orwell

Those who have forgotten the lessons of 11 September 2001 and choose to ignore the dangers terrorism continues to pose (not to mention China, Iran, North Korea and Russia) would do well to heed those words.  During the American Revolution approximately three per cent of the colonists bore arms against the English, pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for freedom.  Today those precious few men and women serving in distant lands, confronting the forces of terror, preserving the freedoms others take for granted, numbers less than one per cent.  By their actions they preserve and carry forward the legacy of Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda – service, sacrifice and an impact far greater than mere numbers would suggest; an influence not yet fully understood or appreciated.






In 1865 the United States Navy mustered 700 ships (many of them iron clad and steam powered), mounting 5,000 cannon (many of those rifled, shell guns of the latest design), crewed by 6,700 officers and 51,000 men.  In just five years 92.6 per cent of the fleet had been sold, scrapped or laid up.  Only 52 ships mounting 500 guns remained in active commission.  These, with a few notable exceptions, were crewed largely by the dregs of the waterfront for, as promotion and advancement opportunities stagnated, officers and enlisted personnel left the service in droves taking with them hard won battle experience and years of training.  In this environment the eighteen knot USS Wampanoag[i], first warship to employ super heated steam, was scrapped as congress mandated a return to sail in order to save money on coal.  A post war, isolationist, defensive mentality exacerbated the rush to disarm.  Costal fortifications were deemed less provocative and considerably less expensive than a credible blue water navy.

As the United States bound its wounds and gradually recovered from reconstruction the nation began to look outward again.  Of the forty-eight contiguous states by 1896 all but the Indian Territories had been tamed and entered the Union.  Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma followed shortly after the turn of the century.  Having settled the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific people began to consider transcontinental acquisitions as a natural extension or continuation of “Manifest Destiny.”[ii]  In addition to the social and moral factors at work, a resurgent and increasingly industrialized America faced the prospect of saturated domestic markets further fueling the desire for overseas expansion. [iii]  A renewed interest in foreign trade required a strong Navy to compete with Britain, France and Germany who were building empires in Africa, India and Asia through colonies and spheres of influence.  Following the lean years of the 1870’s, the government was naturally interested in stimulating the economy.  The burgeoning steel and ship building industries also looked with favor on a revitalized Navy for obvious reasons.  In this atmosphere policy makers began to question the traditional commerce raiding strategy of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War.  Increasingly they called for a fleet of capital ships, which could break any attempted blockade, prevent invasion and expand and protect American interests abroad.  Modern warships required large capital investment at home and bases overseas to take on coal, replenish provisions and make repairs.  Thus the requirements for a rejuvenated navy dovetailed neatly with an expanding economy, territorial acquisition and popular opinion.

In November 1884 as the forces of change grew in the United States a reluctant sailor perused the elegant library of the English Club in Lima, Peru.  Invited to give a series of lectures at the recently established Naval War College he searched the polished shelves seeking inspiration.  Taking up a leather bound copy of Mommsen’s The History of Rome the middle aged officer settled into an overstuffed chair and began to study Hannibal’s invasion of Rome during the Second Punic War.  In that moment was born the most influential book on naval strategy and foreign policy of his era.  In time this event would transform his heretofore undistinguished career and alter world events.

Alfred Thayer Mahan

It is ironic that one of the worst seamen to ever command a ship underway should become one of the most influential naval theorists in maritime history.  In 1861 Mahan drove the Pocahontas into the anchored Seminole.  In 1874 Mahan scored a humiliating hat trick.  While commanding Wasp he struck a barge at anchor, damaged an Argentinean warship during a storm off Buenos Aires and wedged the hapless Wasp into a dry dock caisson where it remained stuck fast for ten days much to the amusement of the citizens of Montevideo and his chagrin.  On a calm sea in broad daylight in 1883 while commanding the Wachusett he collided with a bark under sail.  His most embarrassing moment however came in 1893 when he hit the Naval Academy Training Ship Bancroft with the Chicago at the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn.  In addition to his notable achievements as a historian, Mahan holds the dubious distinction of grounding or colliding every ship he ever commanded except the Iroquois.  This accident-prone Captain alternated his time at sea with tours at the recently established Naval War College where he was noted for his absolutely stultifying lectures.

Unable to bear the stress of command at sea again Mahan retired in 1896 in order to follow his true calling, that of historian and author.  His twenty-one books, 137 articles and 107 letters to the editor had a profound influence not only in the United States but also throughout the world.  His most important work, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, published in 1890, grew out of a series of lectures given at the Naval War College.  This book received worldwide attention.  Hailed in England he dined with the Queen.  Cambridge and Oxford conferred honorary degrees.  Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered copies of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History placed onboard every ship of the Kaiserliche Marine and in every school, library and government office.  Japan followed suit issuing translations to all army and navy officers, political leaders and schools.

Like many of his age Mahan believed that every element of human enterprise, be it science, history, social behavior or war, was governed by natural, universal laws ordained by God.  With the proper application of reason these laws could be deduced and applied to ones benefit.  Mahan sought to do for war at sea what Jomini and Clausewitz had done for land warfare.  He argued that geographical position, physical conformation, extent of territory, number of population, national character and character of government formed the basis of sea power and formulated strategic and tactical principles for the application of sea power based on his study of history.  In his work he called for concentration of force at critical points and preached the ideal of decisive victory.  In Mahan’s mind battleships were the instrument of decisive victory and thus the measure of national power and international prestige.

In 1881 the United States Navy ranked 12th in the world behind Chile, China and Denmark.  When a wealthy socialite lamented America’s lack of antiquities the satirist Oscar Wilde remarked, “No ruins!  You have your Navy!”  Mahan’s writings came at an opportune moment, lending the weight of history and science to popular sentiment for a revitalized navy.  As Mahan grew in status as a scholar he gained influence with powerful men such as Theodore Roosevelt.  As a direct result of his work, the United States embarked upon a massive shipbuilding program devoting as much as 20.7% of the Federal budget to the Navy (see Table One.)

Table One:  Comparison of Naval Expenditures to Total Federal Expenditures 1890-1914 and 2005 DOD / DON Budgets

From Sea Power, Page 187

Fiscal Year Total Federal Expenditures Naval


Per Cent of Total
1890 318,040,711 22,006,206 6.9
1900 520,860,847 55,953,078 10.7
1905 567,278,914 117,550,308 20.7
1909 693,743,885 115,546,011 16.7
1914 735,081,431 139,682,186 19.0
2005 2,400,000,000,000 402,000,000,000 16.75  –  DOD
2005 2,400,000,000,000 120,000,000,000 5.0  –  DON


From 1895 to 1918 the United States commissioned no less than forty-three battleships (see Table Two) in addition to cruisers, torpedo boat destroyers and other craft.


Table Two:  Shipbuilding Program 1895-1918

Year Name Year Name
Comm. Comm.
1895 Maine 1907 Kansas
1895 Texas 1907 Minnesota
1895 Indiana 1908 Mississippi
1896 Massachusetts 1908 Idaho
1896 Oregon 1908 New Hampshire
1897 Iowa 1910 South Carolina
1900 Kearsage 1910 Michigan
1900 Kentucky 1910 Delaware
1900 Alabama 1910 North Dakota
1901 Illinois 1911 Florida
1901 Wisconsin 1911 Utah
1902 Maine 1912 Wyoming
1903 Missouri 1912 Arkansas
1904 Ohio 1914 New York
1906 Virginia 1914 Texas
1906 Georgia 1916 Nevada
1906 New Jersey 1916 Oklahoma
1906 Rhode Island 1916 Pennsylvania
1906 Connecticut 1916 Arizona
1906 Louisiana 1917 Mississippi
1907 Nebraska 1918 New Mexico
1907 Vermont


Although his tactical observations were on a par with his seamanship and he has been blamed for precipitating the naval race between England and Germany Mahan’s fundamental principles remain sound:

Naval power is national power

Sea power and world involvement are crucial to national security


In its time, Mahan’s writings on maritime strategy placed the Navy front and center on the national stage.  As a result the United States Navy was able to transcend its commerce raiding traditions and become the premier instrument of national policy.  In like manner Mahan’s writings also found fertile ground in Germany and Japan precipitating the Naval Arms race between Great Britain and Germany and the impetus for Japan’s investment in her Imperial Navy.  Both would contribute significantly to the outbreak of two world wars.  Never underestimate the power of the written word.


Bradford, James C.  Quarterdeck and Bridge.  Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 1997

Calore, Paul.  Naval Campaigns of the Civil War.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company, Inc., 2002

Clausewitz, Carl von.  On War.  New Jersey:  Princeton University Press, 1976

Creveld, Martin Van.  Technology and War.  New York:  The Free Press, 1989

Jomini, Baron Antoine Henri de.  The Art of War.  London, UK:  Greenhill Books, 1992 – reprint first published 1838

Keegan, John.  The Price of Admiralty.  New York:  Penguin Books, 1988

Luraghi, Raimondo.  A History of the Confederate Navy.  Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 1996

Mahan, Alfred Thayer.  The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.  Boston, MA:  Little, Brown & Company, 1890

Musicant, Ivan.  Divided Waters.  Edison, NJ:  Castle Books, 2000

Porter, Admiral David D.  The Naval History of the Civil War.  Secaucus, NY:  Castle Books, 1984

Potter, E. B.  Sea Power, A Naval History.  Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 1981

Scharf, J. Thomas.  History of the Confederate Navy.  Avenel, NJ:  Gramercy Books, 1996

Schneller, Robert J. Jr.  Farragut:  America’s First Admiral.  Washington, DC:  Brassey’s Inc., 2002

Simson, Jay W.  Naval Strategies of the Civil War.  Nashville, TN:  Cumberland House Publishing Inc., 2001

Stern, Philip Van Dorn.  The Confederate Navy.  Garden City, NJ:  Da Capo Press, 1992

Sweetman, Jack.  The Great Admirals.  Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 1997

Symonds, Craig L.  Confederate Admiral.  Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 1999

Taylor, John M.  Semmes: Rebel Raider.  Washington, DC:  Brassey’s, 2004

Tucker, Spencer C.  A Short History of the Civil War at Sea.  Wilmington, DE:  Scholarly Resources, Inc., 2002

Turner, Maxine.  Navy Gray.  Tuscaloosa, AL:  University of Alabama Press, 1999




[i] Quite advanced for their time the Wampanoag class had sleek clipper-ship hulls designed by Donald McKay and powerful engines provided by Benjamin Franklin Isherwood.  Armed with ten nine-inch smoothbore cannon and three sixty pounder rifled guns these ships were 3-4 knots faster than any vessel in the British fleet. Their existence greatly influenced England’s agreement to arbitration of America’s damage claims regarding the commerce raider CSS Alabama.

[ii] The term “Manifest Destiny” has a long and fascinating history.  Having conquered Wales, Ireland and Scotland, England’s expansionist impulses found outlet in the New World in the form of the thirteen colonies.  Born of colonization and given its vast, open frontier continued expansion came naturally to colonial America.  The roots of Manifest Destiny in the United States can be traced to John Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” sermon given in 1630.  He was echoed by Thomas Paine, who wrote in Common Sense in 1776, “We have it in our power to begin the world again.”  To this concept in 1787 James Madison added, “This form of government in order to effect its purposes, must operate not within a small but an extensive sphere.”  Thomas Jefferson took concrete action of this idea with the Louisiana Purchase.  First termed, “Continentalism” John Quincy Adams, instrumental in obtaining Florida from Spain and formulation of the Monroe Doctrine, wrote to his father in 1811, “The whole continent of North America appears to be destined by Divine Providence to peopled by one nation. . .  I believe it is indispensable that they should be associated in one federal Union.”  In 1843 Andrew Jackson described the process as “extending the area of freedom.”  In 1845 New York journalist John L. O’Sullivan gave nave to America’s self-imposed mission in the world when he wrote of, “our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”  The appellation struck a resonant chord with congress and the general public.  No less a luminary than Herman Melville took up the call for continental and maritime expansion, writing in 1850, “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people – the Israel of our time:  we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.”  In 1863 Abraham Lincoln described the United States as, “the last, best hope of Earth.”  This romantic notion took a more commercial form at the turn of the century when Theodore Roosevelt wrote that it was “of the utmost importance” that the United States secure “the commanding position in the international business world…especially at a time when foreign markets are essential.”  Even the noted progressive idealist Woodrow Wilson acknowledged, “If America is not to have free enterprise, then she can have freedom of no sort whatever…We need foreign markets.”  Only later did he speak of making the world “safe for Democracy.”  In one form or another, the concept of Manifest Destiny continues to influence American foreign policy to this day.

[iii] During the period under consideration the American economy grew fourfold – from $9.1 billion (GNP 1869-1873) to $37.1 billion (GNP 1897-1901).

Nomonhan and Okinawa: The First and Final Battles of the Pacific War



            All man’s activities impact not only the present but also the future[i], none more so than war.  As Winston Churchill remarked, “Great battles change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, in armies and in nations.”  War sends major and minor shock waves through time affecting distant generations in ways unimaginable in the present.  These influences may be as trivial as shorter hemlines to conserve fabric or steel pennies in place of copper or as significant as an ‘Iron Curtain’ separating former allies and heralding a fifty-year Cold War.  On a grand scale, empires may rise or fall with a single battle.  More immediately, wars dramatically impact families, continuing some lines, brutally ending others.  As Herodotus observed, “In war, fathers bury sons rather than sons fathers.”

This paper examines the confrontations at Nomonhan and Okinawa, the first and final battles of the Pacific War, appraising not only the immediate consequences of these encounters but also their long-term effects.


            Background.  An editorial in the 20 July 1939 New York Times described the conflict between the Soviet Union and Japan on the border of Outer Mongolia and the puppet state of Manchukuo as “A strange war raging in a thoroughly out-of-the-way corner of the world where it cannot attract attention.”  Indeed, geography, the compulsive secrecy second nature to both combatants and the subsequent outbreak of World War II in Europe combined to overshadow this little known but nonetheless critical, battle.  Boasting the most extensive use of tanks and aircraft since World War I, Nomonhan or Khalkin Gol, as it was called by the Soviets, impacted World War II in areas far beyond the immediate scope of the battlefield.

Nomonhan was the culmination of nearly fifty years of Russo – Japanese rivalry in the Far East.  The Russo – Japanese War of 1905 followed Japan’s occupation of Korea.  Japan then antagonized the new Soviet state when she intervened in Siberia during the Russian Civil War.  Japan’s seizure of Manchuria, renamed Manchukuo, in 1931 created a 3000-mile border between two suspicious, hostile, diametrically opposed ideologies.  The Changkufeng / Lake Khasan incident of 1938 was but a dress rehearsal for further hostilities.  Consequently, what began as a minor clash between Soviet sponsored Mongolian cavalry and Japanese supported Manchukuoan cavalry on the Halha River rapidly escalated into a major campaign with far reaching consequences.

Description.  In May 1939 Soviet units crossing the Halha River into disputed territory were driven back by Japanese forces but immediately returned the following day in greater strength.  Reacting to this affront the Kwantung Army dispatched the Yamagata Detachment with orders to drive the invaders out and seal the border.  In the ensuing battle one regiment was encircled and destroyed, the remaining troops routed and driven from the field.  Acting against direct orders from Tokyo the Kwantung Army unilaterally decided to retaliate sending the 23rd Infantry Division augmented by two tank regiments plus significant artillery and air support to settle the issue.

Phase two of the offensive began in early July with the 23rd Division crossing the upper reaches of the Halha while mechanized elements struck directly at Soviet forces on the right bank of the river.  After making some initial gains the Japanese attack stalled.  When the Soviets counterattacked, the Japanese found their lightly armored and under gunned tanks hopelessly outclassed by Soviet BT models.  The Japanese rushed additional infantry, armor, aircraft and heavy artillery to the front, renewing the offensive in late July.  Stopped cold, the Japanese now dug in and waited.

The Soviets also pushed strong reinforcements, many of them veterans of the Spanish Civil War, to the region and their logistics system proved remarkably adept considering the distances involved.  On 20 August they launched a two pronged mass attack.  In a pattern that would become all too familiar to the Wehrmacht, mechanized units, heavily supported by artillery and aircraft, spearheaded the assault.  Japanese lines crumbled.  Threatened with encirclement, her shattered forces fell back.  Only the German invasion of Poland prevented their complete destruction and further Soviet exploitation.  Recognizing Hitler as the greater danger and anxious to avoid a two front conflict the Soviets offered a cease-fire in mid September, which the battered Japanese eagerly accepted.

Consequences.  At the battles peak the Japanese fielded approximately 75,000 men, the Soviets perhaps 100,000.  While the Russians claimed 50,000 enemy casualties the Japanese acknowledged losses of 8,400 killed and 8,766 wounded.  The Soviets conceded 9,284 casualties.  A relatively minor engagement by World War II standards, why is Nomonhan significant?

  • The Kwantung Army demonstrated it was a law unto itself making policy decisions rightfully the purview of the government.  Its continued obsession with China and independent actions there eventually destroyed Imperial Japan[ii].
  •  Nomonhan launched the career of General Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov[iii], future Marshal of the Soviet Union, savior of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad, and architect of the crushing Soviet counteroffensive that began at Kursk and ended in Berlin.
  • Zhukov’s methods – elaborate defense in depth; intricate deceptive measures; mass artillery, aircraft and armor; battles of encirclement and methodical destruction; complete disregard for human cost – became the stock and trade of the Red Army.
  • Observing Soviet actions in Finland rather than Nomonhan, Hitler drew erroneous and ultimately disastrous conclusions regarding the Red Army’s capability and resilience.  Stalin’s purges decimated the Red Army Officer Corps.  Consequently inexperience, inadequate training and pure fear of Stalin’s displeasure resulted in a prodigious waste of manpower.  When capably led by an experienced general such as Zhukov, who escaped Stalin’s paranoid cleansing of all possible rivals, the Red Army was still a credible force.
  • Nomonhan revealed critical weaknesses in Japanese arms, armor, tactics, doctrine and especially logistics.  The lessons learned led to the creation of triangular (heavy) divisions designed and equipped to meet the Soviets on equal terms and pentagonal (light) divisions organized to fight the Nationalist Chinese and for counter insurgency operations.
  • Until Nomonhan the Japanese favored a Northern or Army strategy of continued expansion in China and eventual war with the Soviet Union.  This shocking defeat convinced the Japanese to adopt a Southern or Naval strategy centered on the vital resources of Southeast Asia even at the cost of bringing the United States into the war.  In so doing Imperial Japan turned away from possible victory (a coordinated Axis attack on Russia in 1941) to certain defeat (war with America).


Background.  Okinawa is the largest and most important island of the Ryukyu group.  Located just 400 miles south of the four main islands of Japan, Okinawa was the linchpin of Japan’s inner defensive perimeter.  If the Empire was to survive, the Americans must be stopped at Okinawa.  Equally vital to Allied strategic goals, the planned invasion of Okinawa was the culmination of a two pronged drive that began in the Central and Southwest Pacific after Midway.  With Okinawa in its possession the Allies could tighten the blockade of Japan, intensify the bombing campaign against her industry and stage the men and materials necessary for an invasion of Kyushu.  Given its strategic importance, ample time to prepare and the enormous resources allocated by both sides Okinawa earned the dubious distinction as the largest amphibious invasion, last major campaign and bloodiest battle of the Pacific War.  As with Nomonhan however, other actions overshadowed the battle and its significance was lost in the rush of events following the death of President Roosevelt 12 April, the surrender of Germany 08 May and the detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Japanese Plans.  Under the initial Tei-Go plan formulated by Imperial Japanese Army Headquarters (IJA HQ) the Ryukyus and Formosa were to form an impenetrable zone of mutually supporting air bases, each with a cluster of airfields.  While planes were abundant, by 1945 experienced pilots were not.  In addition aggressive American submarine patrols made it impossible to deliver sufficient quantities of fuel, ammunition, anti-aircraft artillery, construction equipment, building materials and supplies to carry out such an ambitious operation.  Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, commander of the 32nd Army, charged with the defense of Okinawa, possessed a more pragmatic appreciation of strategic and tactical realities.  Thirty years of established doctrine[iv] dictated an offensive response to any American invasion.  Ushijima took a more reasonable approach however.  Realizing the beaches would be untenable due to overwhelming American firepower Ushijima decided to abandon them as well as the northern portion of Okinawa.  Instead he resolved to dig deep, contest the chosen ground foot by foot and counterattack selectively.  In choosing an area strategically critical to the capture and control of Nakagusuku Bay and Naha Harbor yet favorable to defense and thoroughly preparing it Ushijima was able to maneuver offensively but fight defensively.

The Citadel.  Concentrating his forces in the highly defensible and strategically critical southern portion of the island, his men constructed a defensive citadel of fantastic proportions.  Realizing survival depended upon their own initiative the men of 32nd Army threw themselves into the work.  Working almost entirely by hand they created an intricate defensive complex of pillboxes and gun emplacements 3 – 12 miles wide by 16 miles long.  Sixty miles of tunnels honeycombed the complex with defensive positions above and below ground.  Ushijima chose his battleground well.  The hilly and irregular terrain of southern Okinawa provided numerous interlocking, mutually supporting fields of fire.  Natural caves were expanded and connected to shelter the entire army.  These caves functioned like warships with engineering, command, weapons and crew spaces.  Vast quantities of food and ammunition were laid up for a prolonged siege.  Okinawa began to resemble Iwo Jima on a much greater scale, dug into solid earth and stone rather than soft lava rock.  One flaw marred Japanese preparations.  Since each unit was responsible for fortifying its own assigned area with little inter-unit coordination the various sections were not well interconnected.  Once battle began the units suffered from poor communications especially in calls for artillery support.

Japanese Order of Battle (OOB).  Ushijima mustered an impressive force on Okinawa – 67,000 regular army combat and support troops augmented by 9,000 naval personnel, 24,000 militia (Boeitai or Home Guard) and 15,000 laborers.  During the course of the Pacific conflict a great deal of war materiel had been shipped to Okinawa destined for outlying areas.  As American submarine actions reduced Japanese shipping capacity many of these stores were stranded on Okinawa.  Ironically the same submarine patrols that reduced the effectiveness of other island garrisons ensured 32nd Army was well supplied.  The following chart provides an overview of the Japanese Order of Battle (OOB).


Unit Strength Subtotal
32nd Army HQ 7,055
24th Infantry Division 14,360
62nd Infantry Division 11,623
44th Independent Mixed Brigade 4,485
21st AAA Command 3,131
27th Tank Regiment 750
19th Air Sector Command 4,303
66th Engineering Unit 1,085
215 & 259 Motor Transport CO 363
49th Communications Unit 2,641
3rd Independent Anti-tank BN 1,262
3rd Independent Machinegun BN 1,349
11th Shipping Group 9,112
5th Artillery Command 5,098 66,617 (Army)
Imperial Japanese Naval Forces 8,825 75,442
Boeitai (Home Guard) 23,350 98,792
Impressed Labor Forces 15,000 113,792


Let us now consider some of the major units in greater detail:

  • Drawing upon previous experience the Kwantung Army organized the 24th Infantry as a triangular division with three companies per battalion, three battalions per regiment and three regiments per division.  Designed to fight the Soviets on equal terms the 24th also enjoyed abundant combat support units with artillery, engineers, transport, anti-tank and reconnaissance elements organic to each regiment.
  • In contrast the 62nd Infantry was a pentagonal division comprised of five companies per battalion, five battalions per brigade and two brigades per division.  Organized by the China Expeditionary Army to fight against other light infantry forces and for counter insurgency operations the 62nd enjoyed some engineering, medical, signal and artillery elements at Division level but possessed little heavy firepower or mechanized transport.
  • The 44th Independent Mixed Brigade (IMB) was another heavy unit composed of two triangular regiments.
  • The 5th Artillery Command boasted four regiments of 150-mm howitzers and cannons.  The 21st Anti-aircraft artillery command, 3rd Anti-tank Battalion and divisional artillery added one hundred-seventy 75-mm artillery pieces, seventy-two 75-mm anti-aircraft guns, twenty-four 320-mm Spigot mortars and ninety-six 81-mm mortars as well as numerous smaller caliber weapons to the mix.  Each weapon was strategically sited and carefully emplaced for maximum effectiveness.
  • The 27th Tank Regiment consisted of one heavy company of 14 tanks, one light company of 13 tanks, an artillery battalion, an infantry company, a maintenance company and an engineering platoon.
  • 9,000 naval personnel were stationed at Oroku Naval Air Base.  Arming themselves with excess army weapons and machine guns cannibalized from disabled aircraft these men were converted to light infantry forces and proved rather effective.  17,500 men in various sea raiding squadrons, airfield battalions, service and support units were also reorganized and converted into light infantry.
  • On 01 January 1945 the 32nd Army Staff ordered total mobilization of all Okinawan males over the age of 18.  Of the 39,000 men drafted 24,000 were formed as Boeitai or Home Guard.  Another 15,000 labored on the vast defensive complex under construction.

Allied Forces.  Well aware of Okinawa’s strategic importance to Japan and hoping to avoid a repeat of Iwo Jima the Allies assembled a vast armada for Operation Iceberg.


Allied Order of Battle
5th Fleet Spruance Overall Command
Task Force 57 Rawlins Air Defense & Support Ops
Task Force 58 Mitscher Air Defense & Support Ops
Landing Force Turner Naval Gunfire, Amphibious & Supply Support
10th Army Buckner Overall Command
XXIV Corps Hodge 7th, 27th, 77th & 96th Infantry Divisions
III Amphibious Corps Geiger 1st, 2nd, 4th & 6th Marine Divisions


Looking at some of the major units in greater detail reveals the extent of Allied preparations:

  • TF57, under Vice Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlins, Royal Navy, consisted of four carriers with armored decks (an innovation the Americans would soon envy and later copy), two battleships, five cruisers and fifteen destroyers.
  • Ten battleships, nine cruisers, twenty-three destroyers and 117 rocket gunboats comprised the bombardment group.  On D-Day they unleashed a ‘storm of steel’ or Tetsu no bow of 44,825 rounds five inch or greater, 33,000 rockets and 22,500 mortar shells.  Unfortunately for the infantry and marines about to go ashore Japanese redoubts proved impervious even to sixteen-inch shells.
  • Designated as 5th Fleet, Admiral Spruance commanded forty carriers, eighteen battleships, 200 destroyers, 365 amphibious vessels and hundreds of support ships and landing craft – 1,300 vessels in all.
  • 10th Army mustered no less than 183,000 soldiers and marines 60,000 of whom landed on the Hagushi Beaches on the first day.

The Battle.  The battle for Okinawa may be divided into four phases:

  1. Advance from the Hagushi Beaches to the East Coast bisecting the island 1 – 4 April
  2. Clearing the Northern portion of Okinawa 15 – 18 April
  3. Capture of the outlying islands 10 April – 26 June
  4. Reduction of the Southern citadel 6 April – 21 June
  5. Assaulting the Shuri Line
  6. 04 May counterattack
  7. Withdrawal to Kiyamu Peninsula
  8. Gyokusai

According to plan, the Japanese did not contest the beaches of Okinawa.  Consequently, the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions along with the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions landed virtually unopposed on 01 April 1945 and immediately pushed inland, securing Yontan and Kadena Airfields and establishing a solid beachhead fifteen miles long and 3 – 10 miles deep on the first day.  By 4 April American forces reached Chimu Bay on the East Coast bisecting the island.  As some elements turned north, major forces pushed south.  The easy advance ended and the bloodbath[v] began on 8 April when American forces reached the Shuri line.

Terrain and Ushijima’s careful preparations forced the Americans to fight a thousand small firefights in isolated pockets rather than one large battle in the open where their vastly superior firepower would prevail.  Paying a heavy price in killed and wounded initially, the soldiers and marines of 10th Army learned to take advantage of small gaps in arcs of fire to isolate and destroy Japanese positions one by one.  In a relatively even contest between American tank / infantry teams and Japanese pillbox / infantry teams casualties mounted.  The mobile warfare and flanking movements of Europe were impossible.  Movement stagnated and, reminiscent of World War I, progress was measured in yards.  Monsoon rains began at the end of May turning the battlefield into a putrid morass, part garbage dump and part graveyard.  As conditions deteriorated, sanitation problems increased and disease ravaged both armies.

From beginning to end a personal battle raged between Ushijima’s subordinates.  The more doctrinaire Chief of Staff, General Isamu Cho, urged an immediate counterattack while the more pragmatic Senior Operations Officer, Colonel Hiromichi Yahara, urged prolonged defense.  The stalemate between the opposing forces and on the 32nd Army staff continued until 04 May.  At the insistence of Cho and IJA HQ Ushijima acquiesced to a major counterattack.  The four-day battle was a disaster.  By abandoning their protective caves and tunnels and coming out into the open the 32nd Army lost most of its artillery and first rate combat troops.  Without sufficient men to hold the Shuri line Ushijima now had no choice but to retreat to the Kiyan Peninsula, reform and fight on.  Movement began on 23 May while rearguard actions held the Americans in place until the operation was complete.  So skillful was the withdrawal that US forces were caught totally unaware.  When the Americans followed on 01 June the remnants of the 24th Division held the right flank of a new line anchored on Mount Yoko Dake.  The 44th IMB held the left wing with the 62nd Division protecting the coast and acting as a reserve.  The best Japanese troops had been squandered however.  All that remained were Headquarters, service, support and construction units.  Most telling was the loss of light and heavy weapons.

Realizing their mistake and capitalizing on the weakened condition of the enemy 10th Army redoubled its efforts.  Tanks, anti-aircraft artillery, anti-tank guns, any type of direct fire, flat trajectory weapon that could be brought to bear and flame-throwers were used to drive the Japanese from the mouths of caves.  This allowed infantry to approach and either clear or destroy the position.  When airshafts were found GI’s poured gasoline down them followed by phosphorus grenades while their buddies covered the exits.  Some caves were simply sealed and bypassed.  An estimated 20,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were entombed in this manner.

By 19 June organized resistance remained only at Mabuni, final position of the 32nd, 62nd and 44th Headquarters and Medeera, final location of the 24th HQ.  On 22 June Ushijima issued his “Stand to die in order” directive.  In a Gyokusai[vi] or ‘Honorable Death Attack’ each unit made final Banzai charges.  His duty complete and honor preserved Ushijima wrote an elaborate letter of apology to the emperor and committed Seppuku[vii] along with most of his senior officers.  Still the ordeal was not over.  Isolated units continued to resist and so-called mopping up operations (23 –29 June) resulted in an additional 9,000 Japanese killed and 3,800 captured.

Casualties.  76,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors augmented by 39,000 Boeitai militiamen and conscripted laborers confronted US forces on 01 April 1945.  Out of a total force of 115,000 only 7400 surrendered.  Of these, most were recently conscripted Home Guard or impressed laborers.  The remainder died for the Emperor after extracting a heavy toll from the enemy.  Estimates of civilian casualties during the campaign range from 50,000 to 150,000.  Taking the median figure approximately 200,000 Japanese citizens perished on Okinawa.

Allied forces paid an equally heavy price for the conquest of Okinawa as detailed below:

Army Marines Navy Total
KIA 4,582 2,938 4,907 12,427
MIA 93 0 0 93
WIA 18,000 13,708 4,824 36,532
Non-battle 15,613 10,598 0 26,211
Total 38,288 27,244 9,731 75,263


In exchange for 76,000 combat troops the 32nd Army inflicted almost the same number of Allied casualties.  To put these numbers into perspective, from 01 April – 02 July, 2,500 men, women and children perished every day for 82 days.

Kamikazes.  While the battle raged on land an equally fierce life and death struggle took place at sea.  Determined to inflict maximum casualties on the Americans in order to discourage any invasion of the homeland during the course of the campaign the Japanese staged 896 air raids on the Allied fleet flying from bases in Japan, China and Formosa.  At a cost of 7,830 aircraft, approximately half of which were kamikazes the Japanese inflicted 9,731 casualties upon the sailors supporting Operation Iceberg.  In addition to the human cost 5th Fleet suffered 34 ships and craft sunk, another 368 severely damaged many beyond repair and 763 aircraft destroyed.  Okinawa was the most costly single battle in US naval history.

Survivors Stories.  Numbers present the big picture but the survivor’s stories reveal the true horror of Okinawa.  Junko Isa is such a survivor.  When her village was bombed she and her family fled.  All were killed except herself, her younger sister and ten-month-old brother.  She writes, “I remember glancing over once to see an arm hanging from a tree branch.  Just below that was a decapitated body.  There were body parts absolutely everywhere.  I think I became sort of numb to the sight.  My father always warned me not to be captured by the Americans.  They will do with you as they please he used to tell me.  When I was eventually discovered, they took me to a field hospital up North where they fixed my ankle and fed me.  I couldn’t speak or understand English, so I had to tell them with hand gestures that I couldn’t walk.  They nodded and prepared two bamboo baskets, one for carrying me, and the other for my baby brother.”

Okinawa rivaled the worst of the Somme or Verdun.  E. B. Sledge, a 1st Marine Division veteran, wrote in With the Old Breed, “The mud was knee deep in some places, probably deeper in others if one dared to venture there.  For several feet around every corpse, maggots crawled about in the muck and then were washed away by the runoff of the rain.  There wasn’t a tree or bush left.  All was open country.  Shells had torn up the turf so completely that ground cover was nonexistent.  The rain poured down on us as evening approached.  The scene was nothing but mud; shellfire; flooded crater with their silent, pathetic, rotting occupants; knocked-out tanks and amtracs; and discarded equipment – utter desolation…. We were in the depths of the abyss, the ultimate horror of war…. In the mud and driving rain before Shuri, we were surrounded by maggots and decay.  Men struggled and fought in an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell’s own cesspool.”

The official history of Okinawa describes a gruesome scene discovered by army troops in a small valley, “In the morning they found a small valley littered with more than 150 dead and dying Japanese, most of them civilians.  Fathers had systematically throttled each member of their families and then disemboweled themselves with knives and hand grenades.  Under one blanket lay a father, two small children, a grandfather, and a grandmother, all strangled by cloth ropes.  Soldiers and medics did what they could.  The natives, who had been told that the invading “barbarians” would kill and rape, watched in amazement and the Americans provided food and medical care; an old man who had killed his daughter wept in bitter remorse.”

Commander Frederick J Becton, USN, Commanding Officer of the destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724), describes one kamikaze attack, “The action had lasted an hour and twenty minutes.  We had been attacked by 22 planes, nine of which we had shot down unassisted, eight planes had struck the ship, seven of them with suicidal intent.  Five of these did really heavy material damage and killed a lot of our personnel.  The fires were still out of control and we were slowly flooding aft.  We had lost 33 men, killed or missing, about 60 others had been wounded and approximately 30 of these seriously wounded.”  Miraculously Laffey survived and is now part of the memorial at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, SC.

Aftermath.  Ushijima intended to make the battle for Okinawa so costly to the Americans that they dare not repeat the ordeal on the mainland.  In a note to 32nd Army he spelled out his objective  – “One Plane for One Warship; One Boat for One Warship; One Man for Ten of the Enemy or One Tank.”  Japanese losses were closer to 10:1 than 1:1 never the less the battle gave the Allies pause.  What were the immediate and long-term consequences?

  • Even as the battle raged Army Engineers and Navy Construction Battalions (CB’s) transformed Okinawa into a major air and naval base in preparation for the invasion of Japan.  By 04 July four heavy and five medium bomber groups were operating out of Okinawa.  By late July the first of twelve planned B-29 groups began arriving. So costly was the battle on land and at sea however that President Truman and his advisors began to seriously consider alternatives, i.e. – the atomic bomb.
  • Casualty projections for Operation Downfall[viii], both Allied and Japanese, based on the fighting at Okinawa ran in the millions lending weight to the decision to use the atomic bombs.  Considering what 100,000 Japanese soldiers accomplished on Okinawa the prospect of fighting an estimated 2 million regular army soldiers plus 30 million militia troops was truly daunting.
  • As terrible as the atomic bombs were the alternative was worse.  General Curtis LeMay intended to assemble a fleet of 5,000 B-29’s augmented by 5,000 B-24’s and B-17’s plus 1,000 British Lancaster bombers to carpet bomb and totally incinerate Japan prior to any American landing.
  • In the final analysis the bloody resistance of 32nd Army on land and the terrible Kamikaze attacks at sea both succeeded and failed.  The planned invasion of Japan was thwarted but in so doing Imperial Headquarters brought unparalleled destruction upon their land and their people.
  • In some respects by insisting upon “Unconditional Surrender” the United States won the war but lost the peace.  Rather than ending war the atom bomb precipitated the Cold War.  The subsequent arms race gave rise to war by proxy with the Soviet Union fomenting insurrection throughout the world.  It is no exaggeration to state global terrorism has its roots in the guerrilla wars of the recent past.
  • The cave system of Okinawa proved an excellent counter to American firepower and mobility surpassing even the trench systems of World War I.  When it constructed the tunnel system of Chu Chi, the North Vietnamese Army demonstrated it learned the lessons of Okinawa well.
  • The battle of Okinawa degenerated into a matter of  “body count” rather than maneuver and conquest.  Young officers and NCO’s took that mindset and the stereotypes of warfare in Asia with them to Korea and Vietnam.
  • The lessons of the Kamikazes are a double-edged sword.  In the mind of a terrorist, a minimum of technology, when combined with ideological fanaticism or religious zeal is seen as a way to achieve military parity even with the greatest super power.  This equation is the basis of asymmetric warfare giving hope to any militarily backward or technically inferior foe as long as they command blind obedience.  Although the kamikazes ultimately failed, the western world will continue to pay a heavy price for their actions for the foreseeable future.
  • Ironically one of the stated intentions of the Greater Southeast Asia Co-prosperity Sphere has come to past – the end of colonial empires.  And China, once victim to all countries with imperial ambitions is now a major power in her own right.

Conclusion.  Few people know of Nomonhan.  Far more recall Iwo Jima than Okinawa.  Although both were pivotal events, each battle was overshadowed by subsequent actions and essentially lost to history.  Yet Nomonhan influenced the outcome of World War II and the repercussions of Okinawa can be traced to 11 September 2001 and Iraq.  As the United States searches for answers in the new millennium our leaders would be well advised to heed the counsel of Heraclitus, “War is the father, the king of us all.”  As it has in the past what happens today on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan will send major and minor shock waves through time affecting distant generations in ways unimaginable in the present.




[i] Consider asbestos, miracle product of the forties and fifties, bane of the eighties and nineties.

[ii] China was to Japan what Russia was to Germany – a bottomless pit into which she poured the majority of her troops and resources even as the British and Americans closed in.

[iii] Born in 1894 the son of a shoemaker Zhukov was apprenticed to his uncle, a furrier, after graduation from school.  There he might have remained but historic events revealed other talents.  Drafted in 1913 Zhukov served with distinction in the cavalry and was selected for NCO training in 1916.  One year later he joined the fledgling Red Army where his audacity and intelligence earned him a commission in 1920.  During the Russian Civil War Zhukov served with such future notables as A I Yeremenko and K K Rokossovsky.  Assigned to Frunze Academy from 1929 – 1930 excerpts from his fitness reports highlighted character traits that would lead him to the top of the Red Army – “Commander of strong will and decisiveness” -“Wealth of initiative” – “Loves military matters and constantly improves himself”  During his long career Zhukov earned a well deserved reputation as a tough, no nonsense commander.  Envied for his success and feared for his popularity Zhukov was banished in 1946 by Stalin and again in 1957 by Kruschev.

[iv] Conceived of as a superior light infantry force the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) relied upon rapid maneuver, bold attack and close combat to prevail.  An excellent doctrine against Chinese and colonial armies these qualities were completely inappropriate when confronted by the irresistible firepower and tremendous logistic capability of US forces on restricted terrain.

[v] General Geiger urged an invasion of the southern coast to ‘open a second front’; stretch the Japanese thin and prevent reserve units from reinforcing the Shuri line.  Lt. Gen. Buckner has been roundly criticized for not doing so.  Certainly the manpower and amphibious capability was at hand.  Instead he followed what has been termed ‘a slugfest, an unimaginative, direct, frontal assault.’  In his defense logistics over the southern beaches was limited and the troops that would have been used were needed to relieve battered units on line.

[vi] Literally “Smashing the Imperial Jewel”

[vii] Seppuku – ritual disembowelment / Hara-kiri – belly slicing

[viii] Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu, was scheduled for November 1945.  Operation Coronet, the conquest of Honshu, was planned for the spring of 1946.

One Stray Bullet: My Memories of General Albert Sidney Johnston at Shiloh

I still think about that day. Even though it has been more than fifty years, in my mind the sight of gleaming bayonets and fluttering battle flags; the sound of massed musket volleys intermixed with the rolling thunder of booming cannon, strident bugle calls, beating drums, shouted orders, and clashing swords; the screams of horribly wounded men and horses; the smell of burned powder and violent death still resonate with razor sharp clarity. The passage of time may have clouded my eyes and weakened my hearing but the memories of supreme elation, gut wrenching fear and bone weary fatigue are still as distinct as if it happened yesterday. Yes sir, I still think about that day. Most of all I wonder about what might have been. My mother, God rest her soul, always said I was a dreamer. “Get your head out of them clouds and come down to earth with the rest of us boy.” That was Momma. Still…..

Fresh from his victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson General U. S. Grant brought his Army of the Tennessee down to a place called Pittsburg Landing on the west bank of the Tennessee River just south of Savannah. There he planned to join forces with General Don Carlos Buell, marching southwest from Nashville with the Army of the Ohio. Together they intended to strike a decisive blow against Corinth, Mississippi – junction of the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads. From Corinth lines ran east to Chattanooga and south to Mobile connecting Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and the Gulf Coast states of Alabama and Mississippi to Atlanta and, from there, to Richmond. Supplies from those areas were vital to the success of the Army of Northern Virginia and, therefore, to the survival of the Confederacy. Recognizing the strategic importance of Corinth, General Johnston and his second in command General P. G. T. Beauregard determined to attack General Grant before he could unite with General Buell, defeating the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Ohio in detail. By recalling the forces of General Crittenden from Kentucky and General Polk from Columbus, by stripping the garrisons of General Ruggles in New Orleans, General Chalmers in Iuka, and General Bragg in Mobile and Pensacola, General Johnston gathered about 45,000 men. General Johnston also summoned General Earl van Dorn from Arkansas but General van Dorn, still smarting from his crushing loss at Pea Ridge in March, declined. Instead he chose to pursue a campaign to relieve New Madrid and Island Number 10 which he hoped would restore his tarnished reputation and, if truth be told, heal his wounded pride. Ranking a dismal 52 out of 56 in the West Point class of 1842 the vainglorious General van Dorn was thin-skinned when it came to matters of reputation. It is a shame his tactical acumen and sense of strategic priorities were not on a par with his considerable talent as a ladies’ man for the addition of General van Dorn’s 20,000 men would have been a significant asset in General Johnston’s planned operation. Determined to strike before the opportunity passed, with or without General van Dorn’s assistance, General Johnston seized the initiative and began the twenty-three mile march from Corinth to Pittsburg Landing on the third of April 1862.

Then it began to rain. Lord how it rained. Old Noah himself would have been impressed. A foot of dust on what passed for roads in that area quickly turned into a foot of boot stealing mud. Creeks that we could have easily waded the day before became impassable and had to be bridged. Everything except our powder got drenched – clothes, food, blankets, men, equipment, horses – but we kept our powder dry, by God! We were soaked to the skin and bone tired from hauling twelve pounders and supply wagons through the worst of the mire when the horses and the mules couldn’t pull any more. Ordinarily even tempered, General Johnston fumed over the delay. General Beauregard, on the other hand, usually as prickly as a porcupine, actually smiled. Perhaps the downpour dampened his fiery Creole nature. “At least we have plenty of fresh water,” I heard him say. He was an odd fellow and a hard man to like, that General Beauregard, quick to take offense and slow to forgive.

Be that as it may, rain and inexperience turned what should have been a one day march into a three day ordeal of mud and confusion, negating the General’s carefully crafted timetable. Exhausted, we finally finished our approach march late on the fifth of April. General Johnston feared he had lost the element of surprise but he was resolved to give battle regardless. I remember his closing words as he ended our final council of war, “I would fight them if they were a million.” He need not have worried. The six divisions of the Army of the Tennessee were encamped from Crump’s Landing (four miles north of Pittsburg Landing) to Shiloh Meeting House (four miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing), as if they were on holiday. They had made no effort to form defensive works and, in spite of skirmishing between Union pickets and Confederate scouts, whether due to inexperience, over confidence, faulty reports from his cavalry or, some say, strong drink, General Grant and his second in command, General Sherman, dismissed numerous reports of Rebel activity from subordinates as ‘nerves.’ Consequently the Union army remained peaceably bivouacked as the Confederate host drew near.

In those days Shiloh was a heavily wooded area. Scattered among dense thickets of yellow pine, scrub oak, tangled vines and underbrush, about two dozen large fields had been cleared for farming. Numerous streams drained the region forming steep hills and deep ravines where they flowed into the Tennessee River. It was ideal ground for defense, which General Grant, convinced we could not or would not attack, failed to utilize. Instead, General Grant chose to encamp on open ground that provided comfortable billets and room to train his many raw recruits in drill while he waited to join forces with General Buell.

Under the cover of darkness General Johnston formed the Confederate Army in a grand Napoleonic alignment of four Corps in echelon. The three brigades of III Corps commanded by Major General William J. Hardee would lead the assault followed in succession by II Corps consisting of six brigades under Major General Braxton Bragg and I Corps comprised of four brigades, Major General Leonidas Polk commanding. None other than the former Vice-President of the United States, now Brigadier General John C. Breckinridge, C.S.A., led the Reserve Corps with three brigades under his command.

Many have criticized his disposition of forces but you must allow that at this point in the war many of our men were recent volunteers, brand new to army, unused to the hardships of the march, much less the finer points of drill, and untested in battle. To complicate matters further, in addition to the recent concentration of separate forces unaccustomed to working together, several of the senior officers had previously held independent command, did not know their counterparts well or, if they did, considered them rivals. You would think a common enemy would foster a common purpose but regrettably there were matters of seniority and organization that had not yet been resolved satisfactorily. Finally, armies greater than a few thousand men were not yet common. Organizing the efforts of four Corps in battle is far different than directing the movements of four regiments, four brigades or even four divisions. In time our armies would rival those of Europe in size and with experience our staff work would become just as sophisticated if not more so but that was not the case in 1862. Complicated maneuvers requiring intricate and precise coordination were not feasible. No, the early battles were blunt and direct affairs. Military elegance would come later. No matter what tactics were used, from the beginning of the war to its end, all fights were brutal and bloody affairs.

Greatly aided by Union complacency regarding reports of Confederate troop movements, General Johnston completely surprised General Grant. All hell broke loose at dawn on April 6, 1862 near a Methodist Church called Shiloh Meeting House. In the Good Book, Shiloh was a sanctuary for the Israelites and the site of a tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept until it was captured by the Philistines. Make of that what you will, but no one found sanctuary on the grounds of Shiloh that day. General Hardee’s brigade caught Union forces sleepily emerging from their tents to enjoy breakfast and initially swept them from the field. As resistance stiffened General Bragg joined the assault and the hastily formed Union lines at Shiloh Church, Seay Field and Spanish Field disintegrated.

After a final conference with General Beauregard early on the sixth of April, General Johnston mounted his bay horse and rode to the sound of the guns to supervise troop movements at the front. I swear a more militant man never rode into battle. Resplendent in dress uniform and sword in hand he was Mars incarnate. As agreed previously, General Beauregard remained at the Confederate Headquarters in the rear to coordinate activity there and channel reinforcements where they were needed. Around two o’clock in the afternoon, as he was organizing an attack, a stray musket ball grazed General Johnston on the right calf behind the knee. Another inch and it would have shattered his leg or severed an artery. Instead it struck his destrier Fire Eater who reared and threw the General to the ground. So violently was the General hurled to the earth I thought him fairly struck and surely dead. My heart in my throat, scarcely able to breathe, I rushed to his side sorely afraid of what I would find. Imagine my joy when I discovered the General still among the living. Miracle upon miracle, the fall had merely rendered him senseless. After about thirty minutes, when he had fully regained his faculties General Johnston found General Beauregard wasting time and lives assaulting a wooded area just past Duncan field. Brigadier General Prentis had rallied the remnants of his division in an area that would become known as the “Hornet’s Nest.” There his men were fighting a delaying action and doing a damned fine job of it, buying General Grant time to form a line further to the rear. But for the inspired leadership of General Prentis and that valiant rearguard action the Confederate Army might have pushed the Army of the Tennessee into its namesake river on the morning of April sixth.

As I said, under his command the remnants of Prentis’ division rallied and, reinforced by two brigades of the 4th Division under the command of Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut, plus the men of the 2nd Division commanded by Brigadier General W. H. L. Wallace, Union soldiers withstood repeated Confederate attacks on their position while General Grant desperately attempted to dig in just north of the Dill Branch and east of Tilghman Creek along the Pittsburg Landing and River roads. Given more time to rally his army and with support from the heavy naval cannon of the gunboats USS Tyler and USS Lexington General Grant might have held long enough that day for the Army of the Ohio to add their strength to the fight and turn the tide of battle.

Upon taking up the mantle of command again, General Johnston halted the foolish attacks on the Hornet’s Nest and ordered the Federal position masked and bypassed. Always in tune with the true center of gravity in any battle he then quickly organized a final push to dislodge the badly shaken Union forces before they could reform, securing a Confederate victory before General Buell could add the weight of his army to that of General Grant.

Calling up the Reserve Corps General Johnston told the assembled Brigade commanders, “Gentlemen, with God’s Grace, force of arms and the valor of your men, tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee River.” With six brigades in echelon the General launched a massive, concentrated assault that crushed the Union left flank, pushed the Federal Army away from the Tennessee River and pinned it up against Owl Creek. That final charge was magnificent, yielding as complete a victory as ever recorded. When Pittsburg Landing came into the range of our guns at seven o’clock that evening, the Federal Army was trapped. Although many Union soldiers stood their ground and fought bravely many more threw down their muskets and fled. The rout began with a trickle of men fleeing to the rear. As panic spread the trickle became a torrent as whole units ran to reach Crump’s Landing and the safety of the far bank of the river protected by the guns of the Federal Navy. When the torrent became a flood the last vestiges of the Union army collapsed. We took nearly 17,000 prisoners that day including more than 2000 men now surrounded in the Hornet’s Nest.

On the morning of April seventh, General Buell made a feeble attempt to reverse the tide of battle. Given the hours of darkness to entrench and with our artillery corps more than doubled with the addition of abandoned Union cannon our men, though weary from their exertions of the day before, easily repulsed General Buell’s half hearted efforts and the Army of the Ohio began a demoralizing retreat back to Nashville.

In the furor that followed Shiloh, General Grant’s superior, General Halleck, who had never liked General Grant and resented his previous success, took the opportunity to relieve him for incompetence. Reassigned to the Indian Territories General Grant succumbed to the vice that had afflicted him off and on for years and died a broken man in 1873. Many in the Union Army had thought Sherman touched, if not downright crazy, prior to Shiloh. In their opinion Shiloh confirmed that judgment in spite of much evidence of quick thinking and commendable bravery on his part during the battle. Facts count for nothing when the army needs a scapegoat however and bonds of friendship dissolve quickly when there is blame to be assigned. Following a hastily convened and suspiciously expeditious Courts Martial General Sherman was dismissed from the Army. General Sherman spent his remaining days attempting vainly to overturn the verdict of that court and thereby restore his reputation. He died a penniless and bitter man in 1888.

The Western Theater stagnated after Shiloh. In the East Bobby Lee continued to whip every fool President Lincoln sent against him. Oh it is true that General Meade put paid to Lee’s invasion of the North at Gettysburg but it is also true that Lee repaid that one blemish on his military record many times over when General Meade attempted yet another march on Richmond the following year. In what is called his “perfect battle” Lee annihilated the Army of the Potomac during the Wilderness Campaign of May 1864. Sickened by four years of war with no end in sight, disheartened by ever longer casualty lists published daily in local newspapers for no visible gain, reminded constantly of the human toll by the maimed soldiers convalescing in every Northern town, a war weary public turned its back on Lincoln in the election of 1864 giving his Democratic opponent, General McClellan, the presidency on November eighth. The aggrieved and resentful General, a vociferous and caustic detractor of the President since early in the war, took unseemly pride in finally besting Lincoln, the man he referred to as “nothing more than a well meaning baboon…a gorilla…unworthy of his high position”. To restore his tarnished military reputation General McClellan was inclined to continue the war. Bowing to the Copperhead element of the Democratic Party and public sentiment however, President McClellan accepted Queen Victoria’s offer to mediate on behalf of her former subjects and entered into negotiations with President Davis shortly after inauguration. Secretary of State William H. Seward and his Confederate counterpart Judah P. Benjamin agreed to an armistice beginning 21 February 1865. Increasingly apprehensive regarding the actions of Napoleon III in Mexico, President McClellan and President Davis signed the Treaty of Quebec on 12 April 1865, the fourth anniversary of the most tragic, most costly and most deadly war in Union or Confederate history.

Now as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the War of Secession and my seventy-eighth birthday Europe is engulfed in war and I wonder how long it will be before the United States and the Confederate States are dragged into the carnage and on whose side. Can we put aside the differences that have plagued our two nations for the last half-century? And what of my children? What will become of them should blood spill on American soil once again? Oh, I cannot complain. As far back as I can remember Master Albert always treated me well. In my youth he saw in me something more than a field hand and, in defiance of the conventions of the times, ensured I was well schooled so that I could serve as his secretary. When the war came he took me along not as his cook or personal servant but as his orderly to keep his journal, write dispatches and transcribe letters. Despite the disapproving remarks of some he later made me his aide, entrusting me with increasingly important duties.   I sincerely believe many of his staff came to respect me in spite of my color and their prejudices. I know the General respected me for his actions and demeanor toward me made that clear. I certainly respected the General. He was a decent and honorable man. After the war I served as tutor to his children, grand children and great grandchildren. He, in turn, always treated me and mine fairly, honestly and with dignity. I do worry however about my children when I am gone though, especially if war should come again.

Once he showed me the scar on his leg and recounted how close the hand of death came that bloody day so long ago at Shiloh. Shortly before he passed he talked with me about the fortunes of war and how what he called the iron dice of battle favor first one man and then arbitrarily roll for another; gilding a man’s reputation one moment, destroying it the next.   He told me of how luck or fate sometimes play as much a part in life as skill or determination. He spoke of how campaigns often hinge on the smallest details, sometimes even trivial things, like rain and mud and personalities and misunderstood orders. Momma would shake her head and laugh, but as my time draws nigh I think about those things the General shared with me and I cannot help but wonder but for one stray bullet what might have been and what it would have been like to live a free man in a united nation.


In Bello Parvis Momentis Magni Casus Intercedunt

In war great events are the results of small causes.

Julius Caesar

Bellum Gallicum


            History is replete with examples of Caesar’s observation. While inspecting General Banks’ army at Carrollton 04 September 1863 General Grant was given a large, nervous horse to ride for the pass in review ceremony. In his Personal Memoirs Grant recounts, “The horse I rode was vicious and but little used, and on my return to New Orleans ran away and, shying at a locomotive, fell, probably on me.” Grant lay insensible in a nearby hotel for over a week and was on crutches for two months afterward. Imagine the American Civil War fought without Ulysses S. Grant, thrown from his horse and killed two months after the fall of Vicksburg. Consider the case of Premier Canovas of Spain, a strong man whose policies might have suppressed the growing insurrection in Cuba. Assassinated in 1897 by Miguel Angiolillo, an obscure Italian anarchist long since forgotten to history, the Cuban rebellion escalated into the Spanish – American war one year later. San Juan Hill launched the career of Teddy Roosevelt who succeeded to the Presidency when yet another anarchist assassinated William McKinley. No Miguel Angiolillo, no Spanish – American war, no San Juan Hill, no Teddy Roosevelt Presidency, no Bull Moose Party to split the Republican Party and, consequently, Woodrow Wilson loses in 1912, altering the course of World War I. The possibilities are fascinating. Given the scope of World War II such incidents are especially numerous, the ramifications particularly noteworthy and the implications exceptionally intriguing.



“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year,

but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Imperial Japanese Navy

Admiral Yamamoto’s prediction proved remarkably prescient. Three days short of six months after Japan’s incomplete but nonetheless stunning victory at Pearl Harbor the American navy decisively defeated the Imperial fleet at Midway. Phase One of the Pacific War, the Japanese Blitzkrieg, ended and Phase Two, the build up for an Allied counter offensive, began. At this point, when the fortunes of war turned, this paper will examine two seemingly insignificant incidents, which greatly influenced the war’s outcome.


Pearl Harbor, 07 December 1941:

Fleet exercises conducted in 1928, 1932 and 1938 thoroughly demonstrated the vulnerability of Pearl Harbor to attack by carrier borne aircraft. Ignoring the results of those war games, disregarding repeated (if conflicting and confusing) warnings from Washington D. C. and displaying a remarkable lack of caution for a senior naval officer, Admiral Kimmel, Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC) did nothing to ensure the security of the American Pacific fleet moored at Pearl Harbor. Misplacing his confidence in Lieutenant General Short, Commander Hawaiian Department, charged with the land and air defense of Hawaii and abrogating his responsibilities to Rear Admiral Bloch, Commandant of the 14th Naval District, tasked with the naval defense of Hawaii, Admiral Kimmel invited disaster upon the Pacific fleet. As a result of his inaction, as enemy planes approached, American sailors were complacently enjoying Condition Four, holiday routine on that notorious Sunday morning. He did, however, take steps to reinforce the garrisons at Wake Island and Midway.

On 01 December Admiral Kimmel ordered a squadron of Marine fighters transported to Wake Island via USS Enterprise. These were followed on 05 December by another squadron embarked upon USS Lexington bound for Midway. By chance USS Saratoga was in port on the West Coast as that infamous day dawned. Accordingly these three warships with their cruiser and destroyer escorts were spared the carnage visited upon the remainder of the Pacific fleet by Admiral Nagumo’s first wave of 140 bombers and 50 fighters and second wave of 132 bombers and 81 fighters. The consequences of Admiral Kimmel’s inaction are well documented. The results of his move to protect Wake Island and Midway are three fold:

  1. Concerned with the location of the American carriers Admiral Nagumo adamantly disapproved the third strike ardently requested by Commanders Fuchida and Genda. Such a strike against the fuel tank farms, repair facilities, sub pens and remaining surface ships would have truly crippled the American fleet setting back any counter offensive for at least a year or more. Given additional time to prepare, the bloody island hopping campaigns of 1942 – 1944 would have been even more costly in time, manpower and materiel. It is ironic Admiral Nagumo did not display the same concern for American carriers at Midway six months later.
  2. Prior to World War II many of America’s senior admirals stubbornly clung to the unfulfilled promise of Jutland – decisive battle at sea whose outcome hung on weight of shell and depth of armor plate. The loss of America’s battleships forced even her most hidebound Admirals to accept and utilize the aircraft carrier as the dominant surface warship it truly was.
  3. War Plan Orange and its successor Rainbow 3 called for immediate relief of the Philippines by the navy. Charging into the guns of the Imperial fleet reinforced by carrier assets and supplemented by land based air support invited disaster worse than Pearl Harbor. The loss of America’s battleships forced a revision of those war plans to suit remaining assets, namely the carriers Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga. The resultant strategy was not only more prudent but also took advantage of America’s overwhelming industrial superiority and proved more effective in the long term.


Midway, 04 June 1942:

            The Japanese were quick to exploit their tactical success at Pearl Harbor. Malaya, Hong Kong, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and Burma rapidly fell to combined army and navy forces in a Japanese blitzkrieg. At this point most Japanese admirals argued for a concerted push toward Port Moresby, Papua to complete the conquest of New Guinea, combined with a continued drive to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands to seize control of the Coral Sea region. Capture of these critical areas would isolate Australia and, quite possibly, lure the remnants of the American navy to its destruction leaving Hawaii, Midway and the Aleutian Islands vulnerable.

On 18 April 1942 American audacity changed everything. The Doolittle raid on Tokyo humiliated the Imperial Army and Navy causing grave loss of face. While tactically insignificant those sixteen B-25 twin engine bombers flown from the aptly named carrier Hornet stung the Japanese psyche, and radically altering Japanese strategy, focused complete attention on Midway, the perceived weak link in the Empire’s defensive perimeter.

Overriding all opposition with his tremendous prestige, Admiral Yamamoto pushed forward a convoluted plan calculated to finish the destruction of the American fleet begun at Pearl Harbor. Practically every unit in the Imperial surface fleet (sixteen submarines, seven aircraft carriers, eleven battleships, ten cruisers, sixty destroyers, eighteen troop transports, five seaplane carriers and four minesweepers) played a part in Yamamoto’s master stratagem. Designed to deceive and confuse the Americans, luring her carriers into an enormous trap, Yamamoto’s plan took into account every contingency except American capabilities and intentions and the element of chance, what Clausewitz called the “friction” of war and others term the fortunes of war. The primary objective, destruction of the American carriers, got lost as the grandiose scheme evolved. Disregarding the basic principles of war Yamamoto divided his enormous fleet into five separate forces. The Midway Occupation Force was further subdivided in five distinct groups.   Sailing independently none of these forces or groups could support the others. J. F. C. Fuller aptly describes Yamamoto’s strategic concept with this analysis, “This plan was radically unsound and the distribution of forces was deplorable. Both were complex; the aim was confused and the principle of concentration ignored.”

Even so, even taking into account the intelligence gathered through cryptographic analysis, Yamamoto’s Carrier Striking Force consisting of four aircraft carriers, two battleships, two cruisers and twelve destroyers under the command of Admiral Nagumo should have been more than a match for the American fleet lurking northwest of Midway. The United States could muster only three carriers, seven cruisers and fourteen destroyers for this crucial battle.

Nagumo’s Carrier Striking Force turned into the wind, launching the first wave of fighters and bombers against Midway at 0430. Search planes from the carriers Akagi and Kaga as well as seaplanes from the battleship Haruna and the heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma immediately followed seeking the American fleet. Completed in 1938 and 1939 respectively, Tone and Chikuma were Japan’s latest, most modern cruiser design. Measuring 650 X 61 X 21 feet and displacing 15,200 tons, they carried eight 8-inch guns in four turrets forward, eight 5-inch guns in secondary batteries amidships, up to fifty-seven 25mm antiaircraft guns and twelve 24-inch torpedo tubes. Purpose built for scouting operations, the after decks were fitted catapults, cranes and facilities for five seaplanes. Ideal reconnaissance platforms Tone and Chikuma were given the center lanes of the planned search pattern.

As it had a Pearl Harbor however, fate intervened once again. The catapult aboard Tone malfunctioned delaying the launch of its aircraft until 0500. Engine trouble also prevented the Chikuma from launching her seaplane as scheduled. Its flight path would have taken it directly over the American carriers a scant 215 miles away but further engine trouble caused it to turn back early. Consequently it was not until 0820 that Nagumo received confirmation of the presence and location of the American carriers from Tone’s aircraft. By then it was too late. American torpedo planes and dive-bombers were already inbound.

Although the torpedo planes were ineffective, their near suicidal attack prevented the Japanese carriers from launching additional planes and drew the fighter cover down to sea level setting up the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu for the follow on dive bombers. Poor operational planning by Yamamoto, engine trouble on the Chikuma’s aircraft, a catapult malfunction onboard the Tone and a series of poor tactical decisions by Nagumo doomed the Japanese Carrier Strike Force. Decks crowded with planes, fuel and ordnance the pride of the Imperial Fleet were soon flaming wrecks. 300 miles astern with the main body consisting of three battleships, one carrier, two seaplane carriers and twelve destroyers Yamamoto could do nothing to avert disaster.

In exchange for the carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann American forces sank all four carriers of Nagumo’s Striking force as well as the heavy cruiser Mikuma. Badly damaged, the cruiser Mogami spent the next year in Truk undergoing repairs. More importantly the Japanese lost their best naval pilots and most experienced aircrews. This was a loss from which they would never recover. Midway ended the Japanese threat to Hawaii and Australia. The initiative in the Pacific now passed to the Allies and was never seriously challenged again.



            Six months after Pearl Harbor the United States Navy devastated the Imperial Fleet at Midway halting Japanese expansion and restoring the balance of power in the Pacific. To drive the fanatical and tenacious Japanese back to the Home Islands required another three years of bloody combat under some of the worst conditions in military history but after Midway the issue was never really in doubt. Even with a third strike at Pearl Harbor or a Japanese victory at Midway American industrial potential was overwhelming. During the period 07 December 1941 to 14 August 1945 the United States produced 274,941 aircraft, 87,620 warships, 88,430 tanks and equally impressive numbers of artillery pieces, trucks, jeeps and related war materiel out producing the Japanese 4 to 1 in aircraft and 16 to 1 in capital ships. Whereas the Japanese launched an additional eight aircraft carriers before wars end, the United States commissioned fourteen fleet carriers, nine light carriers and sixty-six escort carriers. American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines proved just as fervent and even more determined than their foe. The government and the people of the United States were focused and unified as never before or since.



            Ninety-six years before Midway Lord Alfred Tennyson depicted future war with these words:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,

Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be…

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew,

From the nations’ airy navies, grappling in the central blue.

At Midway the potential of America’s first aircraft carrier, a converted collier, relic of a bygone era, the USS Langley, was realized.