Leipzig

Leipzig

Growing up in Ireland makes us part of a world that has traditionally been dominated by England.  Much of our understanding of history is influenced by the English weltanschauung.  

A clear incidence of this influence is the celebration of the importance of Battle of Waterloo in the defeat of Napoleon and the studious neglect of the Battle of Leipzig.  Waterloo was fought by the Seventh coalition, led by an Englishman, the Duke of Wellington.  Leipzig was the victory of the Sixth coalition, led by the Russians under Alexander.

In truth the battle of Leipzig was a far more important engagement.  The coalition fought Napoleon at the height of his power and he was roundly defeated for the first time on the battlefield.  Bonaparte lost the battle, but also lost his reputation for invincibility.  He left the legend of his military genius on the field of Leipzig.

The battle was the greatest fought on European soil until the Great War.  Casualties numbered in excess of 100,000 (higher than Borodino, but spread over 4 days) .  By comparison Waterloo, with 60,000 casualties was a sideshow, a last gasp by an already defeated and spent force.

Ranged against Napoleon where the forces of Sweden, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Saxony and Wurttemberg.  In particular it was seen as a great victory for the Germans in the Alliance.  The painting above is entitled “Declaration of Allied Victory after the Battle of Leipzig, 19th October, 1813”, painted by Johann Peter Krafft in 1839.  This painting is a classic piece of propaganda.  It was repainted at least 6 times, re-arranging the prominence of the allied leaders to suit particular commissions.

If only the British played some small part in the sixth coalition then the painting could have been repainted a seventh time.  We could have seen the British Commander take pride of place at the center of European events.  Then we would know all about the Battle of Leipzig.  Instead when we hear about European wars we hear of Blenheim and Waterloo.

The great commander of the day, the General who marched in only one direction, Forwards, was Blucher.  He triumphed at both Leipzig and Waterloo!  He even has a pair of shoes named after him, and his design became the template for all modern mens shoes.

Song of the Grenadiers:

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

Those heroes of antiquity ne’er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Whene’er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies’ ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

And when the siege is over, we to the town repair.
The townsmen cry, “Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health of those
Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Battle of Crécy

Crecy

For many historians the Battle of Crécy heralds the dominance of the English Longbow on the continental battlefield, a superiority subsequently proven at Poitiers and Agincourt.  Crécy was fought on August 26th, 1346.  It was one of the greatest English victories of the 100 years war.

In truth the big winner at Crécy was the weather.  The English had time to choose their ground, deploying in three divisions on a steep hillside with well protected flanks.

The French arrived after the English and there was a great deal of confusion in their deployment.  The French brought thousands (the exact number is disputed) of Genoese mercenary crossbowmen.  There were three major issues with the Crossbowmen.

  1.  It rained just before the battle.  While the English longbow men could unstring their bows and keep the strings dry it was not possible for the Genoese to do the same.  Bowstrings were made of catgut, which slackens when soaked and loses all power to launch arrows or bolts.  This is exactly what happened the Genoese.
  2. The Genoese Pavises were stuck in the baggage train.  These large metal shields were usually placed in the ground in front of crossbowmen and allowed them to reload without having to take fire.  Without their shields the Genoese were naked on the battlefield, taking 10 to 12 longbow shafts for every bolt they could fire.
  3. The French nobility had low regard for the Genoese mercenaries.  They would tolerate no excuses and attributed the complaints about bowstrings and pavises to cowardice.  They insisted the Genoese go on the assault.

The result was a decimation of the Genoese by the English Longbows.  The Genoese then turned and ran, and were cut down by the French cavalry on their own side.  As a result the French cavalry was in total disarray when the charge was sounded.

The pride of french nobility then pounded up a steep wet slope on horseback straight into a hail of cloth yard shafts.  Downed horses presented obstacles to cavalry in the second and third lines.

When they did manage to ascend the slope they were met by well formed and disciplined lines of English infantry.  Time and again the French charged.  Time and again they were repulsed.

The end result was a highly asymmetrical outcome.  The English losses may have numbered as few as 100.  French and Genoese losses may number as high as 4,000.  The practice of the day was to count only noble losses, of which the French lost in the region of 2,000 men.

One of the direct outcomes of the battle was the fall of Calais to the English, an enclave held for over 200 years until its fall during the reign of “Bloody” Mary Tudor, Queen of England, and a small bit of France, for a while.

And now a poem about the longbow.  One small detail Doyle omits though….the best Yew wood came from Italy.  Reading his wording I think he may have known this and opted to omit it as being unpatriotic.  He says the bow was “made” in England, but specifies that the shaft was “cut” in England.

The Song of the Bow; by Arthur Conan Doyle
What of the bow?
The bow was made in England:
Of true wood, of yew-wood,
The wood of English bows;
So men who are free
Love the old yew-tree
And the land where the yew-tree grows.

What of the cord?
The cord was made in England:
A rough cord, a tough cord,
A cord that bowmen love;
And so we will sing
Of the hempen string
And the land where the cord was wove.

What of the shaft?
The shaft was cut in England:
A long shaft, a strong shaft,
Barbed and trim and true;
So we’ll drink all together
To the grey goose-feather
And the land where the grey goose flew.

What of the mark?
Ah, seek it not in England,
A bold mark, our old mark
Is waiting over-sea.
When the strings harp in chorus,
And the lion flag is o’er us,
It is there that our mark will be.

What of the men?
The men were bred in England:
The bowmen—the yeomen,
The lads of dale and fell.
Here’s to you—and to you!
To the hearts that are true
And the land where the true hearts dwell.

Firearms in Ireland

Medieval Irish Soldiers

Medieval Irish Soldiers

The Battle of Knockdoe in 1504 is one of the earliest recorded uses of firearms in Ireland.  We can’t say that firearms made a difference to the outcome or that they were central to military strategy.  Indeed we must question if anyone knew exactly how to use them.  According to the Book of Howth, one soldier of the Clanrickarde Burkes was beaten to death with a handgun!

The Battle was fought between the Hiberno-Norman “De Burgh” (Burkes) and their allies from the Dalcassian Sept (Kennedy’s, O’Briens, McNamaras) on one side against the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds on the other.  Although calling the Fitzgeralds “Anglo” is  a bit of a misnomer.  The Geraldines were Marcher Lords from Wales, not English.

Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was the deputy of the King of England, who also styled himself “Lord of Ireland” since the Norman invasion of the late 12th century.  As such Kildare carried a semblance of authority and the battle was considered to be a “policing” action to keep the King’s peace.

The Burkes were throwing their weight around and the Fitzgeralds had to sort them out to keep them in line.

The Fitzgeralds claimed the field after what was said to be a particularly bloody encounter.  The battle was dominated by Gallowglass, the heavy infantry of Medieval Ireland.  Many were Scottish mercenaries, heavily armoured.  Their primary weapon was the Claidh Mór, now called the Claymore, meaning “big sword”. As seen in the above illustration it is a two-handed broadsword of considerable length.

The poem below is held in folklore to have come from the pocket of a dead soldier.

Battle of Knockdoe (Anonymous)

Loud blares the trumpet, the field is set.
Loud blares the trumpet, the foe men are met.

Steep slopes the hill, at Knockdoe in the West.
There stood in Battle, the South at its best.

Hi Manny O’Kelly, with the Burkes is at War,
and Clanrickard has gathered his friends from afar.

Kildare he advances like the fox that doth stalk,
O’Kelly sweeps down with the speed of a hawk.

Loud sounds the trumpet, the sunset is fair.
Hi Manny triumphant. The Earl of Kildare.

Scuttled

Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee

Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee

On Dec 17th 1939 the first naval engagement of world war 2 ended with the scuttling of the Admiral Graf Spee after the Battle of the River Plate.  This was a triumph of British Diplomacy and deception.

The diplomats put constant pressure on the Uruguayan government to force the German Heavy Cruiser to leave the port of Montevideo where she wished to remain to effect repairs.  At the same time the British mounted a campaign of deception to convince Captain Langsdorff that the British had a fleet waiting in the estuary to destroy his ship.  He knew that the Argentinians would give him a better welcome if he could cross the Plate to Buenos Aires.

The British had a squadron en route to the Plate, but they were days away.  They had cargo vessels make smoke across the skyline to fool the Germans into believing that a large squadron was waiting for them. Langsdorff fell for the ruse and scuttled his ship.

A decent and honourable man, Hans Langsdorff adhered to the terms of the Hague Conventions and in the course of his commerce raiding campaign he killed none of the sailors on the ships he sank.  After he sank his own ship he secured the safety of his own men before committing suicide, lying on the battle flag of his command.  Symbolically he went down with his ship.

Some naval analysts criticize Langsdorff for squandering his advantage in the Battle of the Plate.  His 11 inch guns were more than a match for the 8 inch guns of the Exeter and the 6 inch guns of the Ajax and Achilles.  A more aggressive captain might have gone toe to toe with the British squadron and could have sunk all three ships.  Langsdorff clearly saw his role as a raider of commerce.  In this capacity it made sense to avoid engagements with battleships.

I think his strategy was to “run away and fight another day”.  A battle cruiser at large on the open ocean is far more potent than a single victory in battle.  While free the Graf Spee tied down 9 British forces which were assigned to hunt her down.

In the Battle of the River Plate a chance shot from the Exeter damaged the Graf Spee’s fuel cleaning system.  It was unlikely that she would be able to operate effectively without significant repairs, and due to British pressure these repairs were never going to be made in Uruguay.  His primary concern was clearly for his men and by scuttling the vessel he succeeded in getting them safely to Argentina.

O Captain! my Captain; by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

0
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

0
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Casabianca (not Casablanca)

Battleofthenile

Most readers will have been introduced to this poem through parodies, of which there are many. My favourite is Spike Milligan, who transposed the first two lines and finished off the poem with a single word in the third line…”Twit”.
What fewer people know is that the poem is based on a real life event and a real person.
The event was the 1798 Battle of the Nile, which cemented the fame of Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, who later became Admiral Lord Nelson. As with many battles it has two names. It is also called the Battle of Aboukir Bay. The latter is a more accurate name for the battle, as it occurred in Alexandria, which is some distance from the Nile. But the British public knew nothing of Aboukir Bay, but recognised the Nile. So for propaganda purposes it became the Battle of the Nile.
The battle exhibited the brilliance of Nelson and the shortcomings of Napoleon when it came to matters at sea. Napoleon invaded Egypt as a prelude to carving out a route to India with the intention of depriving Great Britain of that jewel. On land he was invincible. But he had no sense of naval tactics. He insisted that the French fleet station itself nearby in case he required an exit from Egypt.
This was far from ideal. Aboukir bay is open and exposed, impossible to defend. A stronger admiral would have refused Napoleon and taken his fleet to a secure bay in Crete or Cyprus. From the islands a fleet could command approach routes, and sweep down on a weaker enemy at will. More importantly it could defend itself from a stronger foe in a secure harbour.
Instead François-Paul Brueys d’Aigalliers was compromised into anchoring his fleet off Alexandria. In Aboukir bay he took his ships inshore as close as he dared and chained them in a defensive line. He reasoned that the British, if they found him, would be forced to keep to the open side of his line, and he could fight them on even terms. Chaining the ships together prevented the enemy from getting amongst them.
Nelson arrived, assessed the situation and made a quick decision. He sent his shallow draught ships into the channel between the land and the French. A brave and risky manoevre, and entirely unexpected. His heavier ships sailed in parallel on the open side of the French fleet. The British then unleashed a double broadside on the French. It is certain that the inland guns of the French were unprepared for the engagement.
The result was a devastating blow, taking the French apart. Of 13 ships of the line the French had 2 sunk and 9 captured.
The poem is a celebration of the eponymous young French boy who stood his station as his ship erupted in flame.
Casabianca by Felecia Dorothea Hemans

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm –
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.
The flames rolled on – he would not go
Without his Father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.
He called aloud: – ‘say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.
Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair;
And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.
They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.
There came a burst of thunder-sound –
The boy – oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–
With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part –
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

Prepare for Battle

Brushing-teeth

BBDO, the ad agency, published a piece of research called “The Ritual Masters” which identified a set of daily rituals that provide humans with structure in our day.

Rituals are transformational.  They move us from one phase of existence to another.  Marriage is a ritual that moves us from a state of being single, to a state of being a couple.  In our daily lives our rituals may not mark such significant transitions, but daily rituals remain very important.  Perhaps more important than the big, infrequent ones, the rites of passage.  Where would we be without small daily rituals?

The first ritual we perform every day they call “Preparing for Battle”.  It is the process of transforming ourselves from a dream/sleep state into an energised, active, waking state, ready to go out and take on the world.  Dreaming and Sleeping are states which allow the id to project itself, to wander in the world of the possible, to imagine and fantasise.  Our inner child can play the game of “what if”.

When we wake we must rapidly move the id closer to the ego, and engage with the cold hard real world of facts, hard surfaces, life commitments, taxes, bills to pay, places to go before I sleep.  The morning ritual is a group of activities we perform which wake us up and ground the id.

The most common  task is brushing teeth, performed by 82% of people around the world.  Brushing of teeth could be the most unifying act performed by humans of all races, ages and status all round the world.  If you want to identify with everyone, talk about the experience of brushing teeth.

Next most common, in diminishing order of importance are taking a shower or bath (74%), having something to eat/drink (74%), talking   to a family member/partner (54%), checking e-mail (54%),   shaving (male – 53%), putting on makeup (female – 47%), watching TV/listening to   radio (45%) and reading a newspaper (38%). Notice anything missing?  Well, they forgot to mention getting dressed!

If you examine all the possible combinations for putting on the average 9 clothing & jewellery items, the permutations are enormous.  The human brain cannot handle the stress of making decisions every morning, so we follow a routine.  Same sock on same foot.   Same leg goes into the same side (left or right) every morning.  Dressing is like a well rehearsed dance, same moves every time.

Many of the actions we take every morning are almost automated they are so routine.

Breakfast is the most boring meal of the day.  Look at the foods we eat.  Oatmeal, maize, bran, toast, eggs, simple foods, basic foods, unchallenging foods.  Who prepares and eats a roast chicken dinner or a vindaloo curry for breakfast?  (Last nights leftovers excepted)

So every morning we gird our loins, like putting on a suit of armour to do battle with the big bad world.  When you open your door and step out of your house you need to be ready for business!  But sometimes, when you are riding on the bus, you may slip back a little into that cosy warm womblike dream state, for just a few minutes more.

A day in the life:  by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure
If he was from the House of Lords.

I saw a film today, oh boy
The English Army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
but I just had to look
Having read the book
I’d love to turn you on

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,
and somebody spoke and I went into a dream

I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
I’d love to turn you on