Cutting edge

Carabiner

Ulster Carabiner of the 9 years war

What is considered to be at the “cutting edge” of military development can be very surprising.  In the 1590’s the dominant force in Europe was Spain.  They ruled the continent with their Tercios, the mixed phalanxes of Musketeers, Pikemen and Swordsmen.

Los Tercios fueron invencibles

They were highly disciplined, highly drilled and worked as a cohesive unit.  Cavalry charges could not break the infantry lines.  The Musketeers were protected by the pikes and swords.  The great muskets and arquebuses were so heavy they acted like small cannon.  Firing them required a support stand to steady the barrell.

The English who invaded Ireland under Elizabeth I were armed and armoured like the Tercios.  They had good shoes and warm socks.  The pikemen wore half armour for protection against cavalry sabres.

In Ireland they met the pride of Ulster, the carabiners of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell.  This yellow garbed barefoot lad with a spanish pattern helmet does not look like much but looks can decieve.

His weapon is a carbine, lighter and shorter than the muskets and arquebuses of the English, and the very cutting edge of firearms technology in its day.  O’Neill equipped his men with a lighter weapon for very good reasons.

Ireland is not a flat land of grainfields and open plains.  The open country of the continental mainland where the Tercios fought against the French and the Dutch accommodated large formations.  Ireland is a country of hills and bogs cut all over with small streams and rivers.  Uneven and wet land.

Anyone who hikes regularly in Ireland knows how the acid water from the peat bogs will eat the boots off your feet.  Good waterproofing is vital for modern boot materials.  In the Elizabethan era the fine footwear of the soldiers melted off their feet within days.  Even when the shoes were in good shape they gave no good purchase in wet boggy hills.

So the yellow cloaked Irish carabiner in his bare feet actually knew what he was about.  Stay light, stay agile, stay warm.  That great shapeless yellow thing he is wearing was the butt of many jokes by English soldiers over the years.  But it is made of raw wool dyed saffron, the royal colour of Ulster.  The wool is warm and waterproof.  Even when it is soaking wet it keeps you warm.  Vital in Ireland.  It acts as cape, cloak, greatcoat, groundsheet and sleeping bag.

O’Neill spent his money wisely, on good shot, good powder, good firearms.  He drilled his men to use the natural advantages of the countryside, fighting a guerilla war against the English.  He fought them to a standstill for nine years.

The eventual demise of the Irish comes down to the incompetence of the Spanish.  The Armada had been a great failure, and English protestants were assisting the Dutch rebellion against their Catholic Spanish Majesties.  The Spanish Kings felt that Ireland represented a possible second front to keep the English bottled up.  The great soldiers of Spain sent to assist the Irish did not land in Ulster.  Battered by storms many never made it to Ireland and those that did landed in Kinsale and Baltimore, at the very other end of the Island from the strongholds of Ulster.

The Ulstermen marched south to link up with the Spaniards but the English got to Kinsale first and were able to dominate the Spaniards with their Artillery.  When the Irish arrived the English Cavalry were able to decimate them.  Irish units, highly effective in guerilla warfare, were not trained for formation battle.  That skill was supposed to be provided by the Spaniards, but the English successfully kept the allies apart.

In that defeat at the Battle of Kinsale lies the root of the current situation where Northern Ireland remains part of the UK.

The yellow carabiner in the photo forms part of an exhibit in the Irish National Museum at Collins Barracks, Dublin, which traces Irish involvement in Military Engagements all over the world through history.

Tanegashima

On this day in 1543 a group of Portuguese travelling on a Chinese Junk were blown off course and became the first Europeans to land in Japan.  They anchored at the island of Tanegashima.  While on the island they demonstrated their firearms to the local lord Tanegashima Tokitata who was clearly an astute and entrepreneurial individual.

Tokitata immediately purchased two matchlock  arquebuses from the Portuguese and had his smith break them down and reverse engineer them.  The smith was able to replicate all the parts except for the helical drill to create the hollow barrel.  The technology did not exist in Japan and the Portuguese travellers did not bring that technology with them.

Tokitata arranged for a return visit and next time the Portuguese brought their own smith who demonstrated the technique to the Japanese.  As a result the musket was introuced to Japan.  It quickly revolutionised the Japanese battlefield.  Tanegashima prospered on the manufacture and sale of muskets.  Sales averaged 30,000 per year over the following 10 years.

The Japanese went on to customise and develop firearms on a track independent from other nations, and introduced innovations not found elsewhere.  For instance a lacquer rain cover on the firing lock to allow firing in the rain.

The arrival of firearms changed Japanese society.  A farmer could be trained to become a soldier in a few weeks, whereas traditional Samurai spent decades learning the craft of sword, bow and staff.  The Sengoku period saw 35 years of internecine chaos fuelled in part by the arrival of firearms.  This was brought to a conclusion in 1600 by the Battle of Sekigahara when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the dominant shogun and established the 250 years of stable peace of the Edo period of Japan.

The other great technology introduced by the Portuguese to Japan was fried food.  The technique was unknown in Japan before the Europeans arrived.  To this day Tempura is known in Japan as the “Portuguese Method”.  As with the firearms the Japanese experimented using local ingredients and created something quite different from the original introduction.

Image result for beautiful tempura morsels

 

Ireland’s Battle of Saratoga

Image result for battle of the yellow ford

In the USA the Battles of Saratoga were a vital step for the American cause.  An army of mostly irregular colonists took on the professional British Army and defeated them.  They did this through a combination of British arrogance, knowledge of the terrain and superior marksmanship.  The US frontiersmen with their Kentucky rifles, using natural cover, were more than a match for the British regulars with their smoothbore brown bess muskets.

In Ireland in 1598 the Ulster Irish led by Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell won a similar victory at the Battle of the Yellow Ford.  The Elizabethan British Army of occupation built a fort on the Blackwater in Armagh to threaten Ulster.  The Ulster forces quickly placed it under siege.

The British led a relief force under Sir Henry Bagenal, an experienced commander of veteran troops.  The British were heavily armed and armoured.  They had better cavalry than the Irish and carried a heavy arquebus or musket, which required a supporting pole to steady it for firing.  The Musketeers supported by pikemen in the tradition of the day.

The Irish were actually better armed.  O’Neill was famous for the tricks he used to circumvent restrictions on his ability to recruit and arm his men.  He was permitted a personal bodyguard of only 600 men.  So he rotated them every 6 months and trained them relentlessly to build an army of over 5,000.  He imported lead to waterproof the roof of his castle, and turned it into shot.  Most importantly he sourced the very latest and lightest arquebuses, called Claviers (a corruption of the word Caliber – because they were of standard bore)

Using terrain features and pre-constructed ditches and banks the Irish harried the British from cover very much as the Americans would do hundreds of years later.  When the British came within sight of the Blackwater fort the defenders cheered and tossed their caps in the air in celebration.  The British infantry moved strongly forward over the Yellow Ford.

Then the Irish struck at the rear of their formations, smashing the British from behind.  The leading regiments were forced to retreat to protect themselves and the retreat turned into a desperate defence.  In the panic that ensued a British Infantryman ran to refill his powder horn from a barrel of gunpowder.   He was holding a lit match in his hand and set off the powder in a massive explosion.

The British were harassed all the way back to the River Callan, and there someone on the British side had made a smart decision to position some artillery pieces in a fallback position.  They were able to hold the Irish and prevent a complete slaughter.

Of 4,000 British Soldiers only 2,000 made it back to the garrison of Armagh.  After some negotionation they were permitted to return south only by leaving behind all their arms and ammunition.

It would be nice to say that the outcome of Yellow Ford was similar to the outcome of Saratoga, but it was not to be.  The Americans had the French to support their revolutionary war.  The Irish had the Spanish, who landed in Kinsale, the furthest possible point away from the Ulster strongholds of O’Neill and O’Donnell.

At the Battle of Kinsale the Irish & Spanish forces were defeated by the British and the result was the “Flight of the Earls” when O’Neill and O’Donnell departed Ireland with their retinue for exile in Spain.  Their departure opened Ulster for Plantation by protestants loyal to the British Crown, a move that is reflected in the politics of the Island of Ireland to this day.

Yellow Ford was fought this day, August 14th 1598.

Sonnet 46; by William Shakespeare

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
how to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,
my heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie
a closet never pierced with crystal eyes.
But the defendant doth that plea deny
and says in him thy fair appearance lies.

To ‘cide this title is impanneled
a quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,
and by their verdict is determined
the clear eye’s moiety and the dear heart’s part:
As thus; mine eye’s due is thy outward part,
and my heart’s right thy inward love of heart.

Formigny

Formigny

Every Englishman knows about Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt.   These were the great victories of the English over the French in the 100 years war, where the English longbow made the difference between the sides.  The common Englishman was able to slay mounted French knights and steal the victory on the battlefield.

After the victory of Agincourt Henry V established the high watermark of English rule on the continent.  Edward VI was crowned king of both England and France in 1422 on the death of his father.  Edward was 9 months old.  From that high point it all went downhill.

The battle of Formigny ended the presence of England in Normandy with a resounding defeat.  After a successful and sustained campaign by the French to retake Normandy the complete destruction of the English army at Formigny signalled the end of Normandy as an English possession.  It left Calais as the only English foothold in France, which was held until the reign of Bloody Mary Tudor.

Formigny is interesting from a historical perspective, because it laid out the future pattern of battle up until the invention of the rifled musket in the mid-nineteenth century in the US Civil War.

The English at Formigny, three quarters of whom were archers, established a strong defensive position, protected by ditches and stakes.  The French, who had at last learned the lessons of Crécy and Agincourt, did not get drawn into a cavalry charge.

Instead they mounted only sufficient cavalry skirmishes against the flanks of the English to keep them bunched.  They brought up artillery pieces and began to pound the archers from a safe distance.

The English infantry knew that if they remained in position they would be slaughtered by cannon fire.  They presented an easy target in their defensive square.

If they broke formation to escape the cavalry would run them down and rout them in open country.

So they bravely launched a frontal attack on the French and captured the guns.

Before they could retreat and reform an organised defensive position a new force of Breton cavalry appeared on the English flank.  They were charged and in their loose formation became easy pickings for the French knights.

This choreography of defensive square, infantry marching column and firing line evolved over the following years to become the tactics of Napoleonic era armies.  Archers were gradually replaced by musketeers.  Static defensive positions protected by stakes were replaced by mobile pike squares.

As artillery became lighter and more manoeuvrable the defensive squares had to become more agile.  The pike was replaced by the bayonet, providing a far greater concentration of firepower in the squares.

All of this was ordained at Formigny.  But what English man would remember such a day?

Formigny, sounds a bit like Fontenoy!

Fontenoy; by Thomas Osborne Davis

Thrice, at the huts of Fontenoy, the English column failed,
And twice the lines of Saint Antoine the Dutch in vain assailed;
For town and slope were filled with fort and flanking battery,
And well they swept the English ranks and Dutch auxiliary.
As vainly, through De Barri’s wood, the British soldiers burst,
The French artillery drove them back, diminished, and dispersed.
The bloody Duke of Cumberland beheld with anxious eye,
And ordered up his last reserve, his latest chance to try,
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, how fast his generals ride!
And mustering come his chosen troops, like clouds at eventide.

II.

Six thousand English veterans in stately column tread;
Their cannon blaze in front and flank, Lord Hay is at their head;
Steady they step a-down the slope–steady they climb the hill;
Steady they load–steady they fire, moving right onward still,
Betwixt the wood and Fontenoy, as through a furnace blast,
Through rampart, trench, and palisade, and bullets showering fast;
And on the open plain above they rose and kept their course,
With ready fire and grim resolve, that mocked at hostile force:
Past Fontenoy, past Fontenoy, while thinner grew their ranks–
They break, as broke the Zuyder Zee through Holland’s ocean banks.

III.

More idly than the summer flies, French tirailleurs rush round;
As stubble to the lava tide, French squadrons strew the ground;
Bomb-shell and grape and round-shot tore, still on they marched
and fired–
Fast from each volley grenadier and voltigeur retired.
‘Push on, my household cavalry!’ King Louis madly cried:
To death they rush, but rude their shock–not unavenged they died.
On through the camp the column trod–King Louis turns his rein:
‘Not yet, my liege,’ Saxe interposed, ‘the Irish troops remain.’
And Fontenoy, famed Fontenoy, had been a Waterloo
Were not these exiles ready then, fresh, vehement, and true.

IV.

‘Lord Clare,’ he says, ‘you have your wish; there are your Saxon foes!’
The Marshal almost smiles to see, so furiously he goes!
How fierce the look these exiles wear, who’re wont to be so gay,
The treasured wrongs of fifty years are in their hearts to-day–
The treaty broken, ere the ink wherewith ’twas writ could dry,
Their plundered homes, their ruined shrines, their women’s parting cry,
Their priesthood hunted down like wolves, their country overthrown–
Each looks as if revenge for all were staked on him alone
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, nor ever yet elsewhere,
Rushed on to fight a nobler band than these proud exiles were.

V.

O’Brien’s voice is hoarse with joy, as, halting, he commands
‘Fix bay’nets!–charge!’ Like mountain storm, rush on these fiery bands!
Thin is the English column now, and faint their volleys grow,
Yet, must’ring all the strength they have, they make a gallant show.
They dress their ranks upon the hill to face that battle-wind–
Their bayonets the breakers’ foam; like rocks, the men behind!
One volley crashes from their line, when, through the surging smoke,
With empty guns clutched in their hands, the headlong Irish broke.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, hark to that fierce huzza!
‘Revenge, remember Limerick! dash down the Sacsanach!’

VI.

Like lions leaping at a fold when mad with hunger’s pang,
Right up against the English line the Irish exiles sprang:
Bright was their steel, ’tis bloody now, their guns are filled with
gore;
Through shattered ranks and severed files the trampled flags they
tore;
The English strove with desperate strength, paused, rallied, staggered,
fled–
The green hill-side is matted close with dying and with dead.
Across the plain, and far away, passed on that hideous wrack,
While cavalier and fantassin dash in upon their track.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, like eagles in the sun,
With bloody plumes, the Irish stand–the field is fought and won!