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Wednesday, July 3rd 2019, 8:02pm

History That Might Have Been

It is summer time, and things are slow. So I have dusted off some stuff I've worked on over the years and thought I'd share it. This seems to be the best folder in which to place it. It's not official WW history - but it might have been.



Wednesday, July 3rd 2019, 8:16pm

The Campaign in the Netherlands 1799-1800

The Campaign in the Netherlands 1799-1800 refers to the actions of an expeditionary force of British and Allied troops which liberated the northern portions of the Batavian Republic from the thrall of revolutionary France. The campaign had two strategic objectives: to neutralize the Batavian fleet and to promote an uprising by followers of the former stadtholder, William V against the Batavian government.


The Dutch Republic had been a member of the First Coalition that opposed revolutionary France after 1792. In 1795, at the end of their Flanders Campaign, the forces of stadtholder William V, and his British and Austrian allies were defeated by the invading French army under General Charles Pichegru, augmented with a contingent of Dutch Patriot revolutionaries under Herman Willem Daendels. The Dutch Republic was overthrown; the stadtholder fled the country to London; and the Batavian Republic was proclaimed.

Despite the downfall of the old Republic in 1795 the war had not ended; the Netherlands had just changed sides and now fully participated in the continuing conflagration. However, its role had changed. France did not need its army so much as its naval resources. In 1796 the Batavians began a significant program of naval construction. However, manning the new ships was a problem, because the officer corps of the old navy was staunchly Orangist. The new navy was therefore officered by people who were of the correct political hue, but had only limited experience. This directly led to the debacles of the surrender at Saldanha Bay in 1796 and of the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.

The First Coalition had broken up in 1797, but Britain soon found a new ally in the Russia of Emperor Paul I. The Russians and Austrians scored some successes in the land war against France, and Britain was eager to maintain this momentum by attacking at other extremes of the French "empire". The Batavian Republic seemed an opportune target for such an attack, with the Prince of Orange lobbying hard for just such a full military effort to reinstate him, and creditable intelligence suggesting that France's hold over the Batavian Republic was weak and that a determined strike by the British towards Amsterdam would lead to a massive uprising against the French.


The British expeditionary force was assembled in the vicinity of Canterbury under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby. Once a landing in the Netherlands was effected, they were to be joined by additional troops from Hanover and by a Swedish contingent. The question was where this amphibious landing could best take place. Several locations on the Dutch coast were considered. Many strategists preferred either the mouth of the river Meuse, or the vicinity of Scheveningen, both of which offered an opportunity to quickly deploy the attacking forces and threaten the supply lines of the French army of occupation in the Batavian Republic. However, these locations had as a severe drawback the dangerous shoals before the Dutch coast that made it difficult to navigate these waters. The extreme north of the North-Holland peninsula did not have this danger and a landing here could thus be supported by British sea power in the North Sea. It also recommended itself to the planners of the invasion, because the area was only lightly fortified; a large part of the Dutch fleet (an important objective of the expedition) was based nearby and might be at least dislocated if the landing was successful. The terrain seemed to promise the possibility of an easy advance on the important strategic objective of the city of Amsterdam. The area south of Den Helder was therefore selected as the landing place.

The authorities in France and the Batavian Republic were aware of the possibility of invasion, but the diversity of potential threats forced them to spread their forces thinly to guard against all eventualities. The Batavian army at the time consisted of two divisions, one commanded by Lieutenant-General Daendels, the other by Lieutenant-General Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau. The latter had taken up positions in Friesland and Groningen to guard against a landing from the Wadden Sea or an incursion from the East. Daendels was positioned in the northern part of North Holland, with headquarters at Schagen. French troops were divided between Zeeland, and the middle of the country, strung out between the coast and Nijmegen. The entire Franco-Batavian army was placed under the command of the French general Guillaume Marie Anne Brune.

Landing at Callantsoog

The invasion met with early success. The depleted Batavian fleet under Rear-Admiral Samuel Story evaded battle, leaving the disembarkation of the British troops near Callantsoog on 27 August 27 1799 virtually unopposed. Once established ashore Abercromby directed an advance toward Den Helder, a small hamlet at the extreme northern point of a spit of sand that jutted out from the North-Holland peninsula, north of Callantsoog. Strong shore batteries there commanded the entrance to Texel and protected the Batavian Fleet. General Daendels deployed one of his two brigades near the village of Callantsoog and while the second remained near Den Helder to support the batteries against further British landings.

Battle was joined on the morning of 28 August, with the leading British brigade striking the Batavian left wing and driving it back. Casualties among the officers of the defending 5th Demi-brigade brought about panic and hasty withdrawal, and the intervention of the Batavian 7th Demi-brigade was blocked by a line of dunes and marsh and cut to pieces by the heavy cannon of British gunboats. Daendels fed reinforcements into battle in a piecemeal fashion with little effect. By nightfall Abercromby’s force had successfully cut its way across the peninsula and trapping the defending Batavian forces. Daendels attempted a withdrawal through the Zijpe polder on the night of the 28th but his inexperienced and weary troops were cut off by a subsidiary landing of British troops at Petten. Without supplies and ammunition Daendels surrendered his surviving 4,000 troops in the afternoon of the 29 August, while the troops in Den Helder laid down their arms the next morning. British losses during the battle were seventy-four dead, 376 wounded and twenty missing. Batavian losses amounted to 137 dead, 950 wounded and 8,500 prisoners, with eighty-six cannon captured in the batteries at Den Helder. The loss of the batteries at Den Helder also compelled the surrender of the Batavian squadron anchored in the Nieuwe Diep, including thirteen men-of-war and three East Indiamen. [1]

Capture of the Batavian Fleet in the Vlieter

The loss of the batteries at Den Helder, which now gave the Royal Navy command of both the Marsdiep and Nieuwe Diep anchorages, proved disastrous for Dutch morale: the sight of the flag of the Hereditary Prince, further undermined the already questionable loyalty of the Batavian fleet in the Zuider Zee. Aware of the near-mutinous condition of the Batavian force, Vice-Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell sent an ultimatum to Story on the morning of 30 August, allowing him one hour to defect and join the invasion force with his ships, or face the consequences. Story convened a council of war aboard his flag ship with all his captains, wherein a cabal of Orangist officers, including Theodorus Frederik van Capellen and Aegidius van Braam did their best to influence the council in the direction of accepting the ultimatum.

Before this council started, the crew of the Washington had already begun a full mutiny, refusing to man the guns, and throwing munitions into the sea. Attempts to reason with the mutineers had been of no avail. When asked during the council of war to describe the situation aboard their ships all, except Captain Van Senden of Batavier, had similar stories. In these circumstances it seemed impossible to engage in battle. The officers calculated that their continued resistance would contribute little to the fight against the invasion; scuttling the fleet seemed impossible, because the crews would not allow it. Some calculated that it would be better to surrender without resistance, because in that case the ships would end up in the possession of the Stadtholder, instead of becoming prizes of war. The council of war therefore unanimously decided to lower the flag of the Batavian Republic and declare themselves prisoners of war. They refused, however, to hoist the Orange flag. This may seem a minor point, but it signified that the officers did not defect. When Mitchell accepted the surrender, he did this in the name of the Prince of Orange. He therefore ordered the flag of the Prince to be hoisted, with which order some of the officers complied. Eight ships of the line, four frigates and a brig, with 632 guns and 3,700 men capitulated to Admiral Mitchell without a shot being fired. [2]

Battle of Krabbendam

In the wake of the destruction of the forces defending North-Holland the Batavians and their French allies frantically been seeking up reinforcements. A French division under General Dominique Vandamme was brought up via Haarlem and occupied a line between Alkmaar and the sea. General Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau brought up his 2nd Batavian Division in forced marches from Friesland and he arrived on September 8 to take on a position in the center of the Franco-Batavian front, around Alkmaar. By 9 September the forces under Brune had reached of 20,000 troops, which he believed gave him a superiority of numbers over Abercromby – which was not to prove the case. The initial British force had been significantly reinforced and 23,000 British and Allied troops stood ready to meet their enemies, occupying strong positions along the dykes of the Zijpe polder.

As it was expected that soon even more Allied reinforcements would be landed, Brune decided to attack on the 10 September, before British and Allied numbers became overwhelming. His plan of battle was simple: he would have the Batavians attack the villages of Eenigenburg and Krabbendam, as these commanded two roads that led into the Zijpe polder and hence two of the few points of ingress. The main role would be performed by the French division of Vandamme, who would attempt to turn Abercromby's right flank by advancing along the subsidiary dike near Petten. The haste to get the attack underway led to sloppy work on the part of Brune's staff. Columns from different divisions were mistakenly assigned to the same road; troops advancing to the front were delayed by farmers taking their produce to market. The attempt to storm the British defences at Eenigenburg was frustrated by the circular canal in front of the dyke and the well-aimed fire of the British defenders. A second attempt likewise failed and Dumonceau’s attack remained stalled. The attack on Krabbendam was pursued with great vigour but again the Batavians were driven off with heavy losses. The French attack on the left wing met with no more success. The French advanced along the sea dike and the parallel subsidiary dike near Petten. At the head of these dikes Abercromby had built a sconce that was defended by two brigades of infantry. Nevertheless, French grenadiers managed to penetrate as far as the dike of the Zijpe polder, but the ring canal here also proved too much of an obstacle. Many French soldiers drowned while they valiantly tried to cross this deep watercourse. When four British gunboats, manoeuvring closely inshore, started to fire on his flank, Vandamme fell back to his starting positions.

The losses on the Franco-Batavian side far outweighed the British losses: 1,876 dead and wounded against 184. The defeat did not misplace its effect on the morale of the Batavian troops. During the night a false rumor of a British attack caused panic among the troops of Dumonceau’s division. Fleeing troops reached Alkmaar and even Haarlem, where they caused more panic.

The Battle of Bergen

In the wake of the capitulation of the Batavian fleet in the Vlieter the British exploited the power of the Royal Navy to penetrate the Zuider Zee, landing forces in quick succession to secure the undefended ports of Medemblik, Enkhuizen, and Hoorn, at the same time mastering the region between these ports. A number of islands in the Zuider Zee were also occupied, a strategic threat pointing directly to Amsterdam. The British advance forced the Franco-Batavian commander to divide his forces widely to cover the threat posed by the forces operating in the Zuider Zee, while maintaining a front against Abercromby’s force advancing from its beachhead in North-Holland. The British commander was quick to take advantage of the weakening of the force deployed against him to launch an attack on the morning of 12 September.

He drew up a daring plan of attack that amounted to an attempt at double envelopment of the Franco-Batavian army. He divided his forces over three columns. The rightmost column, comprising 9,000 British and Hanoverian troops under Major-General John Bruce, starting from Petten and Krabbendam, had as its objective the village of Bergen. The centre column of 6,500 troops under Major-General John Moore had as its objective the village of Schoorldam. The left-most column, with an additional 9,000 men commander by Major-General Edward Lord Cavan, had as its objective the area of Langedijk with the hamlets of Oudkarspel and Heerhugowaard. The Franco-Batavian right flank was to be turned by a force of 8,000 recently arrived Swedish troops advancing from the occupied town of Hoorn.

Brune’s troops, depleted by their recent losses at Krabbendam and suffering shortages in arms, supplies and food, were hard-pressed to contain the advancing British columns. By mid-morning the British right-hand column had broken through Brune’s defences at Bergen and was pursuing the Franco-Batavians in the direction of Alkmaar. Brune’s officers were unable to stem the retreat, and when he received word of the Swedish advance from Hoorn he ordered a general withdrawal. Collapse of morale among the Batavian troops turned the retreat into a rout, and the evening of 12th saw the pincers of the British advance joining at the town of Purmerend, deep in the rear of enemy rear. Franco-Batavian losses were heavy – 1,800 dead, 1,220 wounded and more than 3,000 prisoners and 60 guns captured, and the few troops remaining to Brune were trapped at Zaandam. To complete the British victory the city of Amsterdam [3] was occupied by the marines of Admiral Mitchell’s fleet operating in the Zuider Zee.

Capitulation of the Batavian Army

The defeat of his army at Bergen, and its subsequent disastrous retreat, left Brune isolated in the city of Zaandam, hemmed in by victorious Allied troops and under the threat of the light units of Admiral Mitchell’s squadron operating in the Zuider Zee. Only some 6,000 troops were left to him, and many of these were Batavian militia of doubtful skill and reliability. The morale of the Batavians was almost non-existent, and that of Brune’s French contingent not much higher – in the previous weeks they had lost three battles against an enemy that grew stronger as Allied reinforcements arrived, had suffered the loss of the command of the coastal waterways, and now bereft of supplies. Abercromby declined to initiate a formal siege, but in the event it was not necessary. On the morning of 15 September Brune surrendered what remained of his army.

The surrender of the Franco-Batavian force at Zaandam offered bright prospects to Abercromby but the resources at his immediate command were not sufficient to accomplish them all. Despite the continual arrival of British and Allied reinforcements the army under his command was relatively small, and the victory over the Franco-Batavians owed as much to the command of the sea as it did the prowess of British arms. Such advantages would shift as the campaign moved southward into the provinces of Utrecht and Gelderland. Despite the blow struck against the Batavian fleet, there had been no large-scale rising in favour of the stadtholder; while the average Batavian citizen had no great love for the French, there appeared to little popular support for the Dutch ancien regime.

The Uses of Victory

Abercromby’s first challenge was to secure control of the provinces of Holland; mobile columns of British troops struck out and secured the city of Haarlem on 18 September, Leyden and Katwijk on 20 September and Den Haag on 22 September. The gunboat fleet assisted in securing the port of Rotterdam on 25 September. Royal Marines occupied the town of Brill on the island of Voorne on 26 September and the city of Gouda opened its gates to the advancing Allies on 30 September. In his instructions to his commanders Abercromby had reminded them that they were liberators, not conquerors, and that the rights of the local population were to be respected, unless active resistance made such impossible. Such a policy on the part of the British, coupled with a firm decision to exclude William of Orange, the Hereditary Prince, from the civil government until such time as peace was assured, paid great dividends.

Using command of the Zuider Zee detachments of Allied troops were landed at ports in the eastern provinces of Friesland and Overijssel, strong garrisons being established in Kampen, Zwolle and Hatten. Little opposition was met, as what Franco-Batavian troops were present withdrew in the direction of Deventer.

For their part, the French were hard-pressed to maintain a defence, as what troops available were scattered in garrisons across the provinces of Brabant and Zeeland. General Charles Pierre Francois Augereau was appointed to command, with his headquarters at Brussels, with the immediate task of gathering an army to oppose the advancing Allies. His task was complicated by a lack of support from the Directoire in Paris, and the more pressing claims of French armies operating on the middle and upper Rhine against the Austrians and Russians, and in Italy again against the Austrians. His subordinate General de division Etienne Radet commanded the garrison of Utrecht, which was the principal obstacle to Abercromby’s advance.

Siege of Utrecht

The forces available to Radet numbered little more than 7,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry, the latter French dragoons and perhaps his most reliable troops. They were deficient in artillery, and what guns were available comprised small 4- and 8-pounders. Abercromby approached Utrecht along the line of the Ijssel River, where light forces of the Royal Navy were able to cover his flank and carry a heavy siege train. Rather than allow Abercromby an uncontested advance Radet decided to confront the approaching Allies near the village of Montfoort; a decision that proved unwise.

At dawn on the morning of 3 October Radet’s cavalry launched an attack on the head of the Allied column, which consisted of the Hanoverian Cavalry Brigade [4] under Major General Carl von Maydel. The initial impetus of the French charge threw back the leading squadrons of the 9th Light Dragoons, but von Maydel quickly brought up the heavier units of his brigade and drove the French back to their initial positions. Cannon fire from gunboats in the Ijssel completed the rout of the French cavalry, who beat a hasty retreat to the walls of Utrecht. News of this discomfiture arrived at Radet’s headquarters at the same time as news that Allied troops had landed at the small ports of Bussum and Nijkerk, and were moving to occupy the town of Amersfoort. This was a calculated effort on Abercromby’s part, as the fall of Amersfoort would cut off Utrecht from the east, while his own advance from the west would complete the isolation of the French. Left with little support from Augereau, Radet withdrew into the defences of the city and prepared to withstand the Allied attack.

Abercromby completed his investment of Utrecht on 5 October, linking up with the detachments advancing from Amersfoort, which had fallen the previous day without resistance. While the Franco-Batavian defences appeared formidable the garrison holding them was very small in number and suffering from dismal morale. Aside from his cavalry and three battalions of French infantry Radet’s garrison comprised Batavian militia of poor quality. Utrecht had bravely sent a brigade of 4,000 of its best volunteers to support Brune’s attempted defence of North Holland; most of these were now prisoners of war and those that had escaped merely infected their fellows with a sense of defeatism. Abercromby had no wish to destroy the city but was forced to bring up his siege train and opened a formal siege on the morning of 7 October with a barrage from thirty heavy guns. In deference to the civilian population, Abercromby ordered that special care be taken to concentrate the barrage on military works and spare the town’s buildings as far as possible.

For his part Augereau was unable to come to the aid of his subordinate; his field force amounted only to 20,000 effectives, while an additional 10,000 troops were scattered in garrisons across Zeeland and Brabant. His orders from the Directoire in Paris were to defend against the Allied offensive, and no further reinforcements were forthcoming in response to Augereau’s repeated requests. This decision had three important effects: it lowered the morale of the Franco-Batavian forces in the city of Utrecht; it gave Abercromby the time to prosecute his siege without interference; and it sent a clear message to the partisans of the Batavian Republic that their French allies cared little for them.

After ten days of bombardment Abercromby decided to risk an assault on the defences of Utrecht, and on the night of 17-18 October two brigades under Major General George Don carried out the attack. Led by the Irish Brigade [5] the British troops were able to penetrate the defences of the Amersfoort gate, and with the gate carried, additional Allied troops entered and quickly overwhelmed the remaining portions of the garrison. Radet surrendered on the morning of 18 October. Allied casualties in the siege amounted to 550 dead and 840 wounded from all causes; for the Franco-Batavians the losses were 800 dead, 300 wounded and more than 5,000 prisoners, with 37 guns and 9 colours captured.


In the wake of the fall of Utrecht the Allied forces consolidated their control of the province of Gelderland, occupying the towns of Arnhem and Zutphen, and compelling the surrender of the small Franco-Batavian force operating in the vicinity of Deventer. By early November British and Allied troops were in effective control of all the Netherlands north of the river Ijssel. For their part the French under Augereau defended the line of the river Meuse.

Despite their victory at the Second Battle of Zurich (25 September 1799) the French preferred to concentrate their efforts on the middle Rhine and in Italy. Political considerations played no small part in these calculations – the Bonapartist coup of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799) saw the overthrow of the Directoire, fueled in no small part by the defeats in the Netherlands. This left the H.M. Government free to concentrate on a political solution to ‘the Batavian problem’.

Capture of Nijmegen

The city of Nijmegen, lying between the Ijssel and the Meuse, remained the principal outpost of Batavian strength. Once the occupation of the northern provinces was complete Abercromby turned his attention to securing this important strongpoint. Yet the onset of winter posed difficulties to the movement of troops and supplies, and the choking of the Dutch rivers and canals by ice robbed Abercromby of the support provided by the Royal Navy.

Nijmegen was held by a mixed garrison of 5,000 Franco-Batavian troops, half of whom were militia with no experience, stiffened by a battalion of French grenadiers, all that Augereau could spare from the meager forces allotted to him. The rump of the Batavian government was also present in Nijmegen, and certain of its members opened a clandestine correspondence with Abercromby, offering to bring about the city’s surrender. Unwilling to rely entirely upon the shifting loyalties of Batavian politicians Abercromby resolved to march on Nijmegen and take it by storm; if the garrison could be neutralized, so much the better.

On 31 December Abercromby detached a force comprising five brigades of cavalry, one brigade of light infantry and two batteries of horse artillery, the whole force under Major General John Moore, with orders to strike south from the town of Arnhem and take Nijmegen by coup de main. Two divisions of the main army would follow in support. Moore’s force covered the distance with some difficulty but arrived before Nijmegen at midnight. Approaching the city from the northeast the Allied troops used the frozen Waal River to bypass the Batavian defences and enter the city unchallenged.

Confusion reigned in Nijmegen as the garrison found Allied cavalry pouring through the streets; most flung down their arms in surrender. The French battalion was captured in its barracks by the 90th Light Infantry, who had ridden into Nijmegen as voltigeurs with the heavy cavalry of the Union Brigade. [6] British and Allied casualties amounted to eighteen dead and twenty wounded. The entire Franco-Batavian garrison was taken, together with no fewer than one hundred cannon. Abercromby’s victory was complete.

Winter Interlude

Following the capture of Nijmegen both armies suspended major operations, though there were many lively engagements between cavalry patrols and raids on forward outposts. The shifting kaleidoscope of politics would stymie resumption of the offensive that had opened with such bright prospects – Tsar Paul of Russia in a fit of pique over the refusal of Britain to restore Malta to the Knights Hospitaller (of which he was Grand Master) abandoned his Allies and organised a hostile League of Armed Neutrality aimed at Britain. Of the promised twenty thousand Russian troops that were supposed to reinforce Abercromby no more than four thousand arrived, late, and were ordered home within two weeks of their arrival. Furthermore the Tsar by threats induced Sweden to withdraw her troops as well. While a small force of Dutch troops was raised locally, the majority of the population failed to rally to the House of Orange.


In February 1800 General Abercromby was recalled prepare for future operations in the Mediterranean; his successor was Lieutenant General Sir James Murray. He adopted a defensive stance along the line of the Waal, but, as spring returned, opened a campaign of ‘small war’ in Zeeland, making use of the Royal Navy’s mobility to land detachments of the army at numerous points among the islands of that province. This, of course, forced Augereau to commit additional troops to Zeeland and prevent him taking any offensive against the Allies north of the Waal.

The success of Murray’s ‘small war’ was crowned by the capture of Flushing on 5 October 1800. It fell to a combined assault of Royal Marines from the fleet and a division of Swedish troops who had landed on the northern shores of Walcheren and marched overland. Following a bombardment of eight days the French garrison of 2,000 capitulated after having sustained more than one-quarter casualties. The fall of Flushing marked the effective end of the campaign, as active operations for the French shifted to Germany and to Italy, while Britain struggled to contend with French forces in Portugal and Egypt, and deal with the threat of the League of Armed Neutrality organised by Russia.

[1] Taken in the Nieuwe Diep were: Vervachten (64), Broederchap (50), Belle Antoinette (44), Constitutie (44), Duifzee (44), Expeditie (44), Hector (44), Unie (44), Heldin (28), Minerve (28), Alarm (24), Pullock (24) and Venus (24), together with the Indiamen Concordia (30), Rooswijk (16) and Zeewijk (16)

[2] The surrendered ships were: Washington (74), Cerberus (64), DeRuyter (64), Gelderland (64), Leyden (64), Utrecht (64), Batavier (50), Beschermer (50), Mars (44), Amphitrite (40), Ambuscade (32) and Galathea (16)

[3] Four warships of the Batavian Navy were also captured at Amsterdam while fitting out: Admiral Tromp (74), Dordrecht (74), Bellona (36) and Castor (36)

[4] This brigade comprised five Hanoverian regiments – the 2nd and 4th Cavalry, the 7th Dragoons and the 9th and 10th Light Dragoons, altogether some 1,600 sabres

[5] The Ninth (or Irish) Brigade under Colonel William Carr Beresford comprised the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 87th Foot, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 88th Foot.

[6] The Union Brigade under Colonel Henry Lord Paget consisted of the 1st Royal Dragoons, the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) and the 5th Royal Irish Dragoons


Saturday, July 6th 2019, 10:37am

A very interesting read, thanks for sharing this. I am currently reading about the British Army during the 18th century so this is very timely.


Saturday, July 6th 2019, 5:27pm

A very interesting read, thanks for sharing this. I am currently reading about the British Army during the 18th century so this is very timely.

I am glad you found it interesting. Many of the elements are based on historical fact, though I have taken liberties with the overall narrative.


Saturday, July 6th 2019, 11:24pm

Alternate history is made by alternate people, and so I give you an alternate biography.


Benjamin Thompson

Sir Benjamin Thompson, FRS (26 March 1753 – 21 August 1814) was an Anglo-American physicist and inventor whose challenges to established physical theory were part of the 19th Century revolution in thermodynamics.

Early Life in America

Thompson was born in rural Woburn, Province of Massachusetts, in the year 1753. He was educated mainly at the village school, although he sometimes attended lectures by Professor John Winthrop at Harvard College. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to a merchant of the nearby town of Salem. Thompson's prospects changed abruptly in 1772. He met, charmed and married a rich and well-connected heiress named Sarah Rolfe, moved to Portsmouth, Province of New Hampshire, and through his wife's influence with the governor, was appointed a major in a New Hampshire Militia.

When the American Revolution began, Thompson was a man of property and standing in New England, and was opposed to the rebels. He was active in recruiting loyalist troops to fight the rebels, which earned him the enmity of the popular party. Fleeing to safety in Boston, he entered British Army, rising to the rank of colonel commanding the King’s American Dragoons, a corps of provincial cavalry. While serving in America he conducted experiments concerning the force of gunpowder, the results of which were widely acclaimed when eventually published, in 1781, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Thus, when he moved to London at the conclusion of the war, he already had a reputation as a scientist.

Army Reforms

Knighted in 1784 in recognition of his services in the American War, Thompson found himself drawn into the circle of military reformers seeking to address the shortcomings laid bare by the outcome of the late war. Appointed Deputy Quartermaster-General to the Forces late in 1785 he undertook a redesign of the uniforms of the British Army, introduced new types of carts, wagons and tents and improved the rations of the common soldier, drawing on his experience in the recently concluded war. During this work he invented what would become known as Thompson’s Soup, a nutritious meal that was the basis for both army rations and for the feeding of the urban poor. He also studied methods of cooking, heating and lighting, including the relative costs and efficiencies of wax candles, tallow candles and oil lamps.

Experiments on Heat

Thompson’s experiments on gunnery and explosives led to an interest in heat. He devised a method for measuring the specific heats of solids. He next investigated the insulating properties of various materials including fur, wool and feathers. He correctly appreciated that the insulating properties of these natural materials arose from the fact that they inhibit the convection of air.

His most important scientific work centered on the nature of heat. In his seminal work, An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Source of the Heat which is Excited by Friction (1798) he argued that it was not the caloric of then-current scientific thinking but a form of motion. Thompson had observed the frictional heat generated by boring cannon at the famous Carron Works near Falkirk in Scotland. He argued that the seemingly indefinite generation of heat was incompatible with the caloric theory. He contended that the only thing communicated to the barrel was motion. Though this work met with a hostile reception, it was subsequently important in establishing the laws of conservation of energy later in the 19th Century.

Thompson was an active and prolific inventor, developing improvements for chimneys and fireplaces and inventing the double boiler, a kitchen range, and a drip coffeepot. He patented the Thompson Fireplace, a much more efficient way to heat a room than earlier fireplaces. Many fashionable London houses were modified to his instructions, and became smoke-free. Thompson became a celebrity when news of his success became widespread. His work was also very profitable, and much imitated when he published his analysis of the way chimneys worked. He was also a pioneer of photometry, the measurement of light. He invented a photometer and introduced the standard candle, the predecessor of the candela, as a unit of luminous intensity. His standard candle was made from the oil of a sperm whale, to rigid specifications.

Later Life

With Sir Joseph Banks, he established the Royal Institution of Great Britain in 1799. The pair chose Sir Humphry Davy as the first lecturer. He endowed the Thompson medals of the Royal Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and endowed a professorship at Harvard University. In 1803, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1804, he married Marie-Anne Lavoisier, the widow of the great French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, his American wife having died since his emigration. He continued his scientific work until his death on 21 August 1814.


Tuesday, July 9th 2019, 8:22pm

Nice work, very neatly done.


Saturday, July 13th 2019, 2:41am

Military thinking can be hide-bound; or it can be adaptable - and so a piece on how lessons learned might change it.


British Military and Naval Observers During The American Civil War

Among the European powers that sent official observers to America between 1861 and 1865, Britain stood alone in terms the number, quality and continuity of her representatives. From the outset of hostilities through the surrender of the last Confederate army, a group of British officers labored to learn the lessons of the first great industrial war. The causes of such interests were many - the potential for conflict with the Union stemming from Union provocations and Confederate intrigues; the dismal performance of the British Army in the recently-concluded Crimean War; the outcry for military reform; and the burgeoning Volunteer movement, which saw in the mass armies of the Union and the Confederacy its own raison d'etre.

The British Mission was led by a succession of excellent officers, of whom Lieutenant Colonel Henry Charles Fletcher, Scots Fusilier Guards, was the first. In 1863 Lieutenant Colonel Garnet Wolsey, 43rd Light Infantry, succeeded Fletcher and in 1865 Wolsey was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gallwey, Royal Engineers. Other officers who served with the Mission included: Captain Henry Alderson, 27th Fusiliers; Captain Francis Beaumont, Royal Engineers; Captain George Dennison, 71st Light Infantry; Captain Richard Grant, Royal Engineers; Captain Gerald Henderson, 2nd Dragoons; Captain Edward Hewett, Royal Artillery; Captain Thomas Mahon, Royal Engineers; Major Harold Smyth, Royal Marines; and Lieutenants Richard Harrison and Thomas Price, Royal Navy. The inclusion of naval and marine officers was unprecedented.

Fully accredited with the Union authorities, the Mission examined numerous aspects of the Union war effort, both in the field and in the factories of the Northern states. The observations of the Mission's members, direct and indirect, were embodied in a series of confidential documents filed with the War Office - ranging from battle reports to in-depth strategic analyses, as well as reports on development in ordnance and naval construction. These documents are summarized thus:

No.1 - Report on the United States Military Academy at West Point (1862)
No.2 - Notes on Construction of Armored River Gunboats (1862)
No.3 - Observations on the Action at Malvern Hill, Virginia (1862)
No.4 - Observations on the Action at Corinth, Mississippi (1862)
No.5 - Observations on the Action at Sharpsburg, Maryland (1863)
No.6 - Report on the Campaign in the Virginia Peninsula (1863)
No.7 - Notes on Deployment of Seacoast Artillery (1863)
No.8 - Notes on Confederate Cavalry Operations (1863)
No.9 - Report on the Campaign in the Valley Of Virginia (1863)
No.10 - Notes On the Employment of Rifled Artillery by the Union Army (1863)
No.11 - Notes on the Employment of Field Works and Entrenchments (1863)
No.12 - Description of the Sharps Breech loading Rifle (1863)
No.13 - Report on Naval Operations on the Western Rivers (1863)
No.14 - Observations on the Action at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (1863)
No.15 - Description of the Spencer Breech loading Rifle (1864)
No.16 - Observations on the Action at Chickamauga Creek, Georgia (1864)
No.17 - Report on the Activities of the United States Military Railroad (1864)
No.18 - Report on the Activities of the United States Signal Corps (1864)
No.19 - Report on the Campaign in Maryland and Pennsylvania (1864)
No.20 - Report on the Activities of the United States Sanitary Commission (1864)
No.21 - Description of the Henry Breech loading Carbine (1864)
No.22 - Report on Naval Operations on the Western Rivers (1864)
No.23 - Report on the Naval Siege of Charleston, South Carolina (1864)
No.24 - Notes on the Activities of the Mississippi Marine Brigade of the Union Army (1864)
No.25 - Report on the Western Campaign, 1862-1863 (1864)
No.26 - Observations on the Action at Spotsylvania, Virginia (1864)
No.27 - Observations on the Action at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee (1864)
No.28 - Observations on the Action at Cold Harbor, Virginia (1865)
No.29 - Observations on the Fall of Atlanta, Georgia (1864)
No.30 - Notes on the Employment of Coloured Troops by the Union Army (1865)
No.31 - Notes on the Confederate Powder Works At Augusta, Georgia (1865)
N0.32 -Report on the Campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas (1866)

The reports of the British Mission stimulated a renaissance in British military thought. In contrast to the Continental powers - whose interest in the American Civil War was much less and quickly overshadowed by the results of the Franco-Prussian War - British military thinkers absorbed many of the lessons learned by the Union Army. The impact of the breech loading rifle, rifled artillery and entrenchments - manifesting itself in horrendous casualties - drove British officers to devise remedies, albeit imperfect ones.

Captains Henderson and Dennison were prominent in this revival. Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, published in 1877, saw a detailed yet readable exposition of the infantry tactics worked out by Union and Confederate armies as applicable to a European setting. This work described open order field tactics that placed emphasis on rapid, accurate musketry, the use of covering fire, fire and movement and the use of ground. The pair's second work, Combined Arms, was published in 1880, and covered the wider sphere of cooperation between the combat arms - the use of cavalry for scouting and screening missions, as opposed to shock action - and the vital importance of logistics. The latter topic engrossed nearly one-fifth of the entire work and clearly set forth the needs of a modern military force for adequate logistics, the advantages and disadvantages accruing from railways, and the use of strategic movement to gain tactical advantage. Many of the ideas enunciated in Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics and Combined Arms were to be embodied in the post-Cardwell Field Service Regulations Of 1883.

Lieutenant Colonel Gallwey, who also was to serve as military observer with the Prussian Army during its victorious campaign in France, took a wider view of the American conflict. In 1884 he completed his work, Operational Art, an in-depth analysis of the campaigns of Ulysses Grant and William Sherman contrasted with the more recent victories of Helmut von Moltke. He argued that the Austrian defeat at Sadowa, like that of the French at Sedan, were but tactical triumphs – that despite the collapse of the French Imperial army the national ardor of the French people dragged the conflict through a difficult autumn and bitter winter.

He characterized the American Civil War as a contest of will, in which no one defeat on the battlefield could decide the outcome of the war. Noting that the Union was able to sustain a number of tactical defeats, he argued that eventually it found commanders who would pursue the correct strategy of destroying the enemy's ability and will to wage war. The proper course of strategy, Gallwey argued, was to isolate the enemy's forces, achieve superiority on the chosen battlefield by strategic movement, penetrate the enemy's rear to disrupt or destroy his ability to resist, and bring the war home to his civilian population and thus undermine his will to make war. Tactical defeats should not, in his estimation, deflect the successful general from such a course.

Disseminated widely through the British Army, the concepts of Henderson, Dennison, Gallwey and other observers on the American Civil War had great impact. In 1914 the British Army alone was prepared - psychologically - for the mass carnage of the Western Front, and the contrast between British and French solutions to the deadlock would be illustrative.


Sunday, July 14th 2019, 12:17am

The Aegean Campaign, 1943 - 1945

A summary piece on a larger scale.


The Aegean Campaign, 1943 - 1945

Since the Italian entry into the Second World War Rhodes and the islands of the Dodecanese had been a strategic target in the eyes of British planners. In Axis hands they dominated the eastern entrance to the Aegean Sea and were a fulcrum for placing pressure on Turkey; in Allied hands the situation would reverse. Indeed, during the winter of 1940-41 plans had been drawn up for an amphibious assault on Rhodes, plans rendered moot by the German invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece, as well as by the appearance of the Afrika Korps in Libya.

With the conclusion of the North African Campaign British planners again looked to the Aegean, for the strategic attractions of that theatre were still present. The American chiefs of staff, who favoured an early cross-Channel attack in France, immediately presented opposition to such a course of action. Diversion of effort to any part of the Mediterranean was viewed with disfavour and no little suspicion. Support of the Americans was gained for the capture of Sicily and the invasion of the Italian mainland -- for very sound reasons of military and political strategy -- but little more. Grudgingly the Americans agreed to contingency operations should Italy desert the Axis and join the Allies (which did come about) which could also form part of the operational diversion plan for the seizure of Sicily and the subsequent operations on the Italian mainland. In this atmosphere was born Operation Accolade, the genesis of the entire Aegean campaign.

The Fifth Indian Division, then in Palestine, was designated to provide the muscle for Accolade, which, in its operational diversion form, was to be a full-fledged amphibious assault on Rhodes. Ostentatious exercises, utilising a minimum of landing craft, were put in hand and these were successful in diverting to Greece troops that might have opposed the Sicilian landings, Operation Husky. Following the success of the Sicilian operations the American chiefs sought to emasculate the Accolade force but were opposed by their British counterparts. Secret negotiations were under way with the Bagdolio government and the British planners were reluctant to forego the opportunity of taking Rhodes by coup d'main. Robbed of much of its support by American intransigence Accolade survived as a contingency shoestring.

The overthrow of Mussolini and the defection of the Bagdolio Government to the allies transformed the situation. The Italian garrison in Rhodes and the other islands of the Dodecanese rose up against the small German detachments that shared residence with them. Hot fighting ensued and on 9 September 1943 Operation Accolade was activated, with the immediate target of Rhodes.

Air superiority, or at least effective air cover, was an immediate necessity as carrier based aircraft were not available. On the night of 10/11 September the cruiser Fiji and six destroyers shipped two battalions of the Fifth Indian Division and two hundred RAF technicians from Cyprus to Rhodes, reinforcing the embattled Italians. The next day long-range Lightning fighters arrived at landing grounds on Rhodes to combat the Luftwaffe, which had hitherto dominated the scene. Under the cover of land based fighter aircraft additional convoys were run, with the final elements of the Fifth Indian Division arriving on 22 September.

Using a combination of destroyers, landing craft, fishing vessels and captured naval barges relief was brought to the beleaguered Italian garrisons of Leros, Samos, Cos, Kalimnos, Karpathos, and the intervening smaller islands. The forward elements of the Tenth Indian Division arrived in Rhodes on 27 October to supplement the Fifth Indian Division, with the entire division arriving over the subsequent two weeks.

More than 4,000 German troops were taken prisoner before conclusion of the Accolade operations, in addition to 2,500 other German casualties, the loss of over one hundred German aircraft and substantial German losses in coastal shipping. British losses were comparatively light, reflecting the superior mobility of allied forces at sea once command of the air had been assured.

The official conclusion of Accolade on 1 November 1943 saw the imposition of a lull -- the American chiefs of staff were adamant in refusing support for further expansion of the Aegean campaign on military grounds, while the Russian government opposed a widening of British influence in the Balkans on political grounds. Nevertheless, additional British forces were transferred to the Aegean, the Fourth Indian Division arriving in December 1943, with strong air and Coastal Forces detachments. The Royal Hellenic Navy was heavily involved in these activities, engaging in patrolling, shelling German coastal positions and infiltrating raiding parties.

Crete manifested itself as the next logical target of British strategy, despite American objections. Following its capture by Axis airborne troops in the spring of 1941 Crete had been turned by into a fortress by its German captors. Its garrison comprised more than 20,000 high quality troops, whose elimination or neutralisation was a viable objective. In February 1944 decrypted German signals disclosed that an evacuation of the garrison by sea was contemplated. This intelligence galvanised British efforts to seize a bridgehead on the island while intensifying interdiction of supply routes to and from the island. The result was Operation Jubilee.

Jubilee called for the Fourth Indian Division to execute landings in the Gulf of Mirabelle, with Neapolis as its immediate goal. It commenced in the early morning hours of 5 March 1944, and was marked by quick success. The German forces fell back to the west with token resistance. Heraklion was liberated on St. Patrick's Day but more serious opposition was encountered when pursuing British forces reached the slopes of Mount Ida. The Germans attempted a last ditch defence while the bulk of their troops effected a withdrawal to the mainland.

British light forces and aircraft acted to stem this movement, which resulted in the three-day Battle of the Cythera Channel. In this action numerous small German convoys composed of motor fishing vessels, naval barges, and small merchantmen escorted by light forces, were attacked and savaged, resulting in heavy casualties to the fleeing Germans. On 24 March the Germans suspended evacuation efforts in the face of their continuing losses. The trapped German forces remaining in Crete, boxed in by landings in the Gulf of Canea by the Tenth Indian Division, surrendered on 10 April 1944. More than 6,000 German troops were taken prisoner and an estimated 10,000 died during the defence of Crete or in the unsuccessful evacuation.

Flanked on both sides the Cyclades were the next logical objective for the British forces, a move the Germans were quick to anticipate. Operating by night German barges were able to evacuate their outlying posts -- Anaphe, Thira, Amerges, and the like, concentrating their forces on such strongholds as Melos, Naxos and Andros. Following upon the Normandy landings in June 1944 the German High Command began to organise an evacuation of its forces from the outlying Greek islands on a massive scale. British forces, reinforced by additional shipping freed by the success of Operations Overlord and Anvil-Dragoon, were quick to follow.

The Fifth Indian Division, supported by Greek auxiliary forces and the Palestinian Brigade, conducted a leap-frog pursuit of the Germans northward along the islands off the Turkish coast. Chios was occupied on 10 July, Lesbos on 22 August and Lemnos of 18 September. The only significant resistance on this progress was encountered at the city of Mytilene on Lesbos, where the German garrison held out for three days in the face of overwhelming odds. The Tenth Indian Division, in a series of smaller leaps, drove the Germans from the Cyclades. These actions culminated in landings on the Greek mainland. The Thirty Sixth Infantry Division landed at Piraeus on 3 October 1944, occupying strategic points in Attica, while the Fourth Indian Division arrived at Salonika three days later. This marked the end of the Aegean campaign proper and, regrettably, the outbreak of civil war in Greece itself.

In perspective the Aegean campaign, despite its many detractors among the American chiefs of staff, must be considered a success. Until June 1944 the three Indian divisions committed to the Aegean tied down many German troops who could have been deployed to Normandy, Russia or Italy. Serious casualties were inflicted on the Germans -- more than 15,000 prisoners alone were taken -- at comparatively small loss. As a lesson in maneuver the Aegean campaign demonstrated economy of force at its best. These were the military successes. Politically, the Aegean campaign undermined German influence throughout the Balkans. Turkey, encouraged by the Allied success, declared war on Germany in August 1944, opening the Dardanelles to Allied shipping. In the Greek civil war, fought by the Soviet -inspired National Liberation Front, the presence of substantial British forces turned the tide against the insurgents. By these accounts the Aegean campaign must be considered a success.


Tuesday, July 30th 2019, 2:22pm

Fantastic work, excellently written :thumbsup:


Tuesday, July 30th 2019, 5:10pm

Fantastic work, excellently written :thumbsup:

Thank you! Glad to see you back in harness. I hope all is well with you.


Thursday, August 1st 2019, 11:02am

Fantastic work, excellently written :thumbsup:

Thank you! Glad to see you back in harness. I hope all is well with you.

Hi Bruce,

yes .. . I had a small surgery in June, that's why I was not here for the last few weeks. But now everything is fine again.


Friday, August 2nd 2019, 11:29am

Good to see you back and hope you have recovered ok.