Uniforms of the Ages: Russian Guards in the Napoleonic Wars

Russia’s Imperial Guard is overlooked by many Napoleonic historians, as the Imperial guard of Napoleon is concentrated upon. Yet the personal guard of Alexander I (Paul I before his death in 1801) is still a massive part of the history, as Russia and Austria held against the French invaders. Russia’s common infantryman wore a dark green coat with white pants and a plumed shako, but the guards wore more elaborate and complex uniforms that rivaled any ornate French uniforms. Grand Duke Constantin Pavlovich’s Imperial Guard became an integral part of the Eastern Napoleonic Wars and helped the Russians all the way to Paris in 1814.

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Different Russian Guard Infantry regiments

Infantry

The Imperial Guard in 1800 was four regiments strong: Preobazhensky, Semenovsky, Ismailovksy, and Guard Jagers. Two more regiments – Lithuanian Life Guard and Finnish Life Guard – were added in 1812 in time for the Battle of Borodino. Finally, two grenadier regiments joined as the “Young Guard” in 1813. What made these units different from regular Russian infantry. First of all, their height was drastically different. The minimum height of a guardsman was 1.71 m (5’6 ft) compared to the diminutive 1.56 (5’1 ft) of a regular. Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, the guards served mostly in St. Petersburg as guards of the Czar and sent officers to regular units. Many of the guards came from Russian nobility rather than the basic origins of regular soldiers. The guards outranked regular privates in the Russian Army and were also given Prussian drilling- arguably the best in contemporary Europe.

Russian guards wore the same coat and pants as the regular infantryman, except with different facings and cuffs. For example, the Semeonvksy Regiment had blue collars, red facings, and blue cuffs. They each had specific colour restrictions on drumsticks and in 1800,  Imperial Guard Infantry even had mustache restrictions. Their shakos were the main difference than regular troops. A guard had white cord on their shako as well as a much more elaborate badge than the standard Russian eagle or grenade symbol.

Cavalry

Napoleonic cavalry is always associated with vivid colours, and the Guard Cavalry is no exception. The cavalry consisted of dragoons, hussars, cossacks, lancers, the Lifeguard Horse, and the Guard Cavalry Regiment. Each unit wore a different coloured coat:

  • Cuirassiers: White
  • Dragoons: Green
  • Lancers (Uhlans)- Blue
  • Cossacks- Red

Veterans were moved into both guard units and the cuirassiers after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The cavalry set restrictions on horse colour between certain squadrons of each regiment as well. The oldest of the seven guard cavalry regiments was the Lifeguard Horse, founded in 1721.

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Guard Cavalry

Guard Cuirassiers wore the traditional breastplate and a tall, plumed helmet which was blackened like the cuirasse. Saddle pads reflected a regiment’s facings and each had a star of St. Andrew stitched into the side. Dragoons were the same except they did not wear a breastplate. The hussars wore a white-plumed shako with a red coat and pelisse, each braided in gold. Uhlans wore a blue czapka and a white sash over their waists.

Artillery

The Guard Artillery were a small branch, but were still important. Their branch colour, red, adorned their shako cord and shoulder straps. Their collar was black, and they wore the traditional Russian dark green coats. White breeches completed their uniform. Guard Horse Artillery wore the same except their shako had a tall white plume and they wore green pants with two red stripes.

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Brief History of the Croatian War of Independence

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1990- SAO Krajina formed

July 1991- Independence

August 1991- Vukovar

Sept. 1991- Battle of the Barracks

Oct. 1991- Dubrovnik

Oct. 1991- Zagreb TV bombed

Nov. 1991- Vukovar massacre

1992- UN intervenes

Jan 1993- Operation Maslenica

Sept 1993- Operation Medak Pocket

1994- Siege of Bihać

1995- Operation Flash

1995- Zagreb attacked

Aug. 1995- Operation Storm

Nov. 1995- Erdut Agreement

Bernardo O’Higgins: Chile’s Finest General

O’Higgins was born on August 20, 1778 to an Irish father and a Spanish mother. His father, Ambrose, was elected Prime Minister of Chile in 1788, paving the way for his son to become an important figure in Chile’s history. Bernardo left for Peru to attend college, later travelling to England and Spain. By 1801, he returned to Chile after his father’s death. When he returned, he became involved in politics and was a key member of the nationalist movement.

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Bernardo O’Higgins

In 1808, Spain was in turmoil as French armies swept through the country. Seeing their opportunity, many South Americans rose up against imperial rule. Two years later, politicians in Santiago announced independence and elected new leaders of the rebelling nation. The initial process was peaceful, as Chilean nationalists did not bother with relations to the Viceroyalty of Peru (one of Spain’s two American colonial regions). However, Spain returned with force in 1814 and attempted to reclaim Chile and other rebellious nations. At the Battle of Rancagua on Oct 1-2, Bernardo O’Higgins led Chilean troops against veteran Spanish forces of the Napoleonic Wars. O’Higgins was crushed. Without reinforcements from Santiago, the Chileans suffered some 1,000 casualties out of an initial force of 2,000. This battle marked the beginning of the Reconquista of America.

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The Battle of Chacabuco

O’Higgins fled to neighbouring Argentina where he and Argentine nationalist, Jose de San Martin, began forming a new army. In January 1817, the two returned to Chile with their new force, the Army of the Andes. San Martin’s tactical genius and O’Higgins’ decisiveness won the Battle of Chacabuco. The Battle of Maipu was on April 5, 1818 near Santiago. The 5,000-strong Army of the Andes attacked Manuel Osorio’s Spanish force. Using his grenadiers and cazadores to his advantage, O’Higgins countered Spanish attacks while San Martin attacked with the main force and artillery. The victory at Maipu is viewed as the decisive battle for Chile’s independence.

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O’Higgins (left without the bicorne) speaking with San Martin at the Battle of Maipu

O’Higgins went on to create the Chilean Navy later that year, as well as becoming the leader of Chile itself. While in power, he tried removing power of the oligarchy, but failed to do so. Regular attacks on Spanish Royalists and other supporters tainted his reign, as his campaigns became known as the Guerra de Muerte. O’Higgins abdicated in 1823 after losing popular support, and was exiled to Argentina. Years later, O’Higgins and his family were allowed to return but cardiac issues caused him many problems. He became an avid supporter of the navy and colonization before his death in 1842. His last words were “Magallanes…magallanes” which showed his pro-colonisation ideals. Chile did control the Strait of Magellan later on after his death.

O’Higgins is revered in Chile to this day. Massive celebrations occurred on the bicentenary of his birth in 1978, and a Chilean football team is named in his honour. While not as remembered as Bolivar, O’Higgins was an advocat of Latin American independence, one of Chile’s most important founding fathers, and a bold general to be remembered.

Kiwis in Combat: New Zealand in WWII

While New Zealand sits some 11,000 miles (18,000 km) away from London, they gave their heart and soul for the Empire during the Second World War. Many people have heard of the contributions of Australia or Canada in the war, but never New Zealand. The NZ Division underwent tests of strength in numerous battles, most notably the Battle of Crete in 1941 as Blitzkrieg swept through the Mediterranean. New Zealand also produced an air force which would play an important role in the Pacific. From the deserts of North Africa to the chilly shores of Normandy, the Kiwis would stamp their mark on the war.

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A wartime poster for the New Zealanders

New Zealanders beared the brunt of the German Fallschirmjager attacks on Crete in May of 1941. With German and Italian troops in Greece, New Zealanders and other Commonwealth forces travelled to help protect the Balkans. Greece had been ultimately captures by Hitler’s forces and an airborne assault on Crete was imminent. Over 7,000 men of the New Zealand Division were stationed on the Mediterranean Island. Fallschirmjager landed in Crete on the 20th of May, fighting for the airfields around Malerne. A counterattack was launched three days later, but failed after their battalions became pinned around the airfields. Capt. Charles Upham, however, was awarded with a Victoria Cross for his bravery under fire. A new defensive line was organised, but German attacks on Galatas pushed them back and forced many supply issues. Another counterattack was launched, failing once more to defeat the Germans. The New Zealanders fell back once more and a new line was created at “42nd Street” named for the engineers who built it. A massive German attack on AZNAC positions was held, but the Allies retreated in the night. Many troops were sent to Egypt at night by ship once the Royal Navy arrived. By the 30th, most troops had retreated from Crete.

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Fallschirmjager at Crete

With NZ and British troops in Egypt, the battles for the desert began. In Operation Crusader, New Zealanders captured important coastal towns from the Germans while main British attacks by the 8th Army were underway. At Point 175, the New Zealanders suffered their heaviest casualties of the war, but they still pressed on towards Tobruk. Unfortunately, they were smashed back into Egypt, suffering 2,500 casualties total. At Second El Alamein, the NZ Division broke through German lines and forced them to retreat. They captured hundreds of German prisoners before pressing on towards Tunisia in late 1942. The New Zealanders would be sent to Italy in 1943, fighting through the country. New Zealanders were present at the disaster at Monte Cassino in 1944, eventually pressing onto Trieste. The Kiwis even had a minor presence at D-Day, protecting the fleet from the air and at sea.

In the Pacific, New Zealand felt threatened by Japan’s growing presence, especially after the 1942 attack on Darwin, Australia. Thousands of New Zealanders joined the ranks and were sent to Africa, but a fair few remained on their hemisphere. They fought in the Dutch East Indies and also provided airbases to the United States for attacks on Japan. Kiwis arrived on Guadalcanal after the battle as an occupying force and proceeded to capture more of the Solomon Islands in 1943. The 4th Division later returned home in 1944.

New Zealand’s navy, the RNZN, provided needed support to British operations in the South Pacific. HMS Achilles and HMS Leander were sent to fight at the Battle of River Plate in 1939. These ships were named HMS since the title HMZNS wasn’t created until October 1941. Some 7,000 sailors would join the Royal Navy as they helped in the Normandy Operations of 1944. The RNZN also fought in the naval battles for the Solomon Islands.

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The Maori Battalion preforming the Haka in Egypt  

Another component of New Zealand’s forces, the RNZAF, numbered a mere 102 planes at the outbreak of war in 1939. Immediately, their efforts greatly increased as they formed new pilot schools in Taieri, New Plymouth, and other locations. Some Kiwis formed a part of the RAF, becoming No. 75 squadron. More RAF squadrons were formed of New Zealanders and they managed seven squadrons total in the RAF. With Japan’s entry to the war in 1941, the NZ airmen became involved in the battle for Malaya and Singapore. Worries about an Axis invasion of the nation prompted a massive anti-invasion campaign. Kittyhawks arrived in 1942 to reinforce the RNZAF and in November, the NZ pilots engaged Japanese pilots for the first time above Guadalcanal. Over the next few years, they received better equipment and supplies. In 1945, the RNZAF mostly aided US air assaults on Japan as escorts. By the end of the war, they numbered some 42,000 personnel. Three pilots received the VC for their gallantry in the war: Lloyd Trigg, Leonard Trent, and James Ward.

One important New Zealander in the war was the aforementioned Charles Upham, who won two Victoria Crosses. Only three people, including Capt. Upham, have won multiple VCs. The Christchurch native won his first VC in Crete as he single handedly charged a machine gun nest with grenades in hand. Upham destroyed the bunker and quickly destroyed another, before finally finishing off a German Bofors gun. He soon grabbed a wounded comrade and ran back to his line. The next year, Upham won his second VC at the Battle of El Alamein. He commandeered a Jeep, driving it into the German line and firing his machine gun wildly. Despite his wounds, the captain spotted German units for the Commonwealth troops who had become separated from the main force. He was wounded again and continued to fight before his capture. He was even transferred to Colditz, one of the most notorious German prisons of the war. Upham was later quoted to have said “I don’t want to be treated differently from any other bastard,” showing how humble the soldier really was.

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Capt. Charles Upham after being awarded his first Victoria Cross in 1941

While New Zealand is not as noticeable as the USSR or Britain, they still provided much needed aid for the Allies in the war. Without contributions from minor nations, the world may have fallen to fascism and not been the way it is today. Thanks to the bravery of men like Charles Upham and other Kiwis, the world was made a safe place for all of us to live to this day.

Book Review: Passchendaele

Nick Lloyd released his new book just before the centennial of the Battle of Passchendale (also known as 3rd Ypres). Passchendaele is synonymous with mud and death as British and Dominion troops clashed with Germans over a small ridge and a few wooded plots of land. Names like Polygon Wood. Poperinge, Langemark, and Menin Road became etched in history as some of the bloodiest spots of the entire war. The churned up countryside of Flanders became home to the bodies of 670,000 soldiers and millions of horses. This gruesome battle would put the new British “bite and hold” tactics against the might on the Hindenburg Line.

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Praise:

The book opens with the failure of the Nivelle Offensive by the French in the spring of 1917 and then gives a small description of the Battle for Messines Ridge. These two battles help one understand the background for the Battle of Passchendaele and illustrates the new tactical revolutions the British command underwent. Every chapter opens with a quote about the battle and uncovers some of the feelings of general and private alike. One harrowing quote that opens a chapter is an excerpt from a soldier’s letter to his parents: “Our dead were lying in heaps. It was the worst slaughter I had ever seen.” Another quote in the book was by Hermann von Kuhl, the Chief of Staff to Crown Prince Rupprecht. Kuhl said that “no division could last more than a fortnight in this Hell.” Passchendaele is full of primary sources from both the British and the German forces. Lloyd, a professor at Kings College London, has great access to the collections of the Imperial War Museum and the British National Archives. He also traveled to Germany to collect sources at the Bundesarchiv and the Bayerisches Hauptstaatarchiv. He also has sources from the Australians and Canadians, who played a major role in the latter stages of the battle. The book has about two Victoria Cross citations per chapter during the battle showing the incredible heroism in the face of danger. Lance Corporal Walter Peeler and Sergeant Lewis McGee both captured German machine gun bunkers by themselves under fire at Poelcappe and Zonnebecke.  There are plenty of other amazing stories of soldiers such as them in the battle. Lloyd’s maps are very good too, indicating the objectives which troops were ordered to take. The photographs are very good and one which was very striking was Polygon Wood during the battle, completely leveled by the scars of artillery. The book really shows the internal struggles between the English command. The conflict between Haig and his subordinates caused many problems, as did the fights between the Army generals also, notably Henry Plumer and Sir Hugh Gough. Lloyd’s writing shows how horrible the battle was for a common soldier, shuffling closer to death in a wet, muddy hole. I have used Lloyd’s other books in historical essays and the amount of detail you can gather from his books is astonishing. This book continues that trend. A perfect blend of historical sources, bravery, high command, and gripping battle descriptions make this one of the standout history books of the year. The book also ends quite abruptly without any description of future events, which bothered me a little.

Criticism:

There is not much that I have a problem with in the book. I initially had some problems recognizing when the Battle of Passchendaele officially started. You could easily read a good deal into the book thinking you were still at the Battle of Messines Ridge. Another point which sometimes bothered me was the cutbacks to the Italian Front. The Battle of Capporetto was happening during the Battle of Passchendaele, so Lloyd mentions the fighting in Italy every few chapters. It doesn’t make much of a difference with or without it. Capporetto simply reveals a little more of the character of David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time.

Passchendaele is a great book to fill in a gap on the Western Front history section. A book like this really needed to be published to tell how much this battle influenced British tactics and damaged the mind of the common soldier. The book also reveals how much of a stalemate the war was in late 1917. Many people simply label the German troops as poor at this point, simply due to the knowledge of the Entente victory in 1918. This is not true. German forces showed incredible resistance and strength during the battle, taking back the ridge within two weeks. Nick Lloyd is a great author and this book makes it to the top of the tree for the holidays this year.

Rating:

4.5 / 5

“We Shall Enter it With Soil Saturated In Blood” : The Six Day War

Israel and the surrounding Arab nations had major tensions since its founding in 1948. The small Jewish state constantly clashed with the other surrounding nations and especially the Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. After two previous wars, Israel and the surrounding nations were on the brink of yet another armed conflict.

While tensions rose, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered his military to mobilise to attack neighbouring Israel on May 14th, 1967. Egypt’s ally, Jordan, mobilised around the same time at the order of King Hussein. Syria committed itself to the Arabic triumvirate, and so, Israel was surrounded by enemies.

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Israeli Centurion tanks

After a vote by the Israeli government, the IDFl quickly attacked an off-guard Egypt in a massive preemptive strike in the Sinai, named Operation Moked. On June 5, Israeli pilots destroyed a massive amount of Egyptian fighter jets before they could take off from the runways of air bases. Some 300 Egyptian fighters were destroyed and the IDF struck at Syrian and Jordanian air bases in a similar manner The Sinai front was opened, and the Egyptian army panicked without any air support. Israeli Centurions rolled into the Sinai and at the Battle of Abu-Aelia, wiped out any enemy resistance. The IDF reached the banks of the Suez canal in a mere four days.

With the Sinai secured, Israel turned its attention quickly to news from the Syrian front, as enemy troops were pressing onto Jerusalem. Col. Motta Gur’s 55th Parachute Brigade was ordered to defend the city while more troops could be sent to aid them. Early on June 6th, the paratroopers slashed their way through Jordanian positions at Ammunition Hill, suffering over 200 casualties. Another battalions fought their way in and around the Rockefeller Museum, suffering greatly at the hands of Jordanian machine guns. Moshe Dayan, the Israeli commander planned to take the Jordanian positions the next day. Uzi Narkiss, and IDF officer, said that Jerusalem hadn’t been taken from the east since King David. Dayan cooly replied “then this will be the second and last time.” On the 7th, Gur charged the Temple Mount and captured it quickly. An Israeli soldier raised his flag on top of the Dome of the Rock, but was ordered to remove it. Israeli troops celebrated. Jerusalem was theirs.

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Israeli Paratroopers in Jerusalem

IDF reinforcements quickly attacked the West Bank of the Jordan, catching King Hussein’s weary army off-guard. North of that, Israeli troops tried holding off against a massive attacking force of Syrian troops streaming up the Golan Heights. After days of brutal fighting, the Israelis emerged victorious on June 9th with the help of their air superiority. Israel took staggering losses, with 115 confirmed dead on the Golan Heights. Overall, they had suffered some 3,000 casualties.

Israel could have easily pressed on, crippling the three Arab nations , but decided to broker for peace. On June 19th, the nations met to discuss peace, and Israel retained the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. In August, the Arab nations met in Khartoum, Sudan, and decided that they would no longer agree to any peace terms with Israel and would be aggressive in future endeavours towards the nation.