Rhodesia: The Colossus of Southern Africa

The Modern Wars of Africa are some of the bloodiest and racially divided of the 20th century and no nation exemplified those traits quite like Southern Rhodesia, an autonomous nation under the control of the British Empire. Named for Cecil Rhodes, Rhodesia lasted for a decent portion of the 20th century until it became Zimbabwe in 1980 after years of conflict. Whites led the government in Rhodesia much like South Africa, where blacks were violently suppressed.

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Rhodesian troops sitting on their tank armed with FALs and AK-47s

Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia, led his white supremacist supporters in the RF (Rhodesian Front). When he attempted in 1965 to create an independent Rhodesia, Britain was outraged. Not only was a colony declaring independence, but Smith was determined to repress all blacks in the country. Britain attempted to defuse the situation, but refused to send troops into Rhodesia. The United Nations criticized Smith’s regime’s blatant racism and encouraged sanctions to be imposed in order to cripple the economy. With a failing economy and international pressure, the blacks in Rhodesia rose up in order to create an independent Zimbabwe. Smith’s response? War.

In 1972, the white population of Rhodesia was overwhelmingly small compared to the black population. Apartheid-era South Africa assisted white Rhodesia with their economy and sent troops and police to keep things in order. Black independence movement like the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) took up arms against Smith’s regime in guerrilla and targeted attacks. Chinese-backed ZANU and Soviet-backed ZAPU stood mainly to remove the white elite from power and create a better government where the 4 million-strong black majority had the real power. ZANU attacked white farmers in the northeast in large guerrilla operations. This prompted Operation Hurricane that December, which managed to quiet the number of attacks.

 

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Map of the main Rhodesian operations against ZANU and ZAPU

The war trickled into Mozambique and Zambia as many ZANU and ZAPU bases were located there. As the Zimbabwe ‘Freedom Fighters’ butchered whites all throughout the nation, the Rhodesians stepped up their military attacks. Conscription escalated and no Rhodesians over 17 were allowed to leave the country to study in attempts to avoid draft. Those who refused to join were often arrested and tortured. The Rhodesian Bush War exploded into a racial war of atrocities. Villages were burned, civilians were slaughtered, and no quarter was given.

By 1976, the situation for white Rhodesia was becoming worse as forces clashed with Mozambican and Zambian troops on several occasions. The border was closed and the Rhodesian Air Force bombed multiple sites along the border as well. The whites were only supported by South Africa with just two precious rail lines. If they lost those, they would be alone. Tourism was halted as many became caught in the crossfire. The state of white Rhodesia was deteriorating fast as they fought Zimbabwean guerrillas, Zambian forces, and Mozambican troops. Operations Tangent and Repulse attempted to assuage threats to the east, but to no avail. Henry Kissinger met with the South African PM and managed to convince them to stop sending aid to Rhodesia. They were alone.

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Rhodesian Light Infantry outside their helicopter

Zimbabwean militants destroyed railroad bridges for Rhodesia’s supplies in 1976 and managed to further cripple the economy. Mozambican troops fought against Rhodesians but they were crushed by the RhAF. The USSR, the US, Britain, and the UN denounced the invasion, prompting Smith to remove his forces. By 1978, the war had reached peak brutality as 50 civilians were cut down and 106 militants were killed in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. Helicopter attacks by Rhodesian troops were common. By 1979, the war was too much for Smith’s white government. The Lancaster Agreement was signed, transferring power to the black majority. Zimbabwe became its own nation.under the leadership of Canaan Banana.

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A Brief History of Prussia

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1525- Duchy

1618- Brandenburgers

1701- Kingdom under Frederick I

1713- ‘The Soldier King’

1740- Frederick the Great

1772- Poland partition

1807- Battle of Jena

1815- Blucher in Belgium

1862- Bismark

1866- Battle of Koniggratz

1870- German Empire

1914- WW1

 

 

 

Johann von Tilly: the Holy Roman Empire’s Underrated Hero

The Thirty Years War raged across Europe in the 17th century with the Habsburg powers of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire clashing with Saxony, Sweden, France, and many others. While many place Albrecht von Wallenstein at the height of Habsburg strength, one commander of the Catholic League forces is overlooked- Johann Tserclaes, count von Tilly.

Johann Tserclaes, Count von Tilly

Tilly was born in the Spanish Netherlands in 1559 to Jesuits, the “warriors” of the Catholic Church. Tilly’s first combat experiences were in the 80 Years War against the Dutch with the Spanish. When Tilly was 35, he joined the Habsburg forces to fight the Turks in the Hungarian plains.

In 1609, Maximilian I of Bavaria created the Catholic League as opposition to the Protestant Union and Tilly was called upon to reform the Bavarian forces. The league would offer military support to any of its allies when provoked, and in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire called upon the League for aid. Ferdinand II claimed to own Bohemia & the Palatinate, ruled over by Frederick V, since his father had previously ruled the land. In an attempt to reclaim their lands, the Habsburg monarch turned to his Catholic allies to the west. Tilly’s forces combined in 1619 at Wurzburg, where the entire force numbered around 20,000. 7,000 of these men were Bavarian soldiers whom Tilly had previously commanded. The Bohemian revolt spread into Moravia, Styria, the Tyrol, and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire.

On November 8, 1620, Tilly’s Catholic forces clashed with the Czechs at the Battle of White Mountain. Outnumbering his opponent by almost 10,000 men, Tilly knew this battle would clear the way to Prague and it was imperative for him to win. The Czech forces of the Bohemian Estates (hereby known as the Estates) positioned themselves on high ground overlooking a valley. Artillery was places throughout the Estates’ lines while the middle was populated by Czechs and Austrian mercenaries. The Imperial forces under Count von Tilly were set in three lines with Cossacks from Poland and Spanish cavalry on the flanks. Imperial cavalry on the right wing charged the Estate positions to which their commander, Christian Anhalt, could not respond to. The left collapsed as the Estate infantry and cavalry routed. Anhalt commanded his middle to attack the Imperial forces but Tilly absorbed these assaults and managed to surround the Czech, who was captured. Irish Catholic Henry Fitzsimon led his troops to crush the rest of the Estate forces and Tilly achieved a stunning victory. Tilly continued past Prague and into Germany where he continued his string of impressive victories, much to the admiration of Ferdinand II.

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Estate forces being surrounded by Catholic cavalry at White Mountain

By 1625, Christian IV of Denmark sought ambitions to the south in the ever expanding 30 Years War. Tilly and Albrecht von Wallenstein led their forces north in order to confront the Protestant forces and in 1626, Tilly confronted the enemy at the Battle of Lutter. Tilly’s artillery was used to a massive advantage and when they repulsed a Danish assault, a cavalry charge routed the reorganizing Danes from the battlefield. Lutter cost the Danes some 6,000 men out of their 20,000; Tilly lost 200 men. With the Imperials in Jutland, Christian IV was forced to sign the Treaty of Lubeck which made him abandon support to the German Protestants.

Tilly was appointed commander of the Imperial Army afterthe Wallenstein debacle. Wallenstein’s power hungry manner and ignorance toward the Emperor cost Wallenstein his life. With Count von Tilly in command, Ferdinand II ordered him to move against the Swedish forces of Gustavus Adolphus who had invaded Germany in 1630. The Swedes had adopted Maurician tactics of the 80 Years War and created arguably the best fighting force of the pike and shot era. Tilly’s siege of Magdeburg ended in a victory, but his invasion of Saxony cost him an important ally. At Breitenfeld in 1631, Gustavus Adolphus’ forces devastated Tilly as his flank attempt was refused and eventually slaughtered by the Swedish-Saxon force. Tilly was forced to retreat back to Bohemia after losing 27,000 soldiers. Tilly positioned his troops on the River Lech and Gustavus Adolphus attacked rapidly. Tilly was wounded and died two weeks later.

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A statue of Tilly in Munich, Bavaria

While not the most notable general of the 30 Years War, Johann von Tilly remains an intriguing man whom we do not explore often. From being a Flemish soldier in the armies of the Holy Roman Empire to fighting off Czechs in the Bohemian Estate Wars, Tilly proved to be a major player of early 17th century warfare. His quick and comitted decisions led to many victories, but also drastic defeat at Breitenfeld. His quick death in a minor engagement really puts a stamp on his life and makes one realise how quickly even a general can fall from grace.

 

Dyrrachium: Normans down South

When one mentions the Normans, people think of William the Conqueror, Hastings, and the Domesday Book. However, the Normans attacked Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, Scotland, the Middle East, and even the Canary Islands. The ex-Scandinavians are remembered for their victory at Hastings, but the Battle of Dyrrachium in 1081 is an influential engagement too. Fought in present-day Durres, Albania, Dyrrachium was the culmination of the Norman’s first conquest into the Balkans, later ending in 1085.

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Alexios I, Emperor of Byzantium

So why were the Normans in the Adriatic? In 999, Norman pilgrims to the Holy Land settled in Salerno. When Saracens attacked the city, Normans fought back viciously an eventually decided to stay in what is known as the “Salerno Tradition.” There are more modern hypothesis but this particular one was a contemporary Italian account., whether it is true or not. What we do know for sure is that Normans aided Lombardy in their war against the Byzantines and many became mercenaries. Normans soon gained control of Southern Italy, and repelled attacks on Sicily by Arabs. They then set their sights on the Byzantine-controlled Balkans.

Robert Guiscard was born to Normans parents who had fought with the Lombards against Byzantium. He became Count of Apulia and turned his Norman troops towards Byzantium and prepared for war. He had experience in Sicily against the Arabs and quickly invaded with his son, Bohemund. In May, a fleet arrived on the shores of the Balkans with 30,000 soldiers. A small force attacked and captured the island of Corfu and then Guiscard’s forces marched on the capital of Illyria- Dyracchium. Alexios I of Byzantium rushed a messenger to Venice to ask the Doge for support. He sent the Venetian fleet who crushed the Normans in the Strait of Otranto with Greek Fire.

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Guiscard continued his siege and prepared to face Alexios I’s army of 20,000 men. On October 16th, Alexios snuck his army to the high ground behind the Norman lines at night in order to swiftly attack next morning. Norman scouts alerted Guiscard who shifted his forces to meet the Byzantine assault. The Norman cavalry feint failed and a counterattack by the Byzantine left routed the Normans. Allegedly, Guiscard’s wife rallied them back into action. The legendary Varangian Guard, made up of Vikings and Saxons, sliced their way through Norman lines but Alexios’ center collapsed. Guiscard exploited this with his heavy cavalry and stranded the Varangians who were picked off by crossbowmen. The Byzantines routed in small pockets which were attacked. Even Alexios himself was attacked and wounded, but managed to escape.

The Byzantines lost 5,000 men and the Normans are estimated to have lost about the same. This was an important study, as it shows how important cavalry really were to the Normans. They did not play a huge role at Hastings, but at Dyracchium, the Normans would have been butchered without them. Venetian troops lost the city a few months later and much of Greece was captured. However, revolts and a Holy Roman Imperial threat forces Guiscard back to Italy where he died in 1085, bringing an end to the first Norman invasion of the Balkans.

10 Amazing Facts about the Ottoman Janissaries

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  1. Janissaries did not wear as flamboyant clothes as many people illustrate them. They more commonly wore brown robes.
  2. They carried a special sword called a yataghan which was curved, had no guard, and was double-edged.
  3. Janissaries were originally recruited at a young age from Christian families and converted to Islam. This would later change.
  4. There were some 60,000 Janissaries in the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
  5. Janissaries were famed for their close-quarter combat and were some of the best in the world.
  6. They were the one of the first armies to use matchlocks on a large basis. Most janissaries used them.
  7. Janissaries did not have to carry weapons everywhere. It was common for them to be piled on a wagon during a campaign to remove strain during long marches.
  8. Janissaries were expertly trained archers as well.
  1. Janissaries were disbanded in 1826 due to the ongoing Tanzimat Reforms by Mahmud II.
  2. Yanisar is used in Ukraine today as a word meaning “traitor.”

 

Rome’s Reserves: The Auxilia

Rome’s powerful military was made up of legions recruited throughout its empire, but the large portion of auxiliary troops is widely overlooked. Auxilia were the reserves for the Roman Army, made up of non-citizens who did not enjoy full legal rights as a regular Roman. After 25 years of service, however, the soldier was granted citizenship and left the army. The auxiliary were formed under the reign of the first emperor, Augustus. The auxilia were formed into cohorts of 480 men and were named by their region of recruitment. There were three types of “regiments” in the auxilia:

  • Alae were made of only cavalry
  • Cohortes peditatae were simply foot soldiers
  • Cohortes equitatae were a mix of infantry and cavalry and numbered 600 troops instead of the regular 480. There would be 480 infantry and around 120 cavalry
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An Auxiliary Cavalryman and Infantryman

Huge amounts of soldiers were recruited for the auxiliary during the reign of Augustus because of the large expansion of the empire. The majority of auxilia came from Gaul, or modern day France. By the reign of Hadrian, the number of auxiliary troops was nearly double that of the regular legionnaires. Hadrian recruited from Germany, England, the Balkans, Switzerland, the Danube, the Middle East, Egypt, and North Africa. Troops were not required to speak Latin, and many chose to retain their native languages.

Treatment of the auxilia was much worse than that of the legionaries. A legionnaire was given much better armour than an auxiliary, who mostly received chain mail, lamellar armour, or no protection at all. A regular legionnaire was paid 255 denarii each year while an auxiliary was given only 188. Even a tesserarius (equivalent to a corporal) did not make as much as a regular legionary.

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Roman Auxilia Reenactors

Many of the auxilia were deployed to border provinces or areas in conflict. They were the prime fighting force in the Batavian revolt and the Illyrian revolt. They were also an important part of Trajan’s Dacian Wars in modern-day Romania. Though not as revered as the legions, Rome’s auxiliaries were still a key component of their empire’s success.

Wargame Figures: Russian Imperial Guard in Crimea 1853-56

The expansion of Russia’s empire lead to the Crimean war in the middle of the 19th century, putting a coalition of Anglo-French and Ottoman forces against the massive Russian military. Czar Alexander II’s Imperial Guard were the elite troops of the Russian army, dating back to the times of Peter the Great. Here are paper wargame miniatures for the Imperial Guard to fight battles of the Crimean War.

Russian Imperial Guard