Stand 1 Wetteren (Belgium) en 4th Field Squadron RE were involved in the capture of Wetteren Bridge which, in the absence of infantry was defended for two days in September against German attacks. It is an opportunity to break the journey at a location where sappers demonstrated that they were soldiers first in a troop level action.
Arrive Eindhoven area – overnight Eindhoven,
Day 2 Operation Garden.
Follow the path of the 30 Corps as they sought to link up with the airborne troops landed on the bridges from Eindhoven to Arnhem. It is an opportunity to explore the role played by the engineers in this dramatic battle which focused on bridges and the tenuous route up which 30 Corps advanced.
Joe’s Bridge We will start at De Groote Barrier bridge (Joe’s Bridge) over the Meuse Escuat Canal – captured intact by the Irish Guards and the part played by 615 Field Squadron RE. This bridge would carry the whole of 30th Corps and all of the engineering stores needed to bridge any demolished briodges and repair the route to Arnhem. This might be a good place to consider the logistics of engineering.
Stand 3 Son
We follow the path of 14 Field Squadron RE with the Guards Armoured Division in the advance to Nijmegen. The bridge at Son was demolished by the Germans just before the US Paratroops from 10st Airborne Division could capture it. A replacement was built by the Royal Engineers of Guards Armoured Division on 18/19th September. It was subject to repeated counter attacks by the Germans,
Stand 4 Nijmegen
The Road and Rail bridges over the Waal at Nijmegen were prepared by the Germans for demolition. However the Germans did not demolish the bridges because they wanted to use them to transport their own armour to a counter attack the airborne corridor. When a troop of tanks of the Grenadier Guards ruched the bridge the Germans failed to demolish it. We can also find a location to discuss route improvement.
Day 3 Op Market.
We spend a day Arnhem, visiting the actions in the area including a visit to the Osterbeek museum
Stand 5 is the landing grounds near Wolfheze
Stand 6 Actions of 1 Para Engineer Squadron at the Arnhem bridge.
Stand 7 explores the actions of 4th Para Squadron who operated as infantry in the defence of the Osterbeek perimeter.
Stand 8 covers the river crossing launched by 43 Division to recover the survivors of 1st Airbiorne Division.
Day 4 Overloon – Mine clearance
The battle of Overloon took place East of Eindhoven in early October 1944, after the end of Market Garden. Including this battle is an opportunity to look at mine clearance and the role of armoured engineers.
The Germans had laid extensive minefields on the their western border. There is a museum on the preserved battlefield of Overloon. This has a very extensive collection of military vehicles ,including Allied and german tanks knocked out during the battlefield. Some of these show the evidence of the effects of anti tank mines on tanks and armoured cars and British fatalities are buried in a Commonwealth War Cemetery a close by.
After the museum visit we explore a series of stands looking at the challenges facing the 3rd Infantry Division in the woods and stream bisected fields between Overloon and Venrij and the way the tactical and engineering problems were tackled by engineers and armoured engineers.
Ex Washup and Recovery
Day 5 – Rhine crossing
If wished we could extend the tour by a day to include Op Plunder the Rhine Crossing. This was a major opposed river crossing and is a chance to look at amphibious operations.
General Sir Richard Cyril Byrne Haking GBE, KCB, KCMG is best remembered, if at all, as the commander of XI Corps in the First World War, in particular for the high casualties suffered by his forces, including many Australian troops at the second Battle of Fromelles. However, he was a bit of an expert in using military history as the basis for officer training and wrote a book about planning staff rides and regimental tours. Lots of his ideas are still relevant.
Here is an extract from his book which says a lot about the training of the
“In modem war it is far more important than it has ever been in the past for junior officers to be highly trained. In the old days companies, battalions, brigades, and even divisions went into battle in close order side by side, or one behind the other. The General in chief command was able to conduct the operations even of the firing line, and orders could be conveyed rapidly to every part of the field.
Under modern conditions of war the Commander-in-Chief, by bold and skillful strategy, can bring his army into battle under favourable circumstances to himself and under unfavourable circumstances for the enemy, by skilful tactics he can prepare a blow against the enemy’s weakest point, but it is the company commander, assisted by the battery and squadron leaders, who must deliver that blow. It is these subordinate officers who to a great extent will win the battle, and it is of vital importance, therefore, that they should be highly trained, so that they will know at all times what to do, and will be prepared to do it without waiting for instructions.
It should be remembered that the battles of the Franco- German War were won mainly by the highly trained German captains. The strategy was good, but the subordinate Generals, though they showed great initiative and determination,did not display great tactical skill when bringing their troops into battle. The company commanders, however, by their bold and skilful leading, always pressing forward, always taking advantage of ground, and helping each other, assisted by the close co-operation of the artillery, were the chief cause of the German success. In Manchuria we learn the same lesson: the stubborn defence of the Russian captains, and the brilliant attacks of the Japanese company leaders, had quite as much effect on the campaign as the higher direction. It also appears that the battles were won by the successful attack of a comparatively small portion of the army that was engaged, and this fact accentuates the necessity for subordinate commanders to be men of great determination and highly trained in the art of war.”
Staff Rides and Regimental Tours meant something different in the pre-First World War British Army to today. They were much closer to what would now be known as a Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT). A situation would be taken complete from some campaign in history and transferred to a desired locality in England, India etc. For example, a staff ride held by the Chief of the General Staff from 3 to 7 September 1906 created a scenario based on problems encountered in operations that took place in the Po Valley in Northern Italy in 1703-04, 1706, 1799 and 1859. The military budget did not stretch to travelling to Italy, so they held it in Gloucestershire. Astaff Rides were seen as better than wargames because they used the ground rather than a map and cheaper and less constraining than field exercises. RUSI has some of the reports of these staff rides.
Haking’s book included detailed instructions for planning and running Staff Rides, even offering practical advice for travel arrangements, and even specimen letters to send to hotels to negotiate food and accommodation for men, horses, cars and bicycles. Cars might be used by the directing staff, but bicycles were considered the most effective method of transport for participants. Though “senior officers should not be expected to ride bicycles.”
There is a lot to be said for this approach to designing staff rides and battlefield studies as a straight forward way to link history events to modern tactical problems. The trick is to find the patch of ground and the history that has the most modern application.
The logic behind the use of historic settings was expressed in a remarkable quote.
We will take a simple tactical example, and we shall find that the formula we can construct whilst we are working out this problem will he useful to us in dealing with any other military situation, from a question whether it would be better to send forward a section or half a company to the future strategy involved in an attack by Mars against the Allied Powers of the Earth and Venus.
Not only is it a statement of the “eternal realities of war” but is the first mention in non fiction of the concept of interplanetary warfare.
If you want to read Haking’s “Staff Rides and Regimental Tours,” there is a copy in the staff ride services drop box.
The British Army First World War Battlefield Guide should be the background reading for any battlefield study to the western Front. It has been edited by retried major general Mungo Melvin, one of the leading practitioners in the art of the staff ride.
He has drawn on the resources of the British Commission for Military History, of which he is currently the Secretary General. The contributors are from across the spectrum of contemporary British military history, illustrated by Sandhurst’s Barbara Taylor.
This has been made widely available for the officers and NCOPs accompanying the schools centenary programme.
Copies of the book can be obtained from SO1 Commemoration,Land Forces Directorate, Army Headquarters, and an electronic version is also available.
Preface Lord Astor of Hever
Foreword Sir Hew Strachan
Introduction Mungo Melvin
The Principal Commanders, 1914-1918
Introduction to the Second Edition Mungo Melvin
1. The Battle of Mons, 23 August 1914 Mungo Melvin
2. The Battle of Le Cateau, 26 August 1914 Spencer Jones
3. The First Battle of the Marne, 5-12 September 1914 Tim Gale
4. The First Battle of the Aisne, 12 September — 15 October 1914 Frank Baldwin
5. The First Battle of Ypres, 19 October — 22 November 1914 John Lee
6. The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 10-12 March 1915 Michael Orr
7. The Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April- 25 May 1915 John Lee
8. The Battles of Aubers Ridge and Festubert, 9 & 16-27 May 1915 Michael Orr
9. The Second and Third Battles of Artois, 9 May- 18 June & 25 September-15 October 1915 Christophe Gue
10. The Battle of Loos, 25 September — 15 October 1915 Michael Orr
11. The Battle ofVerdun, 21 February — 20 December 1916 Frank Baldwin
12. The Battle of the Somme, 1 July — 18 November 1916 John Ross
13. The Battle of Arras, 9 April- 16 May 1917, John Peaty
14. The Second Battle of the Aisne (the Nivelle Offensive), 16 April-9May 1917 Frank Baldwin
15. The Battle of Messines, 7-14 June 1917 Edward Madigan
16. The Third Battle ofYpres (Passchendaele) 31 July — 20 November 1917 Jeremy Pughe-Morgan
17. The Battle of la Malmaison, 17-25 October 1917 Christophe Gue
18. The Battle of Cambrai, 20 November — 6 December 1917 Charles Messenger
19. Operation MICHAEL, 21 March — 5 April 1918 David T. Zabecki
20. Operation GEORGETTE (The Battle of the Lys), 9-29 April 1918 David T. Zabecki
21. The First Tank vs. Tank Action in History, Villers-Bretonneux, 24 April 1918 Geoffrey Vesey Holt
22. Operation BLUCHER (The Third Battle of the Aisne), 27 May — 5 June 1918 David T. Zabecki
23. The Battle of Belleau Wood, 6-26 June 1918 David T. Zabecki
24. The Battle of le Hamel, 4 July 1918 Geoffrey Vesey Holt
25. The Second Battle of the Marne, 15 July — 6 August 1918 Tim Gale
26. The Battle of Amiens, 8-11 August 1918 Gary Sheffeld
27. The Meuse Argonne Offensive, 26 September — 11 November 1918 Douglas Mastriano
28. The Battles for the Hindenburg Line, 27 September — 9 October 1918 Jonathan Boff
29. The Royal Navy and the First World War Stephen Prince
30. The First World War — A Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) and the Birth of the Modern Style ofWarfare Jonathan Bailey
31. The Development of Air Power, 1914-1918 Seb Cox
32. The Development of Artillery on the Western Front James Cook
33. Tanks in the First World War David Fletcher
34. The Development of Military Engineering on the Western Front Michael Crawshaw
35. Mapping and Survey on the Western Front John Peaty
36. Logistic and Medical Support on the Western Front Alistair McC|uskey
37. A Brief Overview of British Communications on the Western Front Bob Evans
38. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Colin Kerr
The past is a foreign Country they do things differently there. – LP Hartley The Go Between
There strong reasons for looking at running battlefield studies and staff rides on UK Battlefields. There are financial constraints on travel. But to have value, any military training needs to have demonstrable contemporary relevance. UK based staff rides and battlefield studies looking at land warfare will need to consider pre 20th Century Warfare. This poses some challenges, but can be overcome with a little thought. Using pre C20th Britain also offers opportunities use the cultural political and social differences between different periods of British history as a model for exploring conditions in different parts of the contemporary world.
CHALLENGES OF RUNNING A STAFF RIDE USING A PRE C20TH BATTLEFIELD.
These are summarised as follows:-
Technology and minor tactics are far removed from modern experience.
Lack of information about the course of medieval battles
Changes to topography
Technology and Tactics.
The radical differences in accuracy, lethality and range between modern and pre 20th Century military technology means that the tactical level of warfare is very different. At first sight it is questionable how much relevance study of the pre 20th century warrior for the modern soldier. By comparison with the warriors of the past, modern combat is at a distance and the soldier is isolated from the immediate contact with comrades and from face to face contact with the foe.
Yet there is much in common. As ever, soldiers must face the hardships of campaign, the enemy in battle and their own mortality. Some pre modern engagements have a timeless feel. British soldiers have attacked at the point of cold steel on several occasions in the past ten years. Furthermore, changing modern circumstances can through the experience of ancient warriors into a new light. Thirty years ago, at the height of the cold war , we would not see the experience of the Norman mail clad warrior dominating the landscape from the security of the motte and Bailey castle. Now we have an army equipped with personal protection that would be the envy of the 15th Century r operating from Heskco forts that William the Conqueror would have recognised.
Many battlefield concepts are eternal. Tactical constraints that can be recognised across time include fire and manoeuvre, use of ground, tempo and the value of enfilading fire and defilading positions. Leadership is as eternal as the human spirit as is Moltke’s grit in the machine – the Realities of War
Lack of information about many early battles.
There is very little information about Pre 20th Century battles compared to more recent operations. There were no official histories, war diaries and definitely no army of military historians combing over the evidence for new interpretations. The documentary evidence for many battles can be fragmentary and unsubstantiated by archaeological evidence. There may be no “exercise Pink”.
Worse still the battlefield itself may have changed over time. Even if we know exactly where the battle was and what happened, the ground itself may have changed. The tactical significance of the ground may not be obvious from the current topography.
Some Battlefields have been preserved.
There are over 450 battlefields skirmishes and sieges in England alone. Not all of these can be located with certainty and in others the battlefield topography has changed beyond recognition. There are 43 battlefields on the English Heritage Battlefield Register. These are battlefields that a panel of experts has agreed can be identified with some certainty, have historic significance and can be viewed within their historic landscape.
The Battlefields Trust is a charity dedicated to preserving and developing battlefields for heritage purposes. Their Battlefield Resource centre was funded by the Heritage Lottery fund and has information on over 70 battlefields, collated by professional historians and archaeologists. These include the English Heritage Registered Battlefields. Information on each battle typically includes a reconstruction of the historic terrain, source material on each battle as well as an interpretation of what happened. This should be a key resource for anyone planning a visit to a UK battlefield.
LESSONS FOR CONTEMPORARY OPPORTUNITIES FROM PRE C20TH BRITISH HISTORY
What follows are some examples of transposing contemporary strategic settings onto Britain’s past. These are far from exhaustive.
The Age of Treason- Wars of the Roses 1453-85
Central government was paralysed. The hereditary ruler was ineffectual, even when not confined to his sick bed. Government appointments were made through nepotism within cliques and its business was notorious for inefficiency and corruption. The ruling elite was divided into factions with an opposition forming around one of the few military leaders to emerge with credit from the disastrous failure of a long war with a neighbour. Large parts of the country were in a state of anarchy, dominated by regional warlords who dispensed partisan justice. Pirates operated with impunity in the seas off its shores.
This could be a failing state in one of the hot spots of conflict in Africa. But it’s England in 1453 at the start of the Wars of the Roses. Technology may have developed, but political and military problems of rebuilding a state are recognisable across the years.
This is also an era that saw rapid development in military technology and in the evolution of weapons and tactics. At a low level campaigns and actions offer opportunities to view relevant ground. There are opportunities to explore doctrine through comparing and contrasting modern and medieval components of force, or different arms of service. .
The political and military leaders of this war deserve modern study as examples of leadership in battle and in conflict resolution. Some of these men were cable of major feats of arms including night marches and deployments and forced marches that would test a modern force.
There are many evocative locations from this era. Many of the most important battlefields are well preserved and accessible, including St Albans, Barnet, Towton Bloor Heath and Bosworth as well as many of the castles of the period. The battles of Barnet and Tewksbury are well documented and we have archaeological evidence for others…
The military and political careers of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII offer an opportunity to explore contrasting leadership styles. Several of the strategies used for nation building by these 15th Century leaders have a surprisingly modern flavour, including reconciliation parades, and unity governments of erstwhile enemies.
The social and economic world of the 15th Century allows modern Britons an opportunity to understand and empathise with people whose lives are dominated by different attitudes to loyalty, justice and faith.
When The King Comes Home in Peace Again – The British Civil Wars 1642-51
Some regarded the collapse of the state as inevitable. Creating a united country from two traditional enemies would be doomed to fail. Worse still, the state included four ethnic groups two of which were dominated by radically opposed religious sects. The fact that this artificial country had existed for over thirty years was a tribute to the political skill of the leader who created the country. His successor was less adept and less able to play the different factions off against each other. The situation spiraled out of control and entered into a series of civil wars lasting nearly a decade.
These wars were some of the bloodiest in the country’s history, with major pitched battles and sieges fought by the field armies, while local scores were settled between villages and individuals.
It could be the Balkans after Tito, but it’s Great Britain in the mid 17th Century. The English Civil War is an opportunity to look at warfare in a setting with a modern context. It has the ethnic and religious tensions that bedevil many nations. The atrocities of the war provide a context for a modern discussion about legal and moral issues. It is also the birthplace of the Modern British Army, formed from Cromwell’s new Model Army.
There are battlefields, sieges and skirmishes across the UK. Many of the battlefields can be easily interpreted and lend themselves for study. These include battles of Naseby, Marston Moor, Newbury, Cheriton, Lostwithieal, Roundway Down Adwalton Moors and Langport; Large scale sieges of York, Newark Hull, Bristol and Gloucester and small scale sieges at Tisbury and Basing House.
Regime Change: Monmouth’s Rebellion and the Glorious Revolution
Uneasy is the head on the throne. The authoritarian ruler is increasingly at odds with many of the key stakeholders in the country. He is introducing policies that seek to impose fundamentalist religious orthodoxy of one sect over that held by the majority. Exiled opposition groups are seeking allies and funding for an attempt to change the regime. This takes place against a back drop of a struggle for world dominance between the major power blocks of the time.
The events of 1685-90 in the British Isles offer an opportunity to explore the strategic and operational challenges of regime change.
Monmouth’s rebellion offers parallels with the abortive revolt against Saddam Hussein in 1991. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw an occupying power take control over England and Scotland with less resistance than that offered in the early stages of Gulf War 2. Even the protracted struggle in Ireland from 1690 and the influence of the events of the war on Ireland’s subsequent history parallel the later problems of post occupation Iraq.
Monmouth’s rebellion offers the best English battlefield of the era in Sedgemoor, with other battles taking place at Killicranckie and Dunkeld in Scotland. Other engagements of the war take place in Northern Ireland ;( e.g. the siege of Londonderry) and the Irish Republic, including the battles of Aughram and the Boyne and the siege of Athlone. However, a staff ride that contemplates Ireland or Central Scotland may also consider Flanders.
These battles are also inside the period of recorded history of the Regimental history. Several of the senior regiments were present at Sedgemoor, including the Life Guards Foot Guards and Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment. The Royal Regiment of Scotland has forebears at both Scottish battles and Bonnie Dundee is immortalised in a rousing canter for several mounted units.
Almost every ruler from the Romans onwards has needed to undertake counter insurgency operations in some part of the British Isles. The problems of counter insurgency are eternal. Culture and technology evolve, but the problems of combating hostile elements within a population are eternal.
The Norman and Roman operations against the indigenous populations have left limited traces that can be directly linked to battlefields. There are better opportunities to explore counter insurgency campaigns in the pacification of Wales by Edward 1st and of Scotland after the 1745 rebellion.
Edward’s campaign from 1275-95 includes several engagements with a contemporary resonance. The battle of Llandeilo Fawr is an ambush of an All Arms Brigade sized force by Welsh insurgents as they return to their FOB. At the battle of Moel-y-don the Welsh surprise the English as they attempt to cross the Menai Strait on a pontoon bridge. Edward’s chain of castles across North Wales has a parallel with modern concepts of operating from bases.
The campaign also contains one of the good examples of tactical development. The battle of Orewin Bridge is one of the first to use the combination of firepower and manoeuvre, using the combination of archers and cavalry to defeat a strongly positioned Welsh force.
WHAT MIGHT A TOUR LOOK LIKE?
A pre C20th Battlefield Study will broadly follow good practice for staff rides or Battlefield Studies. The design should start with the aims in terms of training objectives. There are some implications for designing staff rides and battlefield studies using a pre 20th Century setting.
Introductory scene setting.
It is harder for modern soldiers to relate to pre 1914 weapons and tactics. If the essence of the tour is to consider counter insurgency or stabilisation operations, the social and political environment is important. It will take more preparation and time on scene setting than may be necessary with eras and battlefields familiar from screen and computer game. Ideas for bringing the era alive include the use of living history re-enactors and role play exercises as well as visits to suitable interpretation centres or museums. .
Making the Best Use of Battlefields and siege sites.
Visiting the ground is at the heart of a battlefield study or Staff ride. The challenge is to obtain contemporary lessons from actions that involve troops, weapons and tactics as alien as those of the pre gunpowder era.
The significance of the micro-terrain in influencing battle is independent of period. Indeed, the alien nature of the historic conflict should encourage the question: How would this be tackled today?
There are “eternal lessons” that can be extracted from our ancient past. For example, at the battle ot Barnet, 1471 Edward IV defeated his uncle Richard Neville Earl of Warwick in a battle that seems to have been a hand to hand melee of little modern relevance. However, it is possible to recognise Edward’s tactical skill and leadership in the night approach march to a few hundred metres of his enemy. The friendly fires incidents and situational awareness problems experienced by his enemy on a foggy day have a contemporary relevance.
Some historic actions have a contemporary flavour regardless of the differences in technology. For example, the battle of Llandeilo Fawr 1287 takes place when the Welsh ambush an English force returning on foot to their castle (FOB) Dinefwr Castle after an attack on Carreg Cennen Castle four miles away.
Exploring a modern problem based on the historic setting. Perhaps the historic landscape and limited industrial and economic infrastructure, but assuming modern technology.
Obtaining Value for Money.
In theory UK based tours should be cheaper than overseas tours. There are savings on accommodation if suitable military accommodation can be found and there is no need for ferry or air tickets or toll road fees. However, the travel costs to Scotland can be almost as expensive as NW Europe and will involve long transit times. Furthermore in some cases UK destinations impose higher costs:-
The UK does not have the hostels and hotels geared towards battlefield travel that can be found in Flanders and France.
The UK does not have the museums and interpretation centres that enable a group to quickly become familiar with the nature of warfare and society. In order to do so in the UK may require some expenditure of input from living history societies or hiring a handling collection.
If you would like to talk about any ideas inspired by this article, please drop me a line at email@example.com or call the office +44 207 387 6620 or my mobile +44 781 317 9668
The Battle of Waterloo is probably the most famous battle of the Napoleonic wars. But if you want to understand why Napoleon was so powerful you need to visit somewhere else. Within a couple of hours of Vienna you can find Austerlitz and Wagram; two of Napoleon’s key battles.
Austerlitz is regarded my many as seen as his masterpiece and genius for War. Wagram was Napoleon’s last decisive victory. These battles, four and a half years and 90 years apart marked the high points of Napoleon’s military career.
Napoleon fought two campaigns in Austria as Emperor of France. The 1805 campaign led to the decisive battle of Austerlitz 2nd December 1805 near Brno. This was a remarkable battle in which Napoleon beat superior numbers of Austrian and Russian troops. It is the single battle which demonstrated his genius and the superiority of the Grande Armee over the outmoded continental armies. It was also the setting for some chapters in Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Four years later Napoleon again campaigned in the Danube valley. This time the Austrians were better prepared and prevented the French from crossing the river Danube. When Napoleon launched a river crossing, the Archduke Charles inflicted Napoleon’s first defeat at the battle of Aspern-Essling in May 1809 but prevailed over the Austrian Army at the battle of Wagram in July 1809. Wagram is a little overlooked. It was the second largest battle in the Napoleonic wars over a three hundred thousand combatants fought.
Each of these campaigns was the cumulation of a series of actions in the Danube Valley. In 1805 the Russians turned and defeated a French column at the battle of Durnstein and the action described by Tolstoy as Schoengraben. In 1809 there were battles at Ablesberg and Znaim as well as Bratislava.
There is a lot to see at these battlefields. Austellitz is well preserved and it is easy to see how the ground influenced the course of the battle. There is a lot to see at Wagram too. Despite being subsumed into the suburbs of Vienna there is a lot to see at Aspern and Esseling
Vienna is a good base for Lower Austria and the Danube valley, with Brno in the Czech Republic right next to Austerlitz. There are cheap flights to both destinations.
The Military history museum in Vienna is well worth visiting. The whole area has good food and drink.
If you would like to talk about any ideas inspired by this article, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office +44 207 387 6620 or my mobile +44 781 317 9668.
For anyone wishing to explore the battlefields of the Cold War, we have probably the most extensive collection of material relating to the role of the British Army in Germany in the Cold War, including a copy of the reading pack for Ex United Shield 2009.