Tag Archives: France

9th May 1689 – The start of the first Nine Years of a second Hundred Years War

King William  III of England
King William III of England

325 years ago, on 9th May 1689 King Willam III of England declared war on France. This was the start of what is known as the Nine Years War (1688–97) – often called the War of the Grand Alliance or the War of the League of Augsburg.  This major war of the late 17th century was fought between King Louis XIV of France, the domionant power, and a European-wide coalition, the Grand Alliance, led by the Anglo-Dutch Stadtholder-King William III, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, King Charles II of Spain, Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, and the major and minor princes of the Holy Roman Empire.

Although the Nine Years’ War was fought primarily on mainland Europe and its surrounding waters, it also took place in the British Isles.  The struggle between the Williamites and  Jacobites in  Ireland and in Scotland, are part of this struggle, with King Louis funding nthe Jaobites.  There was also a campaign  between French and English settlers and their respective Indian allies in colonial North America.

Louis XIV had emerged from the Franco-Dutch War in 1678 as the most powerful monarch in Europe; yet the ‘Sun King’ remained unsatisfied. Using a combination of aggression, annexation, and quasi-legal means, Louis XIV immediately set about extending his gains to stabilise and strengthen France’s frontiers, culminating in the brief War of the Reunions (1683–84). The resulting Truce of Ratisbon guaranteed France’s new borders for twenty years, but Louis XIV’s subsequent actions – notably his revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 – led to the deterioration of his military and political dominance.

Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV’s decision to cross the Rhine in September 1688 was designed to extend his influence and pressure the Holy Roman Empire into accepting his territorial and dynastic claims. But when Leopold I and the German princes resolved to resist, and when the States-General and William III brought the Dutch and the English into the war against France, the French King at last faced a powerful coalition aimed at curtailing his ambitions.

The main fighting took place around France’s borders: in the Spanish Netherlands; the Rhineland; Duchy of Savoy; and Catalonia. The fighting generally favoured Louis XIV’s armies, but by 1696 his country was in the grip of an economic crisis. The Maritime Powers (England and the Dutch Republic) were also financially exhausted, and when Savoy defected from the Alliance all parties were keen for a negotiated settlement. By the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) Louis XIV retained the whole of Alsace, but he was forced to return Lorraine to its ruler and give up any gains on the right bank of the Rhine. Louis XIV also accepted William III as the rightful King of England, while the Dutch acquired their Barrier fortress system in the Spanish Netherlands to help secure their own borders. However, with the ailing and childless Charles II of Spain approaching his end, a new conflict over the inheritance of the Spanish Empire would soon embroil Louis XIV and the Grand Alliance in a final war – the War of the Spanish Succession.

This was the start of what would be a second long century of conflict between Britain and France that would only end in 1815.

8th May 1429 – The end of the Siege of Orleans

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15th-century depiction of Joan of Arc leading an assault on an English fort at the siege of Orléans

7th May is the 585th anniversary of an important but bad day for England.    This was the day that the French recaptured the Tourelles fortification which controlled the South bank of the river Liore  and riverine access to the town.

Siege_Orleans

Joan had been wounded in the foot in the assault on the Augustins, and taken back to Orléans overnight to recover, and as a result did not participate in the evening war council. The next morning, May 7, she was asked to sit out the final assault on the Boulevart-Tourelles, but she refused and roused to join the French camp on the south bank, much to the joy of the people of Orléans.[29] The citizens raised more levies on her behalf and set about repairing the bridge with beams to enable a two-sided attack on the complex. Artillery was positioned on the island of Saint-Antoine.

The day was spent in a largely fruitless bombardment and attempts to undermine the foundations of the complex, by mining and burning barges. As evening was approaching, John of Dunois had decided to leave the final assault for the next day. Informed of the decision, Joan called for her horse and rode off for a period of quiet prayer, then returned to the camp, grabbed a ladder and launched the frontal assault on the Boulevart herself, reportedly calling out to her troops “Tout est vostre – et y entrez!” (“All is yours, – go in!”).[30] The French soldiery rushed in after her, swarming up the ladders into the Boulevart. Joan was struck down early in the assault by a crossbow quarrel (others report a bodkin arrow) in the shoulder and was hurriedly taken away. Rumors of her death bolstered the English defenders and faltered French morale. But, according to reports, she pulled the bolt out herself and, despite her injury, soon re-appeared in the French lines, giving the assaulters renewed inspiration. (In his rehabilitation trial testimony, Jean Pasquerel, Joan’s confessor, stated that Joan herself had some type of premonition or foreknowledge of this event, stating the day before the attack that “tomorrow blood will flow from my body above my breast.”

View_of_Orléans_1428_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19488 Jeanne_d'Arc_-_Panthéon_IIThe French carried the day and forced the English out of the Boulevart and back into the last redoubt of the Tourelles. But the drawbridge connecting them gave way, and Glasdale himself fell into the river and perished.[32] The French pressed on to storm the Tourelles itself, from both sides (the bridge now repaired). The Tourelles, half-burning, was finally taken in the evening.
English losses were heavy. Counting other actions on the day (notably the interception of reinforcements rushed to the defense), the English had suffered nearly a thousand killed, and 600 prisoners. 200 French prisoners were found in the complex and released.

With Boulevart-Tourelles taken, the English had lost the south bank of the Loire. There was little point of continuing the siege, as Orléans could now be easily re-supplied indefinitely.
On the morning of May 8, the English troops on the north bank, under the command of William de la Pole (Earl of Suffolk) and Lord John Talbot, demolished their outworks and assembled in battle array in the field near St. Laurent. The French army under Dunois lined up before them. They stood facing each other immobile for about an hour, before the English withdrew from the field and marched off to join other English units in Meung, Beaugency and Jargeau. Some of the French commanders urged an attack to destroy the English army then and there. Joan of Arc reportedly forbade it, on account of it being Sunday.

7th May A Forgotten Failure – the Siege of Leith 1560

560px-Siege_of_Leith_map,_1560A good Quiz question.  Which foreign army occupied a Scottish port for over a decade in the middle of the C16th?

A:The Siege of Leith ended a twelve-year encampment of French troops at Leith, the port near Edinburgh, Scotland. The French troops arrived by invitation in 1548 and left in 1560 after an English force arrived to assist in removing them from Scotland. They finally left under the terms of a treaty signed by Scotland, England and France.

Siege of Leith here.

Wikipedia article

Site opn the History of Leith 

One of the key episodes was the assault on 7th May 1560.    Elizabeth and her secretary William Cecil were exerting pressure on Norfolk for a result at Leith. To show that progress was being made, Norfolk started forwarding Grey’s dispatches and apologising for his deputy’s “humour”, asking that Elizabeth should send Grey a letter showing her thanks. Norfolk brought in expert military advisors, Sir Richard Lee and his own cousin Sir George Howard, who Norfolk believed would bring the siege to a rapid conclusion. Norfolk wrote to William Cecil on 27 April that it was a shame to have “to lie so long at a sand wall.”

It was planned to storm the town before daybreak on 7 May. In early May cannon were deployed to make a substantial breach in the western ramparts.  The assault was to be carried out in two waves, the first at 3.00 am by 3,000 men, the second by 2,240, with a further 2,400 holding back to keep the field. William Winter would wait for a signal to land 500 troops on the quayside of the Water of Leith at the Shore inside the town. As a diversion, Cuthbert Vaughan’s 1,200 men with 500 Scotsmen were to attack from the south, crossing Leith Links from Mount Pelham. James Croft’s men would assault from the north-west, presumably at low-tide.

Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland from 1554 to 1560
Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland from 1554 to 1560

There was an accidental fire in Leith on 1 May which burnt in the south-west quarter. The next evening Grey planted his battery against the west walls and started firing before 9.00 am, writing to Norfolk that his gunners had not yet found their mark. Next day, Grey was worried that the French had effected repairs so the town appeared even stronger. He continued with the bombardment and ordered his captains to try small-scale assaults against the walls to gather intelligence. Cuthbert Vaughan measured the ditch and ramparts for making scaling ladders.

The attempt was now scheduled for 4.00 am on Tuesday 7 May and by two hours past daylight the English were defeated. Although there were two breaches, the damage to the walls was insufficient. None of the flanking batteries were disabled, and the scaling ladders were too short. The result was heavy losses estimated at 1000 to 1500 Scots and English.

A report by Peter Carew estimated a third of the dead were Scottish. However, Carew’s total of six-score dead, which was followed by George Buchanan, is roughly a tenth of the other reports. The accountant Valentine Browne noted there were 1,688 men unable to serve, still on the payroll, hurt at the assault or at various other times, and now sick or dead. The author of the Diurnal of Occurents put the total number slain at 400.[61] Humfrey Barwick was told the French collected the top-coats of the English who had reached and died on the walls, and 448 were counted. The French journal claims only 15 defenders were killed. John Knox and the French journal attributed some of the casualties to the women of Leith throwing stones from the ramparts.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leith

3-4 May 1944.The Raid on Mailly-Le-Camp:- No Milk Run

“We were circling this flare for approximately half a hour and becoming increasingly worried as it appeared impossible to receive any radio instructions due to an American Forces Broadcasting Station blasting away. I remember only too well the tune, “Deep in the heart of Texas”, followed by hand clapping and noise like a party going on. Other garbled talk was in the background but drowned by the music.

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Memorial at Mailly-le-Camp Cemetery, France

Whilst this noise was taking place I was suddenly aware from my position that several Lancasters were going down in flames, about five aircraft and the fire in  each was along the leading edge of the main plane. I saw some of the planes impact  on the ground with the usual dull red glow after the initial crash.  My job was to keep my eyes open for enemy aircraft so I did not dwell for more  than fleeting seconds on those shot down planes.
Account by Sgt Eeles 49 Sqn

Pz  VI B  "King Tiger" Tanks training at Mailly -le-Camp
Pz VI B “King Tiger” Tanks training at Mailly -le-Camp

On 3–4 May 1944, during the German occupation of France, the town was subject to a heavy Allied bombing. During preparations for the Normandy invasion (Operation Overlord), 346 British Avro Lancasters and 14 de Havilland Mosquitoes of RAF Bomber Command attacked the German military camp situated near the village of Mailly-le-Camp. Mailly-le -Camp was a French military training area used by the germans for training their armoured Troops and the raid was an attempt to hinder the Germans preparing their reserved for the forthcoming invasion. .

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German PZ Mk V Panther Tank unloading at Mailly-le -Camp, presumably aftert the raid, from the damage to the station buildings.

Generally missions to targets in France rather than Germany were seen by the RAF as easy missions, and did not always count towards the number of operational sorties in a Bomber crew’s tour of duty. There were far fewer German night fighter and AA defences than over German cities, and the shorter routs gave the defenders less time in which to inflict casualties.

Although the target was accurately marked, communications difficulties led to a delay in the Main Force attack, during which Luftwaffe fighters intercepted the force. Subsequently, 1500 tons of bombs were dropped on the camp, causing considerable damage to the weapons and equipment held there and heavy casualties ot the Germans in the camp. No French civilians were killed in the bombing, although there were a small number of casualties when one of the Lancasters shot down crashed on a house.

Mailly-raid-image-595x297
Bomb flash photograph from the Raid 3-4 May 1944

42 Lancasters – some 11.6% of the attacking force – were shot down – accounting for approx 300 personnel. Losses of 10% were regarded as unsustainable by Bomber Command. The losses on the 3-4th May were proportionately as bad as some of the raids on Berlin or the Ruhr.

The Commonwealth War Graves records show 356 RAF war dead on the 3rd and 4th May worldwide. Of these 299 are in France or on the Runnymede memorial. Mostly men in their early 20s. There were eighteen teenagers, including 18 year old Sgt Raymond Dance,(207 Sqn) from Benson Oxfordshire The two oldest, aged 36 were Sgt James Ellis (550 Sqn) and Sgt John MacDougall (431 Sqn ) from Canada.

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Before and after photogralhs showing damage to the barracks at Mailly-le-Camp

Thirty five men are listed as serving with 101 Squadron RAF,. (Though the RAF web site says that only 32 men were lost in four Lancaster Bombers) The RAF website entry also comments “101 Squadron flewon more raids than any other bomber Squadron during the bomber campaign and suffered the highest casualties, losing 1176 aircrew” It is sobering to consider that even at its largest establishment the squadron;might have had no more than 200 aircrew on its establishment.

The wikipedia Entry for this unit says “ 101 Squadron Lancasters were later equipped with a top secret radio jamming system codenamed “Airborne Cigar” (ABC) operated by an eighth crew member who could understand German, some with German or Jewish backgrounds known as “special operators” commonly abbreviated to “spec ops” or “SO”. They sat in a curtained off area towards the rear of the aircraft and located and jammed German fighter controllers broadcasts, occasionally posing as controllers to spread disinformation. The aircraft fitted with the system were distinctive due to the two large vertical antennae rising from the middle of the fuselage. Deliberately breaking the standing operating procedure of radio silence to conduct the jamming made the aircraft highly vulnerable to being tracked and attacked, which resulted in 101 Squadron having the highest casualty rate of any RAF squadron.” They certainly did over Mailly le Camp

800px-Lancaster_I_NG128_Dropping_Load_-_Duisburg_-_Oct_14_-_1944
A 101 Sqn Lancaster bombing on daylight raid on Duisburg, later in the war.

101 Sqn were based in RAF Ludford Magna. A stone memorial tothe Squadron’s dead, unveiled on the village green in July 1978, permanently marks its residency. Ludford Magna is twinned with the French Village of Voue whose churchyard is the burial place of nine men who died in the early hours of 4th May 1944. There is a emmorial to 101 Sqn in Ludford Magna. Although the airfield has been nretutrned to farmland it is possible to see the perimeter track.

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RAF Ludford Magna airfield today, with the remains of the perimeter track still visible

3 MAY 1944 TARGET #78 WIZERNES NO BALL

C10/V-2The war in the West was a race between the Allies and the Germans. Could the Allies mount D Day before the Germans had perfected a new generation of weapons which would terrorise Britain into submission. The German revenge weapons included the Fi 176 cruise missile, (the V1 flying bom), the A4 surface to surface ballistic missile (the V2) and a very long range gun, the V3.

Mimoyecques-Eperlecques-Wizernes_map
Map showing the location of Wizernes and two other V Weapon sites in the Pas de Calais

Ever since the allies became aware of the existence of these weapons the Allied air forces had mounted a bombing campaign against the structures that the Germans were building to house these weapons. This campaign cost the allies 1,900 aircrew, a comparable number of fatalities to those lost on D Day.

Wizernes_site_octagon
1944 conjectre about the use of the Wizernes Site

On 3rd May 1944 the 8th USAAF Target was the the huge bunker at d’Helfaut-Wizernes, northern France. This vast structure was intended as a hardened launch centre for V2 and built with slave labour. This air raid was one of sixteen carried out by the allies air forces between march and the end of July 1944. 47 B24 Bombers of the 392nd Bombardment Group of the USAAF would drop 180 x 2000 lb bombs.

Briefing for crews was held between 0930-1000 hours. The mission was to be GH ship led with (22) aircraft carrying 2000# GP bombs. Despite fairly good visual bombing weather over the target with 3/lOths – 5/lOths cloud cover, bombing was poor with only a few hits in the target area of the (80) weapons released. While no enemy fighters were sighted, flak over the target was intense and accurate causing damage to (14) aircraft and wounding some crewmembers. No aircraft were lost and the mission recovered at base around 1740 hours after a 4 1/2 hour mission.http://www.b24.net/missions/MM050344.htm

B-24Bombs
B-24 Bomber being loaded with 2,000 lb bombs

The bombing by bombs of up to a ton in weight made no impact on the concrete dome, but wrecked the un-armoured facilites above ground, including the rail connections.

The bunker would be abandoned after a raid by 617 Sqn RAF :Lancasters and a on 17th July using six ton Tallboy bombs. Three of these exploded next to the tunnels, one burst just under the dome, and another burst in the mouth of one tunnel. The whole hillside collapsed, undermining the dome support, and covering up the two rocket vertical entry ways. The Germans abandoned the site in late July 1944.

Wizernes_low_level_6_July_1944
Photograph taken by a low flying RAF aircraft on 6th July 1944, before the raid by 617 Sqn RAF.

According the the French Records, the ultimate fate of the 1,100 Russian slave labourers who worked site is not known.

The Bunker complex is now a museum, easily accessible from Calais and a day trip from the SE of England. Although the Germans never used the site for its intended purpose, the sheer scale of the building , the conditions under which it was built and its sinister purpose make it a thought provoking place. It is part of the V weapon story and the defeat of the V weapon bombardment of London. The story of the aerial campaign waged by the RAF and USAAF against the V weapon sites deserves to be better known.

La Cupole Visitor Centre site

USAAF Official History – Chapter on Operation Crossbow

392 BG website

30th April 1524 –”Good night” for the Good Knight

Pierre_Bayard490 years ago, Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, the commander of the French rear guard at the Battle of the Sesia, was mortally wounded by an arquebus ball, on April 30, 1524. This French soldier, generally known as Chevalier de Bayard, was renowned by his contemporaries as the fearless and faultless knight (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). He himself preferred to be referred to as “le bon chevalier”, or “the good knight”. The death of a man famed for his chivalry at the hands of an anonymous arquibussier appear to symbolise a transition in warfare. However the Bon Chevalier was much more than just a symbol. While most of his military services was in Italy and the borders of France, there are parts of his story which touches British Military history.

From the insular Britain the reign of the Tudors is fairly peaceful, fgive or take the odd Scottish incursion or Yorkist plot. But the forty years from 1490 was a turbulent time in Europe, with France at war for most of the time with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire was fought in Italy and along France’s still ill defined boundaries. This was a period when military technology, organisation and tactics were changing rapidly.

The wikipedia entry on Chevalier de Bayard lists his military service over thirty years service for three successive French monarchs Charles VII, Louis XII and Francis I mainly in Italy but also in Flanders. He seems to have played an important role in many of the battles of the Italian wars, from Charles’ ,VII’s campaigns .

The Chevalier de Bayard seems to have combined the personal qualities expected of a medieval knight with the professional abilities needed in the new world of gun powder, and pike and shot. While his chivalrous deeds and gallantry charmed Kings and courtiers – and Lucretia Borgia, he was far more than a dashing knight. He was a good organiser and trainer. In 1509 he raised a body of horse and foot which set the standard for discipline and battlefield effectiveness in an army which had previously despised infantry as a mere rabble. As a commander he was known for his accurate knowledge of the enemy, obtained by skilled reconnaissance and efficient espionage. In 1521, with 1000 men he had successfully held the “indefensible” city of Mezieres in the Meuse valley against an Imperial army of 35,000

Chevalier de Bayard defends the Bridge over the Garigliano near Minturno 1509
Chevalier de Bayard on the Bridge over the Garigliano

In 1503 the re was a battle on the line of , with the Spanish Army assaulted the French Army across the the River Garigliano, via bridges of boats. One of the more famous incidents of the battle is the single handed defence of a bridge over the Chevalier de Bayard single handed held off a force of 300 Spaniards. This took place close to the village of Minturno, close to where the British Army attacked in a similar fashion in January 1944 and a few hundred metres from the Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Troops of the Fifth Army near the Garigliano river 19 Jan 1944© IWM (TR 1527)
Fifth Army crossing the Garigliano 19 Jan 1944© IWM (TR 1527)
Map showing the crossing by 2nd  Wiltshires in relation to the site of the medieval bridge over the Garigliano
Map showing the crossing by 2nd Wiltshires in relation to the site of the medieval bridge over the Garigliano

Ten years later Bayard fought at the battle of Guines, known by the English as the battle of the Spurs, in which a French cavalry force was defeated by the English. Fleeing from the field Bayard was trapped, but noticing an English knight un-armoured and resting he forced the man to yield and then in turn offered himself as a prisoner. This act of chivalry endeared him to Henry VIII who released him on parole.

battleofspurs

On 30th April 1524 Bayard died in “the midst of the enemy, attended by Pescara, the Spanish commander, and by his old comrade, Charles, duc de Bourbon, who was now fighting on the opposite side. Charles is reported to have said “Ah! Monsieur de Bayard… I am very sad to see you in this state; you who were such a virtuous knight!” Bayard answered,“”Sir, there is no need to pity me. I die as a man of honour ought, doing my duty; but I pity you, because you are fighting against your king, your country, and your oath.”

That is an interesting view from a historic figure at a time which we assume is dominated by treachery, Machaivelli and mercenaries.

For more about Chevalier de Bayard check the following:-

His Wikipedia entry

The Battle of the Garigliano 1503 

and the Battle of the Garigliano in 1944

And the assault crossing 

The Battle of the Spurs 

and more documents on the battle of the Spurs

The Battle of the River Sesia 

To visit the battlefields of Chevalier de Bayard contact mus!