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Lord Raglan's Christmas

As a young man FitzRoy James Henry Somerset (1788-1855), later known as Lord Raglan, was a rather outstanding officer.  During the Peninsular War (1808-1814) he distinguished himself in the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo and of Badajoz, and later during the Waterloo Campaign, he lost his right arm while serving as the Duke of Wellington’s military secretary.  But after Waterloo Raglan saw no further troops service until 1852, as he continued to be military secretary to the Duke until the latter’s death.  In 1854 he was ennobled as Baron Raglan, promoted to full general, and sent to command the British contingent in the Anglo-French expedition to capture Sebastopol in the Crimea.

The subsequent campaign was one of multitudinous blunders by the British.  Many were due to the flaws of British military institutions.  These were compounded by Raglan’s lack of any particular qualification for command of an army in the field.  Naturally, his performance in that role was pretty abysmal. 

But while an inept commander, Raglan was nevertheless very devoted to his troops.  Because the British Army’s supply and command arrangements were so complex, even convoluted, he had no control over the flow of supplies to the men, and their sufferings during the Crimean winter of 1854-1855 troubled him greatly. 

Raglan was often seen wandering among the tents, giving food or other comforts to sick, wounded, or hungry men.  For Christmas, he took the unusual step of personally paying to procure and transport gifts of food for the troops, not just the British ones, but the French as well, who generally were much better looked after (Napoleon III even sent them a ration of good brandy to toast the holiday). 

This caused the British troops to begin referring to Raglan as “Father Christmas.”  The French picked up the nickname as well, mangling it as “Pére Crees Mass.”

Raglan’s health deteriorated during the war, and he died on June 29, 1855.  He was widely mourned, the French saying “Le pauvre vieux Pére Crees Mass a cassé son pipe – Poor old Pére Crees Mass has kicked the bucket.” 

 

Infantry Weapons on the Western Front in 1914

Although all had varying proportions of artillery and cavalry, the armies that marched to war in the summer of 1914 were essentially infantry armies.  The basic form of battle envisioned by all participants was the open field clash of rifle-armed infantrymen, likely to culminate in close combat with cold steel.  There were small differences in the arms issued to the infantry in different countries, which by 1914 included not only the magazine rifle but also the machine gun.

Army Piece Cal Wt Ln Rng RPM Mag Note
Infantry Rifles
Belg Mauser F.N. 1889 7.65 4.0 1.3 2.0 10-15 5 A
Brit Lee-Enfield No 1 7.70 3.3 1.1 2.0 15-20 10 B
Fr Lebel M 1886/93 8.00 4.2 1.3 2.0 8-10 8 C
Berthier Fusil 1907 8.00 3.8 1.3 2.0 10-15 3 D
Ger Mauser M 1898 7.92 4.2 1.2 2.0 10-15 5 E
Mauser M 1888 7.92 3.8 1.2 2.0 10-15 5 F
Machine Guns
Belg Hotchkiss M 1914 8.00 52.6 1.3 2.0 450 24-30 G
Brit Vickers M 1912 7.70 40.9 1.1 1.0 450 200 H
Fr Hotchkiss M 1914 8.00 52.6 1.3 2.0 450 24-30 G
Ger MG08 7.92 63.7 1.1 2.0 450 200

Abbreviations:  Piece is the designation of the weapon; Cal, caliber in millimeters; Wt, weight in kilograms, without bayonet in the case of rifles, which could add up to .5 kg; Ln, length in meters, without bayonet, which could add an additional .5 m; Rng, maximum range in kilometers, but most armies set sights to c. 400 meters; RPM, for rifles this it the number of aimed shots per minute possible at 400 meters presuming a well-trained man, for machine guns this is cyclic rate, the theoretical maximum number of rounds per minute, with normal rate being about half that given; Mag, is number of rounds in the magazine.

Notes:

A. Belgian Mauser F.N. 1889: Five round external box magazine.

B.   British Lee-Enfield No 1: Ten round box magazine.

C.   French Lebel M 1886/93:   Eight round tubular magazine.  Many American accounts of the war insist that this rifle had a three round clip, probably mistaking it for the Berthier.

D. French Berthier Fusil 1907:  Three round box magazine; a five round version was introduced in1915.  Commonly issued to colonial troops and even the Foreign Legion.

E.   German Mauser M 1898: Five round integral box magazine.  This remained the standard Germany infantry rifle until well into World War II.

F.   German Mauser M 1888:  Five round clip  Carried by some Landwehr and Landsturm units, essentially third line reservists and militiamen.

G. Belgian and French Hotchkiss M 1914: Ammunition came in a round metal canister.  Weight given includes tripod (27.7 kg) and water (c. 3.5 kg).  One of the most reliable machine guns of the war, it soldiered on in many armies (e.g., Spain, Poland) into World War II.

H. British Vickers M 1912: Ammunition came in canvas belts.  Weight includes tripod (22.7 kg) and water (c. 3.5 kg).  A very effective piece, but required an unusually large crew, six men or more.

I.    German MG08: Ammunition supply by belts.  Weight includes tripod (34.1 kg) and water (c. 3.6 kg)  A Maxim system, sometimes known as the “Spandau Machinegun” because most were manufactured at the Spandau arsenal.

But almost as soon as the troops began to come into contact, it became clear that the prevailing view of combat was flawed, fatally for thousands and thousands of troops on all sides.  This was largely because all of the European armies had, to a greater or lesser extent, neglected the lessons of the experience of combat from the Crimean War (1853-1856)  through the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), roughly from the introduction of the rifled musket to that of the magazine rifle and the machine gun, not to mention numerous colonial conflicts, which demonstrated that the firepower of even small numbers of infantrymen or a handful of machine guns could inflict devastating slaughter on opposing troops in open country.  And none of the participants truly understood the overwhelming power of modern artillery. 

So the war that came was not the war that was expected.  

 

"No More Taxes!"

On January 6, 1449, 43-year-old Constantine Palaeologus succeeded his brother John VIII (r. 1425-1448) as Byzantine Emperor, reigning as Constantine XI (1449-1453).

The empire was in pretty bad shape at Constantine’s accession.  Largely limited to the city of Constantinople itself, plus some outlying places scattered across Greece, it was almost completely surrounded by Ottoman territory, and was actually a vassal of Sultan Murad II (r. 1421-1451).  Murad had earlier attempted to capture Constantinople, but Constantine’s predecessors had frustrated his efforts by clever diplomacy and good luck.  Nevertheless, when Murad died and his 19-year-old son Mehemet II (r. 1451-1481) ascended the throne, Constantine knew the ambitious young man had his sights on the imperial city.

An energetic man, Constantine set about preparing the city for a siege.  There was much to be done.  The defenses were badly deteriorated, there was little artillery, hardly any troops, and no money.  By pawning whatever he could, from imperial regalia to precious art works to church vessels, and by appeals to the Pope, Genoa, and other western powers (not all of whom responded well, or in time), Constantine was able to accumulate some cash and troops.

Of course, Constantine asked his subjects to kick in as well.

Unfortunately, the Imperial subjects, especially the rich ones, were disinclined to offer their money, claiming that they were desperately burdened by existing taxes.  No amount of reasoning could convince them that the best way to protect their wealth at this time was to part with some of it.

Mehemet laid siege to the city on April 6, 1453.  Constantine put up a remarkably strong defense, despite having fewer than 10,000 men against perhaps 100,000, a defense aided by the stoutness of the now aging fortifications that had for over a thousand years protected the city from its enemies.  Meanwhile, with the enemy quite literally at the gates, a delegation of the richest people approached the Emperor to offer their wealth in defense of the ancient capital.

Constantine became so enraged that he physically chased them away, saying "Go and die with your gold, since you would not live without it!"

Though in the long run the walls of the city, albeit the most extensive defenses in the world, were no match for Mehemet’s new European artillery, perhaps, had money been available, Constantine might have been able to put the city into a higher state of readiness than was actually the case, for prolonging the defense would ultimately have worked in his favor.   

On May 29, 1453 a Turkish assault breached the Military Gate of St. Romanus.  Constantine perished in the breach as the Turks stormed into the city.

As for the inhabitants, those who were not murdered in the subsequent sack were dragged off as slaves, and thus no longer had to pay taxes.

 


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