Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Decisive Battles: Pavia 1525

It's been a bit of a break for the battles, neh?

Couple of reasons for that.

One was the Christmas-New Year's follies and the awful weather that went with it, plus a crazy work schedule.

The other was that there just aren't that many battles for December, January and February.

Prior to the development of agriculture nobody really fought in the winter outside the tropics, anyway. Food didn't keep so you had no rations, travel was crap and the weather sucked bad enough without someone trying to kill you. Sod that for a game of soldiers.But even after the development of organized armies and logistical trains, winter campaigns were hard to start, hard to manage and hard to get a real result out of. Certainly there were winter battles in the preindustrial age such as Trenton and Eylau. But the list of truly decisive battles in the northern hemisphere in winter is pretty slim. November yields Bun'ei/Hakata Bay in 1274. But although a pretty decisive Japanese win the long-term effect is questionable, since the Mongols were back again seven years later. December is vacant, and in January there's really only the fall of Granada in 1492, which as a battle is minor although the Reconquista itself is one of history's enormous watersheds.

So we come to February, and one of history's most problematic "decisive" battles. Those of us who believe that sometimes war does in fact solve things are well advised to look long on this engagement, a testimony to the ugly reality that you can do something really, really well, and get what to all appearances is the outcome you want and still end up, in the end, with absolutely nothing. This, then, is the Battle of

Pavia Date: February 24, 1524Forces Engaged: French: initially about 21,000 footsoldiers (including 10,000 Swiss and 5,000 German mercenary [landsknechte]) and an estimated 6,000 handgun-armed infantrymen (arqebusiers); 3,500 cavalry, of which 1,500 are what we would call armored knights (French “gendarmes”, noblemen and their armed retainers) and 2,000 are lance-and-sword-armed light to medium cavalry; 53 cannon. Roughly 28,000 total under Francis I, Valois king of France.

(Note: somewhere between 2,000 to 6,000 troops – the “Black Band” mercenaries of the Medicis (not the "Black Legion" mentioned later!) and some 4-5,000 Swiss mercenaries of the Grison cantons - decamped from the French force before the battle, leaving about 23- 25,000 troops to face the Imperialists before Pavia)

Imperial: 19-20,000 infantry (including 11,000 landsknechts, 3,000 arqubusiers and 5-6,000 Spanish tercio combined arms infantry – more about which later); about 5,000 cavalry, mostly Imperial men-at-arms, 17 cannon. Also roughly 25,000 under a group of divisional commanders: nominally Charles of Lannoy but particularly with the cooperation of the Spanish professional officer Antonio de Leyva commanding the 6,000-man garrison of Pavia.

The Situation: There is probably no more forgotten (and even less understood even when recalled) set of conflicts – to an American audience, especially – than the dynastic wars that consumed Europe pretty much from the fall of Rome the late 5th Century AD to the Concert of Vienna in the year 1815. It seems to a latter-day dweller of the Western Hemisphere that the Europeans did nothing but fight each other, catch plagues and fornicate when they weren’t writing plays and persecuting Jews. The permutations are baffling and the personalities and polities even more so. Which pope did what (other than the Borgia popes who were doing all the fornicating)? What the hell was the Holy Roman Empire? It wasn’t Roman, that’s for sure, and its holiness is pretty questionable, too. What the hell were they fighting about? It all seems way too European, quaint, peculiar and dated to an American observer.

The sixty-year period (1494 to 1559) that contains the so-called “Great Italian Wars” is like a poster child for these wars. I mean, here’s the opening two paragraphs in the Wiki entry for the Italian War of 1494:
“Pope Innocent VIII, in conflict with King Ferdinand I of Naples over Ferdinand's refusal to pay feudal dues to the papacy, excommunicated and deposed Ferdinand by a bull of 11 September 1489, then offered the Kingdom of Naples to King Charles VIII of France, who had a remote claim to Naples through the Angevin line. Innocent later settled his quarrel with Ferdinand and revoked the bans before dying in 1492, but the offer remained an apple of discord in Italian politics. Ferdinand died in January 1494, and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II. In October 1494, Ludovico Sforza, who had long controlled the Duchy of Milan, finally inherited the ducal title. He was immediately challenged by Alfonso II, who also had a claim on Milan. Ludovico decided to remove this threat by inciting Charles to take up Innocent's offer. Charles gathered a large army of 25,000 men and invaded Italy.”
Ludovico Who? An apple of what? WTF? Why the hell were these mooks fighting, and for what? And keep in mind that this is only the FIRST of the six or seven of these damn things – the players and the stories get MORE complex in the 16th Century!
Perhaps the best way to think of this mess is to stick to the basics:

1. France was the biggest and meanest power in Europe at the end of the 15th Century. Her Capetan royalty, never famous for their military acumen – let’s face it, this was the gang that kept charging English longbow formations – was feeling pretty cocky and wanted a piece of everybody’s action, especially in Italy, their weak and divided neighbor.

2. The Spanish (fresh from the Reconquista) and the Holy Roman Empire saw France as their natural enemy and ganged against her whenever possible.

3. The ankle-biters: the princely states of Italy, England, later the Dutch, kept an eye open for ways to discomfit France whenever it looked cheap and easy. The Italian states, of course, feuded interminably with each other. It was their pastime, and a more disastrous one can barely be imagined.

4. As always, the Ottomans lurked over the horizon, ready to make trouble whenever possible.

In this particular case, Charles Hapsburg of Spain was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Francis I of France had wanted the job. The bribery and chicanery involved in the election were Chicagoan in scale, and eventually Charles got the nod because he bent the electors the old fashiond way: he marched an army to Frankfurt, where the electors were meeting, and let them know that they could receive silver externally or steel internally (what any Columbian drug lord would recognize: plombo o plata). They got the hint, he got the job, Francis got pissed and it was game on, muthafucka.The Sources: As befits a historical event in the midst of the High Rennaissance we have several good sources including the correspondence of the commanders involved. Francesco Guicciardini, servant to the Medici, published the Storia d'Italia, a political history of Italy covering the Italian Wars to the mid-1530’s that is a valuable summary of the period, though Guicciardini’s faults as an author are nearly as prolix as his failings as a man.

The Campaign: The North Italian campaign of fall 1524 and winter 1525 was a confusing as all the rest of this Italian Wars nonsense. I could tell you about the French capture of Milan, the retreat of Lannoy and the Imperial army towards Lodi, Francis’ diversion from the pursuit and destruction of the Imperial field force to besiege Pavia.

Or I could discuss the movements of the French detachment under Montmorency, or the brief, odd intervention of a Spanish force under Moncada that landed at Genoa in December, was immediately cut off by a combination of French land force and a Genoese Italian-but-in-Valois-service fleet and surrendered. Or Lannoy’s skittish maneuverings towards Pavia in January and February, 1525. But why bother? They are, as a better writer than me would say, but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The bottom line was that at nightfall on February 23rd things in and around Pavia looked like this:

1. Leyva and his 5-6,000 were still hemmed up in Pavia, but were in close contact with Lannoy and prepared to move to support him.

2. Francis and his entire force were camped around the north side of Pavia within an immense walled park or forest preserve of some sort called Mirabello. Francis, for some unknown reason, apparently believed that the walls of this park were a functional barrier without observation; he does not appear to have set listening or observation posts on the wall itself or close enough to the wall to detect a breach. Within the park his troops are spread out in seperate cantonments beyond supporting distance of each other

3. Lannoy and the main Imperial force was camped just outside the east and northeast walls of the Mirabello park. The sources do not say whether Francis knew where the Imperials were, whether he cared, or not.

At any rate the Imperials were convinced that they were already beaten. They began a night attack merely to disarray the French long enough to retreat unmolested. As Murphy’s Laws of War would say: when both sides are convinced they will lose, the may both be right. But for the Imperialists, today was their lucky day.

The Engagement: After what must have been a truly shitty night march in a drizzling rain and fog the Imperial sappers knocked a hole or holes in the Mirabello park walls sometime after midnight on 2/24; a force of some 3,000 arquebusiers under the mercenary leader d’Avalos were first through the breach and headed directly south to attack the castle or lodge in the centre of the park – this was where Lannoy assumed Francis and the French nobility would be camped.The main French force, however, was posted well west of the breach, so the actual battle probably began sometime before dawn, about 5:00 am, with a meeting engagement between French light cavalry and Imperial horse near the opening in the wall. The imperialists had been sent in behind the handgunners to attack targets of opportunity and generally f-up the French encampment to prevent the besiegers from organizing. Instead, the French cavalry tied up the Imperialists until the sounds of the fighting dragged in a force of Swiss pike, which in turn overran a Spanish battery while in march order passing the breach. The entire north end of the park was a bloody, confused mess as Georg Frundsburg’s 6,000 German mercenary infantry piled into the scrum.

By sunrise (7:00am) a flailing mass of infantry was hacking and slashing away at each other near the opening in the wall.Francis of France was in a pretty bad way: his troops were scattered all over the Mirabello park, and, to make matters worse, de Leyva sortied his tercios from Pavia, pinning the French forces nearest the town.

The troops in the best position to hit the advancing Imperials were those camped near the Francis’s headquarters, his gendarmerie and a small artillery reserve. Moving up in support were the mercenaries in French pay: Swiss pikemen and German landsknecht infantry including the so-called Black Legion, “renegade” former Imperialist landsknechts turned by the French.

The more numerous French artillery went in battery and began firing on the Imperialist right and rear, doing some damage there. Francis then led a charge into one of the Imperialist cavalry units, killing the commander and putting the unit to rout. But in true wooden-headed knightly fashion the charge masked his own artillery (which had been doing good bloody work on the Imperial infantry) and when Francis’ gendarmes found themselves unable to break through the Imperial mercenary pike they were at a dead stymie.

The French heavy cavalry could not defeat the pikemen without support, and Francis had charged into battle at the head of his knights like a good storybook hero, failing to organize that support. The result of a failed cavalry charge is a mess; tired men and blown horses, their ranks ragged and their impetus lost. The gendarmes found themselves useless in what was rapidly becoming an infantry melee.

And there, the French were failing rather spectacularly. To the left of the gandarmes, the Swiss mercenaries in French pay were not enjoying their sortie against d’Avalos’ arquebusiers and musketeers. It seems that these unsporting little bastards were making use of whatever cover was available in the hunting park and then falling back as the Swiss drew near; shooting and moving, causing casualties but taking few of their own. The Swiss had already learned the lesson polearms against firearms made for a long day unless the polearms could get within arm’s reach. Having taken losses from the gunfire, a brief ‘push of pike’ with Pescara’s Spanish infantry convinced the Swiss that “hier schlagen wir nicht”; they began to fall back.

On the French right, things were even uglier. It was landsknecht versus landsknecht in a chopping match. The French mercenaries were outnumbered and enveloped – the Black Legion was butchered to the man.Without the footsoldiers to cover their flanks, the Spanish handgunners closed in around Francis’ gendarmes “in small units all over the field without a definite battle line according to the long experience and the new precepts of Pescara.”

The French knights were bought and sold: hemmed in by copses, hedges and blocks of Imperialist pikes, the heavy bullets punched through the knightly armor, breaking bones, gutting and splattering lungs, braining and ensanguinating. Francis himself was shot off his horse and captured.

Leyva’s garrison had smashed the 3,000 Swiss holding the siege lines; their panicked flight took them into the Ticino River, where they were butchered and drowned in job lots. The remainder of the French forces, the French rearguard, under the Duke of Alençon, had been unengaged and southwest of the Ticino. Realizing the magnitude of the disaster, Alençon immediately began retreating towards Milan.

By 9:00 am, the battle was over.

The Outcome: Decisive tactical Imperialist victory; however, the long-term effect of Pavia were almost negligible – see below.

The Impact: You would think that Pavia should have been hell and fucking disaster for France. The King in chains. The nobility decimated: Montmorency and Flourance captured; Bonnivet, Le Tremoille, La Palice, Suffolk, and Lorraine dead. The French army butchered, all of northern Italy prostrate before the Imperialists.

You’d think that.

But then you read that a mere eleven years later Francis was BACK, capturing Turin and making a general nuisance of himself in north Italy. Again.

And six years after THAT…this time, he’s allied himself with the fucking Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, capturing Nice, fighting the English and Imperials in the Low Countries.

Francis finally quits messing around in Italy in 1547. Only because the pigheaded persistent bastard finally fucking dies.

Really. Some people...


Pavia is worth considering purely for the light it sheds on the entire concept of a “decisive battle”. Few engagements were won more decisively by the victor or lost more completely by the defeated; Francis famously wrote “..all is lost save honor and life” and that pretty much sums it up.The French were still fighting with steel, and, more importantly, thinking like they were. The Imperialists had begun to learn the lessons of powder and shot. The Imperial and, particularly, the Spanish while hardly that much technically or tactically superior to the French had two great advantages.

First, their command and control was infinitely better. Lannoy and Leyva worked their mousetrap like, well, a mousetrap. Francis couldn’t even coordinate between his own cavalry and his artillery a short round away.And, second, they were learning to fight as a combined arms team. Pavia is usually cited as the arrival on the European military stage of Spain as a military power, and the Spanish tercio as the dreadnought of the 16th Century battlefield. From Pavia in 1525 to Rocroi in 1643 the tercio was the Queen of Battle, and the Spanish Empire the power to reckon with in European politics.

Touchline Tattles: Supposedly Francis, who had lost everything except honor, had also lost any belly timber for his tum-tum.

The story goes is that after the brawl was done all he could find was a bowl of soup in a peasant woman’s hut, and the poor old girl shoved some bread and a couple of henfruit in the soup to make it a little more fit for a king, thus creating Zuppa Pavese.

True?

Who knows.

Good soup, though!

21 comments:

sheerahkahn said...

Nicely covered Chief.
And I would have to agree, the only ones who came out of that mess ahead of the game was the Spanish.
I believe Pavia is where the Spainish Conquistadors earned the reputation as being the only ones to have defeated the Swiss Hedge...and it seems to an extent to be somewhat true.
(I've never studied the battle myself, only the Spainish Conquista and their colonizations of the new world).
On a side note, however, the whole mess about the Holy Roman Empire was less about being Roman, and more about who had claim to the title of Emperor, and head of the Church (From what I've read, it seems the pope was appointed by the Emperor, and reliant on the Emperor as a patron).
It was a title many a European prince fancied for himself, and thereby, the title carried with it some weight.
But the actual meat of the title seems to have waned quite a bit in terms of religious authority in the church after the Salian dynasty came to an end.
Of which, I would reckon, Henry V could blame his father Henry IV for not leaving him much to work with in regards to the title of Holy Roman Emperor.
For the Germans, Canossa will always be a bitter pill.

pluto said...

Well done, as usual. The only thing I can add is to point out that the Italian city-states looked like rich, tasty, little prizes during the Renesaince and that added fuel to the French desire to own or influence them.

The fact of the matter was that the city-states tended to ride the ragged edge of disaster and were constantly being extorted by various forces or risk being wiped out or excommunicated.

The Papacy was heavily influenced by these continual "your money or your life" shake-downs and eventually degenerated to the point where Martin Luther had to speak up and we ALL know what kind of trouble that caused!

FDChief said...

Pluto: The point about the Papacy and Luther is really important, and yet I don't often see it raised. The Holy See didn't turn to seeling indulgences because Jesus told them it was a good idea. They turned to selling indulgences because the cash bought Swiss pikemen and German handgunners. When you look at it that way, the whole ugly schism and everything leading from it (I'm thinking Thirty Years' War, etc.) had as much to do with the politics of Renaissance Italy as the theologic differences between a German monk and the Holy Father.

Ael said...

I'm surprised that you didn't mention the most important winter battle in living history: Moscow 1941.

That battle made the red army and shaped the world we see today.

mike said...

Historian Barbara Tuchman claimed that the instigator was Pope Clement VII. Clement, the former Giulio de' Medici, was infamous as one of the Renaissance Six that triggered the Reformation. He was allied with the Emperor, yet entered into a secret deal with King Francis, inviting him to take all of Italy except for the Papal States and his hometown of Florence.

The Emperor found out about the double dealing, hence the battle of Pavia. A year later Clement did some additional double dealing with France absolving King Francis of keeping his pledge to the Emperor and encouraging him to return to Italy.

So the Spanish/Hapsburg armies returned. Most of Italy was racked by violence and eventually starvation. And in 1527 they sacked Rome. A strange sight it must have been for good Spanish Catholic tercios to be seen strutting side by side with Lutheran Landsknechte at St Peter's in stolen papal robes and regalia.

Looting the Vatican was the smallest of the indignities. Rioting troops went house to house throughout Rome robbing, burning, torturing. All women were violated, and nuns were sold into brothels. This was the end result of the battle of Pavia.

In a side note, I have to agree with AEL. In talking of Hitler's Eastern front, almost everybody talks about Stalingrad being the turning point. But for my money it was the Battle Moscow, a year earlier. Although, like the French over a century earlier, the Russian Winter was an important factor, but not he only one. Good catch, AEL!

FDChief said...

Ael, mike: I have to agree with you on the decisiveness of the Battle of Moscow, with the caveat that the real "decisive" factors involved were 1) the German unpreparedness for fighting a winter campaign and 2) the willingness of the Soviets to keep fighting with the enemy in the suburbs of their capital. So there wasn't a "decisive battle" in the sense of a Waterloo-type engagement where the course of history changed in a day or a week. But Hitler's failure before Moscow doomed Barbarossa in much the same way that failing to bring the Czar to sue for peace while standing within the Kremlin doomed the preceding imperial invader...

Mike: Yeah, Clement was a sleazy old bastard wasn't he? But, then, the entirety of Italian politics at the time was pretty nasty. Machivelli, who we think of as the ultimate shiv-in-the-back schemer was a noble innocent compared to people like Gucciardini. Really, I can't imagine a more dysfunctional bunch of rulers as the Italian petty nobility of the Renaissance until...well, until our past President and his gang of idiots.

FDChief said...

Re: the Battle of Moscow - I see your point in that December 5-7, 1941 seems to be considered the point where Barbarossa comes to a halt and the long, slow march to Berlin begins.

December next year, how 'bout that?

Helluva fight. I always chuckle a little at how we make such a deal out of D-Day and the Bulge and that. Compared to what was going on east of the Elbe, our little sideshow was purely for the entertainment value...

Ael said...

Actually, the battle of Moscow had a very clear turning point. From December 5th where Zhukov had pulled *58* divisions out of his hat(or perhaps somewhere lower down) to December 19, when Hitler fired von Brauchitsch, the war had changed. No more blitzkrieg, it was now a grinding fight to the bitter end (with *Hitler* as generalissimo)

Even the little something that happened in the pacific during that time period wasn't as significant.

pluto said...

Ael -
You're right that the "little thing that happened in the Pacific" was a relatively insignificant event but it had one HUGE side-effect, it brought the US in as a supplier to the Soviet Union.

The weapons we sent them weren't the important thing, it was the trucks, food, and rail equipment that freed up tremendous Soviet resources and kept the Germans from being able to force a stalemate.

In spite of that, the Russians were REALLY scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel by 1945 and would have been completely out if the war had persisted another year. The Soviet generals used men the way American generals use ammunition. The only problem is that it takes much less time to make ammunition than it takes to make men...

mike said...

Zhukov shot more than a few of those 58 division commanders when their counter-offensive stalled. But in the long run it was Dodge and Studebaker trucks, Willys Jeeps, P-39 fighters, "Kobrastochka" to their Russky pilots, that finally broke the back of the Hun.

sheerahkahn said...

I've always considered Stalingrad as the battle that broke the Wehrmacht's Eastern Front back, and Moscow as the one that kept the Russians in the war.
The way I see it, and this is just my perspective and thus not monolithic, also forgive me if I use sports analogy here, but if we look at it from a volleyball game Moscow was the set-up for the Stalingrad spike.
Germany was still in the fight after Moscow, but after Stalingrad, Germany was on the defensive from there on out.
And if I remember correctly, the reason why the Germans were able to do the habeus grabbus on Stalingrad was because the Russian forces were still tied up at Moscow (granted though the Germans for all intents and purposes were not much of a going concern by that time around Moscow, but Stalin, if I recall correctly, was a bit paranoid).
So, I still think that the end of German ability to execute an effective offensive officially ended at Stalingrad.
They did loose an entire Army Corps there.

FDChief said...

As much as I'm not a big defender of the Soviet "let's throw bodies at them until they run out of bullets" style of tactics, they had a point: they had the bodies and the Germans didn't. They didn't and probably never could match the Heer's tactical sophistication, so they did what worked. But...

Sheerah, my understanding is that the sequence of events that led to Stalingrad was, to a large degree, driven by Stalin's insistence in attacking around Moscow in the winter and spring of 1942. As mike notes, the counteroffensive stalled and ground up a lot of good troops - the "Siberian" divisions that Zhukov pulled out of his hat to stop Barbarossa in front of Moscow (Oh, yeah, and thanks, Japanese, for doing such great fucking job pinning down the Group of Soviet Forces in Siberia in 1941, signed, yours in Hell, Adolf) - that in turn left enough thin sections along the Ostfront that Army Group B could hammer on down to the Volga.

And I have to ask: was Lend-Lease that big a deal? I know that it helped - certainly the impact on the siege of Leningrad was pretty huge - but my understanding is that in terms of overall quantity the amount of total material that reached the USSR was fairly modest compared to her own production.

And certainly the material loss from the North Atlantic convoys up to 1944 had to be pretty brutal. I always got the impression that Lend-Lease was as much about politics as it was about logistics...

Given the discussion here I might have to talk about the Битва под Москвой before next December!

sheerahkahn said...

I think the one thing that helped the Soviets...:::cough:::...was the 155 artillery pieces we.../ahem..."loaned" them, which if one were to do a side by side comparison, seems to become the standard Soviet design for 155 arty for the next twenty years.

The Bell Cobras...great at ground attack...but the Russians had better, and to be perfectly honest, the Russians were not by any measure masters of the air...a zerg of ground forces and aircraft was about the only thing they could muster...so, I think the reason why Germany had a crap load of aces from the Eastern Front had to do more with the quality of the Russian pilots than with the types of planes they were flying.
And given the comparisons between the two, Zukov, imo, a practical General, knew his forces were piss poor compared to the Germans, so...go with what you got...if you don't have quality, go en masse.
A 98 rifle only carries so many bullets, and a German soldier can carry only so many rounds before it's just him, his bayonet, facing a whole horde of scared-shitless peasants who are more afraid of the commmissar behind them than they are of the German soldier in front of them.

Ael said...

I don't really know how much the lend-lease trucks helped. I suspect that most material was moved by railroads and horse drawn wagons.
Motor vehicles were precious (and relatively rare) things.

Were they enough to tip the balance? I don't know. I suspect not.

Now, a second front in France, in 1942. *That* would have helped. Alas, the allies could not do it.

Also, note the difference between Stalin and Hitler. After Moscow, it was basically Hitler as the general.

Stalin let Zhukov mostly run the war. (except when he didn't, which usally meant a lot of extra russians getting killed, and Zhukov having to come and give him bad news a month or two later.

I often wonder what it must have been like for Zhukov to work for Stalin, literally putting his life on the line, wondering how far he could push Stalin on the one side and the Germans on the other).

I am convinced that no officer in the Red Army had a more dangerous job. He must have had nerves of steel. I would never want to play poker (or chess) against him.

The wonder of it all, is that both Stalin and Zhukov died as old men

FDChief said...

Sheerah: Have to agree with you - I'll bet that a Soviet pilot moved to the Bell aircraft from Il-2 "Shturmoviks" must have felt pretty chapped.

Ael: Zhukov must have had something under his uniform trousers that clanged when he walked. I should really try and find a good bio of the man.

Like I say, the Lend-Lease stuff DID have a significant impact on the Leningrad area. But overall? Have to say I'm not convinced.

At the very least, almost every Russian I've talked to, and every Soviet and even post-Soviet history has been pretty authoritative that about 95% of the war effort came from within the USSR.

The Sovs were good at the big stuff like dams, generators and wars. Wasteful, crude but effective.

The day-to-day human life stuff?

Not so much.

pluto said...

You're also right that the weaponry we sent them were of limited value (except trucks, which they turned into Katyusha launchers because American trucks were so much more reliable than their own). But that wasn't the bulk of the aid that we sent them, I read somewhere (can't find the source right now) that something like 22% of the food the Russians were eating in 1944-45 was grown in America. This freed up a LOT of peasants to make a one-way trip to Germany or to build tanks.

The Russians had another famine in 1946 when the US stopped sending them foodstuffs, mostly because their farm machinery and transportation network had been badly used and abused during the war.

You're all right that the Red Air Force was really bad at training pilots in 1942-43 but the Yaks and Sturmoviks kept getting better and were pretty good by the end of the war. The pilots had survived one of the most punishing schools in the world (getting shot down by the Germans again and again) so they were pretty good too.

One-on-one against British or American pilots they'd have been toast but they were brutally effective against the Germans by mid 1943 and were helpful in repelling the German attack at Kursk.

Ael said...

Zhukov's autobiography is a very good read. Alas, it (at best) hints at all the really juicy gossipy stuff that you would *love* to know about the personalities involved.

FDChief said...

Pluto: One of the odd things I came across was the fact that while the Il-2 pilot's compartment was pretty heavily armored the rear gunner was almost unprotected, and the Sovs lost four gunners for every pilot. To the point where even in Russia the tale goes that Shturmovik gunners came from "penal" units - that you wound up in the gunner's seat in an Il-2 for saying Stalin was a big bastard or something. Not true, but says something about the Soviet thinking that they didn't bother to armor the gunner...

As far as pilot/aircrft quality vs. German or Western Allies, well, the Soviets would have said "Quantity has a quality of its own"...we can knock them for the crudity of their weapons and the brutality of their tactics but before we go too far, we should probably remember who was the last man standing in 1945...

Leon said...

I would point out the T-34 had a lot of quality to go with the quantity as well.

It's an interesting comparison between German and Russian generals. Despite working for two equally ruthless and psychotic despots, with the Germans if you pissed of Hitler enough he just fired you. Stalin had you set on fire.

Lisa said...

Fascinating, thank you. I've learned much, both from you and your commenters.

Anonymous said...

The french did not use arquebuses. They used crossbows.