Reflections on war and warfare: week 13 (26 May – 1 June 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

28 May 1940 Belgian surrender to Germany
The attack on Belgium and Holland began on 10 May 1940, with German air raids. These raids were followed by parachute drops and attacks by ground forces. The Germans also brought tank formations forward in preparation for their planned attack on France. The speed of the German advance and the brutality of the air raids gave them a huge psychological advantage; on 14 May the Dutch surrendered and Belgium followed on 28 May.

“I little thought as I had a bath at 5:30 a.m. that an hour before the whole Belgian army had been ordered to surrender by King Leopold.”

MS 168/36 Journal of Samuel Rich, 28 May 1940


28 May 1854 Attack on Silistria
A siege of Silistria, on the Danube, began at the end of April 1854. The Russians made their first assault on the 21 May, but were repulsed. At daybreak of the 27 May the Russians attacked again making three assaults, all of which were repulsed by the Turkish forces. A further assault on the 28 May resulted in Russian losses possibly as high as 2,000 men.

“The Russians we hear have made two attacks on Silistira which have been repulsed and the Turks it is also said have made a sortie and defeated a body of Russians.”

MS 63 A904/4/27 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, 28 May 1854


30 May 1915 The effects of the shell crisis
In May British troops had launched another attack against Germans at Festubert, north of Neueve Chapelle. This involved a 60-hour artillery bombardment, resulting in the troops only managing to advance 1000 yards and suffering 16,000 casualties. Such long hours of artillery bombardment led to a shell crisis, leading to regiments having to fight on the frontline for longer with little support. This was a result of Britain relying heavily on heavy guns to control the battlefield, rather than viewing artillery as just a useful support for infantry attacks.

“On the 30th May, when most of us had already summoned virtually all our personal reserves of courage and endurance, we were told that our relief had been postponed! It seemed incredible that we were to stay on Front Line duty for another 24 hours! But we did our duty and did not relax, even though I was carrying on with a bandaged wrist and my right hand out of use.”

MS 116/8 AJ 253 p.44 Typescript of ‘Soldering of sorts’ – recounting experiences with the Royal Fusiliers, 1913-19 by Major H.D. Myer, 30 May 1915


31 May 1811 Disposal of goods taken from the enemy
The Military Secretary was responsibility for administrating the military business of the Commander in Chief of the Forces, including dealing with nearly all communications between the Commander in Chief and the War Office. In the below passage the military secretary clearly states the position regarding the disposal of goods taken from the enemy.

“…the Commander of the Forces begs, that it may be understood in future, that every thing captured by the troops is His Majesty’s; and that any disposal of anything, such as horses, horse furniture, baggage, etc for the benefit of the troops, is a favour done to them, but not founded on any wright’s of theirs.”

WP 9/2/1/1 Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Lord Fitzroy Somerset, Military Secretary to Viscount Wellington, Commander in Chief of the allied army in the peninsula, to Lieutenant Colonel Rooke, regarding the disposal of horses taken from the enemy, 31 May 1811

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