Reflections on war and warfare: week 16 (16 – 22 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.

18 June 1917 Attack of the Gothas leads to new preparations for air raids
On 13 June 1917, London received its first daylight raid by the German planes called Gothas, a biplane with a wingspan the length of two buses. Although the 18 Gothas were opposed by 90 British fighters, none were brought down, leading to the death of 162 people. This figure included 18 children killed as a result of a bomb landing directly on Upper North Street School in Chelsea. These devastation of the raids led to schools in the city tightening up their procedures during bombings, to strengthen the protection of their pupils.

“Talk at the Jewish Free School about new methods during air raids. They are now going to move some classes to the basement and others to unused rooms.”

MS 168 AJ 217/13 Journal of Samuel Rich, 18 June 1917


18 June 1854 Continued siege of Silistria
The Russian troops besieged the fortified town of Silistria from March1854. Despite various assaults, as Edward Wellesley notes below, the Turks managed to hold well into June. The Russian forces eventually withdrew on 24 June after orders for the attack were revoked.

“The Turks are holding out very well in Silistria and the Russians have not as yet made much impression.”

MS 63 A904/4/30 Letter from Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 18 June 1854


19 June 1815 Witnessing the cost of victory
The Battle of Waterloo resulted in a decisive allied victory. It not only ended the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte but also ended the series of wars which had raged across Europe, and other regions of the world, since the French Revolutionary wars of the 1790s. The decisive victory, however, came with a heavy loss of life on both sides. In the passage below, Wellington laments the cost of victory as he informs George Hamilton Gordon, fourth Earl of Aberdeen, of the death of his brother.

“I cannot express to you the regret and sorrow with which I look round me, and contemplate the loss which I have sustained, particularly in your brother. The glory resulting from such actions, so dearly bought, is no consolation to me; and I cannot suggest it as any to you and his friends; but I hope that it may be expected that this last one has been so decisive, as that no doubt remains, that our exertions and our individual losses will be rewarded by the early attainment of our just object. It is then that the glory of the actions in which our friends and relations have fallen will be some consolation for their loss.”

WP1/471/4 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, to George Hamilton Gordon, fourth Earl of Aberdeen, informing him of the death of his brother at the Battle of Waterloo, 19 June 1815


22 June 1941 German invasion of Russia
On the 22 June 1941, operation Barbarossa was put into practice and German troops invaded Russia in three parallel offensives: nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, and 7,000 artillery pieces poured across a thousand-mile front.

This invasion occurred despite the fact that Germany and Russia had signed a pact in 1939, each promising the other a specific region of influence without interference from the other. Hitler ignored the warnings from his advisors that Germany could not sustain a war on two fronts. He believed that England was holding out against German assaults, refusing to surrender, because it had struck a secret deal with Russia.

“5:30 a.m. Hitler attacked Russia from the white sea to the Black Sea. Momentous and I really believe a good omen. Of course I listened to every news bulletin throughout this flaming day – 9, 1, 6 and again at 9 to Churchill – giving the government’s decision to help Russia! – If Hitler reckoned on the democracies leaving Russia to its folk because of communism, he now knows he was wrong – Damascus too is taken by the free French.”

MS 168 AJ217/37 Journal of Samuel Rich, 22 June 1941

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