Reflections on war and warfare: week 17 (23 – 29 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.

24 June 1918 Austria suffer defeat in the Second Battle of the Piave River, Italy
The Battle of the Piave River was the last major attack by the Austro-Hungarian army in Italy in World War One. As a result of Russia withdrawing itself from the war, Germany turned to Austria-Hungry to contribute resources to defeating Italy. Despite German-aided operations being a success at Caporetto in 1917, the troops of Austria-Hungary were in a different condition in 1918. As well as supplies being low, so was morale. Nevertheless, commanders of the Austria-Hungary force favoured an attack. As General Diaz had learned of the exact timing of the Austrian attack, the Italians were well prepared: increasing their numbers along the Piave and receiving shipments of arms from Allied munitions factories. Italy achieved a great victory whilst Austria’s troops suffered 60,000 deaths and 90,000 wounded.

“The Austrian news is most thrilling, and may have tremendously far reaching effects.”

MS 132 AJ 322 1/4 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 24 June 1918


25 June 1944 Doodlebugs
Towards the end of the Second World War in June 1944 the Germans started to send V1 Flying bombs, often referred to as ‘Doodlebugs’, to bomb London. These were essentially a bomb with wings, like an aeroplane without a pilot. They flew until they ran out of fuel and then either dropped instantly or glided towards the ground where they would explode upon impact. Thousands were launched against London and they generated huge levels of fear. If the engines could be heard, then most people stopped moving to allow some distance to develop, but if the engines cut out before they reached where an individual was standing, they could not be sure the doodlebug would not drop or glide towards to them.

“After lunch I was asleep in a deck chair in the garden, when I mistook the rumble of a train for a doodle bug in my sleep. For the first time in the war I was overtaken by stark terror; dodged behind the tree and made for the garden shelter – stumbling I grazed my knee. Amy, Connie and Bridget all ran to awaken me. A nasty experience. Like an insect dodging a giant foot!”

MS 168 AJ217/40 Journal of Samuel Rich, 25 June 1944


26 June 1815 Anticipating the cost of victory
Following the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington sent his official dispatch to England on 19 June 1815. It was published in the London Gazette on 22 June. A letter sent to Denis Pack from Brighton, on 26 June, expresses relief on hearing that he has not been killed. The correspondent also anticipates the official publication of the losses that have resulted from the campaign.

“I congratulate you most heartily upon what has passed; and upon the very distinguished share you have (as usual) had in the business. It has been a most glorious victory: indeed I think quite as much so as England has ever had to boast. Our loss seems to have been very severe; tho, even yet, we here do not know the exact extent of it. Of course we are most anxiously looking for returns, and are somewhat surprised they have not yet been published; and cannot help conjecturing their dismal length makes government tardy in their publication.

Whatever their extent may be, I should hope, and indeed I feel confident, that the results will be fully adequate, for I cannot help persuading myself that such a commencement of the campaign will occasion the speedy downfall of Napoleon. It is idle talk of how much I regret Picton, etc. These sort of great results can only be obtained at great expense.”

MS 296/1 Letter sent from Brighton to Major General Sir Denis Pack, congratulating him on the success of the Waterloo Campaign, 26 June 1815

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