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. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.
9-14 December 1813 Battles of the Nive
By December 1813 Wellington’s army had successfully pushed Marshal Soult’s French forces out of Spain and into southwest France. As the Allies advanced towards the French fortress of Bayonne they were forced to split in two by the river Nive. Soult, having formed a defensive line, launched a series of counterattacks on 9 December. The bulk of the fighting on the part of the Allied forces was left to Lieutenant Generals Rowland Hill and John Hope with Wellington remaining in reserve. On 14 December, after four days of intense fighting, the French were forced to withdraw. Severe weather precluded further action for two months.
“From observation and concurring reports, it appears that the enemy had collected nearly the whole of his force, under Marshal Soult, for this operation. From the fire of our artillery and the gallant resistance the enemy met with at all points, his loss is immense.”
MS 61 WP1/380 Letter from Lieutenant General Rowland Hill, Vieux Mouguerre, to Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, 16 December 1813
10 December 1917 Britain liberates Jerusalem
To secure the final objective of the Southern Palestine Offensive of World War One, Britain undertook Jerusalem operations against the Ottoman Empire. Britain had recognised that in order for Jerusalem to be captured, two battles were to be fought in the Judean Hills to the north and the east of the Hebron-Junction Station line. These battles were the Battle of Nebi Samwill and the Defence of Jerusalem. Britain also saw the necessity of advancing across the Nahr el Auja as the Battle of Jaffa. These battles resulted with the British forces achieving victories against the Yildirim Army Group’s Seventh Army in the Judean Hills and the Eight Army north of Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast. As a result of these victories, the British Empire troops captured Jerusalem and established a new strategically strong fortified line.
“Nothing much that is pleasant to record. Jerusalem captured!”
MS 168 AJ 217/13 Journal of Samuel Rich, 10 December 1917
11 December 1939 Finland holds the Mannerheim Line against Russia aggression
The Soviet Union first attacked Finland at the end of November 1939. The final significant act of the League (it was replaced by the United Nations after the end of the war) was to expel the Soviet Union in December. The Finns retreated to the Mannerheim line and held their position until mid-February.
“War news – increased sinkings of ships – the Finns hold out – the L[eague] of N[ations] are “moving”.”
MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 11 December 1939