Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Truth About the Italian War Record

None of the major participants of World War II have suffered as much unjust and unfounded criticism as the military forces of the Kingdom of Italy. It really is just amazing how this false narrative has taken hold and grown ever stronger and more prevalent over time. According to most mainstream and popular histories, the royal Italian military and the overall part played by the Kingdom of Italy in World War II was totally inconsequential. In a way not seen with any other people, the Italian military is widely dismissed as a comic opera operation with cowardly troops, ignorant commanders and useless weapons totally dependent on their German allies for their very survival. It is truly astonishing that this stereotype has persisted as it is totally, completely, untrue in every way. Obviously, being on the losing side, Italy suffered plenty of losses but they also won their share of victories. It is true that a number of leaders in the Italian high command were incompetent but they also had generals with impressive records of success. The Germans did have to bail them out from time to time but, the truth be known, the Italians also came to the rescue of the Germans on several occasions. Likewise, while Italy was less industrially advanced than most other major participants and so often had to make do with antiquated equipment, there were also examples of Italian weaponry being well in advance of others. In short, as with any country, the Kingdom of Italy had both high and low points, successes and failures just like anyone else.

Mussolini announcing the declaration of war
In the first place, attacks on the Italian character display a blatant double-standard that most people simply never think about. For example, in entering the war, Italy started with an attack on southern France when the French were already, for all intents and purposes, defeated by the German blitzkrieg. American President Roosevelt famously referred to this as a ‘stab in the back’ on the part of Italy. Does this apply to other powers? The same President Roosevelt, even more famously, referred to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as, “dastardly and unprovoked”. That was certainly untrue (“dastardly” is a judgment call but calling it “unprovoked” is demonstrably false) but what of the simultaneous attacks on the British and Dutch? Britain was in a fight for its life but in particular the attack on the Dutch East Indies was an attack on the territory of a country whose homeland had already been completely defeated and occupied by the enemy. Was this then an even worse ‘stab in the back’ than the attack on France? The same standard does not seem to be employed in viewing the joint Anglo-Soviet invasion and occupation of neutral Iran, possibly because most people have probably never even heard of it. For the Soviets, this is not too surprising as it was a monstrous regime that committed many monstrous crimes but for Britain, under Churchill, to invade a neutral country because of military necessity in a wider war after going to war with the German Empire in the First World War for doing exactly the same in regard to Belgium shows an obvious double-standard.

In the conduct of the war, the Kingdom of Italy did not do well in the opening attack on France but then neither did Britain in their opening clash with the Germans or the Japanese in France and Malaysia nor did the Americans in their opening clashes with Japan in the Philippines or the Germans in north Africa. In Italian East Africa the Italians performed very well and were under the leadership of Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta who proved a very capable battlefield commander. His forces launched such a sudden and overwhelming offensive against British Somaliland that Churchill was furious at how quickly his forces had retreated with so few losses (his commanders rightly pointed out that suffering needless losses in a hopeless battle was not the mark of good leadership). Italian forces conquered British Somaliland as well as occupying border areas of the Sudan and British East Africa. When the Allies finally gathered overwhelming forces to take on Italian East Africa, the Italians offered fierce resistance that gained them the respect of the British and, when the end finally came, the Duke of Aosta won further admiration for the gallantry he displayed in surrender.

Ettore Muti
In the early days of the war in Africa, the Italian forces came closer to victory than most realize. One major success that went a long way to allowing the Italians to make a major fight in north Africa was the long-range bombing missions launched by Lt. Colonel Ettore Muti on Palestine and Bahrain which did severe damage to British port facilities and oil refineries. This caused the British considerable logistical problems but also forced them to divert resources to defend the Middle East which were badly needed elsewhere. It also helped relieve the threat to the shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, allowing Italian forces to be moved to north Africa with very few losses. Starting from Italian bases in the Dodecanese Islands, making a wide circle around British bases in Cyprus, the Italian bombers hit British possessions in the Middle East and put the oil refineries in Haifa out of operation for at least a month. British aircraft operating out of Mt Carmel responded but were too late to intercept the Italian bombers as no one had been expecting an attack so far from what most considered the front lines. Also in the field of long-range flights, in 1942 an Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.75 flew from the Ukraine, across Soviet airspace to Japanese-held Inner Mongolia and then on to Tokyo in an effort to warn the Japanese that the Allies had broken their codes. It did no good as the Japanese refused to believe that their codes could be cracked (though they were even before the war began) and were upset by the flight for fear that it would incur Russian anger and after the clash at Khalkhin Gol Japan had a lasting fear of the Russians. Still, it was a remarkable achievement, overcoming Soviet AA fire, air attack, inaccurate maps and a Mongolian sandstorm that all threatened to botch the mission.

Marshal Rodolfo Graziani
Much of the unfair criticism leveled at the Italian war effort undoubtedly comes from operations in the first part of the war in north Africa. Mussolini wanted a quick and crushing offensive against the British in Egypt but his commander in the area, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, was not supportive of such an operation and after advancing about sixty miles into Egypt successfully, stopped and established defensive positions that were later rolled up by much smaller British forces in “Operation Compass”. In the first place, Marshal Graziani is often held up as an example of incompetent Italian leadership because of this fiasco but, as distasteful as he is to modern sensibilities, Graziani was an extremely effective military commander. Looking at his career in total, the invasion of Egypt was his one and only failure. He had been misled about the strength of the forces opposing him while he knew all too well how deficient the Italian forces were in equipment and logistical support. The lack of sufficient transport alone would have been enough to cripple such an ambitious invasion as Mussolini envisioned. When the British counter-attacked and advanced so swiftly, taking 100,000 Italian prisoners in the process, many pointed to this as “proof” of incompetence and cowardice. Absolute rubbish.

In the first place, Italian resistance did not simply collapse and, if one cares to look, there are numerous accounts -from the British- of Italian forces fighting effectively and with immense determination, fighting to the death against impossible odds, not in numbers but with shells that were ineffective, outclassed tankettes and artillery that was incapable of penetrating British armor. As for those who surrendered, many of them were colonial troops who were reliable enough under ordinary circumstances but who were not going to go above and beyond to maintain the Italian empire. However, again, we have a double-standard clearly at play. 100,000 Italians were taken prisoner by a numerically smaller enemy force and so they are dismissed as cowardly. Does that mean that the British, Indians, Australians etc were “cowardly” for surrendering 100,000 men to a much smaller Japanese army of 36,000 men at Singapore and Malaysia? Of course not, nor should they be. Japan had many advantages they lacked and the British were unaware of certain pivotal Japanese weaknesses. Numbers alone do not tell the whole story. And, finally, the Italian forces did rally in the end to bring the British advance to a halt, though, again, most mainstream histories do not tell this story, preferring to portray the arrival of the German “Afrika Korps” as the only thing that saved Italian north Africa.

General Valentino Babini
In fact, the British were worn out from their long advance across the desert, their supply lines were over-extended and the Italians were fighting with the tenacity of people who had their backs to the wall. A crucial element was the formation of the Special Armored Brigade under General Valentino Babini. Where this unit is mentioned at all, it is often simply stated that it was formed in 1940 and then wiped out toward the end of 1941 but in the intervening time it did considerable damage to the British, especially considering the handicaps that Italian armor had to operate under. General Babini was an avid proponent of fast, mechanized warfare and his achievements should not be ignored. At El Mechili on January 24-25, 1941 Babini and his men stopped the British advance, inflicting considerable losses on the British Fourth Armoured Brigade. They were forced to fall back, reorganize, reinforce and then focus on trying to encircle the Italians. Babini had to fall back to avoid this but his men still fought valiantly at Bede Fomm where they faced an onslaught by the entire Seventh Armoured Division, fighting to the last against vastly superior British tanks until they were wiped out and the remnant taken prisoner. The Italians had, nonetheless, hit hard enough to force the British to back off from finishing off the Italian presence in north Africa altogether and this provided the ‘breathing space’ for the arrival of the Germans under General Erwin Rommel.

At that point, of course, the situation changed considerably and Rommel has gone down in history as one of the greatest military leaders of all time for his stunning victories over the British in north Africa. What many fail to realize though is that the forces effectively under his command, which he used to win these masterful successes, were 2/3 Italian and the large majority of his armored forces were Italian tanks. His most able counterpart in this was Italian Marshal Ettore Bastico who had proven himself a very capable commander in his career, particularly his victorious campaign during the Spanish Civil War. The two often clashed (Rommel was notoriously critical of his superiors) but he was one of the few Italian officers that Rommel would at least listen to and Marshal Bastico correctly predicted that the second invasion of Egypt, that ended at El Alamein, would fail and exactly why. Unfortunately, his warnings, along with others, went unheeded.

Italian offensive in north Africa
Certainly, no one can deny that German assistance in north Africa was essential but while there is no dispute that the Germans had rescued the Italian position on the continent, it is also true that the Italians rescued the Germans on more than one occasion. During the German invasion of Crete, early on things were rather difficult for the Germans and a major impediment to their operation was the presence of the formidable British heavy cruiser HMS York. The Italians came to the rescue with a daring attack by Italian motor boats that succeeded in sinking the York in Souda Bay, as well as a tanker, for the loss of only six Italian sailors taken prisoner. In north Africa, at Gazala, the German XV Brigade was in danger of being wiped out by the British when nearby Italian forces, acting without orders, saw their situation and came to the rescue, saving them from imminent defeat. At the battle of El Alamein, after the German attack had failed and a British counter-offensive was about to wipe out the Axis forces, it was the Italians who stood and fought while the Germans retreated (all the way to Tunisia) so as to ‘live to fight another day’. The airborne “Folgore” Division earned the highest praise for their tenacious defense, holding off repeated attacks by superior British forces until they had nothing left to fight with. Even when their guns were lost, their tanks were destroyed, they still fought on, taking out British tanks by the improvised use of land mines (over 120 tanks & vehicles were destroyed). They bought the time with their lives, holding off the Allies, so that the Germans could get away and carry on the fight in the Tunisian bridgehead.

Italian submarine heroes
In the war at sea, the Italian Royal Navy won a number of engagements and succeeded in taking control of the central Mediterranean for a crucial period of time (this was when the invasion of Malta was supposed to happen but Rommel convinced the high command to postpone it while he invaded Egypt). In Operation Abstention the British tried to gain control of Italian possessions in the Greek islands but were defeated by a much smaller Italian naval force. In 1940, at the Battle of Calabria, Italian naval forces fought off a much superior British fleet (1 aircraft carrier and 3 battleships for Britain against 2 Italian battleships plus a number of smaller vessels on both sides). There were also smaller unit successes such as the 1943 Battle of Cogno Convoy in which 2 Italian torpedo boats sunk one British destroyer and badly damaged another. In the war under the waves, the most successful submarine commander of the war who was not a German was an Italian. The Italian boats operating in the north Atlantic alone sank about a million tons of Allied shipping and that was far from their most successful area of operations. In the Mediterranean, Italian subs sank the British cruisers HMS Bonaventure, HMS Calypso and HMS Coventry. Italian “human torpedoes” (which were not suicide weapons but more like modern-day SEAL teams) infiltrated the port of Alexandria and did severe damage to two British battleships. Similar attacks were also carried out in Gibraltar and were even planned for New York before Italy exited the war. Italian naval forces also provided valuable assistance to the Germans in Black Sea operations against Russia.

Macchi C.205
Italian pilots of the Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) had an impressive record in operations all over Europe and Africa. They operated against British shipping in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean from Italian East Africa early in the war, played a major part in the securing of the central Mediterranean and the neutralization of Malta. They also took part in the Battle of Britain though they are seldom given much attention. Their CR.42 biplanes were certainly slow and outdated compared to the magnificent British Spitfires but they actually gave as good as they got, taking losses certainly but inflicting some losses as well. Italian air attacks on British coastal facilities also provided a major distraction that drew RAF planes away from Luftwaffe strikes that were more significant. The Italians also had some very advanced aircraft, well beyond the CR.42 biplanes but simply lacked the industry and resources to produce many of them. The Kingdom of Italy produced the second jet aircraft in the world, had the best long-range bombers at the start of the war and produced some fighter planes that were superior to some of the best the Allies had to offer. The C.205 “Greyhound” was able to out fly the American “Mustang” and the SM.79 “Sparrowhawk” bomber destroyed 72 Allied warships and 196 Allied merchant ships in the course of the war. The Italian pilots who set up an “air bridge” from southern Libya to Italian East Africa, bringing in supplies and evacuating wounded, may not have had a very glorious job but it was a tremendous accomplishment. Italian pilots also performed very well on the Eastern front, another area where the Italian contribution is often discounted entirely.

Italian militia fighting in Albania
First, however, the war in Greece should be addressed. Usually this is portrayed as a total fiasco with over-confident Italians invading Greece, being badly beaten and only the timely arrival of the Germans rushing to the rescue prevented them from being driven entirely out of Albania by the Greeks. It is just not true. Here are the facts: Italian strength was overestimated and Greek strength was badly underestimated. The Italians invaded at exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, the Greeks had never been stronger and the terrain was entirely to their advantage. The invasion did not go well, due to weather, the terrain and most of all by the Greeks simply fighting with heroic courage and tenacity. That is probably the most important thing to remember: the Italians did not fight poorly, the Greeks fought very well. The Italian onslaught was pushed back into Albania as the Greeks went over to the counter-offensive but then the same elements that had worked in their favor began to work against them. The Italian lines held and later the Italians began to push back which had just begun when the Germans intervened and Greek resistance quickly collapsed. The Germans did not save the Italians from imminent defeat, they broke what was, at worst, a stalemate and it came about, not because the Italians were in danger of collapsing but because of the coup in Yugoslavia that took that country out of the Axis and into the Allied camp. The Italians also participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia and did quite well.

Savoy Household Cavalry attack
Then, there was the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Italian war effort may have been better served to have not participated and concentrated solely on the African front but, for political and ideological reasons, Mussolini was determined to contribute as much as possible to the “Crusade against Bolshevism”. In the initial attack, the Italian forces performed extremely well under the capable leadership of General Giovanni Messe, a staunch royalist and possibly the best Italian commander of the war who won victories in Russia, Greece and Africa. They were able to accomplish some amazing successes, probably the most memorable being the Savoia cavalry charge at Isbusceskij in which 650 troops of the Savoia household cavalry under Colonel Alessandro Bettoni Cazzago launched a traditional, saber-wielding cavalry charge against over 2,000 Soviet troops and totally defeated them! Of course, not every engagement was so successful but in the air, the Italian pilots won 72 victories while losing only 15 planes. A massive Christmas-time offensive by the Soviets was successfully repelled by the Italian forces but, eventually, after the disastrous Battle of Stalingrad, the tide began to turn. Still, even then, there were examples of extreme skill and heroism, none more so than the elite Italian alpine troops (the Alpini) who fought their way through the Soviet lines to rescue a small pocket of Italian resistance at Nikolayevka. They reached them and then turned around and fought their way back out again on January 26, 1943. Even the Russians were astounded by their heroic achievement and Radio Moscow said, “only the Italian Alpini Corps is to be considered unbeaten on the Russian front”.

General Heinz Guderian
I should also add, just because so many people, including uninformed or dishonest historians continue to bring it up, that Italy was not to blame for the failure of the German-led, Axis invasion of Russia. This is something that has been repeated over and over again, that the Germans were all set to invade Russia but were diverted by having to rush to the rescue of the Italians in Greece and that the campaigns in Greece and Yugoslavia pushed back the German timetable, which caused the invasion to grind to a halt due to the Russian winter. This is simply untrue. In the first place, as explained above, the Germans did not rush to rescue the Italians on the Greek front, the Italians were not in need of rescuing but had been holding well and were starting to make a comeback on their own. The Germans reacted to the overthrow of Prince Paul in Yugoslavia, not the Italian campaign in Greece. Secondly, the idea that the Balkan campaign prevented German success by throwing off their timetable is simply not true. The invasion would have had to be postponed in any event because of the weather. German General Heinz Guderian said this very clearly to Allied interrogators after the war. Heavy rains had set in that would have swamped the Axis forces if they had gone in earlier as planned and so the invasion had to be put off. It was simply bad luck that winter then began to hit rather earlier that year than had been expected. The Italians were not responsible for delaying the invasion of Russia, and you don't have to take it from me, you can take it from General Guderian himself. The Italians made a large contribution to that campaign, fought extremely well and earned the respect of both their friends and their enemies in doing so.

There were other victorious Italian engagements in Tunisia and in Italy itself after the 1943 armistice but, I hope, what has been said so far will be more than enough to illustrate just how ridiculous the popular portrayal of Italian military forces in World War II has been. Yes, some in the leadership were woefully inadequate to their tasks, yes, their weapons and equipment were often sub-standard and yes, Italian forces lost plenty of battles. However, the same could be said for every other power to one degree or another and the Italian forces also had some brilliant leaders, won some stunning victories and fought with great courage and tenacity time and time again. I have touched on this before but it is only because there are very few things that infuriate me more than those who have fought and died being denigrated and insulted, be it the Italians in World War II or the Austro-Hungarian forces in World War I. It is disgraceful behavior, it is unjust and, as I hope I have illustrated, it is just plain wrong and factually incorrect. They did not win, everyone understands that, but the royal armed forces of Italy in World War II had many achievements to their credit and many victories that they can be proud of.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sailor of Monarchy: Kinashi Takakazu

Human beings are very fond of ‘keeping score’. This is as true in warfare as it is in sports or other civilian activities. We rank tank commanders by how many enemy tanks they destroy, fighter pilots by how many planes they shoot down or, with submarine commanders, how much tonnage of enemy shipping they sent to the bottom of the sea. Lieutenant Commander Kinashi Takakazu (or in western order; Takakazu Kinashi) was a submarine captain of the Imperial Japanese Navy, yet, his name will not be found in any top ranking of “ace” submarine commanders based on the amount of tonnage he sank. However, sometimes a submarine commander gains fame for accomplishing a particularly difficult or dangerous goal, for sinking some major enemy warship or something which, in some way, gains attention for breaking some sort of record. This is the category that Commander Kinashi fits into. In fact, he never really knew just how incredible was the success he won in his military career. Nonetheless, he earned a place in naval history and a legendary status among the ranks of the submariners of the world for his achievement. It is unfortunate that he never knew just how famous he would become.

Kinashi Takakazu was born on March 7, 1902 in Usuki, Oita Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu in the Empire of Japan. After a fairly typical childhood, he decided on a career in the navy as a young man. Looking only at the start of his military career, no one would have expected him to rise to greatness. He studied and trained at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and graduated at the very bottom of his class, the very last of 255 cadets in 1920. After this less than impressive academic performance, his career path had nothing to do with submarines as he served as a passed midshipman on several cruisers on training exercises. From 1924 to 1925 he traveled around the Pacific stopping in at such places as Acapulco, Mexico, San Francisco, California, Vancouver, British Columbia and Hawaii. He received his promotion to ensign before returning to Japan where he underwent training in torpedoes and naval artillery. He was a dedicated and dutiful young officer but still did not seem to be at all exceptional. In 1926 he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the destroyer Harukaze. It was only after that assignment that he began to think about submarine service.

The following year, Kinashi volunteered for sub duty and gained important experience serving on the I-54, I-61 and I-66. It was certainly something different but he still did not stand out all that much and returned to the surface fleet to serve on a river gunboat in China (at the time, various foreign powers maintained naval vessels on the major rivers in China). He also served on the destroyer Fubuki and by December of 1937 had been promoted to lieutenant commander and posted to the minelayer Okinoshima, hardly a prestigious assignment. For any young naval officer of the time, serving on a battleship was always the most sought-after posting and, perhaps discouraged by his position in the surface fleet, Kinashi transferred back to the submarines. In 1938 he was finally given command of his own boat, becoming captain of the RO-59. The RO-type boats were smaller, second class coastal submarines that were largely neglected by the naval high command but, at least, it was a place to start. In 1940 Commander Kinashi was transferred to the Submarine Warfare School but this proved only temporary as six months later he was back at sea as captain of the I-3 until November of 1940 when he was given command of the RO-34 on which he served until July of 1941. The I-3 was one of the earliest ‘cruiser’ type submarines, a J1-type, which was later converted into a transport. The RO-34 was one of the first medium subs (a K5-type) since the 1920’s and would see service later in the war but with no success.

When Japan went to war with the United States (and others) in December of 1941, Kinashi was captain of the I-62 (later I-162), a small KD4-type sub that had some success in the Dutch East Indies and the Indian Ocean. However, Kinashi was soon transferred to command the I-19 where he would gain his greatest fame. This came during the titanic struggle for the island of Guadalcanal, perhaps the most pivotal land engagement of the Pacific War and coming on the heels of the stunning defeat for Japan at the Battle of Midway which had decimated the Imperial Navy. The fight for Guadalcanal was to be a turning point and Japan threw everything possible into defending the island which they had invaded in early 1942 (it was part of the British Solomon Islands protectorate).

The I-19 was a B1-type sub, one of the most successful types Japan would produce. In keeping with standard Japanese tactics, the I-19 and her sister sub I-15 were deployed to interdict American vessels approaching the island. Such vessels were coming as part of “Operation Shoestring” but the American forces had already suffered considerable losses for the greatest prize in the U.S. Navy: the aircraft carriers. In the Battle of the Eastern Solomons the USS Enterprise had been so badly damaged that it had to return to Hawaii for repairs and only a week later the Japanese submarine I-26 badly damaged the USS Saratoga (Admiral Fletcher’s flagship) which left only the USS Wasp and USS Hornet. These were the targets that Commander Kinashi and his counterpart on the I-15 wanted most of all. Kinashi in the I-19 would go after the Wasp while the I-15 tried to engage the Hornet. It was September 15, 1942, a clear day with sunny skies and a 20-knot trade wind blowing. Kinashi submerged his boat and moved in for the attack. Displaying immense calm and skill, he took the I-19 through the rings of deadly destroyers escorting the American carrier. As these were the only two left, their escorts were all the more determined to defend them. Running as silently as possible, Kinashi slipped underneath the floating guard dogs and, amazingly, remained undetected.

Once well clear, Kinashi ordered his diving officer to bring the boat up to periscope depth. Scanning the surface, he spotted the USS Wasp, displacing 14,900 tons and capable of holding up to a hundred aircraft, she was a formidable target. The ship was part of a task force escorting the 7th Division of the U.S. Marine Corps to Guadalcanal which, along with the Hornet, included the battleship USS North Carolina and ten other warships. Kinashi knew the odds were against him. He would get only one chance to fire and would then, most likely, be destroyed by the counter-attacking American warships. Still, he had made it through the escorts and hoped that his good fortune would hold. He ordered the maximum salvo possible, all six forward torpedo tubes were made ready in all respects. As he watched through the periscope, passing along the necessary information, another bit of good fortune came his way; the Wasp began to slow down to launch 26 planes and allow another 11 to land that were coming back from patrol. It was the perfect time. Kinashi was determined that he would hit his target and moved his boat in closer and closer, even though this increased the risk of someone spotting his periscope and spoiling his attack but he did not want to miss. It took nerves of steel but Commander Kinashi and the I-19 silently swam to within 500 meters of the massive American ship. He wasn’t spotted and things could not have worked out better if he had been giving orders to the helmsman of the Wasp himself. To launch the planes, the carrier began to turn to starboard, presenting its beam (and thus the largest possible target) to the Japanese sub.
USS Wasp, CV-7

Finally, with the tension onboard at maximum, Kinashi gave the order to fire. Six deadly Type 95 torpedoes burst from the bow and shot through the water. The Type 95’s were the fastest torpedoes in the world and at only 500 meters, the Wasp barely had time to react to the sudden attack. Lookouts spotted the incoming torpedoes and Captain Forrest Sherman tried to turn his ship toward but it was too late. In quick succession, three torpedoes slammed into the Wasp, one even shooting out of the water to strike above the waterline. Massive explosions went off and began to spread and almost immediately the huge ship began listing heavily to starboard. The torpedoes had hit exactly where the gasoline tanks and magazines were on the carrier. Within about 30 minutes Captain Sherman gave the order to abandon ship. The Wasp was finished.

Of course, as soon as Commander Kinashi fired his torpedoes, he slammed the periscope down and took his boat deep, knowing that a counter-attack by the circling destroyers was soon to come. The U.S. Navy did not disappoint as destroyers circled over head, groping the depths with sonar and lobbing depth charges at the unseen attacker. It was the I-15 which confirmed the sinking of the Wasp since Kinashi was deep below the surface trying to save his boat and his crew from being blasted into little pieces. The attack of the I-15 on Hornet, five miles away, had not been successful. For Kinashi and the I-19, they endured the worst experience possible for submariners as the American destroyers dropped no less than eighty depth charges in the frantic effort to destroy them. Yet, Kinashi and his men did not panic and amazingly managed to survive the ordeal and successfully escape from the American fleet. Once clear, Kinashi surfaced his boat and as the men came out, gasping for fresh air, they knew they were heroes. They had done what very few men in naval history had ever accomplished: sank an American aircraft carrier. They had even lived to tell the tale.

Kinashi and his men returned to Japan for a hero’s welcome. Kinashi, who had finished last in his class and whose career had always seemed rather lackluster, was promoted to full commander and summoned to the Imperial Palace to report on the sinking and receive the congratulations of His Majesty the Emperor. For a Japanese naval officer, there was no greater honor possible. Kinashi was formal and correct, he had done his duty as he had been trained to. In fact, being brought before the Emperor was probably a source of greater anxiety than facing a fleet of American warships had been. In terms of his naval career, Kinashi had reached his pinnacle and would not see such success again. The following year, near Fiji, he torpedoed and badly damaged an American liberty ship but inexplicably failed to finish it off. However, in December of 1943 he was tasked with a most dangerous mission. In command of the I-29 he would travel through three oceans to pay a visit to Japan’s Nazi allies in Europe. At the former British bastion of Singapore the I-29 was filled with rubber, tin, tungsten, opium and other items before sailing off for France. Thanks to their code-breakers, the Allies knew all about the voyage of the I-29 and where it was going, yet, Commander Kinashi skillfully avoided discovery.

Kinashi at a banquet given for him by Germany
On March 11, 1944 the I-29 safely arrived at the port of Lorient, France where her cargo was unloaded and the crew were treated as the special guests of the Germans. Commander Kinashi was taken to Berlin to be congratulated by Adolf Hitler for sinking an American carrier, for which the Nazi dictator personally decorated Kinashi with the Iron Cross (second class). In April, filled to the top with important passengers and the latest German designs for everything from radar to rocket engines, the I-29 left France for the return trip to Japan. Unfortunately, none of the men on the I-29 would ever see their homeland again. American intelligence was tracking the Japanese submarine more closely this time and as the boat passed through the Luzon Strait near the Philippines on July 26, 1944 it was hit by three torpedoes and totally destroyed by the American submarine USS Sawfish. Commander Kinashi and all his men and passengers were killed. When the naval high command in Japan realized that the I-29 had been lost, Commander Kinashi was posthumously promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in recognition of his outstanding service.

And yet, that service was more outstanding than anyone knew. On that critical day in 1942, I-19 had fired six torpedoes at what, in naval terms, was practically point blank range and yet only three had struck the Wasp. What of the other three? It would be some time before the truth was known. On that same day, the accompanying battleship USS North Carolina had been struck by a torpedo on her port side, killing five men and causing considerable damage (only the quick and expert work of the damage control teams prevented the ship from sinking). The destroyer USS O’Brien was also hit on the port side by a torpedo and was so badly damaged that she later sank. For years it was assumed that the I-15, targeting the Hornet, had hit these ships with the torpedoes she had fired at the carrier with but missed. Eventually, however, careful study showed that this was not possible, they could not have come from the I-15. Suddenly, the naval experts realized what an incredible thing had happened. When Kinashi fired his salvo at the Wasp, three torpedoes struck and sank the carrier but the other three continued on, over the horizon, running for some twelve miles before slamming into the North Carolina and then the O’Brien. Everyone then realized that Commander Kinashi Takakazu had made the single most successfully destructive attack in naval history. With one salvo of torpedoes he had sunk an aircraft carrier, a destroyer and heavily damaged a battleship even if he did not know it at the time.

It is for that reason that the name of Rear Admiral Kinashi Takakazu is still a legend in the submarine community today and why he will always have a place in naval history. No one shot ever did so much damage to the enemy as the one he fired from beneath the waves on that sunny day in 1942 off Guadalcanal. Kinashi may not have the highest score among submarine commanders but he accomplished something that no one else ever did or is ever likely to and for that he holds a very singular place of honor.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Clash of Monarchies: The Crimean War

Given recent events in the world, the Crimean War may be a little more on the minds of people lately but, in general, it is a conflict that is not often remembered. And yet, this clash of monarchies had far-reaching consequences for the monarchies involved and even, by extension, for the cause of monarchy in general. There are also lessons that can be learned from it, both positive and negative. Like the First World War, the spark which set it off can easily seem trivial looking back and yet there were much deeper causes for the conflagration. That a dispute over the rights of Christians in the Holy Land could lead to bloody warfare on the Crimean peninsula was due to a number of factors such as thoughtlessness and an arrogant attitude on the part of Russia as well as British inconsistency and an over-eagerness to engage in anti-Russian propaganda. This meant that the British government ended up being driven to war by a public that had been needlessly aroused. Leaders in London may have been reluctant, but they had stoked the fires and were caught in a trap of their own making. It all started with a sort of territorial rivalry between Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, then, along with much of the Balkans, part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Clockwise from top left: Sultan Abdulmecid, Emp Napoleon III,
Czar Nicholas I, Queen Victoria and King Victor Emmanuel II
The French Emperor Napoleon III, as part of an on-going (though ultimately futile) campaign to win the support of conservative Catholics in France, pressed the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid I, who wanted closer ties with Western Europe to ensure security at a time when nationalist and secessionist movements in the empire were growing, to give special privileges to Catholics in certain areas of the Holy Land. It seemed a harmless move but it offended the Greek Orthodox community which viewed it as an infringement on their own status in the region. Czar Nicholas I of Russia, who viewed himself as the defender of Orthodox Christianity in the world (and understandably so) intervened on their behalf and demanded that the Sultan revise the agreement made with France as well as recognizing Russia as the protector of the Orthodox Christians within the Ottoman Empire. The last demand was certainly a step too far for Sultan Abdulmecid as he feared it would invite Russian interference, not in the distant Holy Land, but in the Balkan countries bordering Russia which were under Ottoman rule but populated by Orthodox Slavs. When the Turks refused to give in, Czar Nicholas I dispatched Russian troops into what is now Romania, to hold the area until the Sultan agreed to his demands. It was all done in a rather heavy-handed way which was typical for Nicholas I and which, as with his domestic policies in Russia, played into a negative view of this great monarch. He saw himself as simply standing up for the rights of Orthodox Christians, demanding no more than what had long been given to them but the way in which it was done caused alarm in Western Europe. To them, it looked like the Czar was jumping on a flimsy pretext to expand Russia and destroy the Ottoman Empire. They feared the chaos and bloodshed that would result if the many diverse subjects of the Ottoman Sultan were set loose with their own agendas.

In truth, Czar Nicholas I had no intention of breaking up the Ottoman Empire. Though he certainly would have liked nothing better, he believed that was something that all the Great Powers would have to collaborate on when the time came. However, he assumed that Britain in particular would understand this and knew what sort of man he was. The British government, however, was a coalition and divided as to how to respond with one faction favoring diplomacy and the other wanting a show of force to frighten Russia into backing away from the Ottomans. Neither side wanted an actual war but this division caused British policy to be erratic and the situation was exacerbated by the British ambassador to Constantinople who was very favorably disposed towards the Turks and personally prejudiced against Russia. There were efforts at a settlement by representatives of the Great Powers meeting in Vienna, but they all failed. The Turks refused to compromise and suspicion toward Russia meant that no matter what the representatives of the Czar said, few were inclined to believe them genuine. As a result, all approached the precipice.

Russia destroys the Turkish fleet
French Emperor Napoleon III, who had started all the fuss, had paid little attention to the issue since his initial request had been granted. He had little interest in the Balkans and no strong desire to act as the guardian of Ottoman Turkey. However, as the crisis came to a boil, with the British acting as the primary foil to the Russians, Napoleon did not want to be left out. He also wanted, more than anything, friendship and alliance with Great Britain which would give him a free hand to pursue French colonial expansion and help ensure that the country which had done so much to bring down his famous uncle would not do the same to him. If there was any chance of winning some glory for France, he was always game and he did not want France to be left out of any great happenings on the world stage. Matters came to a head when, in October of 1853, the Turks demanded that the Russians withdraw from their territory in Romania. When the Czar did not respond, the Turks declared war on Russia and sent their fleet into action in the Black Sea to attack the Russian coast. The Russian Imperial Navy responded and inflicted a stinging defeat on the Turks. Yet, the Czar was still willing to settle things peacefully and in light of this victory offered reasonable terms for a settlement. However, public opinion in the west had been so inflamed that Britain scarcely even considered the proposal and declared war on Russia. Napoleon III quickly did likewise and the Crimean War began in earnest.

The fact that Britain and France had allowed things to get out of hand can be seen in how unprepared they were for war and it took about six months until they were actually able to take real military action. In the meantime, they tried to gain more allies to fight the seeming colossus of Russia. They found little support. Hints that Finland might be regained were insufficient to tempt Sweden to join in but the primary figure to be courted was the Austrian Empire. However, though there was much temptation in Vienna, Emperor Francis Joseph I did not believe that either side was totally in the right. His greatest concern was Russian expansion in the Balkans but the Russian troops that had been in Romania were soon withdrawn and the Austrian Emperor saw no moral justification for war. He was also afraid that if he moved Austrian forces to the east, Italians in the west would rebel again and be supported by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia under the House of Savoy. He would certainly take no action unless the Piedmontese were on side. Later on, when Austria seemed more inclined to join the allies, this played a part in the Russian desire to end the war before another name was added to their list of enemies. The Austrian attitude was particularly infuriating to Czar Nicholas I. He had sent Russian armies to aid the Hapsburg monarch in crushing the rebellion in Hungary in the Revolutions of 1848 and viewed it as an absolute betrayal that the Austrian Kaiser would not only fail to return the favor but even consider joining the ranks of his enemies. Austro-Russian relations would, ultimately, never recover from this.

Italian light infantry in battle on Crimea
The Prussians, likewise, followed the Austrian example and opted for neutrality. The only success the allies had in enlarging their ranks was the little Italian Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. The original request for Piedmontese support was mostly just an effort to get Austria on side but King Victor Emmanuel II was always up for a fight and the Prime Minister, Count Camillo Cavour, wanted French and British goodwill in the struggle to end the foreign domination of the Italian peninsula. Piedmontese involvement could, he reasoned, provide an opportunity for the Great Powers to address the situation in Italy and with Piedmont-Sardinia having recently fought alongside Britain and France, while Austria looked on from the sidelines, surely this would ensure a decision favorable to the cause of Italian nationalism and the House of Savoy. By the time it all happened, the Italians arrived too late to have much of an impact but the 15,000 soldiers dispatched to the front under General Alfonso La Marmora won the respect of their allies by their courage and tenacity at the Battle of Chernaya and the Siege of Sevastopol. Ultimately, the Italians did not get the discussion on Italy that they wanted but they did gain greater French and British sympathy, at the expense of Austria, so that goal was at least achieved.

For the Turks and the Russians, the original combatants, the primary focus was on the Danube front and the Caucasus front. The fighting was brutal and frustrating in both areas. For the allies, the hope was for a ‘knockout blow’ by targeting the primary Russian naval base on the Black Sea; the fortress-city of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. 50,000 allied troops were landed and the most famous battles of the war would be fought there. The Turks had some success on the Danube front, but the Russians did not offer much resistance so as to focus on more vital areas of conflict. In the Caucasus, the Turks were aided by Muslim Chechens who, as students of current affairs will be aware, are still often engaged in hostilities against Russia today. There were also Ukrainian uprisings against the Russians, particularly in Kiev, which will also sound very familiar to people today. Originally a series of peasant revolts, they were soon supported by Ukrainian aristocrats who opposed the war. There were naval and coastal battles as far ranging as from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean but it was the Crimea that was the decisive area of operations. Conditions were harsh, the suffering was immense and both sides often seemed to be their own worst enemies.

British Coldstream Guards at the Battle of Alma
Upon landing, the allies won what could have been a crucial opening engagement at the Battle of the Alma River on September 20, 1854. The Russians were not just defeated but were routed by the Franco-British forces, driving them back in utter confusion. Had the allies acted decisively, Sevastopol might have been stormed easily and the war brought to an early end. The British commander, Lord Raglan, wanted to pursue the fleeing Russians but the French commander, Saint Arnaud, did not as provision had not been made for his infantry nor did he have any cavalry. The Russians, however, wasted no time in making the most of this allied indecisiveness. They sunk their own fleet across the harbor entrance, robbing the allies of their naval support which could have been decisive and then set to work fortifying and strengthening Sevastopol so that any allied attempt to storm the city would be almost impossible. Russian thoroughness would mean that the allies would have to take on Sevastopol in siege warfare which would last into the summer of the following year. The Russians, however, were not content to wait in their trenches and the Czar ordered a counter-offensive to sweep the allies from Crimea. This would result in what is, for many, the most famous battle of the war, the Battle of Balaclava.

The Thin Red Line of the 93rd Highlanders
The Russian plan was to relieve the siege of Sevastopol by hitting the allied-held port of Balaclava, a vital point of entry for allied logistics. At the forefront would be Russian reinforcements newly arrived from the Danube front under General Pavel Liprandi. The British had reports of troop movements all hinting at an impending attack, but there had been so many false alarms that Lord Raglan dismissed them. It was the perfect opportunity for the Russians to strike. Although taken by surprise, the Turkish and British defenders fought fiercely but the Russians won the first round, driving the Turks from their redoubts and capturing their artillery. However, the Russian force soon crashed into the immovable object that was the British army. One unit that came to great fame was the 93rd Highlanders, “the thin, red line” that stood firm against a crushing Russian cavalry charge. The Russian advance began to fall apart but the British had their misfortunes too. In another sector, probably the most famous aspect of the battle occurred when a misunderstanding sent the British light cavalry brigade of Lord Cardigan on a bold but suicidal charge against well-placed Russian artillery. They were wiped out but won immortality for their courage.

Relief of the Light Brigade
The result was called a victory by both sides. The stunning loss of the light brigade took the fight out of the British, and the Russians had made some gains so they counted it as a success for the troops of the Czar. However, the British had stopped the advance, held Balaclava and the overall status quo remained so that the British also deemed it a success; the Russian advance had been stopped. It did give a morale boost to the Russians but the strategic situation was unchanged so that the Russian commander, the Russo-Finnish Prince Alexander Menshikov, ordered another attack to break through the thin allied lines before Sevastopol could be totally encircled. The result was the Battle of Inkerman which was a disaster for Russia but which meant hard times for both sides. Shrouded in fog, the two sides grappled blindly with each other but, despite Russian superiority in man power, the training and discipline of the French and British proved decisive and the Russian attack was repulsed with heavy losses. Allies and enemies alike gained a mutual respect for each other because of the vicious fighting at Inkerman. Another Russian attack had been stopped and the morale of the Russian army, raised by Balaclava, was dashed by Inkerman and plummeted sharply. Yet, the allies were scarcely better off as the engagement disrupted their timetable for the siege and meant that both sides would endure a long, miserable winter in the trenches.

Russian troops at the siege of Sevastopol
Disease, hunger and cold did most of the damage from that time on as the war came down to the siege of Sevastopol, resembling a First World War battle, with only occasional raids and scouting expeditions to relieve the monotony. Both sides began to take stock and wonder if all the suffering was worth it. For Czar Nicholas I, it was a matter of honor but intensely frustrating. That an empire so vast, with such a huge population, could be brought close to ruin by such a small, multi-national expeditionary force supporting the ramshackle Ottoman Empire was too much to take. However, the primary problem for Russia was infrastructure, something which would plague Russian war efforts for a very long time to come. They had the men to overwhelm the allied army, they had the supplies to support them but it proved impossible to get these things where they were needed, when they were needed because of the poor roads and lack of rail transport. For the allies, the suffering of the troops was causing problems even at home and they realized that just because the Russian hordes had not been brought down on them yet, they were still out there and even if Sevastopol fell, it did not mean that Russia could not go on fighting. The allies then tried to expand their forces by the aforementioned efforts to bring in the Austrians and Italians. The Italians of Piedmont-Sardinia came but only Austria could open up a new front that would be decisive and the Austrians remained aloof. Almost.

Czar Nicholas I
The Austrian government, in the name of Emperor Francis Joseph came up with a proposed ultimatum called the Four Points of Vienna which called for concessions so far-reaching that no Russian government would ever, for even a moment, consider agreeing to them. Austria vowed to join the war if Russia did not submit within two months. Moreover, the allies had played one of their own friends false to obtain this promise of Austrian support. To win over a country that had so-far refused to take their side, the allies effectively sold-out one who had and whose forces were fighting and dying alongside their own. Still worried about maintaining Austrian domination of northern Italy, the Four Points were issued only after the French and British promised that if there was any uprising after Austria joined the war, that they themselves would send troops to suppress the Italian population and maintain Austrian rule. However, it all turned out to be for nothing because Austria would not move unless the German states joined the war as well and they had absolutely no interest in doing so. Outraged at the false hopes that had been raised, the allies came down on Austria hard and threatened to take up the cause of Italian independence if the Austrians did not make good on their promises. So an Austrian ultimatum was sent to St Petersburg which no doubt would have infuriated Czar Nicholas I beyond measure and probably make him resolved to fight to his last drop of blood against such infamy and betrayal (as he viewed the whole Austrian attitude) but the “Iron Czar” of Russia died on March 2, 1855.

Russian troops at Malakhov
The last straw came when, after about a year of increasingly tight siege warfare, the city of Sevastopol fell to the allies on September 9, 1855. British, French, Italian and Turkish forces had all suffered heavy casualties, more than the Russians overall, but already sinking Russian morale and support for the war collapsed entirely due to the fall of the city they had fought so hard and for so long to defend. This, combined with the threat of Austria joining the war at the final hour finally prompted the Russians to make peace on terms dictated by the allies. The result was the Peace of Paris which was very punishing toward the Russians. Romania was removed from Russian influence, Russia had to renounce protecting the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire, key islands in the Baltic had to be demilitarized, a strategic fortress and territory controlling the mouths of the Danube had to be given to the Turks, all military forces in or around the Black Sea were forbidden and the straits of the Dardanelles and Bosporus were closed to Russian warships, shutting Russia off completely from the south. There are few historians who doubt that if Czar Nicholas I had been alive, such a peace would never have been agreed to (indeed, some put about the story that he had killed himself rather than face such a thing). At least the war was over and it had been a war of stunning heroism and immense suffering.

Allied forces in the Crimea
The results were far-reaching. The Ottoman Empire had been effectively guaranteed by the Great Powers and would remain, helped along by one faction or another, until choosing the losing side in World War I. The Kingdom of Romania eventually emerged as an independent monarchy because of the changes but the Bessarabia territory Russia had to cede to Turkey would continue to be a bone of contention. Piedmont-Sardinia gained sympathy but not as much actual support as they would have liked but they would go on to found the revived Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy in the next decade. The French Second Empire gained great fame for the courage of their soldiers but still no lasting alliance with Great Britain which preferred to remain aloof. The British gained a heroine in Florence Nightingale, Russian guns to cast Victoria Crosses from, many famous poems and paintings but mostly a reluctance to get involved in such a thing for some time to come. Confidence in the military and its aristocratic leadership had been badly shaken. The Austrian monarchy fared badly, which is all the more strange as they were never involved. Austrian actions managed to leave both sides with a bad opinion of them, each felt that Austria had betrayed them. The former solidarity between the Hapsburg, Romanov and Hohenzollern dynasties was ruined forever. Meanwhile, the Prussians sat at home, sharpening their swords.

The Russian Empire obviously emerged very badly off. For very small reasons, Russia had gone into a war that proved almost ruinous and which left the empire virtually boxed-in. Under Nicholas I, Russia had reached it maximum of territorial expansion but by the Peace of Paris seemed more isolated than any major power in the world. Yet, Russia proved able to recover and carry on in a very uniquely Russian way. Czar Alexander II, renewed friendly ties with Germany and (albeit temporarily) Austria, sold Alaska to the United States so that the British in Canada wouldn’t get hold of it, expanded Russian power in central Asia and even managed to win a minor victory over the Ottoman Turks in 1877 when Turkish brutality toward the Bulgars caused their former Western European friends to turn their backs on them. However, longer-term the Crimean War caused an antagonism between Russia and Austria that would fester until the Great War that doomed them both. It also led, indirectly, to another conflict when, as Russia was shut off from the oceans in the west, Russia looked east and expanded toward the Pacific which ultimately resulted in the war with Japan that proved very damaging to the image of the monarchy at home and abroad.

Quite a lot of ‘blow-back’ for what started as an inter-Christian spat over sanctuary privileges in Jerusalem.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Monarch Profile: King Louis XVIII of France

Prince Louis Stanislas Xavier, Count of Provence, was born on November 17, 1755 in Versailles, the third (surviving) son of the Dauphin Louis and Maria Josepha of Saxony. He was the grandson of King Louis XV of France and King Augustus III of Poland. Being fourth in the line of succession, little consideration was given to him at the time that he might actually become King of France one day. However, that changed rather quickly with the death of his eldest brother the Duke of Burgundy in 1761 (another elder had died before he was born). In 1765 his father died, making him second only to his one surviving older brother, future King Louis XVI, to succeed his grandfather King Louis XV. As a child he was doted on by his governess, Madame de Marsan, and was greatly attached to her. When he began his traditional upbringing as a prince of the blood he was found to be an exceptionally bright child. Classical history and literature were his favorite subjects, he could quote Horace from memory (his favorite author), was an expert on the Bible and became fluent in English and Italian as well as his native French language. As he grew into young adulthood, he had many fine qualities but some shortcomings as the inevitable search for a suitable bride for him began.

Maria Giuseppina of Savoy
The Count of Provence, while very intellectual, never enjoyed exercise or physical activity. He did enjoy eating and there were plenty of fine, French delicacies on hand and, not long after reaching adulthood, he grew increasingly overweight. To best serve the interests of France, it was decided that he should be married to a princess of the House of Savoy and, to the disappointment of both, the choice fell on Princess Maria Giuseppina of Savoy, daughter of King Victor Amadeus III of Piedmont-Sardinia. The Count found her unattractive and woefully ignorant of the complex court etiquette of Versailles (the Savoy court in Turin being more simple and military-style) and though the two were married in 1771 it was several years before he consummated the marriage. There was some debate about this as the marriage of another French prince to a Savoy princess caused a bit of an anti-Italian backlash in the court between the circles of the younger princes and the circle of the Austrian queen-to-be Marie Antoinette. The Dauphin and Count of Provence did not always get along and that bitterness was dutifully taken up by their wives and respective friends at court. When the Dauphin proved unable to consummate his own marriage, many believe this prompted the Count to boast of his own bedroom exploits as a way of making Marie Antoinette jealous. Even more vindictive was the account that he announced that his wife was pregnant, before she actually was, as a way to embarrass Marie Antoinette for not yet producing an heir-to-the-throne. However, by 1774 Princess Marie Josephine (as she was called in France) did finally come to be “with child” but, sadly, it ended in miscarriages and none of the couples’ pregnancies were productive.

That same year Louis XV died and the Dauphin became King Louis XVI of France and, in the absence of a male heir, the Count of Provence was then only one step away from the French throne. Unfortunately, this did not bring the two brothers closer together but was the cause of more bitterness. The Count of Provence, with his mastery of the classics and remarkable memory, probably did not have the highest estimation of his brother’s intelligence and wanted very much to have a seat on the king’s council. As the next in line for the throne, he felt entitled to such a position but King Louis XVI would not allow it and this offended the Count a great deal. Frustrated that his talents were not being put to use, he often left the court and spent much of his time traveling around the country. Proud and ambitious, he was more relieved than happy when the King and Queen were finally able to start having children, starting with a girl. That relief turned to disappointment when a son and heir was born in 1781. Yet, he and his younger brother the Count of Artois (future Charles X) had to stand in for the boy’s absent godfather Austrian Emperor Joseph II at the baptism of the little Dauphin.

The count in his youth
By that time the Count of Provence had a mistress and his marriage had been reduced to a mere formality. As he was given no part to play in affairs of state, he withdrew and mostly stayed at home, devoting his time to his mistress and his extensive library. With his improper private life, obesity and lavish spending (his brother the King often had to settle his considerable debts) the Count of Provence could easily have been held up as a propaganda tool for the revolutionaries as an illustration of what was wrong with the French monarchy. When new taxes (on the landowners, which were nobles & clergy) were proposed to pay for, among other things, French intervention in the American War for Independence, the Count of Provence was among the “notables” who opposed this and the issue was adopted and twisted by radicals to stir up rebellion. The Count of Provence had, inadvertently, aided the enemies of the monarchy. However, later he was the only one of the Assembly of Notables to support granting more representation to the common people in the Estates-General which was being summoned which the King did agree to. When the Third Estate demanded tax reform, the Count of Provence opposed this and urged the King to adopt a hard-line and refuse to compromise.

The political situation began to get out of hand but, while the Count of Artois took his family to the safety of Turin, the Count of Provence remained at Versailles with his big brother. Despite their differences, the French Revolution brought the two brothers together and while he had not been as helpful as he could have, when it came down to it there was no doubt that the Count supported his brother and the Kingdom of France to the utmost. He remained at his side until the attempted escape by the King and Queen to Varennes in 1791. The Count of Provence and his family left at the same time, escaping to Belgium (then the Austrian Netherlands) but, of course, the King and Queen were not so fortunate and the attempt sealed their fate. Rather too early for some, the Count declared himself regent of France on the grounds that his brother was the prisoner of the revolutionaries and could not freely rule as King. It was the beginning of many long years of exile for Provence. He soon called on the other crowned heads of Europe to rush their armies to France to rescue their fellow monarch, something which certainly made things difficult for the King but, in reality, he was already a doomed man. After the regicide of King Louis XVI, the Count of Provence declared himself regent for his nephew, the child-King Louis XVII who remained in confinement at the hands of the revolutionaries (he would ultimately be left to starve to death).

In 1795, when it was learned that the little Dauphin was dead, the royalists proclaimed the Count of Provence King Louis XVIII of France. He was haunted by the Revolution and the horror would never leave him for the rest of his life but, for the time being, he had to stay ahead of the revolutionary forces to keep the legitimate royal line alive. He moved to Italy, taking up residence in Verona in what was then the Republic of Venice. He managed to get Princess Marie-Therese, the only surviving child of the late King and Queen, released but only a year later he had to flee again as the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy, eventually splitting the territory of Venice with Austria. He was forced to move to northern Germany, living in very modest conditions, until, as with Austria, political moves forced Prussia to abandon him. Fortunately, the staunchly legitimist Czar Paul I of Russia came to his rescue and offered him asylum in Latvia along with a pension (though this was never paid).

Louis XVIII tried to unite the royalist enemies of the revolutionary regime, rally the European powers and present a united front on the part of the Royal Family, which was certainly not easy. As almost all of Europe came to be dominated by Napoleon or forced to make peace with him, Louis XVIII was probably at his lowest point. Feeling he had no other choice, he wrote personally to Napoleon to try to convince him, as he had put a stop to the worst excesses of the Revolution and restored normalcy to France, to restore the legitimate monarchy. Of course, Napoleon would never do such a thing as, even as he moved to the right, he planned to supplant the Bourbons with his own dynasty rather than restore them. In return, Napoleon tried to convince Louis to renounce his own claim to the throne which, naturally, went nowhere as well. Finally, even the Czar of Russia would no longer provide safe haven to the King and he had to assume a disguise and move to Prussia in 1801, selling off personal possessions to pay for the trip. When Prussia proved unfriendly, due to French pressure, Louis returned to Russian territory as the new Czar Alexander I lifted the ban against him but was also less accommodating. The uncrowned King returned to the Baltic but planned to move to Britain as soon as possible. Later, he was advised to leave and traveled to England via Sweden.

King Louis XVIII
With Great Britain alone standing still opposed to Napoleon, it was the only option left to the Bourbon court-in-exile and the political situation also forced Louis to moderate his political position. He ceased to advocate a simple restoration of the old Kingdom of France and began to hint that some of the changes that had come with the Revolution could be retained. However, he was necessarily and increasingly vague in his statements about what France would look like were the monarchy restored. He wanted to win over those who were disillusioned with the current state of affairs but who were farther and farther removed from the old kingdom while also not wishing to alienate his core supporters, most of whom were ardent royalists who wanted a total return to the old regime. Hard times had ensured that only the most zealous royalists were left. This was a difficult balancing act but one that Louis XVIII handled quite well, saying little but just enough to reassure both sides so that they could assume he agreed with them. He finally promised that those who had gone along with the republic and Napoleon would not be punished as traitors (which would have been impossible in any event as by this point there were simply too many of them) and that confiscated lands would not be returned but that the former owners would be compensated for their loss.

When the allied powers finally defeated Napoleon and forced him to abdicate, King Louis XVIII was obviously quite pleased but also careful as he knew, if his most ardent royalist supporters did not, that a restoration was not a forgone conclusion. The French Napoleonic government tried to establish his return on their own terms but Louis was having none of that and, thankfully, the allies supported him. Unfortunately, when the time came in 1814, Louis XVIII was unable to travel immediately and so sent his brother, the Count of Artois, ahead to secure his place as “Lieutenant General of the Kingdom”. Stranded in Britain by an attack of gout, Louis XVIII had to wait while Artois went before him and acted as ruler of the country, effectively setting up his own private government that would, regardless of their intentions, be a source of division throughout the life of the restored Kingdom of France.

Allegory of Louis XVIII rescuing France
When King Louis XVIII was able to return, he was greeting by cheering crowds of war-weary people. Although the King was happy to enjoy his own again, he did not take it to heart. The memory of the Revolution was still with him and he knew the mobs who cheered him could turn on him in an instant. For the sake of peace and order the allies did insist on France becoming a constitutional monarchy and King Louis XVIII was willing to oblige. He produced the Charter of 1814 which represented his best effort at a compromise between the old Kingdom of France and post-Revolutionary France. There would be democracy but with a very limited franchise. Catholicism would again be the state religion but the old religious laws and privileges would not be back. There would be a representative government, enumerated rights and freedoms but, it was made clear, these were gifts of the King who reigned by the grace of God. In short, he would give the moderate liberals at least what they wanted but on his own terms. It was a limited monarchy but built on a traditional foundation. All things considered, it was probably the best that he could have done. The republicans, of course, were not happy (nor were the Bonapartists) and the royalists were not best pleased either, partly because the initial rule of Artois had raised their hopes too high but the rightful king was back, his sovereignty was based on “divine right” rather than the “rights of man” and the tricolor had been replaced with the Bourbon white flag and golden lily.

Louis XVIII signed the Treaty of Paris, which aimed to go easy on the French in order to smooth the way for the restoration to more firmly establish itself. Unfortunately, it seemed that the King had scarcely got the throne warm when Napoleon escaped from exile and landed on the shores of France. At first, Louis XVIII was not too worried. The problem was that most of the army was Napoleonic veterans greatly attached to their former chief and even those units that had been disbanded had been allowed to retain their arms. One unit after another sent to confront the Corsican conqueror collapsed conspicuously into his clinch. King Louis XVIII did not panic but he was extremely worried as Napoleon swept into Paris and declared himself emperor again. The King felt very fortunate that the Bourbon monarchy had been given a second chance and was very concerned that, lost again, would not be given a third. He moved to the border and then finally crossed into Belgium (then part of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands). Whether he would ever see France again was an open question. Czar Alexander I of Russia openly suggested that Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, might be given the throne instead, if and when Napoleon was defeated.

King Louis XVIII
This was a very sore point with King Louis XVIII who certainly did not get along famously with his cousin the Duke of Orleans, managing to tolerate him only out of a desire to present a united Royal Family to the public. They were really not all that different in terms of practical policy but the King could not forgive the part of the Orleans family in the Revolution and, unlike his cousin, could not countenance the idea of a monarch reigning by public approval rather than by the grace of God. Both were agreed that a limited monarchy and moderate policies were best but, to use a touchy word, it was a matter of legitimacy that most separated them. For Louis XVIII the source of his authority and legitimacy had to come from God alone and while he was willing to share power, he was unwilling to do so on any other basis than that it pleased him to do so. To put it another way, he would give a constitution but would not be given a constitution. Fortunately for the King, Napoleon was decisively defeated at Waterloo and the allies agreed that Louis XVIII would resume his reign, though the restrictions placed on France were much harsher than they had been before. Some French politicians even asked for an imported monarch, undoubtedly hoping for one who would be entirely in their power but, most crucially, the Duke of Wellington staunchly supported Louis XVIII.

This time, there were more reprisals on the part of the royalists but it is certainly understandable given how false and ungrateful their enemies had been recently. For his part, King Louis XVIII took no part in these activities but undoubtedly had little sympathy for the victims. He pressed on with trying to make his original constitutional settlement take root, this time taking a firmer hold of the army and purging it of Napoleonic elements who had proven their disloyalty. He also sought to uphold the principle of monarchial legitimacy by sending French troops into Spain in 1823 where rebellion had risen up against the Bourbon King Fernando VII. However, the King did not last long after that. His health had grown worse and worse and he probably suffered from even more ailments than we know of. He had become so fat that he lacked the strength to even hold his head up and had to have a cushion placed on his desk when he was in his office. His bitterness towards the Duke of Orleans never went away though he also feared that his immediate successor, Artois, lacked good sense, both for being too stridently reactionary (in his view) and being too friendly with the Duke of Orleans.

King Louis XVIII
After a long, painful decline King Louis XVIII of France passed away on September 16, 1824 at which point his younger brother became King Charles X. He was the last French monarch to die as king and pass the crown to his successor. All in all, King Louis XVIII receives much less credit than he deserves. Certainly, his personal behavior was often less than ideal and he could have been of more help to his older brother in the build-up to the Revolution. However, he always had the right priorities and while he escaped the guillotine, he suffered a great deal and carried on with remarkable skill and determination in carrying the torch of traditional French monarchism in the darkest of times. He was very intelligent, very practical and, unlike some, had a firm grasp of what was realistic and what was not. He understood, very well, that “politics is the art of the possible” (as Bismarck later said) and he skillfully steered a course that took account of the Revolution and the empire and what impact these had on France without sacrificing the fundamental values of the traditional French monarchy. He was never the sort of monarch who would attract admiration but he was probably the best man for the job at such a difficult time.
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