HERMAN THE GERMAN
I very much enjoyed Tim Newark’s excellent article on Arminius (MHM October/November 2023) and in particular the photograph of the gigantic statue of the warlord, which stands on the top of the Teutoburger Wald, near Detmold in North Rhine-Westphalia.
This brought back (mainly) happy memories of Sunday afternoon walks to view the Denkmal (monument) when I was a young officer stationed in nearby Bielefeld in the late Sixties. We always referred to Arminius as ‘Herman the German’ and amused ourselves by counting the many bullet holes in the statue, allegedly the work of RAF tail gunners testing their guns as they flew overhead on their way to Berlin during the Second World War.
It has clearly been repaired, as there seems to be no sign of bullet holes in the picture!
Roger Laing (Lt Col Retd), Iver, Bucks
A RHYME FOR REVERE
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1861 poem ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ (MHM August/September 2023) used to be taught to American kids. It begins: ‘Listen my children and you shall hear / of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.’ Given that it was Samuel Prescott, not Revere, who actually made it to Concord [Massachusetts, to raise the alarm about the British Army’s advance on 18-19 April 1775], one has to sympathise with Longfellow’s dilemma. ‘And you shall hear / of the midnight ride of Samuel Prescott’ simply does not have the same ring.
Rudyard Kipling must have faced a similar dilemma, beginning his evocative poem ‘On the Road to Mandalay’, ‘where the flyin’-fishes play / An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the bay.’
As a cinematographer with 358 Squadron in Burma during the Second World War, my dad was ecstatic when his unit was ordered to Mandalay. It was only when they got there that he realised the city was 200 miles inland. No flyin’-fishes, or China ‘crost the bay. The poet, he realised, must have been in Rangoon, on the coast, and had agonised over what to rhyme it with. Spoon? Balloon? For both Kipling and Longfellow, poetic licence proved very useful.
Nick O’Dell, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Having read your review of James Holland’s new book, The Savage Storm (MHM October/November 2023), and the comments made about the American general Mark Clark, I thought it would be interesting to raise one point.
Your reviewer thought it remarkable that Clark continued to perform despite pressure from the Chiefs of Staff to conclude the Italian campaign quickly. However, some historians have criticised Clark’s performance, as he allowed the German 10th Army to escape the trap set for it by Harold Alexander, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies Italy.
As Allied troops broke through the Gustav Line at Cassino, the US VI Corps at Anzio was to advance north-east and cut off the retreating Germans. Clark, however, ordered VI Corps to advance on Rome instead, ignoring Alexander’s plan. The American military historian Carlo D’Este has severely criticised Clark for his decision to concentrate on Rome, rather than the destruction of the 10th Army.
This is perhaps a reflection of Clark’s reputed desire for publicity, as he wanted his 5th Army to be the first Allied troops to reach the Italian capital.
Simon Davidson, London
BITING THE BULLET
In the aftermath of Gettysburg (MHM June/July 2023) some 27,574 muskets were picked up on the battlefield. This is understandable given the scale of the event: across three days, 100,000 Union soldiers fought 75,000 Confederates, with around 25,000 casualties on each side.
Loading and firing one of those Civil War muskets was a complex process involving many stages. Starting with a .58 calibre lead, conical bullet and black powder, a soldier would grip the bullet end in his teeth, pour the powder down the barrel, place the bullet in the muzzle, draw the ramrod from beneath the barrel, ram the bullet and powder down, pull out the ramrod, and then replace it in its socket.
He would then lift up the weapon, pull the hammer to full-cock, flip the used primer cap (a small, thimble-shaped item) off the nipple that led to a hole in the barrel behind the powder charge, reach into the cap box on his belt, get out a new cap and place it on the nipple, making it ready to fire.
Impressively, an average soldier could do this several times a minute. But in the excitement of battle a lot of men would forget something, and usually it was to do the last, essential step of putting a new cap on. In the mêlée, they would not even notice that their weapon had not discharged and would go through the whole process repeatedly – never firing a shot.
Wayne Bonkosky, Santa Rosa, California
Please note: letters may be edited for length; views expressed here are those of our readers, and do not necessarily reflect those of the magazine.