Combined Operations in 1759!
Wolfe (Army) and Saunders (Navy) in an Accidental Combined
assault on the Abraham heights near Quebec
was a classic Combined Operation which contained many of the elements used
in amphibious landings in WW2. The story is included here in the way of an
introduction to the subject of Combined Operations and as an illustration
of the effective use of some basic principles.
is almost 250 years outside the WW2 remit of this site but it helps to define
the features of planning and execution that make for a successful combined
courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
By the time
Louisburg in Cape Breton Island fell to Wolfe's forces in early August of
1758 it was too late in the season for an assault on the French garrison
at Old Quebec. Under the circumstances Wolfe decided to take the home
leave he had been promised before the expedition sailed from UK waters.
Unbeknown to Wolfe, at the time of his departure from Canada, Pitt had
sent an order for him to stay with his men. This accident of history had
far reaching beneficial consequences the following year.
Planning and Preparations
The first major
rule for a successful combined operation was in place - the opportunity to
consider the future campaign in discussion with political heads (The War
Cabinet) and the Chiefs of Staff (Field-Marshal Lord Ligonier & others)
thereby gaining their confidence, commitment and support. As a result
Wolfe was allowed to choose his own brigadiers and was allocated ample
supplies for a 6 month campaign.
Wolfe was also fortunate in having established a good working relationship with his naval equivalent Charles
Saunders. In fact they made the Atlantic crossing together and were fully at one in their thinking about the campaign against the French.
Saunders later wrote "During the tedious campaign there has continued a perfect understanding between the Army and Navy." So it was
that the second major rule for a successful campaign was met - a good personal and working relationship between (or
amongst) field commanders.
It was not possible to achieve strategical
surprise, a normal pre-requisite of a successful amphibious combined
operation. Montcalm was an able soldier and he had known, for at least 14
weeks, that he was to be attacked. His
preparations were at first successful in repelling attacks and Wolfe
disengaged his forces to consider his position. Weeks went by with little
progress. A possible landing site was identified
mile or two upstream of the main French positions and for 6 days part of
the fleet drifted up river on the flood tide and down river on the ebb
tide while assessments were made.
[Map courtesy of Google Map
Montcalm found this behaviour very odd and concluded that it was a diversion from Wolfe's
main target the Beauport Lines. This view was reinforced by a feint perpetrated by Saunders. On the 13th September at 1 a.m., as the fleet once
more moved down the river on the ebb tide, Wolfe landed with his men. By the time the sun came up at 8am 4,500 men where on top of the Abraham
Heights. So it was that another golden rule of combined operations was met - the achievement of surprise which on this
occasion was tactical rather than strategic.
The French forces were in disarray but in the action that followed Wolfe was hit three times. His last words were an order to dispatch a battalion to cut off the
French retreat. Five days later the French forces in Quebec surrendered.
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