Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945; Part 1: Where and When The Failure Occurred–1918

It has been observed that this is the THIRD segment of PART 1…but that observer was reading out of sequence, so I get it.

By November 1918, the German Army was on the edge of disintegration. It had started to fall apart in late summer–the traditional date is 8 August. Still, they were coherent enough to withstand heavy American/Allied blows in France, Italy, and the Balkans. The draft class of 1915–seventeen-year-old boys–was in the trenches. Putting the class of 1916 in uniform that winter–sixteen-year-old boys–was being contemplated. The Army did not have long to live. The Navy, after being ordered out to sea for a last, suicidal battle with the British Royal Navy (and a sizable US Navy squadron with them), mutinied under the dreaded red banner of Bolshevism. In the Argonne and elsewhere, American and Allied troops finally broke into the areas behind the German fortification zones that had held them up for three years. Open warfare put them in German territory, and the Germans were running out of options. On the home front, children younger than six were scarce; turnips were the most common fare. Fuel was scarce, and the prospect of another winter of British blockade was unthinkable.

Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, the two officers who had been practically running Germany, counseled Kaiser Wilhelm II to ask their enemies for terms. The victors of Tannenberg could see the proverbial writing on the wall. Germany had lost the Great War that they had contemplated, planned for, anticipated since 1871. 

What happened in 1871? Germany happened again. 

This was the Second Reich, proclaimed after the French surrender after the Franco-Prussian War (called the War of 1870 in France). It was the second because the first, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation in German), started in 800 AD and ended in 1806. Numbers aside, Wilhelm I, Hohenzollern King of Prussia, nervously proclaimed himself emperor (kaiser) of the German Empire, which was to include Prussia and the states that comprised the North German Confederation, a customs union that included the independent kingdom of Saxony and would later include those of Saxony, Bavaria, and Württemberg. Further, it included a mix of duchies, grand duchies, principalities, and free and Hanseatic cities. What had been many became one under the undoubted leadership of Prussia.

Why Prussia? Who else?

An 18th Century French statesman was said to have observed that Prussia was not a state with an army but an army with a state. For a century and more, after the end of the Thirty Year’s War in 1648 (of which, more later), Prussia had been hiring out their soldiers to whoever had the money to pay for them, usually states of the Empire. The soldiers they provided were not only willing, they were steady and generally capable. Other Empire states would send their young men to learn the arts of war under the Prussians. In 1771 the first Hohenzollern King of Prussia-Brandenburg, Fredrick II–Fredrick the Great–took the title that he and his heirs and successors would hold for another century and a half. Prussia was best known for its holdings on the Baltic, but Brandenburg was inland and included Berlin. 

Fredrick was a good soldier; by all accounts, a fair monarch. That said, his career has been exaggerated in its influence on the arts of war. He was steady, and he had more nerve than a toothache, but “genius” probably isn’t appropriate; More like utilitarian. He used a familiar pattern of tactics for Germans that would be seen all the way to 1945: encirclement by rapid movement–the Kesselschlacht, or cauldron-battle.  The style predated Fredrick in Prussian-style warfare, and against most European opponents, it was pretty devastating. The Prussians had developed this way of war because a glance at any map would show that most of Germany is relatively flat and featureless, practically inviting invasion–witness the Thirty-Year’s War. This style of warfare developed during a period when there were more sieges than open battles, and soldiers in most armies were thought to be little better than rabble. 

Most armies, that is, except the Prussians. Theirs were well-disciplined rabble.

And there were very few of them because Prussia-Brandenburg was anything but rich or populous.

They won more than they lost, right up to 14 October 1806, when Napoleon defeated them badly in two battles on the same day at Jena and Auerstat. But that defeat imbued in the survivors a burning desire to figure out where they failed, and their greatest weakness–they knew before but never addressed–was in staff work. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the dull, unexciting, tedious drudgery involved in getting armies from here to there on time and well-supplied. And it’s a great deal more involved than most people think. It’s actually a great deal more complicated than most non-staff-trained officers believe. But Napoleon had already got there with his Maison de L’Empereur–Imperial Household–system. It was how Napoleon could run his empire from the saddle. The Prussians took that military and civil planning system, sifted through it, and came up with the general staff. In the iteration pioneered and taught by such worthies as Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, each staff officer was trained in precisely the same way, to perform all the planning tasks the same way, from procuring uniforms and food to moving an army from one point to another. 

Mind you, this wasn’t battle planning; it was everything before and after the battle. The same plans and procedures were followed, modified for weather, seasons, terrain, and the size of the force, at every level, from company to army.

But they did not vary depending on the opponent.

The same principles and techniques were applied to the entire country. They performed the same planning for attacking Russia in 1812, at Napoleon’s side for a while. It was in Russia that the general staff system was honed and tested and redone and retested. It was in the 1813 campaign and in the 1815 campaigns that it was tested again and again. By the middle of the 19th century, it was pretty clear that Prussia could mobilize and field an army faster than any other army on Earth. 

Defeating Austria in 1866 was comparatively easy…everyone knew that. Defeating France in 1870? That, according to the “experts,” was miraculous.  So Prussia took charge of the German Empire in 1871.
So, Central Europe was dominated by the heirs of Fredrick The Great, who could march faster and fight longer and better than nearly anyone else. They also had a larger population than France and a burgeoning industrial base supported by the most sophisticated rail system in the world. And everyone everywhere started copying the German General Staff system. 

In 1888, Wilhelm I died and was succeeded by Fredrick III…who was also dying. He died in the same year, and Wilhelm II took the throne. 

This shouldn’t have been of great concern, but it was because Wilhelm II would never be ready to run a country like the second German Empire. Immaturity was his middle name, and he wanted to make his empire greater than that of his cousin’s…the British Empire. Hand in hand with Wilhelm was a German admiral named Alfred von Tirpitz, who wanted the same thing. Thus began an arms/naval/industrial race that ended in 1918 mainly because Wilhelm promised Austria-Hungary–more or less–that he could defeat all the rest of Europe…or at least beat them to a standstill. The result was seen in 1918.

The preceding suggests that Germany’s magnificent war machine of 1914 was crushed by four years of brutally unprecedented industrial war. While it was, there was the small question of why Germany went to war against half the world and expected to hold their own. They could, but not indefinitely.  Another suggestion is that Wilhelm was the problem. Yes, and he was the absolute ruler of Germany…and there was no one in Germany after he fired Bismarck in 1890 who could tell him ‘no.’ But Wilhelm was easily led by strong minds, like Tirpitz.

The “why” has a great deal to do with that machine and the enormous self-confidence it bestowed on Germany. It was in many ways better than any other war machine up to that time. But it could not outlast the resources of all of Europe and certainly could not outlast the resources of the United States. Planning could not provide experienced soldiers; no plan could provide food where it wasn’t available. No monarch’s pronunciations could maintain the collapsing morale of hungry men.

Some say that the Germans surrendered in 1918 to keep from seeing a victory parade down the Kurfurstendamm in Berlin. Some others say that Britain and France accepted that surrender to keep that victory parade from being led by the Americans.

So, who or what failed in 1918? From the foregoing…the Germans were too arrogant by half. Could the same be said in 1945? Perhaps. Let’s see next time.

On the road/entertaining for much of September, folks, so I’ll cut this short. More next month.

Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945; Part 1: Where and When The Failure Occurred–1945

Deciding how Germany failed in 1945 is a game of whack-a-mole: reasons just keep popping up.

Germany in May 1945 was a large-scale abattoir. Many senior political leaders had fled Berlin; those who didn’t were either captured or dead by their own hands or by the German firing squad. The military leaders stayed at their posts–for the most part–doing what every German expected them to do. And therein lies part of the problem.

Doing what was expected of them; obedience to the end.

While obedience to the needs of the state wasn’t/isn’t that unusual or dangerous, Germans have a habit of obeying their leaders regardless of pretty much everything, including their destruction. Somehow, the “mission” that the Nazis had set out for Germany to create a better world included destroying 11 million people regarded as “not Aryan.” By 1945, this meant following the Nazi leadership’s goal of destroying the entire German nation because it was deemed “unworthy.” It also meant that the death camps were to operate on overdrive before being overrun.

Race was what all the fuss was about

Houston Steward Chamberlain
Wikimedia

In the 19th century, many writers, pundits, anthropologists, politicians, and other blowhards theorized about “race;” it was a cottage industry. One theorist/philosopher was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an ex-pat Englishman and the author of a book entitled Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899). In Foundations, Chamberlain lumps all the Teutons (which included the Germans, Slavs, Celts, Greeks, and Latins) into a single lump called the Aryans. The Aryans are/were what anthologists call a language group originating somewhere in northern India that had some influence on the German–and thus English–language. Like others at the time, Chamberlain suggested that the Nordic/Teutonic race was superior and responsible for everything good that ever happened. At the same time, the Jewish “race” was responsible for everything bad.

Chamberlain’s ideas were neither new nor novel at the time. And it sold like proverbial hotcakes.

Chamberlain’s book was well-reviewed and well-received in Germany, Europe, and Russia. Chamberlain corresponded with Kaiser Wilhelm II about it; George Bernard Shaw thought the book was a “historical masterpiece.” In the US, the reception was more guarded. Theodore Roosevelt highlighted Chamberlain’s extreme bias, a judgment that seems to have escaped other contemporary readers. He also wrote that Chamberlain “represents an influence to be reckoned with and seriously to be taken into account.” The former President also said:

There could be no more unsafe book to follow implicitly, and few books of such pretensions more ludicrously unsound; and yet it is a book which students and scholars, and men who, though neither students nor scholars, are yet deeply interested in life, must have on their book-shelves.

Theodore Roosevelt. History as Literature. 1913.

Which is precisely what the Nazis did.

Chamberlain was also Richard Wagner’s son-in-law and a publicist for Bayreuth in Bavaria. Wagner, as we all remember, created the Ring Cycle (The Ring of the Nibelung). This magnum opus is a series of four operas depicting the story of, literally, a ring that could potentially rule the world. It’s tied up in old Germanic myths with Greek tragedy overtones and will take up seventeen hours of your time, should you want to listen to it. The Ring Cycle is meant to be performed at festivals that took four days to put on at Bayreuth. It was one of Hitler’s favorites–and thus any faithful Nazi’s–depicting the struggle for the possession of power for generations.

Irony of ironies, Houston Stewart was Neville “Peace in our Time” Chamberlain’s uncle.

Antisemitism is as old as Christianity in Europe, made worse by economic crises, plagues, and other disasters. In France, antisemitism reared its ugly head for an entire generation during and after the Dreyfus affair, nearly splitting the country into two. In Germany, the trigger was somewhat more subtle. The Treaty of Versailles caused profound economic shocks in the German economy. As a result, the sullen masses of unemployed German men and women, soldiers and sailors and farmers and farriers and candlestick makers heard from the Nazis just who to blame–the Jews. And the German soldiers and so forth believed and pressed others to believe because some believed.

Book cover for The Protocols; Gramercy Books

Peer pressure is the most terrifying tool in every tyrant’s playbook.

A Russian forgery augmented the Communist-Zionist conspiracy that Hitler spoke of in Mein KampfThe Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion–or simply The Protocols–was written in Russia probably as a hoax to be circulated among antisemites. Then, someone cleaned it up and published it in an antisemitic rag in Russia in 1903. It also circulated as a pamphlet in Russia before the Russian Revolution, when refugees carried copies outside the country. It then became a means of counter-revolution and was translated into English by the Wilson administration’s War Department, replacing all references to Jews with Bolsheviks. It became, so mistranslated, an instrument in the first Red Scare in the US. Of course, it was also translated into German in 1920–using the original wording at first, then augmented with and Jews–and denounced as a hoax by the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1924, despite widespread acceptance in Germany as a genuine document. Many people around the globe–especially in the Muslim world–believe in The Protocol‘s authenticity to this day.

Nobody said it had to make sense…but it made enough sense to enough Germans to put the Nazis in power.

The great importance of The Protocols lies in its permitting antisemites to reach beyond their traditional circles and find a large international audience, a process that continues to this day. The forgery poisoned public life wherever it appeared; it was “self-generating; a blueprint that migrated from one conspiracy to another.”

Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988

The Germans believed, and they obeyed, in part, because they were Germans. They were accustomed to being led by strongmen of one stripe or another. Lenin famously related the story of the German delegation to a world anarchist convention in the 1890s. The German delegation, it seemed, was late for the opening meeting because, it being Sunday, there was no one at the train station to take their tickets.

How and when and why the Nazis took Germany over has been done; this analysis has nothing new to add. But one thing it does need to add is that dilettantes led the Nazi system, and when they took power, they required non-Nazis to run the country because they had no good idea how. They knew some of what to do, but

  • A former fighter pilot and heroin addict in charge of the secret police and the Five Year Plan?
  • A champagne salesman as the chief diplomat?
  • A chicken farmer in charge of national defense?

None of those could be any worse than a failed artist as the country’s leader

But they were in charge. And they led the charge against the rest of the world and the “non-Aryans” in all of Europe. And gradually, as the rest of the world got used to their new way of war, they started to lose. What is truly remarkable about Germany from 1941-43, as the casualties started piling up and their enemy’s power grew by orders of magnitude every quarter, is how the German leadership resorted to magical thinking, promising new and more powerful weapons, Just keep fighting, they said, our Leader will save us. That magic ring is right around the corner. When Roosevelt died in April 1945, Goebbels congratulated Hitler on his insight. Do you see? Surely this new President will make common cause with us against the Russians…

And right up to May 1945, most Germans believed and acted upon that belief. Even after the surrender, many still believed in the tales that the Nazis told.

But where’s the failure here? In the Nazis whipping up the masses, or in the masses willing and ready to be whipped up?

Then we come to Versailles

The Treaty of Peace Between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany (the Versailles treaty for short) was concluded in 1919. It was somewhat remarkable because, as a treaty of peace, the German belligerents had practically no input on it. The aforementioned allies–France, Britain, and the United States–had the only significant input. Other powers like Belgium, Italy, and Japan were present during the negotiations, but their contributions to the terms were minimal. Versailles was about vengeance, and France and Britain got theirs.

Germany was disarmed–not completely, but significantly. She lost all her overseas colonies in the Pacific, China, and Africa, as well as Memel, Eupen-Malmedy, and Alsace-Lorraine in Europe. She also lost any and all rebuilding capital she could ever have for two generations because of the enormous cash reparations. Germany was also “punished” by being separated from East Prussia by the creation of a land corridor to the Baltic given to Poland–known in song and story as the Danzig Corridor. The terms were so humiliating that Germany found it difficult to find a German in their government willing to sign it. Not only was Germany disarmed and partly dismembered, but she was also as humiliated as a schoolboy spanked by his mother during a school assembly.

And the Nazis made no bones about reminding the Germans of that humiliation

While the Versailles cash requirements were onerous, they were also repudiated before the Nazis went off the deep end completely–before the wars and the death camps. I would argue that the Versailles treaty wasn’t enough on its own to drive the German people into the arms of madness. What was, or rather did? Was it the combination of antisemitism and humiliation, or was it the audience? Was it the message, messenger )the Nazis themselves), or messaged? Do we blame the Nazis and their messages of hate (again), or do we blame those who followed their lead?

There was also that bit about the end of WWI itself

The First World War was in one important way the last war of the 19th century, in that the conflict didn’t end with an Allied victory parade down the Kurfurstendamm in Berlin. Oh, the Germans were defeated, all right, and their allies Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire were suing for peace. The German navy mutinied, waving the red flag of revolution; German streets were being decorated with red banners. There was very little that could stop the Allies from overrunning Germany proper in a few months.

But they didn’t; the Germans sued for peace and a war-weary Europe granted it

That became the fodder for the “stab in the back” myth that Germany didn’t really lose in WWI because the Army was supposedly undefeated. After all, the Army marched back to their barracks bearing their weapons, didn’t they? (Yes, many did.) It was those in the rear, the November criminals who stabbed Germany in the back. The Nazis made good use of this concept whenever the thoughts of law, order, or diplomacy were introduced into the debate–which was frequent in the beginning, but gradually died down when cooler heads were silenced. In another ironic twist, it was Hindenberg (who appointed Hitler chancellor) and Ludendorff (who coined the phrase “stabbed in the back” and marched with the Nazis in the Munich Putsch) who told the German government that the Army was finished in 1918.

The Nazis were very big on mythology, mysticism, and ideological nonsense. Their magical thinking was in part responsible for the failure, but it wasn’t the only cause–they had to have a receptive audience. Once again: messenger, message, or messaged? When we look at Germany up to 1918–starting next time–we’ll ask the same question.

The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons

By now I expect everyone has got their copies of my latest book…haven’t you? You haven’t? I am shocked! Shocked!

Not especially. But I wish you would.

The Liberty Bell Files takes characters you should have met in the Stella’s Game Trilogy–Julia Parkinson, Dave Clawson, and others–from when they joined the Bureau in 1980. It’s a great deal about paranoia and cleaning up the detritus of the Red Scares, of the Cold War, and especially the fears of its long-time director, J. Edgar Hoover…hence the title.

But, as you know, the Liberty Bell Files is a work of fiction. It’s all made up. Imagine, if you will, an FBI case file that starts like this:

File Number Ending 067265-LIB
File Created 6/7/42
File Name: Edward Steven Copenicium DOB 6/25/1901, Evans County, Texas.
Subject expressed disloyal opinions June 1942 in Dallas, TX by stating “if this war needs us, they’re really hard up,” while not expressing mirth.

This imaginary case floated around in the fictitious Liberty Bell Files for forty years. And there was this one:

File Number Ending 651925-LIB
File Created 12 Dec 67
File Name: Fauna DOB unknown (probably 1964).
Large feline won biggest cat in Idaho at state fair September 67. Unnaturally large (over 40 pounds) for a domestic feline. Owner is Laurencia Smith NewmanneeFlannagan (DOB 1932), an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war and the current military draft who has visited Sweden, Switzerland, and other pacifistic countries. Possible lines of investigation include radiation-enhanced animal breeding.

OK, it was the 60’s, but…an FBI file on an overweight cat? But there was also…

File Number Ending:  99402-LIB
Name: Founders of the Fourth Reich
Origin: Ca. 1962, Skokie Ill. Founded by David Scarborough (b 1945) and William Durst (b. 1945). both of Skokie.
Narrative: Initial tenants were that Martin Borman is the rightful leader of the national socialist movement. Founders wish to lead the movement in the Midwest. Note: they appeared to be more concerned with national socialism in a literal sense than with the racist overtones of original organization. Founders decried anti-Semitism and eugenics in their founding manifesto.   
Updates: 1964: Membership over 3,000 in Illinois and Indiana.
1969: Meetings between high-level leadership of this organization and KKK confirmed.
1972: Several members arrested for synagogue bombing in Arlington Heights, Ill.
1972: Scarborough and Durst found shot in head in Chicago.

OK, the Bureau’s busy, but this one was sitting around–ignored–too. There are rooms full of files like these going back to the 1930s. Most innocuous, some curious, a few, dangerous. And that’s what Dave and Julia and forty-odd other people in the Bureau’s Special Projects Division–that doesn’t exist–work on.

These non-existent cases and more are what The Liberty Bell Files were all about…because the bureaucrats can’t stand NOT knowing and they have more money than sense…or would have if these cases and this organization actually existed.

The Liberty Bell FIles: J. Edgars Demons is available from your favorite booksellers.

Historical Failure Analysis Case Study 1, The Confederate States of America; Part 2: Similar Cases

The interest in Part 1 of this series was gratifying, thank you. Hope you stay with me until the end…and there shall be an end.

And before I go any further, a happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Similar cases to the Confederacy may be tricky. Failure analysis in engineering can look at thousands of similar designs and patterns. Historians have a somewhat more limited selection. 

What kind of similarity are we looking for?

Conditions; social structure; time frame; circumstances of creation. Engineers have it easy in this regard. Thus, I’ll define the Confederacy as:

  1. Mid-19th Century time frame
  2. Agrarian-industrial political economy 
  3. Split from a federal constitutional republic to form a confederacy of states
  4. A class and race divided social system.

I think we can forget about an exact match. While 2. is common, 3. is not: Slavery wasn’t unique to the US in the mid-19th century, but it was unique as a reason for dividing the country. But 4. is common.

Strict adherence to my list is problematic…

The Confederate States of America was an offshoot of Tocqueville’s “Great Experiment” in representative government. Their founders replicated most of the institutions of the Union that they separated from and made significant but minute changes to their Constitution. The biggest difference between the Union and the Confederacy was the greater state autonomy in the Confederacy…and no Supreme Court. This is ironic because the Dred Scott decision gave the slaveholders most of what they wanted: the freedom to take their slaves anywhere and relief from the idea of “free blacks” in their boundaries. Let’s look for cases where a government failed to represent who they claimed to represent, and in so doing, lost the capability to succeed.

France in the period 1794-1815 strikes me as a possibility.

Think about it. Start with a revolution, get rid of the aristocrats, carry “liberty, equality, brotherhood” around Europe for nearly a decade…then a Corsican artilleryman places the crown of empire on his head in Notre Dame, announcing that he’s the emperor of the French…who strangled their aristocrats with the guts of priests. So, who did the French Revolution, the Terror, and the Directory represent? The French people? They put a Bourbon king back on the throne after Napoleon lost…twice. So, let’s say, provisionally, that France may be similar, without the overtones of separation from another body.

How about Russia before 1917?

Hard to nail that one down because the Romanovs had a hard time being popular. They were autocrats, indeed. But after the revolution, so much changed in Russia, it’s hard to divine just who the succeeding governments represented. Was Lenin’s government more popular than Stalin’s? It was so brief it’s impossible to know. Stalin did a better job of convincing the Russians that they were better off…better Red than dead, essentially.

The living will envy the dead.

Attributed to Nikita Khrushchev

How’s that for irony.

Neither France nor Russia is a good case to follow.

In neither case was there a “government of the people,” even in a literary sense. Both governments were dominated by their monarchs, who ruled with absolute authority if the mobs liked it or not.

How about 19th Century Japan?

Though similar–especially the agricultural economy and the strict class system–but they didn’t split off from another country, and Japanese democracy didn’t appear until after 1945 in any recognizable form. But fail to represent the people it did…even if it didn’t try that hard. And it failed utterly to defend itself.

Now, hold onto your hats because I’m going to suggest Weimar Germany.

The Weimar Constitution provided for a representative government after the collapse of the Hohenzollern monarchy. It enjoyed a brief period of calm and prosperity as long as the European-American economy was healthy…and economically, the Confederacy was OK for a short time–months, not years. Then came the global depression, and with that came the chaos of inflation…and an influential speaker who told the mobs precisely what they wanted to hear. But even before the National Socialists took power in 1933, Paul Von Hindenburg was ruling by decree. The pre-1933 German government stopped representing Germany and was died with a whimper, not a bang. So, Weimar, sort of. But its failure mode was far different.

The Confederate States of America was a unique case.

A case that had no real equivalence anywhere at any time. Its failure to represent and protect the people it purported to represent was like several others, but it was a unique failed constitutional confederacy, not a dictatorship like late Weimar Germany, an absolute monarchy like France or Russia, or a military dictatorship masquerading as a constitutional republic like pre-1945 Japan.

Oops!

If there’s only a few similar cases…is this step in our model good to have? With only a single case study so far, it may be too soon to tell. However, we are tempted to think of our model as a guideline, not a rule. But there goes intellectual rigor. So…we wait for more case studies.

If you have to make too many exceptions to your model, maybe the model was wrong

Desmond Morris

A lot of truth to that. Let’s keep working on our model. Next time, we identify the similarities…but didn’t we just do that? Let’s work on that.

Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories

Some of you know that I also write fiction…and some wags think my non-fiction is…never mind. Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years; most more than 20 years ago. At any rate, I’m publishing a second edition in paper and e-book in a few weeks. They’re mostly historical and military-related, some based on personal experience, most not. It will be announced before the end of the year, certainly in this space. Look out for it when it comes.

June And Stella’s Game

There’s a sense of renewal to June…supposed to be, anyway.

This June, hopefully more so. Most of us are in lock-down masquerading as “self-quarantine” or “sheltering in place,” having become so risk-averse that we’re afraid of stuff that the people in Stella’s Game would hardly have noticed except as another flu.

And, I submit, a decade ago we wouldn’t have noticed, either.

June is a time for graduations, for weddings, for the commencement of summer fun in the sun. On 19 June 1865, Juneteenth Day was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas, when news of the emancipation reached the city with the Union troops. In June 1942, of course, was the battle of Midway, an American victory that stopped the Japanese advance in the eastern Pacific. Same month, same year, the Allies lost Tobruk, the vital logistical base in North Africa.

Reinhard Heydrich, Protector of Bohemia and Moravia
Wiki Commons

And on 4 June, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich was died of wounds he had suffered in a Prague suburb by a team of commandos trained and equipped by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Heydrich was the head of the RSHA, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt , or Reich Main Security Office. This innocuous title belied its purpose, which was to oversee the annihilation of European Jewry. Heydrich was also the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia–what was left of Czechoslovakia at the time. As “Protector” he proclaimed martial law, executed hundreds, and began to “Germanize” the population by eliminating those not “German” enough to live.

Well, the “murder” of one of Hitler’s favorites was not to go unavenged, so the little towns of Lidice and Ležáky were selected to be erased. Beginning on 10 June, all males over 16 were executed; all but four women at Lidice were sent to Ravensbruck; the last four were suffered forced abortions and then sent to the camp. Eighty-one children were killed in gas vans at Chelmno. Lidice was burned and leveled. Over 1,300 people were killed in retribution.

Every once in a while, somebody repeats the old saw about this town or that country all wore the Star of David because the Jews were compelled to. To this I say “Lidice.” Given what the Germans did for the defiance there, it seems unlikely that open resistance by a whole town would be tolerated.

Stella’s Game and Tideline are now available

Cover of Stella's Game:
Cover of Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, Available Now from fine booksellers everywhere

In Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, the friends go through a number of changes in June: Friends are separated in 1967, siblings get married in 1970; they graduate in ’73; one gets married; two join the Army.

But where Stella’s Game ends, Tideline: Friendship Abides begins. Tideline follows the friends from 1974 to 1986, in a world where there is no Internet (it was still DARPANET), where “basic cable” was really basic, and where month-long lock-downs and “social distancing” are simply unimaginable. The Soviets were still glowering on the other side of the Iron Curtain (remember that?), and long-distance telephone calls were still not just expensive novelties but the only means of long distance communications…other than letters…and they write A LOT.

Cover of Tideline: Friendship Abides, Part Two of the Stella’s Game Trilogy

And in Tideline, friends find each other after long years apart; they laugh, they cry…and they try to solve an old mystery that controls their lives. There were few personal computers; Pong was considered a video game; risque TV was showing navels.

And Tideline leads to The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs . The concluding volume of the Stella’s Game Trilogy follows the friends to the end of the mysterious road that not just brought them together, but threatens their lives. Look for it in November

Battle of Coronel, Author’s Day, and Stella’s Game

Yes, someone actually decided that authors were worthy of recognition. This happened nearly a century ago…when people were still reading and not waiting for the video.

Battle of Coronel: 1 November 1914

The Endless Game of Weapons Innovation

In the late 19th century, naval ship development was driven by two contrasting needs: beat the other fellow and do it cheaply. The “other fellow” was often hard to define, but the biggest challenge that European navies felt they faced would be merchant ships that their warships couldn’t outrun. Propulsion systems for merchant–especially passenger–ships of all kinds were being developed faster than the more hidebound, budget-conscious navies could adapt.

If this starts to look like a game of paper-scissors-rock, you’re got the right idea

In the mid-19th century, Russia built the first ship called an “armored cruiser” that was meant to show the flag powerfully at distant stations. This preceded by a decade or so the first armed merchant cruisers by that giant arbiter of naval fashion, Britain’s Royal Navy. Their idea was to take one of those speedy merchantmen and arm it to catch other speedy merchantmen. Then someone popped their heads up and announced to no one’s surprise that the enemy could make those, too. so the RN adapted the Russian idea of a powerful warship on a smaller hull but with great speed and range to counter the theoretical armed merchant cruiser menace. Then these ships got big, and fast, and powerful and in 1911 the RN came up with the third part of this deadly game: the battle cruiser. If this starts to look like a game of paper-scissors-rock, you’re got the right idea, but arms designers had done this for centuries at sea: this ship design to counter that one, then another innovation to overcome the next.

…the bosses back in Berlin were light on how this flotilla would survive on the other side of the world if the war went on more than a few months.

Then came WWI, and the game became deadly. Trapped in the Pacific at the start of the war was the German East Asia Squadron, led by Maximilian von Spee. Its mission was to raid enemy commerce in the Pacific in the event of hostilities. While a great idea for a short war, the bosses back in Berlin were light on how this flotilla would survive on the other side of the world if the war went on more than a few months.

So, after running more or less wild in the Pacific for a couple of months, von Spee decided to raid the coast of Latin America for a while. At the same time he realized that he’d run out of ammunition pretty soon, so he decided he’d hightail it for home around the end of the year. But the Royal Navy got in the way.

the German ships were manned by long-service professionals…the British by reservists just called up. German gunnery was renowned; British gunnery…not so much.

The Germans had two armored cruisers (see above) and three light cruisers (defined as a warship in size and power somewhere between that of a destroyer and of a bigger cruiser) with them, in addition to a number of auxiliaries and storeships. To counter this force, Britain’s Christopher Cradock commanded two armored cruisers, a light cruiser, an armed merchant cruiser and a pre-Dreadnought battleship. On paper it looks like the British had the advantage with that big battlewagon…but they didn’t because the battleship was too slow to keep up with the rest of the squadron. In addition, the German ships were manned by long-service professionals; most of the British vessels were manned by reservists just called up. German gunnery was renowned; British gunnery…not so much.

Battle off Coronel, Chile. British ships in red; German in black. Wikimedia Commons

The result was well within the realm of predictable on 1 November 1914. British losses were over 1,600 men and both armored cruisers, which were literally buried in shells. German losses were three men wounded. However, that was but one battle in a long campaign, and to win that fight the Germans expended half their irreplaceable ammunition. Any more commerce raiding anywhere would have to wait; von Spee decided to run for home.

It was the heyday of the half-century long race to outrun those fast armed merchantmen

But in this deadly game of paper-scissors-rock, the rocks were dispatched to break the scissors. Two battlecruisers arrived in the Falklands just in time to destroy the German squadron a month later. It was the heyday of the half-century long race to outrun those fast armed merchantmen, then to outgun those fast armored cruisers. It was also the last demonstration of this kind of deadly one-upsmanship, as the armed merchant cruisers were replaced in strategic importance by the submarine, making the armored cruisers and the battlecruisers strategically pointless.

National Author’s Day

The Unknown Author, plugging away…

Now you, too can honor at least one author…me…by buying at least one of my books. Or at least, by putting one on your list.

In 1928, Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, teacher, avid reader and president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club had an idea of setting aside a day to celebrate American authors. She did this because she sent a fan letter–remember those, not just likes on a page somewhere–and decided that mere thanks were not enough. She submitted the idea of an Author’s Day to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs–that’s still around, too–which passed a resolution declaring 1 November as National Author’s Day. The US Department of Commerce followed suit in 1949.

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendship

Have a seat; we’re dealing Stella’s Game.

And here’s one you really should put on your list–Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendship, due for publication 3 December 2019. Stella’s Game follows four kids from 1963 to 1974; half their lives. It’s about friends, family, learning, challenging, fun and danger. It’s also the first volume in a trilogy that will follow these kids until 2001. Look for it in December.

Operation Uranus and Thanksgiving 2018

Once you get over the irony of my talking first about Stalingrad and then about American Thanksgiving, you’ll hopefully keep reading. But, just for a moment, remember that on that very American holiday in 1942, a quarter million Germans started starving to death along the Volga, trapped by America’s erstwhile allies, the Soviets.

Beginning in late summer, 1942, Germany and the Soviet Union were locked in a hand-to-hand battle along the Volga over the City of Stalin: Stalingrad. Today, the word means as much to us as Verdun: unceasing fighting in attritional firefights. But Stalingrad wasn’t just forts and trenches, it was where infantry platoons fought for days over single stairwells; companies launched assaults on the floor of the building above them; battalions attacked enemy lines to fight over a field bakery. From September to November 1942, the German Sixth Army under Friedrich von Paulus, the Romanian Third Army under Petre Dumitrescu, and the Romanian Fourth Army under Constantin Constantinescu-Claps fought the Soviet Stalingrad Front under Andrey Yeryomenko and Konstantin Rokossovsky’s Don Front, and the Southwestern Front under Nikolai Vatutin in an ever-noisy world of dust and smoke, dying and fear.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad#/media/File:Map_Battle_of_Stalingrad-en.svg

Operation Uranus, Wiki Commons

To break the deadlock and take advantage of weaker German flank elements, Georgy Zhukov, then Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army, planned a counterstroke to encircle the Germans in Stalingrad. Another quarter million Soviet troops were poured into the region, while the embattled fighters in the city were merely told to hold on.

The plan unfolded on 19 November 1942, and except for some uniform confusion close to the city itself, successfully trapped Sixth Army, both Romanian armies, parts of the Italian force and part of Germany’s Fourth Panzer Army in its clutches. A subsequent Soviet operation, Mars, beat back other elements of Germany’s Army Group B, closing the trap on over 200,000 Axis soldiers in the Stalingrad area by 23 November–three days before Thanksgiving in the US.

Both German and Soviet survivors of the Stalingrad fighting declared that they could imagine nothing worse. Because both sides were surrounded and under constant observation, there was no respite from the threat of a sudden sniper shot or artillery barrage. With every significant landmark, building, hillock, clearing and street intersection zeroed in by artillery batteries of all sizes and both sides, any and all attacks were costly in human terms. Gradually, the fighting over buildings was so sustained that some collapsed merely from the concussion of days or weeks of nearby bombardments.

Stalingrad ended for everyone on 2 February 1943. It is unclear exactly how many Axis soldiers went into captivity (probably somewhere about 91,000), but fewer than 10,000 survived to be repatriated as late as 1965.

In the late 1990s a Soviet general, on his deathbed, said that his greatest regret in life was that, as the medical officer in charge of the prisoner transports, he didn’t spend any time arguing that an accurate count of the number of Axis prisoners taken at Stalingrad was needed, so that no one knew how many to expect.  “Not enough of us cared,” he was reported to have said as he expired. True or not, it feels true.


This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the US, a holiday known better for football and overeating than for prayerful offerings, as was originally intended. But you have to ask “who intended” before you go too far down that path. The first official Thanksgiving was from Washington’s proclamation of 1787, but days of fasting and feasting had been observed in French and Spanish New World colonies in the 16th century, and in Virginia as early as 1607. The Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving that most Americans identify as the first Thanksgiving was, therefore, a latecomer in 1621. Lincoln fixed the day as the fourth Thursday in November in 1863, and Congress set it on the fourth Thursday in 1941.

norman-rockwell-thanksgiving-painting-thanksgiving-indoor-skydiving-nj-groupon

Somewhere in Europe, 1943-45.

Now, watch football if you’re so inclined, or play football if that thrills ya. But, the imagery above and to the right here should tell you what the holiday is for. Yes, they are Norman Rockwell paintings, and they were all done during WWII, but you don’t see them very much. The reason for that is both clear and obscure: not very cheery. While superficially true…the girls are alive, folks, in one piece but living in ruins that were not of their making. The GIs had enough to share and gave out of their bounty because they could, and they wanted to.

Pay attention, people.

The message of this sequence is that some people have more to be obviously thankful for than others. The GI to the right is clean, probably healthy and reasonably well-fed–possibly a rear-area guy. He looks older–maybe in his late 20s or 30s–than we’re used to seeing NCOs in uniform. But, too, he might be old enough to be a father who missed feeding his own little girl, who is safe at home on the other side of the world. And the top kick who gave the young woman above his jacket can always get another.

Think about it.

No, I’m not going to preach anymore. Have a happy and safe holiday.

 

Jervis Bay, National Doughnut Day, and Scheduled Release Day

First I have to make sure that you all have your fireworks ready for Guy Fawkes Day, which is of course today. Got ’em? Good.  On to more fireworks.

HMS Jervis Bay started life in 1922 as a Commonwealth Line passenger liner and ended her life as a 14,000-ton barely-armed target for Germany’s large cruiser/”pocket battleship” Admiral Scheer on 5 November 1940 while trying to protect eastbound convoy HX-84.

These are the stark and straightforward facts. But there’s a lot more to this story.

First is the concept of the AMC, or Armed Merchant Cruiser. These were a sensible development of the Royal Navy in the late 19th century when the speed and size of passenger vessels grew exponentially faster than the RN could keep up with. The first AMCs were developed to prove the concept, then quietly retired. When WWI began, the first batch of fast passenger and cargo vessels were modified and used mostly in enforcing the North Sea blockade, where they suffered from submarine attacks but were otherwise successful, if unable to confront German auxiliary cruisers, also called raiders. Notable exceptions included HMS Alcantara‘s success against Germany’s Grief in 1916.

But as a concept, the AMCs were obsolete before that. The Dreadnaught revolution in warship design had invited the development of smaller, heavier armed torpedo boat destroyers, that became simply “destroyers” that were better at surviving, cheaper to build, and faster than most raiders. Aside from that, commerce raiding had mostly passed to submarines, against which the AMCs had very little chance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Jervis_Bay#/media/File:JervisBayatDakar1940.jpg

HMS Jervis Bay at Dakar, early 1940; Wiki Commons

But in 1939 Britain had very few options, and not enough warships to protect all the convoys that she needed from the four corners of the Earth just to survive, let alone fight a war. Thus, Jervis Bay and another 40+ merchant ships were given navy crews, old guns, and missions more suited not only to real warships but to several of them. The convoy that Jervis Bay was to protect was 37 ships…and she was the only escort.

On that fatal day, Admiral Scheer found the convoy just before 4 in the afternoon, and Jervis Bay dutifully took her place to intercept, even though the issue was never in doubt. The uneven duel lasted 24 minutes, as the doughy AMC fired her old 6-inch guns at the pocket battleship and the pocket battleship fired her new 11-inch guns back. Ablaze and wrecked with most of the officers dead, Jervis Bay stopped shooting and quickly went down, her captain dead on the bridge. Sixty-five survivors of a crew of 254 were picked up by a Swedish freighter.

Lest the reader think it was all in vain, it wasn’t. Knowing that his ship wouldn’t survive, Captain Fogarty Fegen of Jervis Bay ordered the convoy to scatter in the gathering dusk, and only five of the merchantmen were sunk by Admiral Sheer that afternoon and evening. For his heroism, Fegen was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Putting Jervis Bay out there alone was a calculated gamble at that stage of the war, for most convoys were managing the crossing unmolested. The German surface fleet–built and equipped primarily for raiding–was small, and the transit for German submarines was still long before the bases in France were operational late in 1940. Of the 42 AMCs converted in 1939 and 1940, only one was still in service by 1944. The Armed Merchant Cruisers were always a stopgap, and though successful at times, were always meant to be secondary vessels.


And then there’s National Donut Day, of which there are two: the first Friday in June, and 5 November, though precisely why there are two of them is another mystery of the ages. The earliest with known origins is the one in June, dating from 1938 when the Salvation Army in Chicago chose to celebrate the 200-odd “doughnut lassies” that they sent to the battlefields of WWI. Dunkin Donuts, which is in the process of dropping the “Donuts” out of its name (go figure) observes this June date.

The November observation date may have been around as early as the 1930s’ as well, though exactly where and why is still unknown. Entenmann’s and Krispy Kreme observe the November date. This means, of course, a donut war brews for the stomachs of America.

https://www.couponcabin.com/blog/where-to-get-free-donuts-on-national-donut-day/

Celebrate!

No, not really. Donut consumption in the US has been declining for more than twenty years, so no, not really. Dunkin and Krispy Kreme have been expanding their menus in non-fat-pill directions for at least that long, driven by the explosion of Starbucks, primarily, and the general change in American consumer tastes.

And the spelling is supposed to be “doughnut,” but the more common “donut” has been around since, well, Dunkin put up his first sign. Either now is acceptable in most circles, but if the Spelling Police come after you…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

But National Donut Day is upon us, and if these photos don’t entice you to go out and at least think about a cruller…I can’t help you.


I CAN, of course, help you choose your next WWII-era book: Why the Samurai Lost Japan is now scheduled for release on 15 December. You should be able to go to your fave bookseller, including the online stores and our Bookpatch store, around then. Electronic versions (PDF, Kobo, e-book) should be available in January.

WHY_07_CUT

Cover for “Why the Samurai Lost Japan”

For those of you who are new here, for nearly two years I’ve been announcing the reworking of What Were They Thinking? A Fresh Look at Japan at War 1941-45.  My co-author and I have gotten our book back under our control,  reworked and expanded and renamed it into the magnum opus that you will see in December.

Why the Samurai Lost Japan is, as the subtitle says, a study in miscalculation and folly. More than that, it is an object lesson in modernization, industrialization, and what the Star Trek universe warned against with the First Prime Directive: overreaching contamination of a society not ready for tremendous changes in social fabric wrought by advanced machine-age technology. Japan went from a late feudal social organization to an early industrial one in a single generation, and a large and important part of Japanese society–the samurai–failed to understand all the ramifications of those changes. One unfortunate result of that misunderstanding was called the Pacific War of 1941-45. Look for it starting 15 December.

Danzig and the Polish Corridor and Just-Because Day

Last week in August. School starts in this part of the world, and folks are looking towards either ending their summers in a flurry of activity or starting their fall cleanup because…soon the snow will fall. True fact: the only month on record where snow has not fallen in Wisconsin is August. A little weird, but that’s the Great Lakes for ya.

On 27 August 479 BC, the Greeks turned back yet another Persian invasion at sea near Mount Mycale on the Ionian coast and on land at Platea in Boeotia, two of the most decisive battles in the ancient world. Though not as well known as Thermopylae, Marathon or Salamis fought before, these two battles turned back the Persians for another generation and shifted the balance of power in the Aegean to the Greeks. On this day in 1809, Hannibal Hamlin was born in Paris in what is now Maine (then Massachusetts). Hamlin is best known for being Abraham Lincoln’s first vice-president (replaced by Andrew Johnson in the 1864 election), and if he had been in office today just imagine what the late-night comics would make of his name. And on 27 August 1929, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which was officially called the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, was signed in Paris. In a decade all the signatories (that included Germany, Japan, and Italy) would be regarding this piece of paper as being the most worthless document ever promulgated, and in twenty years all of them would be recovering from a global war. Today is also National Pots de Creme Day that only exists because of habit. But today we’re talking about bullies, and about doing what you want when you want to because you want to.

The Polish Corridor was the brainchild of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and its creation was the direct result of not occupying Germany but trying to isolate what Europe saw as the cause of Germany’s militaristic problem.

The Polish Corridor existed, in part, because Britain and France didn’t want to be following an American victory parade in 1919 or 1920. There, I said it. Sue me. The Polish Corridor was the brainchild of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and its creation was the direct result of not occupying Germany but trying to isolate what Europe saw as the cause of Germany’s militaristic problem.

Merely disarming the Germans as the Versailles treaty did wasn’t going to change the Prussian attitudes towards their neighbors and their pathological need for a strong military to make up for their lack of geographic boundaries.

The fact is that Germany wasn’t really and genuinely defeated as a nation in 1918, but settled for a “European peace” that stopped the fighting, moved a few borders, paid out a few coins, but otherwise maintained the status quo ante of 1914. The German monarchy had collapsed, Austria-Hungary folded, the Ottomans were displaced, but the root of the issue in central Europe–German revanchist militarism–was still more or less in place. Merely disarming the Germans as the Versailles treaty did wasn’t going to change the Prussian attitudes towards their neighbors and their pathological need for a robust military to make up for their lack of geographic boundaries.

http://www.yourdictionary.com/polish-corridor

Seventy-five miles wide, the cause of the Second World War.

So the Polish Corridor carved a seventy-five-mile wide chunk out of Pomerania on the Baltic Sea and created a geographic freak called East Prussia that, administratively, was still a part of Germany. (Yes, this part of the world had been Poland once, but it had also been Sweden and Lithuania from time to time.) While it gave the new Polish republic access to the Baltic, it also created a “free city” called Danzig, and a raison d’être for any resurgent Germans to hate a perpetually weak Poland, and the powers that created such an “insult” to German pride. All that was needed was a German strong enough and with a large enough following to rearm the country and demand the geographic reunification of East Prussia with Germany, even if it meant the destruction–again–of Poland.

Its head was an Austrian-born former Bavarian Army corporal named Adolf Hitler whose messianic image presented Germany with a firm direction and some scapegoats for Germany’s troubles: Poland was one of those scapegoats.

Enter the National Socialists. Starting before all the smoke had cleared from the War to End All Wars in 1918, strong-willed and influential Germans began making speeches, promises, and threats. After a decade of economic chaos, political mayhem and a dozen different governments, the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, NSDAP in German or merely the Nazis came out on top in Germany. Its head was an Austrian-born former Bavarian Army corporal named Adolf Hitler whose messianic image presented Germany with a firm direction and some scapegoats for Germany’s troubles: Poland was one of those scapegoats.

While the Poles had not been very nice to the Germans living in the Corridor, “oppressed” was not a good term to use to describe their plight, but it worked for propaganda purposes to whip up public sentiment in Germany.

By 1938, after the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, Germany started to negotiate more direct access to East Prussia. Lacking a land route was a distinct technical problem for customs and tariffs, so there was some validity to German desires to address the issue. But the Germans overreached, demanding both a superhighway and a double-track railway across the Polish Corridor, effectively nullifying Polish sovereignty there. The Poles said no, so the Nazis manufactured a crisis and a whole new class of “oppressed” Germans: the Danzigers. While the Poles had not been very kind to the Germans living in the Corridor, “oppressed” was not a proper term to use to describe their plight, but it worked for propaganda purposes to whip up public sentiment in Germany.

By 1939, Germany had lost patience with Poland. Many Germans didn’t even like the idea of Poland, let alone the reality. On 27 August 1939, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop handed British ambassador to Germany Neville Henderson a note demanding:

  • The return of the city of Danzig to German control;
  • A plebiscite in the Corridor on whether it should remain a part of Poland or revert to Germany–remarkable because former German residents were to be given a vote and Poles who had lived there all their lives were not.

Henderson and the Chamberlain government were under no illusions as to what was behind this demand, one that neither Poland nor Great Britain nor France would agree to. Since, unknown to all but the Germans, this ultimatum came a week and a half after Hitler had issued the invasion orders, this was cynical at best and a diplomatic fig leaf at worst. But Hitler expected his gambler’s luck to hold a little while longer–that miscalculation led to WWII.


https://www.pinterest.com/LakeAffect/dock-jumps/?lp=true

Just Because!

National Just Because Day was started in the 1950s by  Joseph J. Goodwin of Los Gatos, CA, as a family holiday, but it just spread, like so many good ideas. Feel free to celebrate this day in any way you choose.  Just because!

Every day most of us do things we are expected or required to do. On National Just Because Day, this common sense doesn’t have to apply. Today give you license to do things without rhyme or reason.

  • Buy that outfit at the mall that you’ve been drooling over…just because!
  • Use a vacation day to go fishing…just because!
  • Pick up the tab for the table next to you …just because!
  • Sing really loud in your car with your windows rolled down…just because!
  • Surprise someone you care about with flowers like the gent on top…just because!
  • Jump in the water with your friends like the three above…just because!
  • Kiss a friend like the two below…just because!

https://meseriadeparinte.ro/nu-va-mai-pupati-copiii-pe-gura/

Just Because!

Just do it today…just because you can and it feels good and it makes you and someone else happy.

But, moderation, please. Don’t set yourself on fire just because you have a can of gas and a match.

VE Day and National Packaging Design Day

And today, 7 May. Very little snow should be in the Great Lakes forecast, but that is not to say no snow. I remember well one May evening in 1988 we were told to expect partly cloudy skies and awoke to 8.5 inches of white and heavy “partly-cloudy” on my driveway and sidewalk.

Nonetheless, 7 May 1429 was when the French, inspired by Joan of Arc, lifted the siege of Orleans. Also on this day in 1660, a fella named Issac Fubine may have started the macaroni wars by patenting his macaroni in Amsterdam; funny it sounds and dubious it may be, but folks these days are deadly serious about macaroni design. And on 7 May 1765, HMS Victory, the 100-gun First-Rate line-of-battle ship that was the flagship for Lord Nelson at Trafalgar, was launched out of Chatham Dockyard; now a museum ship, Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.  Also on 7 May in 1826, Varina Howell Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, was born in Natchez, Mississippi; Varina was the only First Lady of the Confederacy and would survive her husband by nearly 20 years.  On this day in 1815, RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off Kinsale Head, Ireland; while celebrated as a cause celebre against Germany in the US, she was admittedly carrying ammunition and ordnance equipment. And on 7 May 1942, the naval battle known as the Coral Sea ended, the first naval battle where the belligerent surface ships never saw each other; while neither side “won” the Japanese lost most of two carrier air groups that would be sorely missed a month later at Midway. Today is also National Paste-Up Day for reasons known only to eternity, and National Leg of Lamb Day, ditto. But today, we talk about the end of the slaughter in Germany, and about packaging design.

Germany was losing control of territory at a rate about the size of Connecticut every day from March 1945 onward.

By the spring of 1945, Europe had been at war for almost six years. The British economy was still going only on American capital; the other economies of Europe were on life support. There had been nearly two million casualties a year since 1939, and the last eight months of the war had seen nearly a million killed, wounded and prisoners a month–except around Berlin, where the rate was doubled. The two largest land armies in Europe–Soviet and American–were hewing the remnant of the Germans into smaller and smaller enclaves by the hour. Germany was losing control of territory at a rate about the size of Connecticut every day from March 1945 onward.

By April 1945, not only were communications with Berlin unreliable, they were no longer thought of as necessary.

On 28 April 1945, Benito Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacchi were executed by Italian partisans in Giulino in northern Italy. Their bodies were displayed at a nearby gas works. The next day, Axis forces in Italy surrendered to the Allies without reference to Berlin. By April 1945, not only were communications with Berlin unreliable, they were no longer thought of as necessary.

The Soviets, whose total casualties for WWII are still incalculable, didn’t care who they killed as long as they took Berlin.

On 30 April 1945, Hitler and Eva Braun took their own lives in the Reichs Chancellory bunker in Berlin. By then Soviet troops were within 700 yards of the structure, advancing at a rate of about 400 yards a day. They were fighting not just regular German soldiers and Volkssturm militiamen but non-uniformed civilians who took up weapons with the soldiers and started fighting–unorganized, untrained, undisciplined, but fight they did. The Soviets, whose total casualties for WWII are still incalculable, didn’t care who they killed as long as they took Berlin.

…the US Army would report some 1,300 deaths a week due to non-combat causes (including disease, booby-traps, and ruined infrastructure) worldwide in the spring of 1945.

On the other side of ever-shrinking Germany the British and Americans, French and Poles, Canadians and Dutch, Belgians and Czechs were as likely to simply round up stragglers as they were to have to fight organized German units. While the prisoner and refugee camps grew in size so did the casualty lists, and not just to combat or direct enemy action. Their own equipment was wearing out at an alarming rate: the US Army would report some 1,300 deaths a week due to non-combat causes (including disease, booby-traps, and ruined infrastructure) worldwide in the spring of 1945.

When Breslau fell on 6 May, there were simply no large German maneuver forces left.

When the end came in Germany it came swiftly.  The shooting ended in Berlin on 2 May, and the German commander Helmuth Weidling surrendered his remnants to the nearest Soviet commander Vasily Chuikov. Army Group Vistula, consisting of about 45,000 Germans, surrendered to American forces the same day. On 2 May, Bernard Montgomery accepted the surrender of about a million Germans in Northern Germany and Scandinavia. When Breslau fell on 6 May, there were simply no large German maneuver forces left.

Though VE Day is usually recognized as 8 May when the news was released in the West, it was another day in Eastern Europe, 9 May, that is usually celebrated at Victory Day.

On 7 May 1945, Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document near Dwight Eisenhower’s SHAEF headquarters at Rheims, the same day the surrender was announced to German forces in Norway. Though all Germans were ordered to stop fighting, there were hold-outs fighting in Yugoslavia until 25 May. Though VE Day is usually recognized as 8 May when the news was released in the West, it was another day in Eastern Europe, 9 May, that is usually celebrated at Victory Day.

The Americans, still grimly planning their invasion of Japan, were trying to keep the VE Day celebrations to a minimum, not certain how the other half of their World War Two was going to be resolved.

While the celebrations were as wild in Europe as they would be three months later in the US, Europeans generally had a good deal less energy than the Americans. Worse, they had millions of displaced persons, prisoners of war, and war refugees who, though relieved by the conclusion of the fighting, still had to struggle to survive. The Americans, still grimly planning their invasion of Japan, were trying to keep the VE Day celebrations to a minimum, not certain how the other half of their World War Two was going to be resolved.


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As opposed to duct tape…?

7 May is National Packaging Design Day, which was founded by Design Packaging. a high-end retail packaging design outfit that would not design anything like the young lady’s dress above, and was proclaimed by the Registrar of National Day Calendar on April 22, 2015. Why it is today is one of the mysteries of the ages.

My brother-in-law Steve was a packaging engineer early in his post-college life. When he graduated in ’70 it was from the only 4-year program in the country at Michigan State University in Lansing (which was where he met my sister Lois and became my brother-in-law). Until then, like most everyone else, packaging was not high on my list of things to think about, but since then I attended the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and came to know some of the Packaging Technology (another unique program) students there, and gave some more thought to packaging.

Well, at least a few minutes of thought, likely more than any of you have. Packaging in the 1970s was a great deal different than it is today. So much of it these days is tamper-proof (a nice way of saying “customer-proof”) and bio-degradable or recyclable. Then, not so much. But, too, stuff like bubble wrap (which has its own day) only came along in the last couple of decades or so, and the biodegradable stuff only in the last decade. For all the packaging we discard, we keep about 10%, only to discard most of it later. Biodegradable makes sense, but as of yet it is expensive and has limited applications for consumer products. But soon, it will follow the demand for green products.

In the meantime, remember: it took longer to design and manufacture your fast food box than it will take for you to consume the contents.

Berlin and National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day

Well, three weeks into Spring in the Great Lakes already. Wow, where did that time go? Probably in the mud of my backyard. If you like lawns, don’t have dogs in the winter.

The one signal event on 16 April in the year 1457 BC was Meggido, a battle on the plains of Armageddon in the modern Jezreel Valley that is the first documented battle–and the earliest objectively identified event–in human history; though we know that the Egyptians and the Canaanites that resulted in Egyptian success, we know little else for certain. We are much more certain, however, that the battle of Culloden, fought east of Inverness in Scotland on 16 April 1745, was the end of the Jacobite (Stuart) uprising and marked the beginning of the end of the religious wars that wracked Europe for two centuries. Also in Britain, on 16 April 1797, the Spithead Mutiny began near Portsmouth; the labor unrest (for that’s what it amounted to) was less a mutiny than it was a work stoppage or slowdown for men who were essentially treated like beasts and hadn’t had a pay raise since 1658. The idea spread throughout the fleet, eventually reaching the Caribbean, South Africa, and Australia before the last incident was settled in 1812.  Also on this day in 1867, aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright was born in Millville, Indiana; his younger brother Orville was born in 1871, and sister Katherine in 1874. Also on this day, befitting our lead article, Lucius Clay, one-time military governor of Berlin, died in Chatham, Massachusetts. It’s also National Bean Counter Day, National Orchid Day, and in the US, Income Tax Fatality Day. But today we’re talking about the horror of the battle of Berlin, and about PJs.

By the spring of 1945, Germany was thoroughly beaten but was hardly defenseless. The Soviets had hammered the Germans back to the Oder and Neisse rivers, within long-range artillery range of Berlin by mid-February, but the Soviets were so worn down that they needed time to regroup. As Budapest fell 13 February and securing East Prussia and the northern Baltic coast by mid-March, the Soviets rebuilt and regrouped their two and a half million men in three Fronts (army groups) under Gregori Zhukov, Konstantin Rokkosovsky, and Ivan Konev. The Germans, too, under Gotthard Heinrici and Ferdinand Schoener, marshaled what resources they could, some three-fourths of a million men bolstered by an unknown corps of schoolchildren, grandfathers, housewives and factory girls formed into ad-hoc units or were simply handed a mine and a Panzerfaust to await the Soviet onslaught that they knew would come sooner than later.

Wiki Commons

Phase One, Seelowe Heights to Encirclement

On 16 April it began at the Seelowe Heights, where Zukov’s 1st Belorussian Front drove the Germans back for four days in the last truly pitched open battle of the war in Europe. Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front pushed across the Oder, cutting Berlin off from the north. Konev’s 1st Ukranian pushed over the Niesse in the south, isolating Berlin from Schoener’s Southern Army Group. After four days, Berlin was cut off on three sides.

Wiki Commons

German Counterattacks around Berlin, April to May 1945

It took no time at all for the Germans to start counterattacks, but the efforts were worse than tilting at windmills. By this time the Germans had Panzer divisions with no tanks, infantry divisions the size of 1939 battalions, and horse cavalry units hunting the roads and fields for the thousands of deserters. When Army Group Steiner, an ad-hoc formation with barely 30,000 men in a single corps, attacked the northern flank of the encirclement, they were beaten down in less than twenty hours, and out of fuel in thirty.

Water was miraculous if it still came out of a tap; electricity a memory; silence an illusion.

The encirclement of Berlin was a foregone conclusion, but the Nazi propaganda machine kept up the pace with claims of Soviet-American battles that would allow Germany to divide and conquer. The few people who actually heard these pronouncements and had time to think about them knew better. Inside Berlin, Soviet troops cleared the city block by block, in some cases room by room. The cacophony of noise, dust, and waves of concussion from the continual roaring of artillery and explosives made the fighters numb to any sensation other than fighting. Housewives found themselves trapped in cellars with antitank guns, passing ammunition to the long-since deaf gunners engaging Soviet tanks down rubble-blocked streets. Squads of children made games of running up to tanks with magnetic mines, of picking off Russian drivers in trucks. Water was miraculous if it still came out of a tap; electricity a memory; silence an illusion.

Altogether the Soviets would expend about a thousand men and women an hour for three months in the last battles in Germany.

By 30 April, the inner core of Fortress Berlin was a few blocks around the Reichstag, and those defenders had barely an evening’s ammunition left. After Hitler and Braun were dead and disposed of, the survivors of the inner circle killed themselves or dispersed as best they could, but most were captured or killed. Two days later, on 2 May 1945, the Berlin survivors stopped shooting. In two weeks the Soviets suffered some 81,000 killed and quarter million wounded fighting over Berlin; the Germans probably about 44,000 dead military and civilian casualties in the Berlin Defense Area itself, but from Seelowe Heights to the encirclement at least another 50,000. Altogether the Soviets would expend about a thousand men and women an hour for three months in the last battles in Germany.

For a more detailed description of the Battle for Berlin, you can see my essays in Russia At War, edited by Timothy Dowling (2015, ABC-CLIO) available at your library.

On a personal note, my mother-in-law was ten and living in Berlin when the Russians came in ’45. I have yet to get her to talk about it much. I might not want to talk about such a nightmare, either. I get it, Lucie.


For reasons unknown to humans, today is National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day. The thing was started, speculation holds, because traditionally it’s the day after income tax returns are due to be in the mail in the US, though this year they’re due today. While this fits the procrastinator’s explanation, those of us who try to not wait in line at the much-publicized mail cues at midnight don’t have the excuse. I rather doubt that the woman above waited in a line at the post office all night. Unless you’re working from home or in professions where more exposed skin means more money, I wouldn’t advise that anyone wear pajamas like this to the office:

Flikr

Beautiful, yes, but…appropriate for the office? Maybe not.

In all things, moderation, please. I would never recommend wearing pajamas, mostly because I don’t wear them at all. And what I wear to bed is none of your beeswax, buckaroo.