Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945, Step One Redux: What Did Germany Fail To Do?

The method I’m testing is intended for analyzing the historical failures of states. Remember that this is a test case, not a definitive analysis…yet.

So, our new steps:

  • Step One: Define the Failure(s)
  • Step Two: Determine the Failure(s) Indicators
  • Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)
  • Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any, of the Failure(s)
  • Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor and Their Contribution to the Failure(s)
  • Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
  • Step Seven: Publish Findings and Duck

What did Germany fail to do?

Judging by the ashes of the spring of 1945, win a war. But what was the war for? What were they aiming at? By all indications, the 1939-45 conflict was driven solely by Hitler and Nazi ideology. What were they after? Based on what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, they intended to become the hegemonic power in Europe. They also meant to expand Germany’s direct authority–not necessarily its borders, but its direct control–across Poland and into European Russia. That meant Ukraine, Belorussia/White Russia, and Russia east of the Urals; this was what Hitler called Lebensraum–living space, in German. He meant to eradicate most non-Aryan populations so that more pure Nordic types could thrive.

As a war motive, it’s somewhat grisly. As a strategic concept, it’s inept. Why? Because it’s a strategic resource overreach, even for Germany.

The Nazis who sold this bill of goods to the German people (they needed if not their participation, their acquiescence) used several strategies. One of the first was to exalt Germany as the salvation of humanity, the One True Faith that would save Earth from itself. This was bolstered by the idea that the Versailles Treaty was evil incarnate, that emasculated Germany and humiliated her. While true, it was because Germany was blamed for the great bloodletting known then as The Great War. France and Britain went broke fighting that war, America and Japan became Great Powers participating in it, Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa became all the more united as states during it, and four crowns were snatched from their owners because of it. This was not bad in itself, but it was terrible for Germany because France and Britain took their frustrations out of the Germans. So the Nazis capitalized on the resentment.

We should ask, then, what Germany was trying to do in 1914-18?

THAT has always been a matter of interpretation. The 1914 Crisis, if we must chronologize it, went like this:

  • 28 June Serbian radical Gavrilo Princip kills Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo
  • 29 June-1 July Austria-Hungary demands revenge on Serbia
  • 6 July Germany assures Austria-Hungary of a “blank check” against Serbia
  • 21 July Russia “cannot tolerate” military measures against Serbia; France backs Russia
  • 23 July Austria-Hungary gives Serbia an ultimatum that practically eliminates Serb sovereignty; Britain offers to mediate
  • 24-25 July Austria-Hungary and Serbia mobilize their armies; Russia mobilizes against Austria-Hungary; Serbia accepts most demands
  • 26 July Austria-Hungary rejects British mediation; Wilhelm II expresses desire for peace; Britain’s navy goes on a war footing
  • 28 July Britain’s George V offers to mediate; Germany rejects mediation and backs Austria-Hungary
  • 29 July Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and invades; Britain rejects German requests for neutrality
  • 30 July Russia mobilizes against everyone
  • 1 August Germany mobilizes and invades Luxembourg, declares war on Russia
  • 2 August Germany demands Belgium grant Germany free passage to invade France; Belgium rejects demands
  • 3 August Germany declares war on France
  • 4 August Britain declares war on Germany; Germany declares war on Belgium and invades
  • 6 August Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
Europe 1914

Now, if you study this chronology for a while, you’ll realize that Germany enabled Austria-Hungary on 6 July by not stopping them from going up against Serbia–they almost certainly could have, depending on who you talk to. You’ll also notice on the map that Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Britain have no contingent borders on Serbia or Austria-Hungary. You might also observe that Germany doesn’t, either.

So why, one might ask innocently, did Germany stick their noses into Austria-Hungary’s business? What did they have to gain? Aside from the politics behind Bismarck’s “concert of Europe,” the numerous treaties and alliances in place at the time, Victoria’s multiple children and grandchildren, what did Germany expect to gain in 1914?

Regrettably, the answer was not much other than hegemony over bordering states. The Germans–especially the Prussians–as we’ve seen before, had been Europe’s doormat. They’d been overrun by everyone in the 17th century, built up and exhausted legendary military prowess in the 18th, were shattered by the French in the early 19th, and then destroyed the French themselves in the mid-19th. In the meantime, they were willing to follow any strongman who came along who told them what they wanted to hear. So the Hohenzollerns of Prussia led them to towering military and economic power in the early 20th century and were most anxious to use it to defeat their enemies…but for what? Yes, they beat the Russians, but it took three years and millions in blood and treasure while also fighting the French, Belgians and British. And they ultimately gave up, anyway.

All for the chimera of “security” that they would likely have to fight for again and again. Then along came the Nazis, who fed on German fear, shame and anti-Semitism…not a hard sell in Germany in the 1930s. Yes, they had some resources but not enough to fight off everyone. No campaign is bloodless; every battle costs both blood and treasure. Every enemy Germany defeated between 1939 and 1945 cost them blood and treasure they had to replace with something. By 1945, that something was just blood. And it was all expended because Hitler and his Nazis wanted the Lebensraum of Eastern Europe and Western Russia…and to get rid of the undesirables, of course.

There ya have it: Germany failed to achieve its supposed security in WWI, or its quest for Poland and European Russia and the ethnic cleansing, to borrow a modern term, in WWII.

Next time, we start looking at what makes us think there was a failure.


Steele’s Division: December, 1944

This is a book I’ve wanted to write for some time, started off and on, and toyed with until now…well, it’s in a series that starts with

The Steele Saga

In the 11th Century, the pious Scots king Macbeth, while on a pilgrimage to Rome, liaised with a nubile royal cousin of Edward the Confessor, which produced an heir who would technically, in time, become a claimant to the throne of Scotland.

Five centuries after this affair which history has intentionally forgotten, the last of the Macbeths was but a lad living in Killeen in County Meath on the western coast of Ireland, far away from Scotland…but not far enough. While his countries were on the verge of civil war, Charles I could not tolerate a lawful contestant to the throne. Nor could he afford to encourage the nobles who might recognize such a claim, should the boy find a patron with the wit to make one. Thus, in the Year of Our Lord 1611, Burton Anglim Macbeth was transported to the Virginia colonies in America for the crime of having had ancestors from the wrong side of the blanket but who were much too close to being on the right side.

Burton was a clever lad for fourteen. As soon as he stepped off the boat, he was indentured to an ironmonger for seven years, who taught him that iron was good, but steel was better. After five years sleeping next to the hearth, Burton Anglim forged the first steel anything in North America—a drop hammer, as it happened. Selling that tool earned him enough to buy himself out of indenture. When he did so, in the style of the time, he took the name of Dean Steele. “Dean” from déantóir, Gaelic for “maker.” Burton Antrim Macbeth was no more; he became Maker of Steel.

Dean Steele took out a lease on a forge shop in the new Maryland colony and married four women—in succession, of course. The four women bore Dean six boys and three girls who reached adulthood. Five of the boys married and had children themselves, as did two of the girls. One of Dean’s daughters was an ancestor of Nathan Hale. a grandson may have watered, as it were, the Jefferson, Madison, and Washington family trees. The unmarried boy and girl did have children, but the less said of their illicit and scandalous liaisons, the better.

Dean Steele’s descendants—by the 20th Century, there were over a thousand of them—took part in nearly every momentous American event and were present at every triumph and catastrophe.

The Ned Steele in this story (there were three known as “Ned” before our Ned was born: Edward, born in 1746; Edwin, born in 1780; Nathan, born in 1842) are members of the “Tribe of William,” the eldest of Dean Steele’s boys. By the time our Ned was born—twenty years to the day before America first declared war on Germany in 1917—there were branches of the Steele family in all the states and territories.

The Macbeth/Steele clan invites you to their saga.


It’s a series I’ve had a hard time resisting creating. Like the Sharpe Series, I’ll be jumping around in time. The first book, Steele’s Division, is about, well…


Prologue

The big steamer trunk I was looking at was a typical auction purchase for my son-in-law, Mike. He made a living buying cheap and selling dear; picking up something old and interesting for maybe $10, cleaning it and selling it for $50, and often more. This battered, unusual wooden beast was bound by cracked leather straps, missing one of its strap handles, and had only three of its four brass feet.  It was after he opened it that he called me.

“Most of this stuff is just old letters,” Mike explained, “but once I dug around…”

“Yeah.” I scanned many letters between siblings faded with age. But there were other documents…military orders and medal citations. There were pictures of men in uniforms; of a young nurse, of a woman in a Red Cross uniform. I glanced at the big domed lid. “Ever see a trunk like this?”

“Not with a lid like this,” Mike said. “Not with a locked compartment.”

“Anything like a key in there?”

I haven’t seen one.”

“We should look inside.”

Mike’s a clever guy; he had the lock picked in a few minutes. It yielded more letters and documents, including a hand-scribbled note that read:

20 Dec ‘44

Hold on to Neuville for me, Ned. You’re all I’ve got to protect my MSR. Good luck with Carnes. His family has as much pull as mine or yours.

GSP

I could recognize George S. Patton’s initials. I also knew enough about WWII to know that the date was during the Battle of the Bulge and that MSR meant, in this case, ass.

Many of the documents in the trunk’s dome were dated around that time. Most had to do with an outfit that called themselves The Hammerheads that I’d never heard of. There was a news clipping with a headline Steele Busts the Krauts. The byline was from a pioneering woman war correspondent. The award-winning photo in the article was familiar: the mud-spattered, lantern-jawed face with dangling helmet straps had been in my high school history book.

There was also a letter from Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Engineer District, written to Major General Edmund A. Steele, thanking him for his “enormous service to his country and to all of civilization…” dated 9 November 1945. I knew who Groves was and what the Manhattan Engineer District was all about, but the datehuh. “Well, Mike,” I said, “looks like you’ve done it again. How much did you pay for this?”

“Twenty bucks.”

“I’ll give you $100 for the contents. Keep the trunk.”

That’s how I began to learn the story of Ned Steele and his16th Infantry Division of a forgotten fight in Luxembourg when the real fighting was said to be twenty miles north.

And the world-changing secret that they protected.


I’m working on Steele’s Division. Expect to see it sometime next year. Also expect to see an E-book version of Why the Samurai Lost Japan.


A Five-Star Review for The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons

My Dad read this book because he is always talking about government cover ups. All though the author said it was a book of fiction my dad couldn’t help but see similar details with actual facts. A good read for anyone that loves a good mystery. Well worth the read.

Amazon Book Review of The Liberty Bell Files

There ya have it, folks: SOMEBODY likes it and isn’t afraid to tell the world! Get yours today!

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

The consistent common element to the failure of Germany in 1945 seems to be…Germans. Why?

Before we go off and say, “it’s the Germans that caused their own problems,” we should think carefully about what made the Germans fail. This correspondent was at a convention a few years back, talking to one of the leading authorities on WWI about WWI. I had just finished my essay for The Meuse Argonne Companion (ABC-Clio 2011), and I was planning a Major Work on the US in WWI (that I never wrote). Exactly how we got to Germany’s seeming duality of faiths, keeping to the old Germanic myths while going to church, I cannot recall, but I do remember saying that the German lands seemed to have been “incompletely Christianized.” My interlocutor nodded and replied, “incompletely Romanized.”

What’s that to do with anything?

The Northern Crusades in the Baltic and what became Prussia (1147-1410) were violent struggles to bring Christianity to those who didn’t know it and lasted longer than those other Crusades against Islam that we learned about in grade school. Admittedly the “Crusades” appellation is a 19th-century handle, but the concept was the same: bringing Christianity to the pagans. Morality aside, the one thing that the Roman Church brought to the table then as now is a stable and consistent social organization and set of laws. Churches are far more than just places to go on Sunday; they are community centers. Also, for most European states, the Church controlled the civil courts and thus civil law, something no non-Christian faith did.

Small wonder that central Europe resisted for so long. Small wonder, too, that Martin Luther of Saxony-Anhalt (1483-1546) in what was then the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation triggered the Reformation and the creation of Protestantism. Crusading might have allowed Luther to be a monk, but the long resistance based in part on the disputation of central authority made the disparate, disputatious states of the Empire a hotbed of revolt. Rebelling against the Roman Church, however, triggered, among other things, the many French Wars of Religion (1562-98) and the Thirty Year’s War (1618-48).

The Thirty Year’s War was when the Swedes, French, Spaniards, and Italians were determined to fight it out right down to the last German.

All this started when a few guys were thrown out a third-story window in Prague (they survived the seventy-foot drop, by the way). This defenestration started the Bohemian Revolt, which caused Catholic and Protestant to mobilize on each other. The concept of “turnip winter” was born during this prolonged bloodletting, but it was more like a “turnip generation” for the Germans caught between the rampaging armies. According to some authorities, the soldiers took what they wanted because the various princes who organized them and brought them to fight couldn’t afford to pay them off. Eight million dead later–including six and a half million civilians–Europe signed all sorts of treaties declaring that it would never happen again. The Thirty Year’s War was the last of Europe’s wars triggered strictly by religion, but it was hardly the last of Europe’s wars.

Along with Saxony and Bavaria, Prussia-Brandenburg went their own way as far as foreign policy was concerned, paying lip service and taxes to the tottering Empire while Europe kept hiring well-drilled Prussian soldiers for their armies. They were well drilled because hiring out soldiers was a source of revenue for the cash-poor Hohenzollern monarchy. Everyone wanted some Prussians as a backbone or striking force or both. Of course, other states of the Empire with enough men to spare started doing the same, including the Hanovers, who took charge in England after the end of the Stuart dynasty in 1714. Then came Napoleon, and we already talked about what his effects were…one of them, anyway.

But there was another.

German national colors since 1992

Many Germans looked at the themes of liberty of the French Revolution with some envy. They dreamed of removing the arbitrary rule of the ancien regime and replacing it with stability–the kind of stability Germans hadn’t known for generations. During the War of Liberation (1813-14) against France, Prussia-Brandenburg called on all Germans to rise up and throw off the French yoke. It worked. The Gold and Iron campaign of 1813 saw women and schoolchildren gathering precious metals to help pay for the armies. Men and boys joined the new Landwehr volunteer units popping up all over. The most famous of these was the Lutzow Free Corps units, made up of volunteers from all over the German-speaking lands. Eschewing the old Prussian blue or the many local alternatives, their uniforms were black, with red piping and bright brass buttons. The crowds loved them, and black, red, and gold have been the colors of German flags (except for the 1933-45 flags) ever since.

In 1871 the Prussian strongmen took charge of a united German Empire. Then in1918, the Weimar Republic was born, and then died in 1933. And then came the Armageddon of 1945.

The where of the failure of Germany is obvious: Germany’s leading candidate for national leadership, Prussia-Brandenburg, was aided by the German’s love of strongmen. Cash-poor because its poor soil could barely support subsistence agriculture, a monarchy, and commercial trade, Prussia used its army to raise money. Eventually, Germany used the military for everything.

Perhaps we can narrow down the question of when the failure occurred to those desperate times while multiple armies were rampaging across Germany during the Thirty Year’s War. No churches, no pagan gods could save millions from disease, starvation, or the rapine of sick and starving soldiers. But other armies could. Germany may not have existed as a state yet, but it did as a sentiment.

It may be a stretch, but this evaluation is going with Prussia-Brandenburg for where and the Thirty Year’s War for when.

Next time, we’ll look at similar cases…if we can find any.

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.

9 November: A Banner Day for Germany

Although some years were much better than others, 9 November for Germans was momentous, especially in the 20th century.

In 1914, the Dresden-class light cruiser SMS Emden was operating in the Indian Ocean, where she sank Russian and French warships at Penang, captured two dozen cargo vessels and converted one into raider Kormoran.   On 9 November she was raiding a British radio station on Direction Island in the Cocos Islands when she was caught by an Australian light cruiser, HMAS Sidney. In a short and uneven fight where the Australian out-ranged the German by at least a thousand yards, Sidney managed to damage her opponent enough that Emden grounded on North Keeling Island to save what could be saved of the crew.  About a third of the Germans were killed, compared to less than ten percent of the Australians.  Part of the German’s landing party that had been left behind on Direction Island made it back as far as Turkey, where they joined the crew of battle cruiser Goeben.

Four years to the day later, Wilhelm II of Germany was abdicated from his thrones by his chancellor, Prince Max of Baden as Wilhelm fled into Holland ahead of a howling mob inspired by the Russian revolution.  He was the last king of Prussia (a dynasty that had been founded in 1701), and the third and last emperor of Germany, an empire his grandfather pronounced in 1871 and to which he ascended in 1881.  He was also the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, and was thus related by marriage and blood to nearly every royal house in Europe.  On 25 November, Wilhelm submitted his formal abdications.  Max, in the cusp of a revolution boiling throughout Germany, had tried unsuccessfully to preserve a monarchy, but to avoid chaos agreed to the formation of a republic in Germany and renouncing any claims of the Crown Prince, also named Wilhelm.

In 1938, Germany was once again wracked by violence on what was known as the “night of broken glass,” or Kristallnacht.  Using the murder of a German diplomat in France as a pretext, German paramilitary organizations and disorganized mobs killed hundreds of Jews and destroyed thousands of businesses, schools, synagogues and homes of Jews throughout Germany.  Further, some thirty thousand Jews were arrested, eventually to be killed in the German camps.  It was the first time that the outside world saw what Germany had become, internally, as police and other authorities stood by and watched.

Finally, on 9 November 1989, after weeks of unrest in Eastern Bloc nations, it became obvious even to the East Germans that the hemorrhaging of Germans into Hungary and across the border into Austria (which had been opened on 11 September) was not going to be abated, and permission was given for East Germans to “visit” the West.  Not to be delayed by hundreds of miles of travel, soldiers and civilians alike in Berlin broke up and tore down the wall as the border guards looked on…or helped.  For days afterwards Berlin was a carnival atmosphere as old Stazi hands and other DDR functionaries were detained, hunted down or murdered in the “bloodless” revolution that followed.  As Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and finally Romania threw off their Moscow-controlled chains for the next few months, the West realized that Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union had been weaker than they had earlier thought.

Verdun: Operation Judgement

Erich von Falkenhayn’s offensive of 1916 was aimed directly at the traditional invasion route between the Rhine and Paris.  The area had been used often enough that the area called the Heights of the Meuse were heavily fortified by the French over the years to have culminated in a series of forts that, if nothing else, put the entire Meuse-Rhine plain under observation for artillery.

The German plan was simple: take the forts, make the French commit their strategic reserves protecting the route to Paris, build up behind the bulge, press on to Paris in the summer months until France gave up and march home in triumph before fall.  The strategic motivations, however, were far more complex.  German agriculture was suffering under the loss of so much of its manpower, and was sorely affected by the British blockade–far more than Germany could withstand.  Though Germany had suffered less than had Britain and France in the battlefields, combined the Allies had far more manpower than did the Central Powers.  Germany, the most powerful of the Powers, was in the second year of a war she had anticipated would last two months.  Knocking France out of the war was the key to Germany’s survival.

On 21 February, the Germans unleashed their Fifth Army on the French Second Army manning the nineteen fortresses of the Verdun complex.  The first French fort to fall, three days later, was Douaumont, the largest and highest of the outer ring forts, by a small German raiding party.   Even though it had been unoccupied for months, the French were scandalized, and in Gallic rage they threw more and more men into the face of the German offensive.

While most scholars feel that this was the German intention all along, German military theory and doctrine never, ever had attritional battle in mind.  Prussia/Brandenburg, the font of Imperial German military tradition, never had the numbers nor the temperament for a drawn-out brawl, and always preferred maneuver–preferably to encirclement–to merely adding up casualties.  Tannenberg, the August 1914 double-envelopment of the Russian Second Army in East Prussia, was far more to Prussian/German liking than was the long slog of Verdun.  It is likely that post-Verdun German commentators merely claimed that attrition was the German plan all along, when in truth the French defense, orchestrated by Robert Nivelle, was more persistent and successful than they had imagined was possible.

Verdun would rage on unabated for ten months, consuming the lives of some three hundred thousand men out of the million committed, and occupying the full attention of over a hundred divisions. It would have been impossible for the rest of the world not to notice, and it would have been impossible for the Americans not to look on in horror, and in contemplation.  American military men may have been forbidden by President Woodrow Wilson to prepare contingency plans, but that did not prevent preparedness plans from being put into action with some urgency.  The Plattsburg Movement, a civilian-driven (if military favored) program of camps that trained young collegians in various places in the country, had finally come to fruition in the National Defense Act of 1916, that created the Army Reserves.  Approval of NDA 1916 and the increase in American preparedness had been spurred, in part, by the specter of the 2,300 French and Germans casualties About a regiment) every day on the Verdun front alone.

Two years after the worst of the fighting at Verdun had been concluded, the Americans were fighting to throw the Germans out of some of the 1916 gains at the Meuse-Argonne.  This battle was the largest American campaign between Appomattox in 1865 and the invasion of Sicily in 1943.  Wiley-Blackwell’s A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, edited by Ed Lengel, contains an essay by John D. Beatty entitled “We Can Kill Them But We Cannot Stop Them: An Evaluation of the Meuse-Argonne,” which looks at American performance there, and the influences of American preparedness before 1917.  Available in hardback and E-book from fine booksellers everywhere.

Argument and the Death of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force

By late February 1944, the Bomber War over Europe had reached a crossroads.  Despite the large raids and the horrendous casualties (one in three Allied bomber crewmen became casualties in 1943), the Germans were still able to damage each attack.  Even though neither the Americans nor the British had been turned back an attack because of enemy action (weather often, but never because of German attacks) morale was less than good; for some units, the crews were merely going through the motions.

But the Luftwaffe, too, was suffering.  They had withdrawn their units from France almost entirely, and pulled back the fighters from Russia, Italy and other fronts to concentrate the interceptors in Germany.  Though the Allied bombers had not yet done a great deal of damage to industry, cities like Cologne and Hamburg had been devastated by heavy and methodical raids that were almost like laboratory experiments.

The Allied planners, starting with “Hap” Arnold and Jimmy Doolittle, had been storing up their strength since the disasters of Munster, Regensburg and Schweinfurt in the late summer and fall of 1943, they had been looking for a long period of clear weather over the North Sea and Germany to unleash the collective strength of four Air Forces (Eighth and Ninth US Air Forces and Bomber Command in England, Fifteenth US Air Force in Italy) against the German aircraft industry, using the bombers as bait for the German fighters.  Although the German fighters were not the menace to the bombers that antiaircraft artillery was, and the bombers were not as good at shooting down interceptors as prewar planners had hoped, the Allies had long range fighters like the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, and by January 1944 the had enough drop tanks for both so that deep penetration escorts were possible for sustained periods.  All the planners needed was good weather.

And so it was the weather forecasters that became the unsung heroes of the air war in Europe.  Using data from as far away as Archangel, the Black Sea, northern Canada and the Northern Cape of Norway, by mid January the weathermen (and a few women) were looking for a hole in the perpetual overcast.  By mid-February (sources vary, but operational orders went out to the ammunition dumps as early as 15 February), using some intercepted Russian and German data, they predicted clear weather over both the North Sea and Germany at the end of the month for as much as four days.  Operation Argument was on for 20 February.

The clear weather lasted five days.  The Americans and British launched over 3,000 sorties, lost over three hundred bombers and over thirty fighters.  The Germans over three hundred aircraft and about a hundred pilots.  But these are the raw numbers, and they don’t tell everything.

American losses represented about 7% for each mission, contrasted with 33% just five months earlier.   The Allies lost replaceable aircrews at infantry scales while training programs were pushing out pilots and crewmen with three hundred hours or more in the air as fast as the airplanes were rolling out of the factories.

The German losses were about 5% of the fighter force, but of those nearly half were Experten–aces.  Between them, these aces alone had destroyed over three thousand enemy aircraft between 1937 and 1944, from Ethiopia and Spain to Russia and Norway. But the Germans were losing their most experienced flyers, leaving behind frightened children of seventeen and eighteen who barely knew how to find their home fields, and tired old men in their mid-twenties who could fly and navigate, but were not as good at killing and at most had fifty hours of flying before they went out to meet the enemy.

The Luftwaffe was never the same after Argument, though by most measures the Allies barely won the campaign.  The Bomber War dragged on for another year and some, but German fighter strength never fully recovered.   Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII is the story of two pilots–one American and one German–who fought the Bomber War before the Big Week in February 1944.  Available in paperback, PDF and e-book at fine booksellers everywhere.

Tragedy and Triumph

18 February marks two events in 1945 that would have profound consequences for the future of warfare.  First, after fifty days of siege that cost some 50,000 military and civilian lives, Budapest fell to Rodion Malinovski’s 2nd Ukrainian Front.  Some ten thousand or so Germans and a handful of Hungarians had broken out to the west on 11 February, only to be caught on the road to Vienna and wiped out.  The Soviets suffered some 100-150,000 casualties during the long siege.

Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya and Beyond (edited by Timothy Dowling) discusses Budapest and a thousand other battles.  John Beatty’s essays of Soviet casualties 1941-45, Soviet armor development in WWII, Joseph Stalin and the battle for Berlin in 1945 are also featured.  Russia at War is available in hardback from fine booksellers everywhere.

On the same day, the three-day tragedy of Dresden began.  Spared heavy bombing for most of the war, Dresden was attacked three nights and two days in a row, devastating most of the medieval city.  One young American POW caught in the bombing was Kurt Vonnegut, who described his ordeal in his novel Slaughterhouse Five, named after the shelter he was trapped in.  He was also quoted in Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and complained more than once that he could never get the smell of Dresden out of his nose.

The bombing has been heavily criticized ever since. Dresden has been the subject of more than one book, one of the worst being David Irving’s Apocalypse 1945, which severely inflates the already tragic casualty count.  Officially and finally refuted in a libel trial in London described in Richard Evans’ Lying About Hitler, Irving has even served a term in jail for denying the Holocaust.

On 13 February 1951, United Nations forces (mostly Americans of the 23rd Infantry, but also the French Battalion, and a Dutch company among the 4,500 or so men) met Chinese troops (about 25,000 from the 39th, 40th and 42nd Armies) at Chipyong-ni (Dipingli in Chinese) in Korea.  The two day battle would be called the “Gettysburg of the Korean War,” and because of its disconnected and decentralized nature, one of the biggest “soldier’s battles” in history, costing the Chinese about 3,000 casualties and the US forces about 300.  It was the “high water mark” of the Chinese incursion into southern Korea, and the beginning of the gradual retreat of the Chinese and North Koreans to around the 38th parallel.

“…Und Vin ze Var!” and Other Myths of War

On 3 February 1917, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany in the wake of Germany’s announcement that she would commence unrestricted submarine warfare again.  The notion that Germany would be able to “win” the war against Britain by doing this was popular at the time, but unfounded.  It’s not clear exactly what the Germans expected, but “winning” the European war by then was simply a matter of outliving rivals.  France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia and the Balkan states were completely spent: Britain was conscripting men for the first time in her history; Germany was starving through her first “turnip winter.”  Of all the world powers, only the United States was relatively undamaged by the war, then entering its third year.

Germany certainly hoped for victory, but in this more innocent time “victory” didn’t mean conquering one’s enemies and destroying their capacity and their will for war as it would in 1945.  What it meant was another negotiated settlement between leaders in morning coats and top hats; a dignified congress of gentlemen discussing matters before retiring and dressing for dinner.  There were to be no unseemly marches of mere soldiers past hastily built reviewing stands as the Americans had in 1865, and no shocking assassinations of emperors as the Mexicans had in 1866 to their Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I that France had so generously placed on the throne.

But on 3 February 1945, Operation Thunderclap would augur just such portents in Germany.  A thousand US bombers hit Berlin over the course of about three hours, plagued by German fighters and pummeled by flak.  While Germany was dying and everyone seemed to know it but Hitler, she was still vary dangerous.

Thunderclap wasn’t the first thousand plane raid.  That distinction belongs to Operation Millennium in 1942, when the RAF hit Cologne in the heart of the Ruhr with not quite a thousand bombers (though they did send over a thousand, not quite a thousand reached the target).  The point of these large raids, as the fictional Otto Thielmann would discover in Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII as he watched Cologne go up in flames, was that it took very large volumes of unguided iron bombs to do what the prewar bomber advocates had insisted would take very little.  Technology of the time didn’t allow the kind of theoretical precision that men like Harris and Eaker had promised.  But, Cologne also showed that large groups of aircraft could overwhelm Germany’s defenses.  Such strikes couldn’t win, but they could enable victory.

Finally, in the height of irony, on 3 February 1924 Woodrow Wilson finally succumbed to the series of strokes that had weakened him for somewhat over a decade.  The conflict for which he would be forever identified was long over, though the aftermath and rebound had only begun, but Wilson died after lingering for nearly a year as a complete invalid, and nearly five years as a somewhat feeble old man.  While his wartime decision-making will be forever tainted by politics, his record as a reformer and wartime president must also be weighed and colored by his chronic illnesses.