In February, 1945, the second ‘Big Three’ conference took place at Yalta in the Crimea. The first had been in Teheran in Persia. What was agreed at Yalta changed the face of Europe, prepared the ground for the Cold War, and put millions of ordinary people into a condition of near-slavery. The three major protagonists were the respective leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Russia – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The first was dying slowly but certainly, the second was old and exhausted, and the third was younger, fitter, and unable to see any point of view that was not his. He was also a fully-qualified dictator. Continue reading
Here is a strange and indeed rather wonderful thing; the Piasts were the first rulers of Poland, princes descended from a Polish legend called Piast (alive around 870 A.D.), an agricultural worker. But the name was only applied to the dynasty eight hundred years later. Continue reading
Following the collapse of Germany at the end of the Great War, Poland foundf herself independent, a most unusual position for that sad country. It was November, 1918; Marshal Pilsudski was commander of Polish forces and Prime Minster of Poland. He saw Russia as the principal opponent of Polish independence, and as a soldier recognised Russia’s weaknesses as a result of the Great War. In a moment of insanity, he thought there was an opportunity to recover Polish territory lost to Russia during the partitions of the 18th century.
To the great surprise of the world’s newspapers, and the annoyance of Russia, Pilsudski launched a surprise attack on the Ukraine. The Ukrainians, astonished, provided little resistance and the Poles occupied Kiev. But then the Red Army got itself together and counter-attacked, forcing the Poles back to their own frontier. Among the Soviet leaders only Trotsky wanted to let sleeping dogs lie, but Lenin, true to form, decided to invade Poland, with two objects in mind; first, to occupy Poland, and second, to start a proletarian revolution there too. It did not work, for the presence of Russian troops in Poland roused Polish nationalism, and the vast Red Army was halted by the dogged Poles before it reached Warsaw. Not only halted but pushed backwards. Luckily peace was signed by both parties at Riga in Latvia in 1921. Continue reading
The Blizkrieg from Nazi Germany that opened the Second War in 1939 showed that apart from tank power, air power was a vital component of Hitler’s war efforts. Germany pounded the meagre defences of Poland from the air, breaking communications, causing death and chaos on a scale not known by the suffering Poles not even during their centuries of abuse by neighbours. Dive-bombers called Stukas were used by the Luftwaffe, and a malevolent touch was added by their fitted sirens, terrorizing populations as the bombers hurtled almost vertically down from brilliant blue skies, releasing their lethal cargo at the last moment before straightening out. Many pilots, very young and with very little experience, did not straighten out, with the result that the Stuka made a bigger hole in the earth than its bombs. The efficient and very fast Messerschmidt I09 and 110 fighters attacked the ramshackle Polish aircraft without mercy, destroying most of the aeroplanes on the ground even before the pilots could climb into them. Many of these young ill-disciplined but courageous young men escaped to England, and were to take an important part in the air Battle of Britain. Assault parachutists were dropped from heavier German aircraft – a new use of air power pioneered by the Germans and quickly copied by Germany’s enemies. Parachutists were extensively used in the attack and invasion of Crete in 1941. Continue reading
Many years before The Czech Republic and Slovakia freed themselves from the yoke of being simply Czechoslovakia, this crisis evolved from territorial demands made by Adolf Hitler. One of the results of the Treaty of Versailles of unhappy memory was that over three million Germans were living in the Sudetenland, bordering with Germany and Austria. When Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, he stated that he wanted the inclusion of these three million in Germany. Continue reading
France, Belgium, Poland & Central Italy: The July Revolution in France expelled Charles X and replaced him as King with Louis-Philippe. The Austrian Netherlands belonging to Belgium were united with Holland at the Congress of Vienna (1815), to form the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. But Roman Catholic Belgians (mostly French-speaking) resented the dominance of the Protestant Dutch (Flemish-speaking) in this new state.
After the expulsion of Charles in the July Revolution, there were riots in Brussels, exacerbated by the sending in of Dutch troops in an attempt to restore order. By September most of Belgium was in a state of revolt and Dutch King William asked the Great Powers for help. As Prussia, Russia and Austria were by their nature opposed to revolution and also fans of the monarchy, they were cautious to the extent of being un-cooperative, because if they sent soldiers to help the Dutch, French pressures would be inclined to compel Louis-Philippe to send aid to the Belgians. Continue reading
Poland is one of the European countries whose peoples have suffered terribly throughout the centuries simply because of the country’s geographical position on the map, or because of their religion (strictly Roman Catholic), or because of hatred of them by the people of neighbouring states. Poland’s last King was a Poniatowsky – Stanislaw II, born in 1732.
When he was just twenty-three, he was working as a diplomat for the British ambassador in Catherine the Great’s St. Petersburg, and he caught the eye of this extraordinary Empress. Through her influence and that of his father, another Stanislaw, he was elected King of Poland in 1764 at the age of thirty–two. Continue reading
Alexander II, the second son of Nicholas I was born in 1818. It is true but sad to say that the only significant reforms made in Russia in all the nineteenth century were carried out by him; yet his reward at the age of seventy-one was to be murdered.
As a boy and young man he liked to imitate his father’s admiration for autocracy, and announced that he had not the least intention of allowing any of the Czar’s powers to be diverted into a popularly elected parliamentary assembly, when he, too, became Czar. The surprising reforms probably came about because of the unsuccessful Crimean War (q.v.), which clearly showed the world that Russia was not the all-powerful military nation she aspired to be. Chiefly, there was the lack of money, a direct result of a ‘serf-based’ economy in a largely agricultural state. Continue reading
A bit of a dirty word since 1938 but it shouldn’t be. There is enough appeasement going on now over the disgusting situation in Syria to fill the Golden Bowl with appeasers eager to keep Assad Junior happy. It is all rather puzzling. With one Bush, America went with its cautious allies to war against Iraq because Saddam invaded Kuwait. Firepower won, of course, but Saddam’s government remained! Then Bush Jr. went to war with Iraq with equally cautious allies, beat him up, and permitted the locals to lynch Saddam in a particularly horrible way. Now in Syria the Assad boy kills hundreds of fellow citizens every day, even using poison gas to do it, and the world’s committees sit expensively around asking themselves what to do. Continue reading
Crudely developed during the later stages of World War II, the SBO was a series of mass attacks from the air on both military and civilian targets. The idea was to destroy your enemy’s capacity to make war on you, and to shatter civilian morale.
Before the Second War started there was widespread belief that aircraft would always get through defences and destroy towns and their population. German air attacks on places like Guernica in Republican Spain appeared to confirm this belief, though the propaganda value of Guernica to the Republican government of Spain was priceless, especially when internationally renowned artists like Picasso painted their view of the attack. Sadly, Coventry, Bristol and Desden had no Picassos available to repeat the process when their moment came.
Yet, though this appears strange, neither Britain, Germany, France nor the Soviet Union possessed many heavy bombers in 1939, when the War began. Britain started building the 4-engined Lancaster immediately, but orders were not delivered until 1941.
SBO was first ordered by Hitler against Britain in 1940. In August’s daytime attacks the Luftwaffe lost so many aircraft that they quickly changed to night attacks on London and other large cities in what the English called the Blitz. This went on until May 1941, when Hitler started preparing his air forces for Operation Barbarossa (q.v.) against his erstwhile ally – Soviet Russia. By then around three million homes had been destroyed and more than 60,000 civilians killed in Britain, but Hitler had not planned for the British failure to lower their morale (it actually went up) or halt war production.
Now comes a really bizarre moment: the British air chiefs told the United States that despite the failure of the Bliz they planned to win the War by bombing alone! As the Americans were doubtful at this time whether they would enter the War anyway, this came as a surprise. As we know, Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was enough to make up their mind.
Meanwhile, British bombers were operating at night, as their enemy had done in 1940. The specific targets were arms factories, bridges over rivers, dams in the industrial Ruhr, and massed concentrations of enemy soldiers. But night-flying skills and instruments were inadequate and most of the bombing was atrociously inaccurate, as aerial photography showed.
Then Air Marshal Harris, known as ‘Bomber’, became chief of Bomber Command in 1942, and he promptly went for bigger targets – such as whole cities. He approved of ‘area bombing’ – what the German civilian population knew as ‘terror bombing’. Using the enormous four-engined Avro Lancaster, with a great range and a payload of up to six tons of bombs, he ordered a thousand-bomber raid on Cologne (Köln) in May, 1942, quickly followed by other similar raids on the industrial Ruhr. On 27 July 1943 special incendiary bombs started a fire-storm in Hamburg which is estimated to have killed approximately 50,000 people. Should Britain have lost the War, the first military leader accused of war crimes would have been ‘Bomber’ Harris, a mild man personally. But, the Americans said they disapproved of SBO (though they used it without compunction later); they preferred precision daylight bombing of specific (military) targets, but on 14th October 1943 two-thirds of their aircraft were shot down over Schweinfurt and they suspended bombing until enough fighter escorts could arrive.
The fighter escort they awaited turned out to be the Mustang (operating from December 1943) a fighter superior to anything the Germans could produce. The Mustang ate up the enemy fighter force and made it possible for American daylight bombing to resume in February 1944. The results were so spectacular that when France was invaded on D-Day (6 June, 1944) the Germans could hardly muster a single Messerschmidt to attempt defence.
Meanwhile the Royal Air Force had cut German steel production by 80% in the Ruhr, halving Germany’s overall production. The States continued attacking synthetic oil production plants, but there was a danger of aviation fuel (in Britain, the main base) running out and the bombing fell from 316,000 tons (!) to 17,000 tons in September.
The human loss due to ‘carpet’ bombing was huge, and was later firmly questioned. Between three-quarters of a million and one million German civilians (a conservative estimate surely) were killed in Allied bombing raids. When questioned on this, senior air-force personnel were not very apologetic and asked who had started the War. They frequently added that up till then around 100,000 aircraft crew had also been killed from British and American air bases.
When the US captured Japanese islands in the Pacific they were enabled to begin SBO on the mainland of Japan, reaching a terrible peak in 1945. The idea was to spread terror and this the Americans certainly did in Tokyo on 9 March of this year, when fully a quarter of the city’s mostly wooden buildings went up in flames, taking occupants with them. Between June 1945 and the end of the war fifty-five Japanese cities were attacked, each attack destroying half the built-up area in each town. Finally, when two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the strategic bombing offensive ended.