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
One of the great Hungarian heroes, about whom much fact and fiction has been mixed, Kossuth was born in 1802. His family was poor but noble. He was part Slovak, part ethnic German. Well educated, he worked as a jobbing lawyer for a while, before entering politics as a deputy at the Diet (Parliament) of Pressburg.
He also published pamphlets that could not by law be published, so he had them transcribed and widely circulated. It was said of him at the time that it would be difficult to stop him in any activity he chose to follow, but the pamphlets got him into jail. After freedom came in 1840 he was appointed editor of the polkitical journal, published twice-weekly called Pesti Hirlap – an extremely liberal paper with perhaps too much of a chauvinistic approach. 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
Munich is the capital of what was originally the largest principality (and later kingdom) in all Germany, Bavaria. In the 19th century the city was an odd mixture of ancient and modern – medieval half-timbered houses and cobbled, narrow streets, but already encouraging a rapidly growing industrial sector. Visitors were surprised by this split personality, because there was more than a hint of the purely provincial among the fine buildings springing up everywhere, and yet Munich enjoyed a high academic and cultural reputation. Horse-drawn carts filled with food from the luxuriant surrounding countryside filled the wide streets, driven by peasants. Later the drovers filled the beer halls, where brass bands thumped, and people from the nearby Tyrol danced. Salzburg, leading town in south-western Austria, is less than one hundred kilometres away.
But Salzburg was rather gloomy, and Berlin (Prussia), a great distance to the north was even worse. Munich, or München as it should properly be called, was founded before the eleventh century as, of all things, a place of asylum for the Roman Catholic Church: the town often found itself in the path of invading armies from north and south. Frequently occupied by foreign powers, Munich was with numbing regularity burned by Austrians, Dutch, Swedes, Italians and of course the French. High walls and seven strong towers surrounded the older part of the town, testimony to its riotous and violent past. 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
With a name tricky both to spell and to pronounce, this German philosopher was born in 1844, son of a sheep herder in Saxony. He was brought up a true Protestant, and became Professor of Classical Studies at Basle when he was only twenty-five. There he stayed for ten years, before a possibly syphilitic condition spoiled his health and his vocation as a teacher. Then he started writing, chasing sunshine in both France and Italy.
Of the several philosophical works he composed between 1873 and 1888 the best known are Thus Spake Zarathustra and Good and Evil. In 1889 he lost his reason and was cared for by his sister until his death. He had lost all faith in Christianity, despite his strong Christian upbringing, believing only in ‘The Will to Power’ (Schopenhaur) as the Source and Meaning of Life. Continue reading
The twenty-seventh President of the United States was born in 1856 in Virginia, son of a Presbyterian minister. The family were slave-owners. Thirty-four years later Woodrow was made a professor at Princeton, one of the ‘Ivy League’ American universities of great prestige. He taught History and Political Science and in 1902 became president of the university.
Soon he was elected Governor of New Jersey, where he easily gained the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, promising a ‘New Freedom’ by destroying the trusts, decreasing taxes and tariffs, and beginning a severe revision of the financial system which was the life blood of ‘The American Way of Life’. He was the first Southerner to become President since A. Johnson, and the first Democrat. Continue reading
Turkey, a European country once described as ‘the sick man of Europe’, decided to unite with the Central Powers in the First World War; by January, 1915, the Western Powers thought it might be prudent to kick Turkey right out of the War. There would be a combined operation of British and Commonwealth and friendly naval and land forces to do the job. By 19 February the Gallipoli Campaign had started.
Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty at thirty-nine years of age; he was convinced that the military stalemate on the Western Front would not be broken without decisive action somewhere else. Gallipoli is the gateway to the Dardanelles, and therefore far enough away from the hopeless bloodbath in the Flanders mud. British and French battle fleets would destroy the Dardanelles defences; troops would then secure the Gallipoli peninsula. After this was successfully concluded the land forces would move on to Constantinople, later known as Istanbul. It was reckoned that with the fall of Turkey’s capital she would withdraw from the fighting. 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