Category Archives: Czech History

War in the air Part II: Per Ardua Ad Astra

 

 

A scene from the film The Battle of Britain / omfdb.org

A scene from the film The Battle of Britain / omfdb.org

  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

The Czechoslovakian Crisis

The historic meeting at Bad Godesberg / collections.yadvashem.org

The historic meeting at Bad Godesberg / collections.yadvashem.org

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

Some notes on the 2000 Scarlet Pimpernel series

Some notes on the 2000 TV series ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’

I have in my possession a box set of this production, the material contained in four DVD discs. The series was adapted from the books by the Baroness Orczy by Richard Carpenter, and on the whole he has not done a bad job. Where the series fails, collapses in fact, is in the casting, with one exception – Ronan Vibert.  Richard E. Grant plays Percy Blakeney, a difficult task because Blakeney must be an effeminate fop, pandering to the Prince of Wales (future George IV) in some scenes – and a highly dangerous, athletic, intelligent kind of 18th century ‘Bourne’ in others, rescuing aristos from the clutches of the French revolutionaries. Leslie Howard managed this tolerably well in a film made in the Thirties. David Niven failed completely in 1950. Grant’s problem is simply one of class. Good actor that he is, he hasn’t the right sound, looks or disdain to play an aristocrat. There are plenty of other actors who possess these essential traits – Sam West and Toby Stephens come to mind. Continue reading

The Treaty of Trianon (1920) and its effect on Hungary

This treaty is another good example of the collateral damage to be expected when states join in wars with the express intention of gaining territory, though the war in question has nothing or little to do with them. In the First or Great War of the 20th century, Hungary, because of its alliances with Austria, fought against the Western allies. Romania, sensing a chance to do well out of it, declared for the allies.

The Treaty of Versailles decreed that Hungary, among the states which fought for the loser, Germany, should share the blame and pay the price. After the four terrible years spent mostly advancing and retreating over the trenches were over, Hungary became a Republic, but a Communist revolt established a Communist administration in 1919. This failed, and a monarchical regime (in name only) was introduced with a new constitution, under the leadership of Admiral Horthy. Continue reading

The tragedy of Lidice

Lidice was a Czechoslovak mining village not far from Prague. As a community it had no importance, but the Nazis needed to make an example of somewhere, following the assassination in May of Reinhardt Heydrich by Czech resistance fighters. Heydrich and his driver and car were blown up on a street in Prague in 1942. Czechoslavakia had been the first state to be invaded and occupied by Hitler’s armies, and Heydrich, a brute, was Prague’s military governor and head of the Gestapo secret police. Continue reading

The defenestration of Prague

This is a difficult word to find in many otherwise excellent dictionaries; its source is the French word fenêtre meaning window. The act of defenestration means the throwing of an object, which might be a person, out of a window. Scenes of this violent act occur in Polanski’s film The Pianist, in which a terrified Jewish family watch a Gestapo raid on a flat in a building on the other side of the street. They see the Nazis pick up an old man stuck in a wheelchair, open a french window on to a balcony, and hurl the man in his wheelchair four stories into the street below.

This kind of thing seems to be popular with filmmakers, since Mel Gibson includes the defenestration of a young friend of Edward I’s son Edward the Prince of Wales, straight out of a castle embrasure down to the cobbles below. This is not historical, merely a means by which Mr Gibson (who notoriously dislikes the English) can define what he sees as the character of Edward I in an early scene in the film Braveheart. Continue reading

Appeasement

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

1936: The Remilitarization of the Rhineland

Triumphant remilitarization, the Rhioneland 1936 / iwm.org.uk

Triumphant remilitarization, the Rhineland 1936 / iwm.org.uk

The ill-prepared and unfortunate Treaty of Versailles (q.v.) had left the left bank of the Rhine plus an area 50 kilometres deep on its right bank permanently demilitarized by order. This order was made again at the signing of the Treaties at Locarno in 1925. Britain and Italy (!) were to be the guarantors.

German governments since 1918/19 had wished to terminate the demilitarization, for the natural reason that it decreased German authority and, worse, exposed the very centre of German industry (the Ruhr) to a possible French attack. Continue reading

The Thirty Years War

The death in battle of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden / lookandlearn.com

The death in battle of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden / lookandlearn.com

The British were involved in this nasty episode, though only on the margins. All wars are horribly wasting, but this one could be taken as the best example. It was about religion, which hardly comes as a surprise. It is amazing that most human conflict since the death of Christ has come about because of differences of opinion and dogma, when Christ taught that all men should love each other. How humans have reacted during the centuries after His death is hardly His fault. Continue reading

Heydrich and the massacre at Lidice

Heydrich /wikipedia.org

Heydrich /wikipedia.org

My new wife and I settled into our new home in a country lane at Santa Úrsula on the island of Tenerife in 1980. In a small cottage on the other side of the narrow road there lived a little old woman who kept her garden well and herself to herself. Still, I managed to make friends with her through my wife’s shared interest in flowers. Continue reading