The Schützstaffel was a more or less elite special force created by the National Socialist Party in 1925 for the ‘special protection’ of Adolf Hitler. The name means ‘defence group’, and the significance of its actions is that the force was hated even more within Germany than among her enemies. At first, the SS was a small part of the SA, or Sturm Abteilung, a much bigger Nazi paramilitary organisation, formed to break up dissident political meetings and distribute Nazi propaganda. The SA had played a very big part in the ascent of Hitler to power; its leader was an old-time friend of Hitler’s called Ernst Rohm, but when the SA became, according to the Fuhrer and his associates, too big for its boots, it was dealt with by simply murdering its leaders, including Hitler’s old friend. Most of the summary executions were carried out by the SS. Continue reading
This beautiful, doomed woman was the sister of the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, and of Prince Ernest of Hesse-Darmstadt, and the daughter of Princess Alice of Great Britain, which made her a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Her other sisters were Princess Victoria of Battenberg (who became Marchioness of Milford Haven), and the Princess Henry of Prussia.
Elisabeth was tall and slim, with a gentle expression that hid a will of steel. She married the Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovitch, fourth son of Tsar Alexander II. In 1891 her husband was made Governor-General of Moscow, and Elisabeth became a much loved figure in both St. Petersburg and Moscow. In February of 1905, as the Grand Duke was crossing the Senate Square in a carriage, a terrorist took his opportunity and threw a bomb, which blew both the carriage and the Grand Duke to pieces. Elisabeth was working at one of many charities in a workroom in the Kremlin and heard the violent explosion.In the square, she found the badly hurt coachman and two dead horses, but the vehicle and the Duke were scattered over the snow. Some of his fingers, still wearing rings, were found on the roof of of one the great houses facing the square. Continue reading
After Federal Germany’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in May, 1955, the Federal German Armed Forces came into being under the name Bundeswehr. At first, it consisted of 101 new recruits, the rest perhaps a bit wary because total disarmament had been in force since Germany’s capitulation had ended the War in Europe in 1945.
The new army was utterly different to any that had gone before; the Bundeswehr was and is subordinate only to the German Parliament. Conscripts were seen as ‘citizens in uniform’. The new force was virtually encased within the NATO command structure, but the Bundeswehr very rapidly became the biggest single element in NATO, with 340,000 soldiers and 8,600 tanks of the latest design. There were more than 100,000 airmen flying or servicing more than 400 aircraft. There were also nearly 40,000 seamen in the newly structured navy. Continue reading
Burgundy, a region of France, was first a kingdom after the collapse of the Roman Empire, roughly speaking the fifth century. It was incorporated into the Carolingian Empire, divided by the Treaty of Verdun, and finally combined with the Kingdom of Provence in the tenth century.
Dukes of Burgundy, though sometimes richer than kings of France, and owning more land, towns, hamlets and troops, were in fact officially vassals, as indeed was the King of England. Even Henry II Plantagenet paid hommage to the French king; Burgundy was the greates of these vassals. Many dukes tried to gain independence from the royal family, and were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their purpose. No French king, however wealthy or in need of finance, was able to trust a Duke of Burgundy. Continue reading
Shakespeare has generals dancing together in a suitably stately manner, on board ships in his play Antony and Cleopatra. The Battle of the Bulge, a nickname, properly called the Ardenne Offensive, was Hitler’s last and most surprising offenivfe in World War II. It was the greatest ptiched battle in American history, putting up more than 600,000 American soldiers, mostly young and inexperienced, against a mixture of battle-hardened German troops with a heavy admixture of the infamous Waffen-SS, some Hitler-Jugend regiments (boys from 16 – 19 years of age). Together they reached half a million ferocious fighting men who believed their battle must be won against the Allies because the massive and callous Red Army was closing in from the East. The battle between the opposing soldiery was one thing, while the consistent bickering, jealousies, and outright hatred between the US generals and the newly created Field Marshal Montgomery was another. These men were not dancing together, on board ship or knee deep in the snows of Belgium. Continue reading
These two tongue-twisters used not only to twist tongues, but eject furious spittle from the pursed mouth of European statesmen and politicians. The problem is not only of dual nationality and two different languages, but also historic bickering between countries traditionally seeing each other as treacherous enemies.
Alsace is a part of North/East France, comprising Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. They lie on the frontier with Germany. Thus enters the traditional loathing of the French for the Germans, and vice-versa. Alsace was a simply a part of France (Lorraine) before finding itself fairly suddenly a part of the German Empire: the fault lies with treaties, as usual: The Peace of Westphalia (1648) and Treaty of Rijwijk (another tongue-torturer, 1697) handed over most of Alsace to France – but in 1871 it was re-annexed by Germany! As if this were not complicated enough, Alsace was subsequently returned to France in 1919 (Treaty of Versailles of immortal memory), and then, though this may difficult to believe, regained by Germany during the Second World War! Continue reading
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
Though it has been put into the shadow by the Franco-Prussian War, this was one of the most important conflicts in the 19th century, because it overturned the balance of power, at least in Central Europe. The gains achieved by Prussia made her richer and better-populated than all the other Germanic states combined. It became obvious to interested observers that an eventual unification of Germany, under the leadership of Prussia, was a certain bet for the future. Continue reading
Ypres is a place in Belgium, known mainly by Great War enthusiasts who are taken on guided tours. In October and November of the first year of the war a major German offensive to outflank the British Expeditionary Force had to be stopped – and it was – but the battle area was left still dominated on three sides by German armies, commanding the heights. This was the first Battle of Ypres.
The second took place in April and May 1915, and was notable for the first use of poison gas by the Kaiser’s armies. This gas was chlorine-based, and gas masks on the heads of allied soldiers were also seen for the first time. They did not work as efficiently as the boffins had predicted. Thousands of troops had to be invalided back into France and Britain, suffering from the gas, which left them crippled in mind and body. In terms of strategy, this second battle at Ypres forced the British to shorten their line of defence in what was called ‘The Ypres Salient’. Continue reading
It is a fair bet that many readers have noticed a reference to ‘Clausewitz’ in the history books they are reading, or even in novels; it is a name they know, though they are not sure why. Nor are they one hundred percent sure who he was or what it was he did to receive so many mentions in literature, especially war literature. Well, Clausewitz was a specialist in wars, in which he personally fought certainly, but principally he was a theorist in how wars should be fought.
He was born in 1780, a Prussian, and fought in the French Revolutionary Wars (q.v.) in 1793 and 1794, as a drummer boy presumably, given that he was only thirteen. He got captured in 1806 while fighting properly at Jena and Auerstadt. His enemies’ commander was no less than Napoleon Bonaparte. By 1812 he had enough experience and rank to assist Scharnhorst in the reform of the Prussian army, but, following the example of other Prussian officers, he refused to accede to current politics and fight for Napoleon against Russia. He was therefore not present in the Emperor’s Moscow Campaign. Continue reading