The February Revolution (1917)
It is easy enough to say that the origin of the Revolution in Russia was mainly due to the unpopularity of the Tsar; but that would preclude other, deeper origins. The Great War had demoralized, decentralized and depopulated this huge country, a state always prepared to send more young men to be killed in battle even when mass slaughter was not required for reasons of strategy. Russian losses (dead, wounded or captured) during the great conflict had been more than half of those conscripted, perhaps fifteen million men. The war had to be paid for and the Russian government did this by the unintelligent method of printing more money, which in turn produced massive inflation. Prices of staple food supplies had quadrupled between 1914 and 1916. The serfs would not sell their grain, because there was nothing in the shops to buy with whatever cash they could obtain. Peasants therefore gave the grain to their animals, so animals got more grain than townspeople or the army. There were more strikes, because the average worker had noted his purchasing power in decline. Continue reading
Born in Prussia in 1800, Moltke lived to the astonishing age of ninety-one, almost spanning the nineteenth century. He was born to be a soldier, being Prussian, and became Chief of the General Staff at only fifty-seven. Working with his War Minister Von Roon, he was nevertheless responsible for augmenting the efficiency and size of the Prussian Army. Continue reading
After the Normandy Invasion of 1944, the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, and during the last few months of the Third Reich, with Russian and Allied armies closing on Berlin, Hitler gave orders to his remaining generals and field marshals that could leave no doubt in their mind; they had to fight to the last man and the last round . . . and then fight on . . .for the Fatherland!’ The word ‘defeat’ was not permitted use on any document, or on radio broadcasts. Nor were euphemisms like ‘strategic withdrawal’. Hitler was determined that no such thing as ‘the stab in the back’ of 1918 would occur again. But what was this apparently mythical stab in the back? Continue reading
William IV King of Great Britain and Ireland was born in the eighteenth century (1765) and died seventy-two years later. He was also King of Hanover from 1830 to 1837, because he was the third son of George III. He was called ‘the Sailor King’ because he joined the Navy at fourteen, serving around the coasts of the United States and in the West Indies. He was promoted admiral in 1811 at forty-six – not bad for the crusty British Navy – and then rose to be Lord High Admiral in 1827.
George IV (who had been the infamous Prince Regent) died in 1830, and William ascended the throne because his older brother had died. He was to be the penultimate British monarch of the House of Hanover. The country believed he had Whiggish (liberal) sentiments, and this might have beeen true, but he soon abandoned them, developing serious Conservative sympathies, obstructing the passing of the first Reform Bill in 1832.
William IV was the last British monarch to use prerogatory powers to dismiss a ministry which had won by a majority vote. He achieved this by firing Lord Melbourne in 1834 and inviting the Tories to form a government. He died in 1837 and was succeeded in that year by his niece Victoria at the age of eighteen. Queen Victoria did not fire Lord Melbourne; she learnt about politics and power from him. Ascending the throne as a Hanoverian, she changed the name to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when she married a German prince.
Engels as a young man / theguardian.com
Marx and Engels go together like Marks and Spencer; Karl and Groucho are however better known than Engels, though without him we would probably have had less Marxism, and therefore less Communism. In 1920 Friedrich was born into the family of a very rich owner of factories in the Rhineland. Higher education (universities) not exerting their present-day stranglehold over the young, Friedrich left school at sixteen to work with the family firm. Ar twenty-two this required going to England, where his father’s company had good relations (contracts) with cotton manufacturers in Manchester. Though he was well housed and paid a German-sized wage, he lost no time in observing conditions among lowly workers in middle-Victorian England. Using his contacts with the newspapers he wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1845. Though truthful and accurate, his exposé cannot have pleased his family much. Continue reading
This Junker was born in 1861. As a child at severe schools he was perceived as self-reliant, honest and intelligent. He must have used these talents well because by 1913 he was Minister for War at fifty-two. After von Moltke’s nervous breakdown in November, 1914, he was made Chief of Staff. Using that famous intelligence, he knew at once that the Allies in the Great War had greater resources to call on, and that Germany must win the War quickly, or fail miserably. Continue reading
Germany attacked France in May, 1940. 136 German divisions faced 125 British, French and Belgian ones. The Germans had over two thousand tanks, but even their commander admitted half were obsolete. The Allies had a little more than three thousand six hundred tanks, among which the French armour was better than anything the Germans had. But they had many more aircraft. Only the French, with their thousand aeroplanes, could provide much opposition. 400 British fighters, mostly Hawker Hurricanes were based in France. The French seemed paralysed by ther audacity and skill of Guderian’s Panzer tanks and troops, and watched with their mouths open as the Panzers crossed the Meuse,, open a fifty-mile gap in the Allied front, and then raced along the valley of the Somme towards the channel (q.v.). By 20 May they had got there. Gamelin, the French commander, seemed immovable and was replaced by a seventy-three year old – Weygand, who had been sitting in Syria. By 28 May the Germans were in Calais, cutting off the French, British and Belgian forces in the north from the remainder of French forces. The Dutch and the Belgians surrendered. The British got to Dunkirk where, miraculously, they evacuated nearly four hundred thousand troops back to English shores, unfortunately leaving tanks and ammunition behind, as there was not sufficient time to load them on to the Royal Navy ships sent, along with hundreds of small motor and sail craft which had also crossed the Channel to help. Meanwhile the French retreated to the Loire, thus separating themselves from those still holding the Maginot line, which Guderian had contemptuously avoided. In June two million Parisians left their homes and scuttled south, joining the six million who had already fled from northern France and Belgium. Weygand was replaced by Marshall Petain, who instantly accepted German surrender terms. The Atlantic coast and all Northern France were to be occupied and controlled by German forces. The rest of the country would be governed, hand in glove with the Germans, by Petain, in what became known as Vichy France. The French Army had been beaten in six weeks. Continue reading
British and Commonwealth soldiers in Caen, 1944 /iwm.org.uk
This was the real turning point in the Second World War, although it came much later than it should have done, due mainly to inappropriate weather conditions for a sea-based landing. The British Isles were undergoing one of those violent climate changes to which we are now more accustomed. It was summertime, but Britain’s east coast ports and resorts were lashed by wind and near freezing rain. The sea between British and French coasts choppy and crossed with currents. The cold at sea was appalling, as if the breezes were blowing directly from the Russian steppes. Only the tempers of the soldiers, sailors and airmen waiting, waiting, and still waiting in the barracks, manor houses and homes to which they had been invited by English people in the villages and towns of the south-east, were hot and getting hotter. Continue reading
J.M. Keynes said the reparations could not be paid / theguardian.com
Even if the end of the Great War was, or at least to many people seemed to be, unsatisfactory, the victors still demanded ‘compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied . . . Powers, and to their property’. This, I suppose, is the way a World War should end, though many parts of this planet were untouched by the 1914 – 18 War. ‘Damage done to the civilian population and their property’? What about the billions spent by the warring governments on their armies and armaments. Who was to pay? The civlian population of course, through their taxes.
The victors set up a reparations commission which would decide how much should be paid by Germany. Their studies completed in 1921, they announced that 132 billion gold marks should fit the bill. This was around £6,600 millions in the pound sterling of that date. I presume the commission had inquired if Germany had (or could raise) such an astonomical sum in gold marks? Payment would be made in annual instalments. Continue reading
The 10 million mark note / pjmedia.com
The valley of the Rhur, which would become famous enough for a major film to be made of the bombing of its dams during the Second War, was the heart of Germany’s coal, iron and steel production. The Treay of Versailles that ended the First or Great War had ordered a defeated Germany to fork out for the War, and tremendous reparations had to be paid. But how? And with what? The country was ruined by the War, and most of her machinery was destroyed or lay idle. A huge chunk of her male generation were dead, and untrained old men or boys could not run the factories or the mines. Germany therefore defaulted on her reparation payment, which should not have come as a surprise.
In January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Rhur therefore, with failure of payment as an unsteady excuse. Both Britain and the United States protested, but M. Poincaré, the French Prime Minister, said that the problem was not that the Germans could not pay but that they did not want to. The two allies would therefore stay in the Rhur until she did pay, and exploit the industrial riches there too. Continue reading