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The Treaties of Paris (May 1814 & November 1815)

Treat 1814 /

Treaty 1814 /

Just eighteen months separate two important agreements reached in the city of Paris. After the Allies (Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia) had at last defeated Napoleon, a pact was made with France which, considering the awful damage done to most of Europe, was perhaps over-generous. (more…)

‘The most terrible of all my battles’ Napoleon Bonaparte



Perhaps one of the least documented pitched battles of the Napoleonic Wars was fought on 7th September 1812. It was called Borodino and took place in Russia, some 70 miles west of Moscow.

The Russian general involved was Kutusov, commanding 120,000 troops in defensive positions on high ground near the village of that name – Borodino. The town was important because it stood directly on the Moscow – Smolensk highway. Napoleon took no notice of the advice of his Marshal Davout, who had suggested a southerly outflanking movement. The Emperor said he had not enough soldiers for a manoeuvre of that kind. Typically, he chose a frontal assault. (more…)

By | 2013-07-28T15:55:36+00:00 July 28th, 2013|French History, Russian history, World History|0 Comments

The German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

ulbricht_2In a recent post I put the word ‘democratic’ in this title between inverted commas, and a student has asked me why. Did I doubt, I was asked, that the GDR was democratic? Well yes I did. East Germany emerged in 1949 from the Soviet-occupied zone of recently defeated Germany. As an eastern European country it ceased to exist in October, 1990.

The Potsdam Conference had, among countless other disgraces, invented a country divided into four zones, each occupied by one of the victorious Allies. They were American, British, French and Russian, though why the French should have got a zone to themselves when they had hardly fired a shot in anger at the commencement of the Second World War is questionable. Three-fifths of France fell to the Nazis in 1940 but the French were permitted to govern the rest of the country as a ‘neutral’ state with its own government at Vichy. As Vichy collaborated with the Germans from day one the term ‘neutral’ is dubious. The Third Reich had by that time invaded the Polish Corridor, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, parts of Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands. (more…)

Berlin: City, Congress, Airlift & Wall

Berlin was the capital of Germany from 1871, though it was also the capital of Prussia. When the capital moved from Bonn after the Second War, Berlin became again the capital and hub of Germany, but after the War the city found itself 110 kilometres inside the Russian Zone of a Germany divided (at various hideous conferences) into four: Russian, American, British and French sectors. The city itself was divided into West Berlin (480 and East Berlin (403 West Berlin was administered and governed by the United States, Great Britain and France, each having their Sector and military HQ. East Berlin was governed by the Communist GDR, under the military eye of around 200 divisions of Russian troops. West Berlin could probably muster a division and a half, and had its own (American) military commander. There was a complete military imbalance in all the post-war period. (more…)

The Battle of ‘the Bulge’

American infantry moving in the Battle of the Bulge /

American infantry moving in the Battle of the Bulge /

I happened to see a new DVD of an old film with this title last night. It was a typical Hollywood presentation, cost a fortune, was directed oddly enough by an Englishman, Ken Annakin (but not Skywalker). The script was quite literate, the acting good as always. The customary Hollywood absence of anyone British or Canadian in scenes supposedly from the Second World War was adhered to. I remember a Spielberg epic called Saving Private Ryan in which the director even managed to make it appear that the Normandy Invasion of 1944 was entirely American. The GIs had two beaches in Normandy, and the British/Canadians etc. had three, but no hint of this appeared in the movie. It was a bit like this in The Battle of the Bulge (1965). Henry Fonda and Robert Ryan played the military heroes, backed up by James Macarthur and of course Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas and there went your first ten million dollars off the budget before the camera was turned. (more…)

Who was Florence Nightingale?


Wounded soldiers called her 'The Lady of the Lamp' /

Wounded soldiers called her ‘The Lady of the Lamp’ /

  Sufficiently immortal in England’s history to appear in 1066 And All That under the comic names of ‘Florence MacNightingown’ and even ‘Florence MacNightshade’, she was the founder of nursing as a profession for women. Though as a member of a prosperous family she had no need to work, it was her own money and her religion mixed with an innate toughness that gave her the vocation to tend the sick. She was also a pioneer, if you like, of the feminist idea of breaking away from the constraints of Victorian family existence and carving out her own career. (more…)

By | 2013-05-30T10:08:52+00:00 May 30th, 2013|British History, Russian history, Today, World History|0 Comments

Caustic Congresses II: the Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles / AKJ Images/Imperial War Museum

The Treaty of Versailles / AKJ Images/Imperial War Museum

This treaty has been blamed by many historians as a more than indirect cause of the Second World War. It was supposed to be a treaty made between the Allies and Germany to be signed on 28 June, 1919, but negotiations continued until 1923. Germany however did not take part in the debates aired before the actual signing. Most intelligent Germans therefore thought it was a dictated agreement for peace, which could not be morally binding. (more…)

Caustic Conferences

 Wars are expensive, brutal and finally useless, as long as human beings will kill others in an argument over territory or sovereignty. The longer they last the worse, it seems, the agreements invented in the ‘peace treaties’ are. This is the first of a series of analyses of famous Congresses or Peace Treaties which left a decidedly nasty taste in the mouth on both sides. (more…)

Erich Ludendorff


Erich Ludendorff /

Erich Ludendorff /

   Germany is a country of tradition, contrast and discipline mixed with a craving for modernity and change. The actual Chancellor is a lady from the Centre/Right who was in her youth a devoted Communist. In the First and Second World Wars almost all of the ‘officer class’ were titled irrespective of whether Germany was a monarchy or a republic. Rare it was to find a senior army officer without a von in his name. Only recently retired was Freiherr Bertoldt von Stauffenberg, a Count as well as being a son of the heroic leader of German military resistance against Adolf Hitler, recently ‘immortalized’ by Mr Tom Cruise in a rather bad film called Valkyrie. Cruise, who is not very tall, played Klaus von Stauffenberg, who was tall. Actually Rommel was one of the few very senior officers in the Second War who was not a von. (more…)

The campaign in North-West Europe (September 1944 – May 1945)

      This campaign was the advance of the Allies through France following the successful invasion of D-Day. It is important because it contains the blindest and most incomprehensible mistake made by a commander-in-chief in all History. But we will come to that later.


The Durham Light Infantry moving up /

The Durham Light Infantry moving up /

Combined with the Soviet invasion of Germany from the east, the campaign would lead to the end of the Second World War and the inevitable Treaties. Following the Normandy invasion most German armies were withdrawn from France, though not all. British and Commonwealth troops entered Brussels on 3 September, 1944, and Antwerp was relieved one day later. The port could not be used immediately because pockets of German resistance had been left behind in the mouth of the Scheldt, and had to be dealt with. (more…)

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