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Padre Steve’s 2013 Down and Dirty Primer on the Muddle East

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

Note: This is an update to my 2011 Primer on the Muddle East

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahideen.

With the Soviets “Tango Uniform” and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind.

Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the despot we knew to a quagmire Saddam was left in power.

So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that. Not only did they take on the Israelis but they are also helping Syrian dictator Bashir Assad turn the tide against the polyglot Syrian rebel forces which are being assisted by Sunni foreign fighters from all over the Middle East and the ever present Al Qaida presence.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. However with the election of “moderate” whatever that means cleric Hasan Rowhani as President hopes are that Iran, despite the machinations of many other clerics and the Revolutionary Guard might be brought to the negotiating table. That being said Iran is reportedly sending about 4000 troops to go help Assad in Syria so go figure.

Elsewhere in the Middle East things continue to boil. In December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. In Tunisia a “moderate Islamist” regime has been attempting to maintain control of radicals and keep some semblance of balance in that country while in Egypt the Islamic Brotherhood was able to get majorities elected in the Parliament and elect Mohammed Morsi as President. Needless to say both countries are still in turmoil.

In Iraq the Sunni Shi’a divide is as wide as ever and that country is threatening to become engulfed in yet another civil war as sectarian violence increases and the Kurds make more moves toward independence.

2013-05-31T115012Z_01_IST12_RTRIDSP_3_TURKEY-PROTESTS

Turkey, the heart of the old Ottoman Empire is now beginning to erupt as secularist elements in the society are protesting the policies of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leading to repeated clashes over the past two weeks between protestors and police.

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Afghanistan though technically not part of the Middle East continues to be a problem for US and NATO consuming intelligence, economic diplomatic and military resources that could be put to play with better effect elsewhere.  What T.E. Lawrence said of the British occupation of a restive Mesopotamia  in 1920:

“We realise the burden the army in Mesopotamia is to the Imperial Exchequer, but we do not see as clearly the burden it is to Mesopotamia. It has to be fed, and all its animals have to be fed. The fighting forces are now eighty-three thousand strong, but the ration strength is three hundred thousand. There are three labourers to every soldier, to supply and serve him.” ‘France, Britain, and the Arabs’ by Col. T. E. Lawrence The Observer, 8 August 1920

In Libya the Arab Spring claimed the long time pain in the ass Moammar Gaddafi. That conflict center of the action in 2011 until Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered. Since then Libya has remained in turmoil despite elections, militias run amok and the US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi on September 11th 2012.

Yemen and Bahrain, Algeria, and Jordan have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

However the real problem now, the problem that threatens to send the region into a regional war is the revolt in Syria which began with peaceful protests by reformers against the Assad regime. However the hard line response of that regime to the protests spawned a civil war which now threatens to overflow the borders of Syria. France, Britain and the US have stated that they believe that there is evidence that the Syria government has used chemical weapons, in particular Sarin nerve agents against the rebels. The conflict has claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000 people with hundreds of thousands more now living as refugees.

The conflict in Syria epitomizes one of the greatest challenges in the Middle East that many in the West are just beginning to recognize, the Sunni Shi’a divide. That divide is becoming more serious with every passing day as Iran continues to lead and assist Shi’a elements in predominantly Sunni Arab countries, as well as in Iraq where the Arab Shi’a are in the majority. The conflict in Syria is predominantly Sunni versus Shi’a though in that patchwork nation of Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite Shi’a tribe of the Assad clan, various Christian and Druse groups. Lebanon which borders Syria is as divided as its larger neighbor and Hezbollah holds tremendous power in that country.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of great world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

images-46

The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this that the promise of a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” will become a reality, but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

With the announcement this week that the US would provide military aid and training to the Syrian rebels and that US forces will remain in Jordan even as US and NATO Patriot missile batteries stand ready in Turkey there is a really good chance that the conflict in Syria will not stay in Syria.

Of course there is always the wild card if what Israel may do in what it perceives to be its security interests against outward foes such as Iran and Syria but also inside its borders and occupied territories, especially if it is attacked or provoked by Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Real Independence: The Treaty of Paris 1783…We Didn’t do it Alone

It is easy to declare independence but it is far more difficult to achieve it. It is also easy to mythologize our history and ignore the fact that we did not achieve independence by our own efforts alone. No matter what country is involved there is almost always help in gaining independence. One only has to look at history to see the reality of this.

This was the case for the United States. In 1783 after over years of hostilities and over seven after the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence the British Empire signed a treaty with the representatives of the colonies in Paris. The first article of the treaty was something that has not been seen before in modern European history:

“His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”

The treaty established the independence of the former British colonies and a new boundary, the Mississippi River which more than doubled the size of the new nation. The treaty was signed nearly two years after the American and French Armies, ably helped by the timely intervention of the French Navy forced Lord Cornwallis to surrender his army at Yorktown.

It is quite easy to fall prey to simple answers regarding the independence of the American nation. In fact it is not inaccurate to state that the vast majority of Americans today know little more than that the colonies declared their independence in 1776 and that George Washington led the armies and eventually became the first President. However the reality was that the independence of the new nation was secured by a number of factors including negotiations with a power that realized that the expenditure of lives and capital in what had become for them a world war of great cost.

The British negotiated a peace that was generous and which gave the American colonies more than they had begun the war. It required British garrisons to evacuate territories and fortifications in strategic areas on the Great Lakes and areas still occupied. However, the peace allowed the British to secure and expand their empire at the expense of the French, Spanish and Portuguese around the world. The new American nation would eventually eclipse the British Empire but it was not an easy journey and is something that should not be turned into myth or fiction by those that want to seek easy answers that align with their theology or myth.

Independence was declared in 1776 but was not attained until nearly two years after Yorktown. It took military efforts of the colonies as well as diplomatic efforts of men like Benjamin Franklin to gain the vital assistance of the French who helped pay for our independence with their blood, treasure, overseas territories  and ultimately the overthrow of the French monarchy by a revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution and the economic problems brought about by the French war with England. That fact is something that we should not forget nor take lightly. We didn’t achieve our independence all by ourselves, just in case we think that we did.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s Primer on the Muddle East

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahedeen.

With the Soviets Tango Uniform and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind. Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the depot we knew to a quagmire despite Saddam’s crimes against his own people who thought we would help them.  So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power last year.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. But then in December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

This brought about spontaneous uprisings all over the Middle East with Libya and the long time pain in the ass Muammar Gaddafi being the current center of the action. However Yemen and Bahrain both are in trouble, Algeria, Jordan and Syria have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this will bring about a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, national security

Unequal Allies: Lessons from The German’s and Their Allies on the Eastern Front for Today

patton with french tankPatton with French Renault F1 Tank in WWI

One of the problems that any coalition of unequal partners as is the case in Afghanistan is the role of the lesser partners, their capabilities and limitations imposed on them by their own governments.  When NATO joined the US led effort in Afghanistan a number of NATO allies contributed troops to the effort.  The same was true of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq.  While obviously the US appreciated and continues to appreciate the efforts of its allies in both theaters the unique problems associated with coalition warfare are often not appreciated until the strengths and weaknesses of each junior partner in the coalition are shown to include the effect of each nation’s choice of units sent, logistics capability and rules of engagement.  Thus when some Americans are critical of the contribution of some allies, or the limitations imposed by their governments they should remember that in the First World War the United States was dependant on France and Britain for the majority of the Artillery, all of the tanks and aircraft as well as instructors and training facilities for the rapidly recruited American Expeditionary Force.

RickenbackerUS Ace Eddie Rickenbacker with French Supplied Nieuport 28

Every nation works within its own national interests and domestic political situation as well as its military capabilities. Unfortunately many people do not look at history to see how a coalition of a major power allied with a number of minor powers each with their own limitations as well as motivations for entering the war execute that war after the initial plan is foiled.  This is something that has happened in Afghanistan after the initial success disappeared with the corrupt and ineffective Afghan government, the resurgent Taliban and the resiliency of Al Qaida in their bases in the remote border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

nato_france_a_0403French Troops in Afghanistan: The French, British and Canadians have the most Robust Rules of Engagement of Non US NATO Forces (Time Magazine Photo)

One of the best places to find such an example is the German relationship with their allies on the Eastern Front.  The question of the German dominated European Axis alliance in the Second World War is one of the more neglected subjects of World War Two II. In most accounts of the war, the relationship of the Germans to their coalition is minimal.  This includes the works of B.H. Liddell-Hart, Williamson Murray, Chester Wilmot and David M Glantz.   Italy usually receives some attention in the context of the campaign in North Africa and Mediterranean.  Hungary, Romania and Finland receive scant attention from anyone except as to how their armies were overrun during the Stalingrad campaign. Popular German memoirs provide little substantive help. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s memoirs and Erwin Rommel’s papers give some views of the Italian efforts in North Africa and the Mediterranean and Erich Manstein gives a limited amount of attention to the Italians, Finns, Hungarians and Rumanians in Russia.

Finland-HitlerConflicting War Aims: Hitler with Finland’s Field Marshal Von Mannerheim

In his essay The Dysfunctional Coalition Robert Di Nardo examines the relationship of Germany to her allies on the Eastern Front where the Germans due to their own limitations were forced into a coalition war with weak allies of uncertain reliability. This is a subject that Di Nardo expanded on in his book Germany and the Axis Powers: from Coalition to Collapse (University of Kansas Press, 2005).  Di Nardo believes that there are important lessons to be learned from the failure of Germany and its coalition. Unfortunately we in the west are more often than not content to judge coalitions by the success of the Allies in the Second World War.  Di Nardo’s work on the subject is something that the United States must learn from as it works with coalitions whose members have significant military weaknesses often magnified by the domestic political climates in their own country. The situation, especially in Afghanistan places he United States in a similar position to Germany in relation to the current wars on terror and campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

m 13-40 tankItalian M 13-40 tanks were the mainstays of Italian Armored Units, Slow, Undergunned and Poorly Armored they were No Match for Soviet T-34s

Di Nardo asserts “the way in which Germany conducted coalition warfare was reflective of the manner in which Hitler and the German military looked at the world, as well as the war in general.”  Germany often displayed a haughtiness toward its allies and even knowing their weaknesses was both unable and often unwilling to do much to strengthen them for the fight against the Soviet Union.  Di Nardo believes that the German attitudes were “a significant factor that contributed to the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.” (p.712)  In the essay Di Nardo notes the few successes of the coalition. In particular he looks at the German work with Rumanian air defense around the Ploesti oil refineries and the German-Finnish Winter Warfare School.  Apart from these instances he characterizes Axis coalition warfare on the eastern front as “poor” with “failures at every level.” (p.713)

italian troops stalino

Di Nardo analyzes the problems with language barriers, the wide differences of modernity of the armies and levels of technology and training of the coalition partners many of which are common to the war in Afghanistan. Germany’s failure to become the “arsenal of Fascism” which the United States became “the Arsenal of Democracy” for its allies hindered the Germans in their relationship to their poorly equipped allies.  Likewise, the lack of understanding of all the partners regarding the “relationship between national objectives, strategy and the morale of soldiers of officers and soldiers alike”(p.713) was a major obstacle.

finnish at gun

Di Nardo provides a good description of the German liaison detachments allotted to the coalition armies.  These teams functioned as advisors to their allies as well as liaisons between the German army and the allies. These teams dealt with language, tactical communications weaknesses and often displayed the generally haughty attitude that the Germans displayed to their partners. There is an excellent illustration of this in dealing with the failure of XLVIII Panzer Corps at Stalingrad when the German Liaison to the Romanian 1st Panzer Division was wounded.  At the operational and strategic levels Di Nardo describes the German policies and attitudes toward their allies as “imperialist.” (p.718)

He examines the wide gap in transportation capabilities of the various armies and the failure of the Germans to better provide for the needs of their partners in contrast to the United States assistance to her allies.   Germany provided obsolete captured Czech and French weapons and vehicles to her allies.  They refused to supply the Romanians and Hungary with the plans to build German tank and aircraft in Romanian and Hungarian industrial concerns capable of their manufacture. (pp.718-719) Di Nardo notes how this lack of modern equipment impacted the allies operations against the Red Army and their defeat at the hands of the Soviets.  Although Di Nardo alludes to how even elite German formations had substandard equipment he does not explain principle reason for this.   This was due to the fact that the Germans did not go to a “total war” footing in regard to industrial production until Albert Speer took over as Armaments Minister in 1943.

spanish blue divsion

The number of troops contributed by the German Allies was substantial. Hungary began Barbarossa with two corps, including its Mobile Corps and in 1942 supplied their 2nd Army which was composed of 1 Armored and 9 Infantry Divisions. 2nd Army was crushed by the Soviet offensive against Stalingrad. The Italians began with an expeditionary corps of 2 Semi-Motorized and 1 Light Infantry Divisions. In early 1943 they added 4 Infantry and 3 Alpine Divisions and a number of other smaller formations. This force became the 8th Army. It fought well during the advance toward Stalingrad but spread out over a wide front with little armored or air support was decimated by the Soviet offense against the city.  The remnants were no longer battle worthy and were evacuated to Italy.  Most of the Finnish Army was engaged in the war but after September 1939 made no major offensive contribution to the war. In 1944 following a major Soviet offensive which forced them to withdraw from the territory that they had captured in 1941 the Finnish government sued for peace. The Russians occupied a number of border provinces and islands and Finland was obliged to expel German Forces.  This resulted in the “Lapland War” between the Finns and the Germans with the Germans adopting a scorched earth policy as they withdrew from the country. The quality of the Finnish forces was generally higher than that of Germany’s other Allies.

romanian r35Obsolete French Built Romanian R-35 Light Tank

The Romanians contributed 19 divisions organized into 3 Armies to Barbarossa. They were limited by their equipment and logistics. The 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies were shattered at Stalingrad forcing a major reorganization as they continued the war.  In August 1944 with the Soviets pressing their border King Michael led a coup to overthrow the Fascist dictatorship of Antonescu. The Germans elected to fight and the Romanians changed sides and joined the Russian advance to the end of the war with their 1st Army taking part in the Prague offensive. Another contributor of troops was Franco’s Spain although it was a neutral country. Spain provided a division of volunteers which became the famous “Spanish Blue Division” or the 250th Infantry Division. It was outfitted as a German unit and received additional training from the Germans before it went into action. The division fought near Leningrad and was engaged in many tough fights.  A Spanish “Blue” Fighter squadron allotted to and equipped by the Luftwaffe also distinguished itself. In October 1943 Spain under allied pressure withdrew the division from the front although many soldiers volunteered to remain and fight on as smaller units attached to German formations. One volunteer company became part of the 11th SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland at Berlin.  One thing that probably was a factor in the Spanish effectiveness as well as commitment to to German cause was their genuine loathing of the Soviets following the Spanish Civil War.

The final part of Di Nardo’s essay deals with the strategic goals and conflicts among the Axis coalition which were never worked out.  Examples of this include how the Finns never signed a formal alliance with Germany and how their national strategy did not allow them to deeper into the Soviet Union instead settling on recovering territory lost to the Soviets in 1939 with a few minor gains.  There was also the problem that the Romanians and Hungarians distrusted each other so much that they could not work together over their own territorial disputes.  The Italians joined the campaign late and their 8th Army participated in the German advance toward Stalingrad protecting the German flank.  While the Italians provided their own equipment including armor and aircraft they and their weapons were woefully suited for the war that they faced on the Eastern Front.  Di Nardo finishes his essay noting morale problems in the Hungarian, Italian and Romanian armies, the lack of understanding and general lack of motivation for the campaign.

Romanian_Me109-px800Romanian ME-109 E4, The Romanian Air Force Was One of the Axis Success Stories

This article is well sourced. Di Nardo uses histories, archival sources, operational orders and analysis by the various armies as well as interviews with participants. Of particular note is that he goes to sources of the coalition partners and not just German sources.  This allows him to be far more nuanced and detailed in his discussion as opposed to others who simply ignore the contributions of the Axis partners.  His footnotes provide added detail and provide and lend support to his arguments.

The importance of this essay is twofold.  First it provides a look at the relationship of German to her coalition partners on the Eastern Front.  This is important from a historic standpoint simply because it is such a neglected topic in most histories of the period and gives added depth to the reasons for Germany’s defeat.  One has to ask the “what if questions” in regard to had the Germans better treated, equipped and recognized their allies’ contributions to the war effort.

The second and probably more important for Afghanistan is that it provides lessons to any nation which has to engage in coalition warfare.  In particular it has lessons for the United States which has found itself as the senior and vastly superior partner in a war which has multiple coalition partners in several theaters of operations.  Each coalition partner has certain military strengths and weaknesses in relationship to the United States, national interests, geo-political and economic relationships with competitors to the United States and internal political realities which impact their cooperation in the war.  As such the United States cannot allow itself to be cast in the role of a haughty imperialistic senior partner as did Germany.  The US instead must cultivate an attitude of assistance, respect and trust among its partners to assure their full cooperation and assistance in relation to U.S. goals in the war. This is particularly important now was it appears that the Afghan war is reaching a point where the deteriorating situation on the ground could invite the early withdraw of allies and necessitate either the addition of more US troops or a strategic withdraw which would be for all intents and purposes a defeat for the US and NATO. The consequences would not be good and while the Taliban may be able to be contained they undoubtedly would invite Al Qaida back and provide them with a sanctuary just as Pakistan has stepped up its efforts on the border.

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