Tag Archives: gerd von rundstedt

War Crimes and War Criminals: Criminal Orders and Cooperation Equals Genocide


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about War crimes, war criminals, and bringing them to justice while pointing out that some commanders, even in criminal nations have opposed and disobeyed such orders.

What caused me to revisit the subject was watching the biographical documentary of Benjamin Ferencz, the last remaining prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Ferencz prosecuted the Einsatzgruppen Trial. The Einsatzgruppen were four units composed of SS, SD, Waffen SS, and Order Police personnel, with a combined strength of about 3,000 personnel, commanded by SS, or SD Colonels or Generals. They had the mission of exterminating Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet Communist Party officials, or Red Army Commissars. They received additional support from Order Police Battalions, Wehrmacht Security Divisions, government and party officials in charge of the occupied territories, and from the Wehrmacht Army Group, Army, Army Corps, and Division Commanders in their areas of operations. The Einsatzgruppen murdered nearly a million and a half people up close and personal with pistols, rifles, and machine guns at close range over mass graves. They also pioneered the use of gas vans. Many of their actions took place before the decision to implement the Final Solution. Without the cooperation of of the Wehrmacht, Government occupation authorities, and the Order Police they could not have murdered so many people.

Contrary to the myth of a clean Wehrmacht, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war. 


                                            Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                           Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Commanders in the East used Keitel’s order as carte blanche authority to be even more severe than Keitel’s order specified. Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein to his Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews. 

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten by historians and military men who admired his strategic, operational, and tactical acumen.


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau and Von Manstein as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful. 

                                                          The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human.Once human beings decide that other human beings are less than human, then all bets are off, and that includes Americans. Over our history we have shown a taste for barbarity when we believe our opponents are less than human.

There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that while Gilbert was certainly correct in his question to Goering, Goering was also right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz British historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism, as well as Catholic Germany. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, laws and legislation, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe

France 1944: Missed Opportunities from Mortain to Market Garden

Arnhem Bridge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1985 Judy and I visited her cousin and her family in the Netherlands when I was an Army Lieutenant in Germany. Since I was a history major in college and had done a lot of reading and study about Operation Market Garden, which most people associate with the movie Bridge Too Far I decided that on our way back to Germany that we needed to stop by Arnhem and Oosterbeek to visit the battlefield and the British Airborne Museum. It was one of those places that even today evokes poignant memories. When we walked through the British cemetery across from the museum which is in the former British headquarters, the Hartenstein Hotel I saw a grave marker. It read Capt. J.S. (James Strathern) Dundas, 7th KOSB (7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers) of the British 1st Airborne Division. He was the 2IC, or Executive Officer of Company B of that Regiment. He assumed command of the company on the 19th after its commander was reported missing in action. He commanded the company until his death on September 25th 1944 when commanding the rearguard of the battalion as it and the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division evacuated the bridgehead over the Rhine. It was a sobering reminder of the cost of war. 

Grave marker of Captain J.S. Dundas at the British Cemetery at Oosterbeek

September 17th 2018 will be the 74th anniversary of the Allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands, secure a crossing across the Rhine and plunge into the heart of German industry and war making capacity the Ruhr basin. The plan is better known as Operation “Market-Garden” and was the first major use of Airborne Divisions in a strategic jump versus a tactical or operational mode.  What made this operation different was the distance that the Airborne would be dropped from the front lines and the number of obstacles that the ground troops would have to cross to get to them.  It was a high risk strategic plan to end the war early.  However this operation did not occur in a vacuum and was the product of operational and strategic decisions that the Allies made from the time of the Normandy breakout.  Each decision was made on the fly as the situation rapidly developed from a static slugfest in the hedgerows to the pursuit of a broken enemy.  As the Allies advanced across France decisions had to be made of how the advance would be made which became a major bone of contention between Eisenhower and his subordinates.  To understand how the Allies got to the point of launching Market-Garden one has to look back at the events leading up to it beginning with the Allied decisions made shortly after the breakout.  The actual campaign does not always correlate to popular myths nor does it allow for a uncritical analysis or generalization of the events which made up this part of the campaign in Western Europe.

It is a campaign that teaches us even today that mundane things such as logistics, weather and the failure to recognize moments of opportunity and times for caution matter in a military campaign. The campaign is a reminder that every military campaign has risks and that even crippled enemy can inflict costly defeats on superior forces and regain lost initiative. 

 

Introduction 

Patton Bradley and Montgomery, Time Magazine Photo

Lieutenant General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group breakout from Normandy opened a realm of possibilities for the Allies to defeat the German Army in detail and end the war.  The manner in which the Allies exploited their success and their failure to destroy the German Army in the west in the late summer of 1944 was a key factor in prolonging the war.  Both the Allies and the Germans faced challenges due to the change in the nature of the campaign. For nearly two months they had waged a nearly static war of attrition in the Norman hedgerows.  The breakout changed the dynamic of the campaign to one of maneuver.  In the post-breakout period the Allies had several opportunities to envelope large portions of the German Army in western France, Belgium and southern Holland.  The campaign became one of maneuver and a “commander’s battle” in which it was “the decisions of the generals that determined the manner in which events unfolded in August, their successes and failures which brought about the position that was achieved by September.”[1] Prior to the breakout success in the hedgerows was determined on “the ability of British, American and Canadian units to seize ground from their German opponents on the next ridge, the next hedge, beyond the next road.” [2]The change would expose the weaknesses in the quality of allied generalship and logistics management.  The Allies failure to recognize the ability of the Germans to recover from disaster conspired with key elements in the campaign to end the war by Christmas.[3]

Grenadiers and Tanks of 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend) in Normandy

A key decision reached early in the campaign was for Bradley’s XII Army Group to capture Brest and other Brittany ports.  This decision meant that when 3rdArmy exploited the break out the preponderance of its forces went west, the opposite way that the battle was developing.  This deprived the Americans of forces and logistical assets that could have supported the envelopment of the major part of the German Army still engaged in Normandy. Russell Weigley lays the blame for this decision on Bradley.  The dash into Brittany did little to help the Allied logistical problems and diverted much needed troops away from the focal point of the action in Normandy.[4] Hastings criticizes Bradley’s lack of imagination in the initial stages of the breakout in adhering to the original OVERLORD exploitation plan[5] rather than adapting to the situation on the ground. Patton’s biographer Carlo D’Este seconds this opinion and it makes sense from an operational standpoint.[6] Why send significant forces to an area far away from the critical part of the battle for little practical gain?  In the end German forces held out, in some cases to the end of the war, denying the Americans the use of the ports either by just holding out or by demolishing the port facilities.

Mortain: German Counter Attack and the Short Envelopment

The American exploitation of the breakout, notably by elements of Patton’s 3rdArmy pushing east combined with the continued pressure of the British Army Group toward Falaise. The breakout forced forced the Germans into a strategic decision to attempt to restore the front in Normandy or withdraw to the Seine or further east as there was no “defensive position short of the permanent fortifications of the West Wall on Germany’s frontier offered so many defensive strengths as the Normandy line the Americans had just breached and turned.”[7]

With limited options Hitler determined that German forces again needed to ensnare the allies in the hedgerows.[8] There was disagreement between Hitler and Field Marshal von Kluge regarding the offensive while von Kluge opposed it.  Hitler believed that the American breakout gave the Germans a chance to cut off the American forces in Brittany and possibly more believing that “once the coast had been reached at Avranches a beginning should be made with rolling up the entire Allied position in Normandy!”[9]

The German attack named Operation Lüttich was led by XLVII Panzer Corps assisted by elements of 1st SS Panzer Division.  Despite warnings from ULTRA the panzers achieved tactical surprise on the front of the 30th US Division at Mortain on the night of 6-7 August when the Germans attacked without the customary preparatory artillery bombardment.[10] The Germans made initial progress against the 30th Division which had recently taken over positions at Mortain.  However the 2nd Battalion 120th Infantry “Old Hickory” Regiment held key ground which enabled them to call artillery fire and air strikes on German forces attempting to advance on Avranches.[11] The Americans quickly reinforced 30th Division with elements of 2nd Armored Division, 35th Infantry Division and the veteran 4th Infantry Division to hold the line against the weakened German Panzer divisions.  Bradley and other American commanders viewed Lüttich as “an opportunity, not a threat.”[12] Bradley was “not merely confident of withstanding them, but expected to destroy them.”[13] Bradley attempted to lure more Germans into the potential trap by radio transmissions hoping that the Germans to persist in their attacks around Mortain.[14]

American Armor Advancing in Normandy

The German plan included the use of a significant number of aircraft to support the attack.  However this did not happen and German troops were furious at the failure of the Luftwaffe to shield them from Allied air attacks which devastated the Panzers.  The 300 fighters promised by the commander of Luftwaffe forces were engaged by British and American fighters and savaged so badly that no Luftwaffe units made an appearance over Mortain.[15] Despite some local success the German ground forces were turned back by the Americans who did not even halt their eastward movement further imperiling the German forces in Normandy.

Knocked out Panzer V Panther Tank at Mortain

With the Germans ensnared at Mortain, the 3rd Army driving east and the Canadians advancing on towards Falaise, Bradley suggested a short envelopment in which over 100,000 German troops would be trapped between the Patton’s troops and the Canadians who had opened their TOTALIZE offensive from Caen to Falaise on August 8th.  This modified plans for a deep envelopment by XV Corps of 3rd Army to entrap the Germans against the Seine crossings with an operation that might promise “still surer results.”[16] Speaking to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Mongenthau Bradley said that “he told the Cabinet officer he had “an opportunity that comes to a commander not more than once in a century. We’re about to destroy and entire hostile army.”[17] However the short envelopment was predicated on the Germans continuing their advance, had they as Hastings notes “behaved rationally, recognized the threat of envelopment to their entire front and begun a full-scale retreat east, then Bradley could indeed been accused of losing his armies a great prize.”[18]

The decision to turn the better part of 3rd Army west into Brittany deprived Bradley of forces that could have better accomplished the mission of enveloping the German 7th Army.  General Wood of 4th Armored Division to his dying day “remained embittered over the lost opportunity”[19] lost when his division was turned back into Brittany rather than being allowed to move east toward the Seine.   Weigley points out an even deeper flaw regarding the Brittany decision that was that OVERLORD planners “had not thought anything resembling the Avranches breakout and pursuit without pause to the Seine likely…” Weigley critically stated that it is among the worst forms of generalship that takes counsel of its fears. Yet that was exactly the condition of OVERLORD logistical planning.”[20]

The Falaise Pocket

Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger in France

The Allies did have a chance to destroy the German 7th Army.  LXVII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps as well as the remnants of II Parachute Corps and other formations battered in Normandy were attempting to move east from Mortain following the failure to break through.  The remnants of I SS Panzer Corps led by 12 SS Panzer Division Hitlerjügend and various battle groups of other decimated divisions and Army units such as 21st Panzer Division offered determined resistance to the Canadians toward Falaise.  In the south only scattered Kampfgruppen of divisions shattered in Normandy opposed Patton’s forces at Avranches.  These German units, outnumbered and without air support were aided by a fortuitous decision of the commander of the 2nd French Armored Division to move a combat command along a road needed by the American 5thArmored Division.  The delay allowed the Germans to send a battalion into the town which could have “fallen easily a few hours before.”[21]

Grenadiers of the 12th SS at Falaise

At this point the Allies were bedeviled by several failures which prevented the short double envelopment from occurring and allowed the remnants of 7th Army to escape to fight again. The Germans suffered grievous losses in men, material, and especially armored fighting vehicles, artillery and motor transport but more often than not their units retained their cohesion and ability to operate.

Carnage in the Falaise Pocket

The first failure belonged to the Canadians who failed to push the Germans out of Falaise despite overwhelming material and air superiority.  The Canadian attack Operation TOTALIZE was planned by the best of the Canadian generals, Simonds.  The operation began on a promising note but bogged down halfway to Falaise due to a quick counterattack by 12th SS Panzer kampfgruppen. The Canadians were not helped when a misguided bombing attack by “friendly” air units hit them rather than the Germans.  Likewise the inexperience of the Canadian 4th and Polish 1st Armored Divisions showed when they paused to eliminate strong points rather than bypassing them and advancing to disrupt the Germans.  As such they gave the Germans the opportunity to reform their lines.[22] The second failure was that of Montgomery who had refused to adjust army group boundaries with Americans which put more pressure on the Canadians to “renew their drive promptly and vigorously.”[23] Rather than pushing on General Crerar of Canadian 1st Army spent five days “doing what really battlewise generalship could do by regrouping and making diversionary attacks.”[24] It took Crerar over 48 hours to launch a determined attack to close the gap despite the weakness of German forces that opposed him despite the fact that even Montgomery personally called him urging him to “Close the gap between First Canadian Army and 3rd U.S. Army.”[25] General Kurt Meyer of 12th SS faulted the Canadian leadership with a failure to use imaginative planning, and noted that “none of the Canadian attacks showed the genius of a great commander.”[26] American units which Patton had cautiously advanced north of Argentan towards Falaise were recalled after Bradley was unable to convince Montgomery to alter the army-group boundary in light of the new circumstances.[27] Patton recounts that he believed that his units could have “easily entered Falaise and closed the gap” and that the “halt was a great mistake.”[28] Weigley blames Bradley as much for the halt order as much he does Montgomery for “discouraging whatever might have been done to rectify the blunder- even discouraging on August 13th a call from the Supreme Commander to Montgomery about the inter-allied boundary.”[29] Thus through a series of Allied mistakes particularly by senior commanders the first opportunity to envelop the Germans passed into history as a great yet incomplete victory.

Opportunities in South France: Operations ANVIL and DRAGOON

The invasion of South France Operations ANVIL and DRAGOON[30] had been debated by the Allies as early as April 1943.  The British resisted ANVIL from the beginning with Winston Churchill not yielding “his struggle until five days before the eventual D-Day of August 15th.”[31] American planners saw the need for the operation and had never given up on it despite its postponement due to a shortage of amphibious lift at the time of OVERLORD.  Following the invasion the perilous logistic situation created by the lack of operational major ports in Normandy and Brittany caused American planners to “believe that ANVIL was virtually imperative.”[32] Landings in the south offered significant advantages to the logistical needs of the Allies.  The major seaports and naval bases at Marseilles and Toulon were both closer to Germany than Cherbourg.  Both offered major modern port facilities and the south included rail nets that had not suffered significant damage from Allied air attacks. Likewise the presence of a major navigable river, the Rhone, made it possible to move supplies into the heart of France by water.  From a strategic point of view the move into southern France would “help Eisenhower form a front along the whole German border from the North Sea to Switzerland, to stretch the German army as perilously thin as possible for its defense of the Fatherland.”[33] ANVIL also offered the opportunity to bring more trained American divisions into the fight which could not otherwise come ashore in Normandy due to the port and supply problems.[34]

The Allies initially allotted three American divisions of 7th Army and VI Corps as well as units of the French Army based in the Mediterranean to the invasion.  Commanding VI Corps and its three veteran Divisions, the Regular Army 3rdInfantry Division, the “Rock of the Marne”, the 36th “Texas” Division and 45th“Thunderbird” Division of the National Guard was Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott.  Truscott was of the best American Corps commanders. Early in the war he had created the Rangers and had distinguished himself in Italy commanding 3rd Infantry Division.  He followed this by taking over to rescue the unhappy Anzio campaign from utter fiasco.[35] A hard driving officer and prewar friend of Patton Truscott was the ideal commander for the operation.[36]

Truscott’s forces were opposed by the weak and widely scattered German 19thArmy of General Blaskowitz’s Army Group G.  The landings were highly successful and the Americans made rapid progress inflicting heavy casualties and capturing large numbers of Germans with relatively low American casualties.  However in Blaskowitz the Americans faced a skilled commander who managed to extricate the bulk of his forces and form a continuous front with the remnants of Army Group B by mid September.  Hitler had recognized the necessity of this link up but held Blaskowitz in low regard due to his resistance to Nazi policy while Military Governor of Poland in 1939, said to Field Marshall von Rundstedt of Blaskowitz: “If he contrives to do that (i.e. join up 19th Army rapidly with the main body) then I will make him a solemn apology for everything.”[37]

Truscott made the German army his objective. Truscott pushed his units hard but was hampered by his meager forces and his tendency to outrun his supplies.  German delaying actions hampered the American advance and prevented the Americans from utterly destroying the 19th Army.   Despite this the campaign in the south prevented the Allied logistical situation in France from becoming “insurmountable” in the fall of 1944 and “contributed directly and mightily to bringing the bulk of the American Army to grips with the German army in the West, to defeat and destroy it.”[38] Had Truscott had more forces and adequate supplies he may have achieved even more than he did. One can only imagine the “what if” scenarios that could have developed in the West with the application of more force to this option rather than feed the limited number of American divisions into the cauldron of the hedgerow country.

To the Seine and Beyond

With the closing of the Falaise pocket too late to catch most of the German forces the next opportunity for the now postponed “long envelopment” was now staring the Allies in the face.  The Seine beckoned.  Could the Allies prevent the fleeing remnants of the 7th Army and Panzer Group West, soon to be renamed the 5thPanzer Army from escaping across the Seine?   Bradley’s belated decision to restart the drive to the Seine on 14 August was beset with the problem of the logistical sustainment.  The logistics problem was not limited to port facilities.  The Allies had moved well past the eastern edge of the Normandy lodgment area over two weeks before planners anticipated. Fuel to propel the Allied armies forward became a critical consideration. Despite this the Allied high command saw the opportunity to complete the destruction of the German forces fleeing Normandy and Montgomery “anticipated for weeks the possibility of the long envelopment at the Seine.”[39] Adjustments were made on the fly. The plan to pause at the Seine dictated by OVERLORD was discarded in favor of trying to cross it on the run.  XV Corps of 3rd Army had reached Mantes crossing into the British 21st Army Group zone.  Montgomery refused an American offer of trucks to assist the British and Canadians to Mantes to complete the envelopment from the west. However he gave permission for XV Corps to continue its advance into the British zone in the hopes of completing the encirclement of the estimated 75,000 German troops west of the Seine.[40]

American Soldiers Cross the Seine

Yet again the Allied hopes for the encirclement of German forces west of the Seine were dashed.  XIX Corps came up to assist XV Corps in its advance into the German rear on the 24th of August at Elbeuf.  However a scratch Kampfgrüppemade up of elements of eight panzer divisions made a stand that delayed the American forces five days.[41] The British and Canadian forces did not push hard.  The determined resistance of the panzer battle group and the failure of the British and Canadians to push harder enabled Army Group B to evacuate many of its troops, 25,000 vehicles and most of its higher headquarters across the Seine before the Canadians and XIX Corps linked up on 26 August.[42] [43] While the envelopment attempt ran its course the Americans pushed across the Seine. The Americans allowed the French 2nd Armored division to liberate Paris on August 25th and rapidly began to move east in pursuit of the German forces.

Despite horrendous losses in men and material including all but about 100 of the 2300 tanks and assault guns committed to Normandy[44] the German command rapidly organized the survivors into Kampfgrüppen.  These battle groups though hastily organized were well led and usually comprised of hardened veterans skilled in the active defense.  Field Marshall Model “Hitler’s Fireman” took command of Army Group B after Von Kluge committed suicide when returning to Germany after being implicated in the attempt on Hitler’s life.  Hitler gave the western front priority on tank replacements. Likewise reinforcements of newly formed Panzer Brigades flowed into France even as the Americans advanced east fighting not only the Germans but the gasoline shortage.[45] Patton’s army reached the Moselle but by September 2nd its tanks had run dry.  “Third Army received just 25,390 gallons, when its divisions needed at least 450,000 gallons to resume their advance.”[46] Patton continued by scavenging fuel wherever he could get it whether captured German stocks or by various creative means. Patton had his logistics officers divert fuel or send raiding parties into 1st Army’s depots. His agents bartered for fuel at port facilities and depots by offering captured souvenirs to those running those facilities in exchange for gas.[47]

American M-8 Armored Car at the Arch d’Triumph during the Liberation of Paris

The Allied shortage of gasoline, a product of both the lack of ports, damage to the French rail system and the unexpected rate of advance[48] ultimately forced Eisenhower to make the decision to halt Patton’s advance in favor of a push by Montgomery in the north. Now complicating Eisenhower’s situation the Germans Likewise the ability of the Germans to join Army Group B with Army Group G’s 1st and 19th Armies from Army Group G further assisted the German defense.  The German army’s self preservation in late August and early September became known to them as the “Miracle of the West.”[49] A successful envelopment of German forces took place at Mons just south of the Belgium border where 1st Army captured over 25,000 prisoners from units that had escaped from Normandy.[50] Throughout the campaign in France the Allies were beset by logistical problems and sometimes by bad generalship as they attempted to change the campaign plan on the fly.[51]

Antwerp and the Scheldt: Missed Opportunity

While Bradley and Patton’s American units sped across France “advancing faster and further than any Army in history,” Montgomery’s 21st Army Group crossed the Seine and began a drive that rivaled the Americans in speed.  XXX Corps under the recently appointed General Horrocks attacked out of the Seine bridgehead on 29 August.  After overcoming initial stiff resistance from the German Kampfgrüppen defending the area XXX Corps advanced with great speed capturing Brussels and Antwerp by 4 September.  Logistics also tied Montgomery’s hands just as it had Patton in the south.[52] He was forced to immobilize 8th Corps to supply XXX Corps which advanced north as 1st Canadian Army attempted to capture the channel ports.[53]

Canadian Soldiers during the Battle of the Scheldt

The quickness of the advance and erroneous decision making kept the XXX Corps attack from complete success.  This caused serious complications to further operations and which gave the Germans the break that they needed to stabilize the front.  General “Pip” Roberts commander of 11th Armored division which had just liberated Antwerp assumed that the British drive would turn east toward the Ruhr industrial area of Germany. In doing so he failed to capture the crossings over the Albert Canal.[54] Additionally he failed to advance the few miles needed to cut off the German 15th Army on the Scheldt thus missing the opportunity to trap an entire German Army against the sea.  Hastings lays the blame for this not entirely on the Division and Corps Commanders, Roberts and XXX Corps commander Horrocks, but on those responsible for the overall strategy, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Dempsey who should have realized this and especially that Montgomery “might have been expected to see for himself the pivotal importance of the Antwerp approaches.”[55] While the British rested in Antwerp the Germans blew the bridges over the Albert Canal. General Von Zangen of 15th Army took the opportunity to extricate his Army using any vessel available to cross the Scheldt. He occupied the strategic island of Walchern on the Antwerp approaches and placed his troops in position to assist in the defense of Holland and northern Germany.  Due to British inaction and his own creativity Von Zangen evacuated 65,000 troops, 225 guns, 750 vehicles and over 1000 horses across the waterway in 16 days to fight again.[56]

North of the Albert General Kurt Chill in the typical fashion of so many German commanders in a crisis situation took charge and halted the panicked retreat of German forces into Holland. Chill organized personnel from all branches of the German military into something resembling an Army.[57] Likewise Generals Bittrich of II SS Panzer Corps and Harmel of 10th SS Panzer Division salvaged “vehicles abandoned by other groups and weapons from deserted army depots” including 12 brand new howitzers on abandoned train.  The improvisation of the German commanders in these few days would be of decisive importance in the coming days.[58]

While the British paused to regroup in Belgium the Germans took the opportunity to form a new Army, the 1st Parachute Army under the Luftwaffe paratroop expert, General Kurt Student. 1st Parachute Army was hardly an army at all, barely the size of a fully manned allied division.  Made up of battle groups formed around remnants of the elite 6th Parachute regiment, assorted parachute training battalions, Flak units, a hodge-podge of Army Kampfgrüppen, General Chill’s units and divisions evacuated from the Scheldt, Student laid out a defensive line along the Albert Canal.[59] Student expected the British to attack when he was so terribly weak. He could not believe that he was not attacked when his line was most vulnerable to a determined assault that much of the German command believed would cause the front in Belgium to collapse.  The British Guards Armored division slowly advanced from the Albert to the Meuse-Escaut canal but the German defense had assured that any further advance to the north would be on a narrow front with a vulnerable left flank.[60] Von Rundstedt’s new Chief of staff at OB West Siegfried Westphal noted that “the situation was desperate. A major defeat anywhere along the front-which was so full of gaps that it did not deserve that name would lead to catastrophe if the enemy were to fully exploit the opportunities.”[61] Hastings and Weigley both note that the British failure to close the gap were of decisive importance to the coming campaign in Holland.[62]

Arnhem: The Failed Vertical Envelopment

Operation Market Garden, the Largest Airborne Operation in History

The Allies still believed there was the chance to break into Germany in 1944.  Lacking the logistical base to sustain a wide front advance Eisenhower opted to make Montgomery the primary effort. Montgomery planned to utilize the 1stAllied Airborne Army in a bold and “in the context of Anglo-American generalship in France, refreshingly daring”[63] operation.[64] The concept of “vertical envelopment” had been advocated by General Marshall and General H.H. Arnold and throughout the campaign 18 airborne exploitation operations had been planned “each of them cancelled by the rapidity of the advance of the ground forces.”[65] Eisenhower made Montgomery the primary effort on September 10th and Montgomery “immediately detailed planning …for an idea he had already conceived to use the airborne reserve.”[66]

American Paratroops in Holland

The plan was Operation MARKET-GARDEN and to be successful Montgomery’s forces would have to cross 8 water obstacles including 3 major rivers.[67] He had to use one two lane highway bordered by soft Dutch podder, thick woods and drainage ditches that restricted armor and mechanized forces to the road itself.[68] The was for three Allied airborne divisions, the American 82nd and 101st, the British 1st Airborne and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade to secure the bridges over the waterways between the front and Arnhem 65 miles north of the front.  The goal was to establish a bridgehead over the Rhine for the British Second Army to advance deep into the German heartland.  XXX Corps was to advance up this “corridor of death” and link up with each of the airborne divisions with the goal of breaking the German defense in the west.

British Paras in the ruins of Arnhem

Nearly all the writers agree that had the offensive been launched 7-10 days earlier when the Germans were in complete disarray it might have succeeded in its objective of crossing the Rhine and getting into Germany.  Hastings and Weigley both believe that the axis of the offensive was wrong and that the attack should have been made further south using 21st Army Group and 1st Army to drive to the Rhine.[69] All believe that an attack by Patton’s 3rd Army would not have achieved significant strategic gain as he now faced the bulk of the Wehrmacht’s strength and that there was little of strategic value in the part of Germany he could attack.

German Sturmgeschutz III in Arnhem 

The attack was made on 17 September.   The shortcomings of the plan became rapidly apparent.[70] German resistance in South Holland was much stronger than expected, the Son bridge was demolished by the Germans which created a major delay as bridging equipment had to be found and brought forward.  Due to the presence of battle groups from the 10th SS Panzer Division and other units dug in the city around the bridge the 82nd could not secure the Nijmegen Bridge until XXX Corps arrived.  The 1st Airborne was landed too far away from Arnhem Bridge to secure it in the face of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions of II SS Panzer Corps.  Due to a shortage of aircraft and refusal of the air transport command to make two drops on the first day the drops took 3 days to get all the airborne units into the fight.  The single road ensured that the spearhead of the XXX Corps advance was limited to a squadron of tanks and supporting infantry on a front two tanks wide.[71] The flanks were weakly held and German units salvaged from the Scheldt attacked the west and units from the Germany proper attacked the 82nd’s lodgment area.  Communications problems in the 1st Airborne Division prevented it from communicating with its own units as well as higher headquarters leaving everyone wondering what was happening.[72] The advance of XXX Corps was often both before Eindhoven and after Nijmegen lacking in urgency.[73] When all was said and done 1st Airborne Division was all but destroyed and had to be evacuated from its bridgehead and the operation ended in failure.[74] Numerous events contributed to the failure of the operation, many of which occurred before it was planned.  The German ability to make an army out of nothing coupled with planning which was based more on assumptions about what the Germans were incapable of doing rather than what was happening on the ground was a major fact. Likewise the British command discounted intelligence reports of Panzers in or near the drop the drop zones.

SS Panzer Grenadiers in Arnhem

The plan itself left much to chance and was built around the assumption that the Germans lacked the ability to stop them, neglecting the restrictions in which the Allied forces would have to execute the plan. If things could go wrong they did, especially in the 1st Airborne area of operations. Critical equipment failed to arrive, communications broke down, 2 of 3 battalions detailed to seize the Arnhem Bridge were stopped by a mixed bag of German forces including Panzers, an SS training battalion and various Army units and only one battalion reached the bridge. The failure to plan for and establish a landing zone on the south side of the Rhine kept them from being able to take the bridge, which became a key factor in the German ability to move troops from Arnhem to Njimegen. General Urquart was trapped in a house by German units which posted themselves around it and the commander of 1st Airborne Brigade was wounded.  The Germans succeeded in over running the drop zones and without communications British Airborne could not let the air transport know that supplies were not getting to them.

Summary

This phase of the French campaign exhibited the best and the worst of Allied generalship. The reasons; generally inexperienced American leadership at this level of warfare and poor leadership by the more experienced British command.  The key failures were logistics management and the strategic focus following the breakout which changed the nature of the planned campaign. The Allies were running at the limit of their capacity, shortages of fuel and other supplies and heavy casualties incurred in Normandy weakened the Allied advance demonstrating von Clausewitz’s understanding of what happens when a offensive reaches its culminating point. The drive into Brittany, the failure at the Falaise gap, the failure to close the door at the Seine, the failure to trap the 15th Army at the Scheldt and its failure to cross the Albert Canal, as well as the Market-Garden fiasco can all be directly attributed to Allied leadership at high levels.  Likewise the extraordinary ability of German commanders to restore seemingly hopeless situations all demonstrated how Clausewitz’s understood “genius” in war.

The campaign from the Normandy to Arnhem was one of spotty performance by the Allies especially in terms of generalship and logistics planning and the ability to improvise.  The Germans suffered from Hitler’s interference, especially at Mortain where he insisted on counterattack versus withdraw. Likewise they suffered from a critical lack of air support.  However German commanders were masters of improvisation taking advantage of Allied errors and confusion to recover the situation time and time again.

Notes

[1] Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984 p.280

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004 p.37.  Hastings comments that “British planners threw away it had learned since 1939 about the speed of reaction of Hitler’s army, its brilliance at improvisation, its dogged skill in defense, its readiness always to punish allied mistakes.”

[4] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981pp.184-186

[5] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord pp.282-283

[6] D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995 pp.632-633

[7] Ibid.  p.195

[8] Ibid. Also

[9] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964 pp.449-450.

[10] Ibid pp.195-196. Weigley notes that Montgomery and most other Allied commanders  had been optimistic in not anticipating the German counter attack despite the ULTRA warnings, while Bradley and Patton were cautious in making troop deployments.

[11] Michael Reynolds in Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandynotes that the Americans inflicted “astonishing casualties on the northern thrusts of 2nd SS Panzer and remained undefeated when the Germans withdrew 4 days later.”  Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in NormandyDell Publishing, New York, 1997 p.264

[12] Ibid. Hastings Overlord p.283

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. Weigley p.199.

[15] Carrell, Paul. Invasion! They’re Coming!” Trans. E. Osers, Originally published as Sie Kommen! Gerhard Stalling Verlag 1960, Bantam Books New York, 1964, 5th Printing June 1984. p. 249

[16] Ibid. Weigley p. 199

[17] Ibid. p.200

[18] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord. pp.282-283

[19] Ibid. D’Este. p.631

[20] Ibid. Weigley. p.286  He also points out that the Brittany diversion could have been “worse had it not been for Montgomery’s influence”  p.288

[21] Ibid. p. 202

[22] Ibid. p.204

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997. p.320.

[26] Meyer, Kurt Grenadiers trans. By  Michael Mende and Robert J.  Edwards, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada 2001 p.290.

[27] Ibid. Hastings Overlord pp.288-289.

[28] Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947. pp.101-102

[29] Ibid. Weigley p.209  Weigley quotes Major Hansen, Bradley’s aide in stating that the Falaise halt orde was “the only decision he has ever questioned.”

[30] DRAGOON was the airborne component of he south France operation.

[31] Ibid. p.218

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. pp.222-224

[36] Patton and Truscott had a clash during the Sicilian campaign over Patton’s push for an amphibious operation accusing him of being “afraid to fight” and threatening to relieve him but then throwing his arm around him and offering him a drink. See D’Este pp.526-528  This incident was made famous in the movie “Patton.”

[37] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997 p.338

[38] Ibid. Weigley

[39] Ibid. p.241

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid. p.243

[42] Ibid. p.246

[43] Hans Von Luck, the commanding a Kampfgrüppe of 21st Panzer Division describes how he and his troops camouflaged his “Schwimmwagen” with bushes to cross the Seine successfully disguising the vehicle to avoid persistant Allied air attacks. VonLuck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989. p.209

[44] Ibid. Weigley. p.255

[45] Weigley, Hastings and D’Este all place a fair amount of blame for the logistical crisis on the commander of the COMMZ, General John C.H. Lee.

[46] Ibid. Hastings, Armageddon p.24

[47] Ibid D’Este pp.647-652

[48] Weigley notes that OVERLORD plans had not envision support American divisions for offensive operations across the Seine until D+120, yet by “D+90, sixteen United States divisions were already 200 kilometers beyond the Seine.” p.268.  Hastings and Weigley also note the waste in the American supply system noting that of “twenty-two million fuel jerrycans shipped to France since D-Day, half had vanished since September.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23.

[49] Ibid. Weigley

[50] Ibid. p.275-276

[51] Both Weigley and Hastings note the logistical problems of the British which not only included the problems that beset the Americans but problems of their own making including poor trucks of numerous makes rather than the standardized American trucks.  Hastings notes that for a time around Antwerp that “Montgomery’s armies were obliged for a time to commandeer thousands of horse-drawn wagons abandoned by the Wehrmacht, to make good its shortage of vehicles for the haulage of supplies.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23

[52] Weigley notes that Montgomery had a fiasco of British logistics in which some “1,400 British three-ton lorries, plus all the replacement engines for this model, had been discovered to have faulty pistons rendering them useless.” p.281.

[53] Ibid. Hastings. Armageddon. p.20

[54] Ryan in A BridgeToo Far quotes the XXX Corps Commander Horrocks who said in his memoirs “My excuse is that my eyes were entirely fixed on the Rhine and everything else seemed of subsidiary importance.” Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974  p.60

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid. Hastings p.20.  Weigley on p.293 gives a higher figure of 86,000 troops, 600 artillery pieces, 6,000 vehicles and 6,000 horses.

[57] Ibid. Ryan. p.49

[58] Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002 p.98

[59] A significant unit that was to plan a key role in the German defense against XXX Corps was Kampfgrüppe Walter formed around the 6th Parachute Regiment and other assorted units.  It is noted in almost every volume devoted to the campaign.

[60] Ibid. Weigley. p.294

[61] Ibid. Ryan. p.52

[62] See Hastings p.22 “The fumbled handling of Antwerp was among the principal causes of Allied failure to break into Germany in 1944.  It was not merely that the port was unavailable for the shipment of supplies; through two months that followed, a large part of Montgomery’s forces had to be employed upon a task that could have been accomplished in days if the necessary energy and “grip” been exercised at the beginning of September, when the enemy was incapable of resistance.”  and Weigley pp.293-294

[63] Ibid. Weigley p.288

[64] Hastings notes that since the Airborne Army had been created that “the apostles of the new art of envelopment from the sky were determined that it should be used.” Armageddon p.35

[65] Ibid. p.289

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid. Weigley. p.291

[68] Ibid. p.295

[69] Also see Ryan. p.81 Ryan notes that in the planning General Dempsey because of his doubts about the ability of 2nd Army suggested an attack “seizing the Rhine crossing at Wesel….” as “it would be better, he believed to advance in conjunction with the U.S. First Army northward toward Wesel.”

[70] All the commentators make reference too the misgivings voiced at the final planning conference. Hastings comments on Gavin who believed that “If I get through this one, I will be very lucky.”

[71] Ibid. Weigley. p.295

[72] Hastings comments “It was a scandal-for which in the Russian or German armies some signals officers would have been shot-that the communications of 1stAirborne Division remained almost non-existent from 17 September onwards.Armaggedon p.58

[73] Ibid. p.293

[74] Casualties in 1st Airborne were high, of “the original 10,005 man force only 2,163 troopers, along with 160 Poles and 75 Dorsets, came back across the Rhine. After nine days the division had approximately 1,200 dead and 6,642 missing, wounded or captured.” Ryan p.509.

Bibliography

Carrell, Paul. Invasion! They’re Coming!” Trans. E. Osers, Originally published as Sie Kommen! Gerhard Stalling Verlag 1960, Bantam Books New York, 1964, 5th Printing June 1984

D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995

Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997

Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004

Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984

Meyer, Kurt Grenadiers trans. By  Michael Mende and Robert J.  Edwards, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada 2001

Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947.

Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002

Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997

Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974

Von Luck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964

Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981

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Filed under History, Military, nazi germany, us army, world war two in europe

“Unparalleled Bestiality” Hitler’s Racial and Ideological War in Poland and Russia

babi yar

 

As part of my academic work I teach military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I deal with the implication of participating in war crimes. It is a serious subject and in the class I attempt to make my students, all relatively senior officers as uncomfortable as possible. I use a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial. I had an exceptionally good class over the past several weeks and that caused me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I have written in the past. I have published a version of this before but I have made some additions and expect that like my work on Gettysburg that this work too will be an ongoing project.

I think part of why I write about this is that the witnesses of and those who confronted these crimes and tried the criminals are dying. Very few are left, and those still alive were very junior and very young. For years there has been a closet industry of Holocaust deniers and in many places neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic groups are rising up. It is something that causes me great concern.

As I went through previous notes and research I felt a tenseness and revulsion for the actions of those that ordered, committed or condoned these crimes, men who were like me professional officers. I realize how easily it is that as Spencer Tracy playing an American justice at the Judges trial at Nuremberg in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said: “under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.”

September 29th 2014 will be the 73rd anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. It was committed by members of the SS Einsatzgruppen C near Kiev shortly after the German Army captured that city. 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. It was the second largest killing action by Einsatzgruppen in the war. It was committed by men who either believed that the people that they were killing were sub-human, or did not have the courage to stand up and say no.

Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents.

The article deals with the ideological as well as military reasons that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union.

einsattzgruppen map

Einsatzgruppen Massacre sites (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

Introduction

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor.  Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation.  This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.  Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations.  One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.” [1]

Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” [2] The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the German Grossraum.” [3] Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms. [4]

Following the Peace of Westphalia wars in Europe typically emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources either to expand empires or promote some kind of self-sufficiency. The Thirty Years War, which was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia had a heavy religious component which added to its brutality. However the root of much of this conflict was about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren. [5]

The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars. [6]

Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…” [7] This does have merit, Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum or living space was a type of colonialism. However, Tooze’s argument does not take away from the basic premise that Germany’s war in the east was at its heart motivated by ideological factors.

hitler

Adolf Hitler

German Anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler

The root of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler was born in Linz Austria during a time when various Pan-German and Ant-Semitic groups, publications and propaganda were widespread. As a young man Hitler moved to Vienna hoping to become an artist, something that he found little commercial success. While struggling to make a living in Vienna he was exposed to a culture far different from the provincial city of his youth, a city that had much culture but was also a meeting ground for the various peoples that populated the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Slavs and many Jews. While many of the Germanic or Austrian Jews were outwardly little different from their Christian neighbors the Jews from Eastern Europe repulsed Hitler.

Hitler’s lack of success, struggle with poverty and resentment of others led him to the writings of the Pan-Germanic and Anti-Semitic movements. His years in Vienna were foundational as he as he absorbed the ideas of these Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups through newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. [8] In Vienna Hitler began to connect the Jews with Marxism.[9] Joachim Fest notes that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.” [10]

Hitler’s racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany where he became a member of the NDSAP, rising rapidly within it, eventually taking over party leadership, reorganizing it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.” [11] Following the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned in the Landsberg prison in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs and Lebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews [12] and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.” [13]

Likewise he saw the Jews as heading the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.” [14] It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism” [15] that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.  By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.” [16] Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” [17] Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” [18]

When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” [19] His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” [20]It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…” [21]

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Wilhelm Keitel: “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

Race, Anti-Semitism and the German High Command

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen.

The campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union were characterized by the rise of a “political-ideological strategy.” [22] Operation “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.” [23] Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.” [24]

Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.” [25] General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.” [26]

Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.” [27] Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.” [28] Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.” [29]

This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [30] Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve. [31] Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation. [32]As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.”” [33]Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.”” [34]

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Waffen SS Volksdeutsch Recruiting Poster

Hitler’s racial ideology was central to his worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war. [35] However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

Doctrinal and Ideological Foundations

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler.  These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.” [36] British historian and military theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….” [37]

While Liddell-Hart might be excused by lack of knowledge of some German army atrocities he could not have been ignorant. It was not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities but many of the men who he interviewed. In doing this Liddell-Hart and others presented a myth as truth. [38] The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.” [39] British military historian Kenneth Macksey confronted the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.” [40]

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler.  German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,” [41] and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism” [42] which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany. [43] Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.” [44]

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….” [45] Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.” [46]Some objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.” [47]Yet some who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.” [48]

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Anti-Jewish Poster: He is guilty for the war

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…” [49] Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.” [50]

Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised Hitler that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.” [51] Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….” [52]

This ideological component added to the already “harsh military discipline” which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.” [53] Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe was brutalizing.” [54] These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.” [55] Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopf division were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches. [56]

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine.  The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with the Landwehr’s role in security against looters and others. [57] These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War. [58]

The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.” [59] Von Moltke was “shattered,” writing his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.” [60] He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.” [61]He wrote: “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.” [62]

The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found its legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits. [63] Leiber’s principles were written for the Federal Army of the United States during the U.S. Civil War. Propagated as General Order 100 and signed by Abraham Lincoln the sections dealing with irregular forces and partisans dealt with this in section IV of that code:

Article 82 stated: “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.”

Article 84 stated: “Armed prowlers, by whatever names they may be called, or persons of the enemy’s territory, who steal within the lines of the hostile army for the purpose of robbing, killing, or of destroying bridges, roads or canals, or of robbing or destroying the mail, or of cutting the telegraph wires, are not entitled to the privileges of the prisoner of war.”

Article 85 stated: “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” [64]

The German Army adapted that code and incorporated it in its doctrine for dealing with partisans. In response to their experience in France during the Franco-Prussian War the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei. [65]

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Pre-Nazi Exterminator: General Lothar Von Trotha led the Genocide against the Herero in Namibia

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies.  The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.” [66] The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904-1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations. [67]

This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle” in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.” [68]Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed. [69]General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy. [70]

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology.  The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.” [71] Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.” [72] The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

Beginnings in Poland

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology.  Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.” [73]

Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….[74] On 22 August he enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.” [75] Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Manstein would note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.” [76]

Others such as Canaris was “utterly horrified” as he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.” [77]General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of 8th Army who would be the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting, but his biographer notes that he “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.” [78] This was the interpretation of Manstein as well. [79] Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.” [80]

In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the Führer Conferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.” [81] In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” [82]

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech by his generals, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming “Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.” [83] While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army. [84]

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Einsatzgruppen Troops gathering Ukrainian Jews for Execution Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.” [85]Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.” [86] Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps.  All senior posts were occupied by officers of the Sicherhietsdienst. [87]

Two additional Einsatzgrüppen were formed shortly after the invasion. [88]Additionally 3 regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbande, under the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies. These regiments were formed from the Concentration Camp guard units and eventually became the nucleus of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf.  [89] The purpose of these units was shielded from the Army in the planning stages, [90] although Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 Poles to be arrested including intellectuals, political leaders and clergy. [91]

To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information.” [92] The deception was initially successful.  Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in the traditional doctrinal terms of the Ettapen, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti-German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter-espionage materials etc…” [93] General Wagner issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews, and had the Army had the political acumen and moral courage it could have considerably restricted or even halted the terror campaign. [94].

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Heinrich Himmler: Implementer of Hitler’s Ideas Authorizes formation of Einsatzgruppen

The ensuing campaign in Poland demonstrated Hitler’s true intent. Heydrich talked about “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews on 7 September barely a week after the beginning of the invasion. [95] As the German armies advanced into Poland slicing through the badly deployed and inadequately equipped Polish Army the Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande followed in their wake, conducting mass arrests and executions of those Poles deemed to be a threat.

Many army leaders were worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas as the armies advanced. In some cases that concern became a paranoid mindset and some generals believed that a “brutal guerilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.” [96]

Yet some of the actions by Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was thrown out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.” [97] Another unit, the Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders.” The conclusion drawn by the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.” [98]

These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and others attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews, [99] but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them.  It is believed that General Walter Model and others “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Colonel General Franz Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.”” [100]

It appears that many who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline. [101]Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them.  Many biographies and histories of this period written by authors influenced by surviving German officers make no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions. Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and order of Hitler and that their troops were “undisciplined gangs of murderers.” [102]

After the establishment of the Government General led by Hans Frank there was conflict between the Army under Blaskowitz the military commander, the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,” [103] expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.” [104]

While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler’s reaction to Army objections according to his adjutant was that the Army’s leaders used “Salvation Army” methods, and called their ideas “childish.” [105] others that objected were also relieved of their commands or reassigned. General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities. [106]

SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler on “4 October 1939 who two weeks later removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts.” [107]While the army remained, it was no longer in charge and would actively assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities against civilians. One German officer, later a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked in November 1939 about the killings that he “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…” [108]

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Ordungspolizei in Action: Street Cops Become Executioners

The Army was relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie.  These units were composed of mobilized city police and rural constabulary police and would wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years. [109] Poland would also be the first Nazi driven shift in population to exploit the newly won Lebensraum as Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces lost in 1919. [110] Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. After the war 50-70,000 were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union. [111]

Russia

The Nazi war against Russia was the ultimate test of Hitler’s ideological at war. Planning for the war with the Soviet Union began after the Fall of France and during the beginning stages of the Battle of Britain. On 21 July 1940 Hitler made “his intentions plain” to the Army leadership and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.” [112] Detailed preparations for the offensive began in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion.  Hitler intended to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.” [113] Field Marshal Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.” [114]

The military plan initially focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,” [115]although the political and geographic objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign. Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….” [116]

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.” [117] Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [118]

Hitler noted that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.” [119] Reichskommissars would be appointed in the conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….” [120] The “primary task was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,” [121] yet the orders did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.” [122]

This was followed on 13 March by an agreement between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.” [123]  Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.” [124]

A further instruction of 26 March issued by Wagner gave the Army’s agreement to the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone, specifying coordination between them and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear.  Cooperation was based on the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.” [125]

The most significant act for the Army in this was the Commissar Order. This order is sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” which was used war as evidence at Nurnberg as against Keitel, Jodl and High Command of the Wehrmacht during the later Generals Trial.  The order specified the killing of Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army and as “they were not prisoners of war” and another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….” [126] The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” [127] The “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.” [128]

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…” [129] and that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.” [130] He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension stating “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” [131]

General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH, or the Army High Command took notes on Hitler’s speech. They are chilling to read as none present could have understood them in any other way than Hitler meant:

“Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality….We must forget the comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before nor after the battle. This is a war of extermination….We do not wage war to preserve the enemy….War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia….this is no job for military courts. The individual troop commanders must know the issues at stake. They must be leaders in the fight….This war will be very different from war in the West. In the East harshness today means leniency in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”[132]

Hitler’s speech was protested by some according to Von Brauchitsch. [133] Von Brauchitsch refused to protest to Hitler but issued an order on his own authority “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurmeberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” [134] Yet Von Brauchitsch later would tell commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” [135] Warlimont noted that Von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.” [136]

At Nuremberg Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.” [137]Keitel blamed the Army High Command OKH under Halder, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nurnberg. He stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.” [138]

Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.” [139] The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….” [140] The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.” [141] Security Divisions were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.” [142] Even worse, army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders.” [143]

einsatzgruppen executions

Einsatzgruppe troops finishing off Jewish Women

For the campaign in the Soviet Union the SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to Army Group North, Einsatzgruppe B to Army Group Center, Einsatzgruppe C to Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D to the 11th Army.  The Einsatzgruppe were not standardized in manpower or equipment. In size they were battalion equivalents the largest Einsatzgruppe being A in the North with 990 assigned personnel [144]while Einsatzgruppe D had only 550 troops assigned. [145] These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Additionally nine Ordnungspolizei battalions were initially assigned to the invasion forces to supplement the Einsatzgruppen. [146]

The police contingent would grow over time so that by 1943, these units would be grouped under regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 auxiliaries. [147] These units would act in concert with nine Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security. [148] Himmler initially did not reveal their intent and planned use to Einsatzgruppen commanders, only speaking of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.” [149] Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.” [150]

The actions of these units are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions [151] ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.” [152] Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.” [153] Einsatzgruppen D report number 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” [154]   By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.” [155] The total killed for all groups then was 518,388 people, mostly Jews. [156] Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in Odessa as well; “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.” [157]

ordungspolizie officers

Many Anti-Jewish Massacres were Labeled “Anti-Partisan” Operations

Operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations.  Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations [158] while Wehrmacht Security divisions “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.” [159] The attitude by 1941-1942 was that “’all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.”” [160]

General Von Reichenau issued an order in which he stated:

“The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the art of war but also a bearer of a ruthless national ideology and the avenger of the bestialities which had been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry.” [161]

Russland, Generale v. Bock, Hoth, W. v. Richthofen

Herman Hoth

Likewise the distinguished Panzer commander General Herman Hoth issued his own order of 17 November 1941 urging his troops to exact revenge on the Jews and Communists:

“Every trace of active or passive resistance or of any kind of machinations by the Bolshevik -Jewish agitators are [sic] to be immediately and pitilessly rooted out. The necessity of severe measures against elements foreign to people and kind must be understood precisely by the soldiers. These circles are the spiritual pillars of Bolshevism, the tablebearers [priests] of its murder organization, the helpers of the partisans. It consists of the same Jewish class of people which have done so much to harm our Fatherland and by its hostile activity…and anti-culture, which promotes anti-German currents in the whole world and which wants to be the bearer of revenge. Their annihilation is a law of self-preservation. Any soldier criticizing these measures has no memory of the former traitorous activity lasting for years carried on among our own people by Jewish-Marxist elements.” [162]

The commander of the 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.” [163] The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.” [164]

The Wehrmacht’s complicity in these measures is demonstrated in the order drafted by Warlimont and signed by Keitel on 13 May 1941. That order, the “Decree on Exercising Military Jurisdiction in the Area of Barbarossa and Special Measures by the Troops” made it clear that international conventions regarding the treatment of civilians would not be observed in the Soviet Union. The order, relying on the historic precedent of German military law in regard to partisan activity stated:

I. “Treatment of crimes committed by enemy civilians “1. Until further order the military courts and the courts martial will not be competent for crimes committed by enemy civilians. “2. Francs-tireurs will be liquidated ruthlessly by the troops in combat or while fleeing. “3. Also all other attacks by enemy civilians against the armed forces, its members, and auxiliaries will be suppressed on the spot by the troops with the most rigorous methods until the assailants are finished (niederkaempfen) “4. Where such measures were not taken or at least were not possible, persons suspected of the act will be brought before an officer at once. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot. Against localities from which troops have been attacked in or treacherous manner, collective coercive measures be applied immediately upon the order of an officer of the rank of at least battalion etc., commander, if the circumstances do not permit a quick identification of individual perpetrators.

II. “Treatment of crimes committed against inhabitants by members of the Wehrmacht and its auxiliaries “1. With regard to offenses committed against enemy civilians by members of the Wehrmacht or by its auxiliaries prosecution is not obligatory, even where the deed is at the same time a military crime or misdemeanor….” [165]

Hitler was quite clear in his intent when he told General Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.” [166]Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.”” [167]All told during the campaign against the Soviet Union the Germans killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews. [168]

By 1942, over two million Soviet POW’s had been killed.  600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos. [169]Eventually about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure, [170] are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths. [171] Bracher notes: “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.” [172]

arthur nebe

The Killer Becomes a Victim: Arthur Nebe’s experience commanding an Einsatzgruppe so traumatized him that he would be reassigned and then become active in the attempt to kill Hitler and lose his life

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.” [173] Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder. [174]At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.” [175]

Even commanders of the Einsatzgruppe were affected. Arthur Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.” Nebe became an active participant in the July 20th plot against Hitler [176]and a fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.” [177] Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti-partisan operations, would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942. [178] Himmler would state in his Posen speech given in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.” [179]

Conclusion

The German war against Poland and the Soviet Union was heavily dependent on the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler.  He was the true spirit behind the atrocities committed by his nation as one noted in Russia: “Here too the Führer is the moving spirit of a radical solution in both word and deed.” [180]He saw the partisan war as “the chance to stamp out everything that stands against us.” [181]Belief in Germany’s right to Lebensraum the superiority of the German Volk and necessity to settle the Jewish problem provided a fertile ground for Hitler’s plans.  German military doctrines, especially those of anti-partisan and total warfare abetted Hitler’s goals.

It is quite clear that many in the Wehrmacht were in agreement with Hitler’s ideology of racial-war. Prepared by cultural prejudice and long traditions of thought, the “Prussian and in later German military must be regarded as a significant part of the ideological background of the Second World War.” [182] General Walther Von Reichenau’s orders to his troops are revealing: “The most important goal of the campaign against Jewish-Bolshevism is the complete destruction of its grip on power and the elimination of the Asian influence from our European cultural sphere.” [183] Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt appeared to agree with Reichenau to “use the partisan threat as excuse for persecuting Jews, so long as the dirty work was largely left to SS Einsatzgruppen.” [184]

The Army command…on the whole acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews, or at least closed its eyes to what was happening.” [185] Even if the Generals had been more forceful in their opposition, they would have been opposed by the highly nazified youth that made up the bulk of their Army, especially junior officers and then there was the matter of their oath to Hitler and what they saw as personal honor. General Alfred Jodl told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg that “In war the moral pressure of obedience and the stigma of high treason are pretty hard to get around.” [186]

Jodl’s superior Keitel stated his helplessness before Hitler saying to Gilbert “What could I do? There were only 3 possibilities: 9a) refusal to follow orders, which naturally meant death; (b) resign my post, or (c) commit suicide. I was on the point of resigning my post 3 times, but Hitler made it clear that he considered my resignation in time of war the same as desertion. What could I do?” [187] This was obviously an after the fact excuse by Keitel who had been present in Hitler’s headquarters since the beginning and had witnessed the explosive General Heinz Guderian explode in rage against Hitler in 1945.

SS leaders fanatically executed Hitler’s policies aided by the civil administration. Genocide was to bring the Reich “long term economic gains and trading advantages” and was seen as a way of “financing the war debt without burdening the German taxpayer.” [188] Many in the Army as it has been shown were not only knowledgeable about the crimes committed but urged their soldiers to participate in these crimes.

Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D testified at the Einsatzgruppe Trial that “Einsatzgruppen reported all of their tasks to the army commanders, and that together, they and the army agreed on the time, place, and possible support of the troops for any particular “liquidation action[s].” [189]

Some individuals did attempt to resist the most brutal aspects of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Wilhelm Kube, Reichskommissar for White Russia and a virulent anti-Semite was shocked at the murders of the Jews calling them “unworthy of the German cause and damaging to the German reputation” and would later attempt to spare Jews by employing them in war industries, would be “defeated by Himmler’s zealots.” [190]Army officers who objected like Blaskowitz and Külcher were relieved, or like Von Leeb, told by Hitler to “in so many words told to mind his own business.” Leeb stated: “the only thing to do is to hold oneself at a distance.” [191] Field Marshall Erwin Rommel knew of crimes being committed against the Jews and others through Blaskowitz but blamed the crimes “on Hitler’s subordinates, not Hitler himself.” [192]

einsatzgruppen trial

Partial Justice: The Einsatzgruppen Trial

Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia, Syria and other nations.

It is something that we should not forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

 

[2] Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

[3] Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

[4] Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, 1974.  German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

[5] Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

[6] In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county

[7] Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

 

[8] Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9

[9] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.12

[10] Ibid. Fest  Hitler. p.47

 

[11] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of  National Socialism. Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

[12] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

[13] Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

[14] Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

[15] Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii  Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti-Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

[16] Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

[17] Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

[18] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004.  First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

[19] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

[20] Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

[21] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

[22] Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

[23] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

[24] Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

[25] Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938-1945.  Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000,  First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd.  German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

[26] Ibid. Fest, Hitler.  p. 649

[27] Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

[28] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power .  See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

[29] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

[30] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964 p. 150

[31] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

[32] Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as  Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden.  First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

[33] Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

 

[34] Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

[35] This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” See Friedlander p.xvi

 

[36] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

[37] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

[38] It has to be noted that Liddell-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach. The time was also around the beginning of the Cold War and the Berlin Blockade when many American and British leaders were trying to end the war crimes trials and bring the West Germans into the new anti-Communist alliance.

[39] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

[40] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

[41] Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977.  p.495

[42] Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

[43] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

[44] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

[45] Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979 p. 216.  Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

 

[46] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

[47] Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

[48] Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

[49] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

[50] Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II.  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

 

[51] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

[52] Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

[53] Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64  Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

[54] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

[55] Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

[56] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

[57] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

[58] Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

[59] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

[60] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

[61] Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

[62] Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

[63] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6   Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

[64] Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014

[65] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

[66] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

[67] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19

[68] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

[69] Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung, Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

[70] Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books pp. 142-146.  It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation

[71] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

[72] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

[73] Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8

[74] Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346

[75] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966 p.259

[76] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company p.29

[77] Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

[78] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

[79] Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

[80] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

[81] Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

[82] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[83] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[84] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

 

[85] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[86] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[87] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[88] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[89] Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37

[90] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[91] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[92] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

[93] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[94] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[95] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[96] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

[97] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

[98] Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for Verfügungstruppe which was the early designation of the SS Totenkopf Verbande and some other Waffen SS Units.

[99] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

[100] Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

[101] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[102] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[103] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359

[104] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[105] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[106] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[107] Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

[108] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[109] For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

[110] Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

[111] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

[112] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

[113] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

[114] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

[115] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

[116] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

[117] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 The campaign against the Soviet Union was to be much more openly ideological as compared to the campaign in Poland.

[118] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150

[119] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

[120] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

[121] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

[122] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354 Again another deception.

[123] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[124] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[125] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

[126] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[127] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

 

[128] Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

[129] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[130] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.135

[131] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[132] Hebert, Valerie Genevieve, Hitler’s Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg University of Kansas Press, Lawrence Kansas 2010 pp.77-78

[133] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what Von Rundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

[134] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

[135] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

[136] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

[137] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

[138] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

[139] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[140] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

[141] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[142] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

[143] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[144] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

[145] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167

[146] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164

[147] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

[148] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated

[149] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

[150] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

[151] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

[152] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[153] Ibid.  Friedlander The Years of Extermination p.207

[154] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[155] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[156] Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

[157] Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews

[158] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

[159] Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

[160] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

[161] Ibid. Hebert p.94

[162] Ibid. Hebert pp.94-95

[163] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

[164] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[165] Ibid, Hebert p.86

[166] Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

[167] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

[168] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

[169] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

[170] Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

[171] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

[172] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

 

[173] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[174] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

[175] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

[176] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

[177] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[178] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[179] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

[180] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[181] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.65

[182] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.293

[183] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.97

[184] Messenger, Charles. The Last Prussian A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s London, 1991 p148

[185] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.430-431

[186] Gilbert, Gustave Nuremberg Diary DaCapo Press 1995 copyright G.M. Gilbert 1947 p.290

[187] Ibid. Gilbert p.26

[188] Ibid. Aly and Heim Architects of Annihilation p.242

[189] Ibid. Hebert p.92

[190] Ibid. Padfield Himmler pp.341-342

[191] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.97

[192] Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Harper Perennial, New York 1995, first published by Harper Collins in Britain, 1993. p.536

 

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Missed Opportunities: The Allies in Europe from Mortain to Market Garden

Arnhem Bridge

In 1985 Judy and I visited her cousin and her family in the Netherlands when I was an Army Lieutenant in Germany. Since I was a history major in college and had done a lot of reading and study about Operation Market Garden, which most people associate with the movie A Bridge Too Far I decided that on our way back to Germany that we needed to stop by Arnhem and Oosterbeek to visit the battlefield and the British Airborne Museum. It was one of those places that even today evokes poignant memories. When we walked through the British cemetery across from the museum which is in the former British headquarters, the Hartenstein Hotel I saw a grave marker. It read Capt. J.S. (James Strathern) Dundas, 7th KOSB (7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers) of the British 1st Airborne Division. He was the 2IC, or Executive Officer of Company B of that Regiment. He assumed command of the company on the 19th after its commander was reported missing in action. He commanded the unit until his death on September 25th when commanding the rearguard of the battalion as it and the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division evacuated the bridgehead over the Rhine. It was a sobering reminder of the cost of war. 

Grave marker of Captain J.S. Dundas at the British Cemetery at Oosterbeek

September 17th was the 68th anniversary of the Allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands, secure a crossing across the Rhine and plunge into the heart of German industry and war making capacity the Ruhr basin. The plan is better known as Operation “Market-Garden” and was the first major use of Airborne Divisions in a strategic jump versus a tactical or operational mode.  What made this operation different was the distance that the Airborne would be dropped from the front lines and the number of obstacles that the ground troops would have to cross to get to them.  It was a high risk strategic plan to end the war early.  However this operation did not occur in a vacuum and was the product of operational and strategic decisions that the Allies made from the time of the Normandy breakout.  Each decision was made on the fly as the situation rapidly developed from a static slugfest in the hedgerows to the pursuit of a broken enemy.  As the Allies advanced across France decisions had to be made of how the advance would be made which became a major bone of contention between Eisenhower and his subordinates.  To understand how the Allies got to the point of launching Market-Garden one has to look back at the events leading up to it beginning with the Allied decisions made shortly after the breakout.  The actual campaign does not always correlate to popular myths nor does it allow for a uncritical analysis or generalization of the events which made up this part of the campaign in Western Europe.

It is a campaign that teaches us even today that mundane things such as logistics, weather and the failure to recognize moments of opportunity and times for caution matter in a military campaign. The campaign is a reminder that every military campaign has risks and that even crippled enemy can inflict costly defeats on superior forces and regain lost initiative. 

Introduction 

Patton Bradley and Montgomery, Time Magazine Photo

Lieutenant General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group breakout from Normandy opened a realm of possibilities for the Allies to defeat the German Army in detail and end the war.  The manner in which the Allies exploited their success and their failure to destroy the German Army in the west in the late summer of 1944 was a key factor in prolonging the war.  Both the Allies and the Germans faced challenges due to the change in the nature of the campaign. For nearly two months they had waged a nearly static war of attrition in the Norman hedgerows.  The breakout changed the dynamic of the campaign to one of maneuver.  In the post-breakout period the Allies had several opportunities to envelope large portions of the German Army in western France, Belgium and southern Holland.  The campaign became one of maneuver and a “commander’s battle” in which it was “the decisions of the generals that determined the manner in which events unfolded in August, their successes and failures which brought about the position that was achieved by September.”[1] Prior to the breakout success in the hedgerows was determined on “the ability of British, American and Canadian units to seize ground from their German opponents on the next ridge, the next hedge, beyond the next road.” [2]The change would expose the weaknesses in the quality of allied generalship and logistics management.  The Allies failure to recognize the ability of the Germans to recover from disaster conspired with key elements in the campaign to end the war by Christmas.[3]

Grenadiers and Tanks of 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend) in Normandy

A key decision reached early in the campaign was for Bradley’s XII Army Group to capture Brest and other Brittany ports.  This decision meant that when 3rdArmy exploited the break out the preponderance of its forces went west, the opposite way that the battle was developing.  This deprived the Americans of forces and logistical assets that could have supported the envelopment of the major part of the German Army still engaged in Normandy. Russell Weigley lays the blame for this decision on Bradley.  The dash into Brittany did little to help the Allied logistical problems and diverted much needed troops away from the focal point of the action in Normandy.[4] Hastings criticizes Bradley’s lack of imagination in the initial stages of the breakout in adhering to the original OVERLORD exploitation plan[5] rather than adapting to the situation on the ground. Patton’s biographer Carlo D’Este seconds this opinion and it makes sense from an operational standpoint.[6] Why send significant forces to an area far away from the critical part of the battle for little practical gain?  In the end German forces held out, in some cases to the end of the war, denying the Americans the use of the ports either by just holding out or by demolishing the port facilities.

Mortain: German Counter Attack and the Short Envelopment

The American exploitation of the breakout, notably by elements of Patton’s 3rdArmy pushing east combined with the continued pressure of the British Army Group toward Falaise. The breakout forced forced the Germans into a strategic decision to attempt to restore the front in Normandy or withdraw to the Seine or further east as there was no “defensive position short of the permanent fortifications of the West Wall on Germany’s frontier offered so many defensive strengths as the Normandy line the Americans had just breached and turned.”[7]

With limited options Hitler determined that German forces again needed to ensnare the allies in the hedgerows.[8] There was disagreement between Hitler and Field Marshal von Kluge regarding the offensive while von Kluge opposed it.  Hitler believed that the American breakout gave the Germans a chance to cut off the American forces in Brittany and possibly more believing that “once the coast had been reached at Avranches a beginning should be made with rolling up the entire Allied position in Normandy!”[9]

The German attack named Operation Lüttich was led by XLVII Panzer Corps assisted by elements of 1st SS Panzer Division.  Despite warnings from ULTRA the panzers achieved tactical surprise on the front of the 30th US Division at Mortain on the night of 6-7 August when the Germans attacked without the customary preparatory artillery bombardment.[10] The Germans made initial progress against the 30th Division which had recently taken over positions at Mortain.  However the 2nd Battalion 120th Infantry “Old Hickory” Regiment held key ground which enabled them to call artillery fire and air strikes on German forces attempting to advance on Avranches.[11] The Americans quickly reinforced 30th Division with elements of 2nd Armored Division, 35th Infantry Division and the veteran 4th Infantry Division to hold the line against the weakened German Panzer divisions.  Bradley and other American commanders viewed Lüttich as “an opportunity, not a threat.”[12] Bradley was “not merely confident of withstanding them, but expected to destroy them.”[13] Bradley attempted to lure more Germans into the potential trap by radio transmissions hoping that the Germans to persist in their attacks around Mortain.[14]

American Armor Advancing in Normandy

The German plan included the use of a significant number of aircraft to support the attack.  However this did not happen and German troops were furious at the failure of the Luftwaffe to shield them from Allied air attacks which devastated the Panzers.  The 300 fighters promised by the commander of Luftwaffe forces were engaged by British and American fighters and savaged so badly that no Luftwaffe units made an appearance over Mortain.[15] Despite some local success the German ground forces were turned back by the Americans who did not even halt their eastward movement further imperiling the German forces in Normandy.

Knocked out Panzer V Panther Tank at Mortain

With the Germans ensnared at Mortain, the 3rd Army driving east and the Canadians advancing on towards Falaise, Bradley suggested a short envelopment in which over 100,000 German troops would be trapped between the Patton’s troops and the Canadians who had opened their TOTALIZE offensive from Caen to Falaise on August 8th.  This modified plans for a deep envelopment by XV Corps of 3rd Army to entrap the Germans against the Seine crossings with an operation that might promise “still surer results.”[16] Speaking to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Mongenthau Bradley said that “he told the Cabinet officer he had “an opportunity that comes to a commander not more than once in a century. We’re about to destroy and entire hostile army.”[17] However the short envelopment was predicated on the Germans continuing their advance, had they as Hastings notes “behaved rationally, recognized the threat of envelopment to their entire front and begun a full-scale retreat east, then Bradley could indeed been accused of losing his armies a great prize.”[18]

The decision to turn the better part of 3rd Army west into Brittany deprived Bradley of forces that could have better accomplished the mission of enveloping the German 7th Army.  General Wood of 4th Armored Division to his dying day “remained embittered over the lost opportunity”[19] lost when his division was turned back into Brittany rather than being allowed to move east toward the Seine.   Weigley points out an even deeper flaw regarding the Brittany decision that was that OVERLORD planners “had not thought anything resembling the Avranches breakout and pursuit without pause to the Seine likely…” Weigley critically stated that it is among the worst forms of generalship that takes counsel of its fears. Yet that was exactly the condition of OVERLORD logistical planning.”[20]

The Falaise Pocket

Fallschirmjaeger in France

The Allies did have a chance to destroy the German 7th Army.  LXVII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps as well as the remnants of II Parachute Corps and other formations battered in Normandy were attempting to move east from Mortain following the failure to break through.  The remnants of I SS Panzer Corps led by 12 SS Panzer Division Hitlerjügend and various battle groups of other decimated divisions and Army units such as 21st Panzer Division offered determined resistance to the Canadians toward Falaise.  In the south only scattered Kampfgruppen of divisions shattered in Normandy opposed Patton’s forces at Avranches.  These German units, outnumbered and without air support were aided by a fortuitous decision of the commander of the 2nd French Armored Division to move a combat command along a road needed by the American 5thArmored Division.  The delay allowed the Germans to send a battalion into the town which could have “fallen easily a few hours before.”[21]

Grenadiers of the 12th SS at Falaise

At this point the Allies were bedeviled by several failures which prevented the short double envelopment from occurring and allowed the remnants of 7th Army to escape to fight again. The Germans suffered grievous losses in men, material, and especially armored fighting vehicles, artillery and motor transport but more often than not their units retained their cohesion and ability to operate.

Carnage in the Falaise Pocket

The first failure belonged to the Canadians who failed to push the Germans out of Falaise despite overwhelming material and air superiority.  The Canadian attack Operation TOTALIZE was planned by the best of the Canadian generals, Simonds.  The operation began on a promising note but bogged down halfway to Falaise due to a quick counterattack by 12th SS Panzer kampfgruppen. The Canadians were not helped when a misguided bombing attack by “friendly” air units hit them rather than the Germans.  Likewise the inexperience of the Canadian 4th and Polish 1st Armored Divisions showed when they paused to eliminate strong points rather than bypassing them and advancing to disrupt the Germans.  As such they gave the Germans the opportunity to reform their lines.[22] The second failure was that of Montgomery who had refused to adjust army group boundaries with Americans which put more pressure on the Canadians to “renew their drive promptly and vigorously.”[23] Rather than pushing on General Crerar of Canadian 1st Army spent five days “doing what really battlewise generalship could do by regrouping and making diversionary attacks.”[24] It took Crerar over 48 hours to launch a determined attack to close the gap despite the weakness of German forces that opposed him despite the fact that even Montgomery personally called him urging him to “Close the gap between First Canadian Army and 3rd U.S. Army.”[25] General Kurt Meyer of 12th SS faulted the Canadian leadership with a failure to use imaginative planning, and noted that “none of the Canadian attacks showed the genius of a great commander.”[26] American units which Patton had cautiously advanced north of Argentan towards Falaise were recalled after Bradley was unable to convince Montgomery to alter the army-group boundary in light of the new circumstances.[27] Patton recounts that he believed that his units could have “easily entered Falaise and closed the gap” and that the “halt was a great mistake.”[28] Weigley blames Bradley as much for the halt order as much he does Montgomery for “discouraging whatever might have been done to rectify the blunder- even discouraging on August 13th a call from the Supreme Commander to Montgomery about the inter-allied boundary.”[29] Thus through a series of Allied mistakes particularly by senior commanders the first opportunity to envelop the Germans passed into history as a great yet incomplete victory.

Opportunities in South France

The invasion of South France Operations ANVIL and DRAGOON[30] had been debated by the Allies as early as April 1943.  The British resisted ANVIL from the beginning with Winston Churchill not yielding “his struggle until five days before the eventual D-Day of August 15th.”[31] American planners saw the need for the operation and had never given up on it despite its postponement due to a shortage of amphibious lift at the time of OVERLORD.  Following the invasion the perilous logistic situation created by the lack of operational major ports in Normandy and Brittany caused American planners to “believe that ANVIL was virtually imperative.”[32] Landings in the south offered significant advantages to the logistical needs of the Allies.  The major seaports and naval bases at Marseilles and Toulon were both closer to Germany than Cherbourg.  Both offered major modern port facilities and the south included rail nets that had not suffered significant damage from Allied air attacks. Likewise the presence of a major navigable river, the Rhone, made it possible to move supplies into the heart of France by water.  From a strategic point of view the move into southern France would “help Eisenhower form a front along the whole German border from the North Sea to Switzerland, to stretch the German army as perilously thin as possible for its defense of the Fatherland.”[33] ANVIL also offered the opportunity to bring more trained American divisions into the fight which could not otherwise come ashore in Normandy due to the port and supply problems.[34]

The Allies initially allotted three American divisions of 7th Army and VI Corps as well as units of the French Army based in the Mediterranean to the invasion.  Commanding VI Corps and its three veteran Divisions, the Regular Army 3rdInfantry Division, the “Rock of the Marne”, the 36th “Texas” Division and 45th“Thunderbird” Division of the National Guard was Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott.  Truscott was of the best American Corps commanders. Early in the war he had created the Rangers and had distinguished himself in Italy commanding 3rd Infantry Division.  He followed this by taking over to rescue the unhappy Anzio campaign from utter fiasco.[35] A hard driving officer and prewar friend of Patton Truscott was the ideal commander for the operation.[36]

Truscott’s forces were opposed by the weak and widely scattered German 19thArmy of General Blaskowitz’s Army Group G.  The landings were highly successful and the Americans made rapid progress inflicting heavy casualties and capturing large numbers of Germans with relatively low American casualties.  However in Blaskowitz the Americans faced a skilled commander who managed to extricate the bulk of his forces and form a continuous front with the remnants of Army Group B by mid September.  Hitler had recognized the necessity of this link up but held Blaskowitz in low regard due to his resistance to Nazi policy while Military Governor of Poland in 1939, said to Field Marshall von Rundstedt of Blaskowitz: “If he contrives to do that (i.e. join up 19th Army rapidly with the main body) then I will make him a solemn apology for everything.”[37]

Truscott made the German army his objective. Truscott pushed his units hard but was hampered by his meager forces and his tendency to outrun his supplies.  German delaying actions hampered the American advance and prevented the Americans from utterly destroying the 19th Army.   Despite this the campaign in the south prevented the Allied logistical situation in France from becoming “insurmountable” in the fall of 1944 and “contributed directly and mightily to bringing the bulk of the American Army to grips with the German army in the West, to defeat and destroy it.”[38] Had Truscott had more forces and adequate supplies he may have achieved even more than he did. One can only imagine the “what if” scenarios that could have developed in the West with the application of more force to this option rather than feed the limited number of American divisions into the cauldron of the hedgerow country.

The Seine and Beyond

With the closing of the Falaise pocket too late to catch most of the German forces the next opportunity for the now postponed “long envelopment” was now staring the Allies in the face.  The Seine beckoned.  Could the Allies prevent the fleeing remnants of the 7th Army and Panzer Group West, soon to be renamed the 5thPanzer Army from escaping across the Seine?   Bradley’s belated decision to restart the drive to the Seine on 14 August was beset with the problem of the logistical sustainment.  The logistics problem was not limited to port facilities.  The Allies had moved well past the eastern edge of the Normandy lodgment area over two weeks before planners anticipated. Fuel to propel the Allied armies forward became a critical consideration. Despite this the Allied high command saw the opportunity to complete the destruction of the German forces fleeing Normandy and Montgomery “anticipated for weeks the possibility of the long envelopment at the Seine.”[39] Adjustments were made on the fly. The plan to pause at the Seine dictated by OVERLORD was discarded in favor of trying to cross it on the run.  XV Corps of 3rd Army had reached Mantes crossing into the British 21st Army Group zone.  Montgomery refused an American offer of trucks to assist the British and Canadians to Mantes to complete the envelopment from the west. However he gave permission for XV Corps to continue its advance into the British zone in the hopes of completing the encirclement of the estimated 75,000 German troops west of the Seine.[40]

American Soldiers Cross the Seine

Yet again the Allied hopes for the encirclement of German forces west of the Seine were dashed.  XIX Corps came up to assist XV Corps in its advance into the German rear on the 24th of August at Elbeuf.  However a scratch Kampfgrüppemade up of elements of eight panzer divisions made a stand that delayed the American forces five days.[41] The British and Canadian forces did not push hard.  The determined resistance of the panzer battle group and the failure of the British and Canadians to push harder enabled Army Group B to evacuate many of its troops, 25,000 vehicles and most of its higher headquarters across the Seine before the Canadians and XIX Corps linked up on 26 August.[42] [43] While the envelopment attempt ran its course the Americans pushed across the Seine. The Americans allowed the French 2nd Armored division to liberate Paris on August 25th and rapidly began to move east in pursuit of the German forces.

Despite horrendous losses in men and material including all but about 100 of the 2300 tanks and assault guns committed to Normandy[44] the German command rapidly organized the survivors into Kampfgrüppen.  These battle groups though hastily organized were well led and usually comprised of hardened veterans skilled in the active defense.  Field Marshall Model “Hitler’s Fireman” took command of Army Group B after Von Kluge committed suicide when returning to Germany after being implicated in the attempt on Hitler’s life.  Hitler gave the western front priority on tank replacements. Likewise reinforcements of newly formed Panzer Brigades flowed into France even as the Americans advanced east fighting not only the Germans but the gasoline shortage.[45] Patton’s army reached the Moselle but by September 2nd its tanks had run dry.  “Third Army received just 25,390 gallons, when its divisions needed at least 450,000 gallons to resume their advance.”[46] Patton continued by scavenging fuel wherever he could get it whether captured German stocks or by various creative means. Patton had his logistics officers divert fuel or send raiding parties into 1st Army’s depots. His agents bartered for fuel at port facilities and depots by offering captured souvenirs to those running those facilities in exchange for gas.[47]

American M-8 Armored Car at the Arch d’Triumph during the Liberation of Paris

The Allied shortage of gasoline, a product of both the lack of ports, damage to the French rail system and the unexpected rate of advance[48] ultimately forced Eisenhower to make the decision to halt Patton’s advance in favor of a push by Montgomery in the north. Now complicating Eisenhower’s situation the Germans Likewise the ability of the Germans to join Army Group B with Army Group G’s 1st and 19th Armies from Army Group G further assisted the German defense.  The German army’s self preservation in late August and early September became known to them as the “Miracle of the West.”[49] A successful envelopment of German forces took place at Mons just south of the Belgium border where 1st Army captured over 25,000 prisoners from units that had escaped from Normandy.[50] Throughout the campaign in France the Allies were beset by logistical problems and sometimes by bad generalship as they attempted to change the campaign plan on the fly.[51]

Antwerp and the Scheldt: Missed Opportunity

While Bradley and Patton’s American units sped across France “advancing faster and further than any Army in history,” Montgomery’s 21st Army Group crossed the Seine and began a drive that rivaled the Americans in speed.  XXX Corps under the recently appointed General Horrocks attacked out of the Seine bridgehead on 29 August.  After overcoming initial stiff resistance from the German Kampfgrüppen defending the area XXX Corps advanced with great speed capturing Brussels and Antwerp by 4 September.  Logistics also tied Montgomery’s hands just as it had Patton in the south.[52] He was forced to immobilize 8th Corps to supply XXX Corps which advanced north as 1st Canadian Army attempted to capture the channel ports.[53]

Canadian Soldiers during the Battle of the Scheldt

The quickness of the advance and erroneous decision making kept the XXX Corps attack from complete success.  This caused serious complications to further operations and which gave the Germans the break that they needed to stabilize the front.  General “Pip” Roberts commander of 11th Armored division which had just liberated Antwerp assumed that the British drive would turn east toward the Ruhr industrial area of Germany. In doing so he failed to capture the crossings over the Albert Canal.[54] Additionally he failed to advance the few miles needed to cut off the German 15th Army on the Scheldt thus missing the opportunity to trap an entire German Army against the sea.  Hastings lays the blame for this not entirely on the Division and Corps Commanders, Roberts and XXX Corps commander Horrocks, but on those responsible for the overall strategy, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Dempsey who should have realized this and especially that Montgomery “might have been expected to see for himself the pivotal importance of the Antwerp approaches.”[55] While the British rested in Antwerp the Germans blew the bridges over the Albert Canal. General Von Zangen of 15th Army took the opportunity to extricate his Army using any vessel available to cross the Scheldt. He occupied the strategic island of Walchern on the Antwerp approaches and placed his troops in position to assist in the defense of Holland and northern Germany.  Due to British inaction and his own creativity Von Zangen evacuated 65,000 troops, 225 guns, 750 vehicles and over 1000 horses across the waterway in 16 days to fight again.[56]

North of the Albert General Kurt Chill in the typical fashion of so many German commanders in a crisis situation took charge and halted the panicked retreat of German forces into Holland. Chill organized personnel from all branches of the German military into something resembling an Army.[57] Likewise Generals Bittrich of II SS Panzer Corps and Harmel of 10th SS Panzer Division salvaged “vehicles abandoned by other groups and weapons from deserted army depots” including 12 brand new howitzers on abandoned train.  The improvisation of the German commanders in these few days would be of decisive importance in the coming days.[58]

While the British paused to regroup in Belgium the Germans took the opportunity to form a new Army, the 1st Parachute Army under the Luftwaffe paratroop expert, General Kurt Student. 1st Parachute Army was hardly an army at all, barely the size of a fully manned allied division.  Made up of battle groups formed around remnants of the elite 6th Parachute regiment, assorted parachute training battalions, Flak units, a hodge-podge of Army Kampfgrüppen, General Chill’s units and divisions evacuated from the Scheldt, Student laid out a defensive line along the Albert Canal.[59] Student expected the British to attack when he was so terribly weak. He could not believe that he was not attacked when his line was most vulnerable to a determined assault that much of the German command believed would cause the front in Belgium to collapse.  The British Guards Armored division slowly advanced from the Albert to the Meuse-Escaut canal but the German defense had assured that any further advance to the north would be on a narrow front with a vulnerable left flank.[60] Von Rundstedt’s new Chief of staff at OB West Siegfried Westphal noted that “the situation was desperate. A major defeat anywhere along the front-which was so full of gaps that it did not deserve that name would lead to catastrophe if the enemy were to fully exploit the opportunities.”[61] Hastings and Weigley both note that the British failure to close the gap were of decisive importance to the coming campaign in Holland.[62]

Arnhem: The Failed Vertical Envelopment

Operation Market Garden, the Largest Airborne Operation in History

The Allies still believed there was the chance to break into Germany in 1944.  Lacking the logistical base to sustain a wide front advance Eisenhower opted to make Montgomery the primary effort. Montgomery planned to utilize the 1stAllied Airborne Army in a bold and “in the context of Anglo-American generalship in France, refreshingly daring”[63] operation.[64] The concept of “vertical envelopment” had been advocated by General Marshall and General H.H. Arnold and throughout the campaign 18 airborne exploitation operations had been planned “each of them cancelled by the rapidity of the advance of the ground forces.”[65] Eisenhower made Montgomery the primary effort on September 10th and Montgomery “immediately detailed planning …for an idea he had already conceived to use the airborne reserve.”[66]

American Paratroops in Holland

The plan was Operation MARKET-GARDEN and to be successful Montgomery’s forces would have to cross 8 water obstacles including 3 major rivers.[67] He had to use one two lane highway bordered by soft Dutch podder, thick woods and drainage ditches that restricted armor and mechanized forces to the road itself.[68] The was for three Allied airborne divisions, the American 82nd and 101st, the British 1st Airborne and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade to secure the bridges over the waterways between the front and Arnhem 65 miles north of the front.  The goal was to establish a bridgehead over the Rhine for the British Second Army to advance deep into the German heartland.  XXX Corps was to advance up this “corridor of death” and link up with each of the airborne divisions with the goal of breaking the German defense in the west.

British Paras in the ruins of Arnhem

Nearly all the writers agree that had the offensive been launched 7-10 days earlier when the Germans were in complete disarray it might have succeeded in its objective of crossing the Rhine and getting into Germany.  Hastings and Weigley both believe that the axis of the offensive was wrong and that the attack should have been made further south using 21st Army Group and 1st Army to drive to the Rhine.[69] All believe that an attack by Patton’s 3rd Army would not have achieved significant strategic gain as he now faced the bulk of the Wehrmacht’s strength and that there was little of strategic value in the part of Germany he could attack.

German Sturmgeschutz III in Arnhem 

The attack was made on 17 September.   The shortcomings of the plan became rapidly apparent.[70] German resistance in South Holland was much stronger than expected, the Son bridge was demolished by the Germans which created a major delay as bridging equipment had to be found and brought forward.  Due to the presence of battle groups from the 10th SS Panzer Division and other units dug in the city around the bridge the 82nd could not secure the Nijmegen Bridge until XXX Corps arrived.  The 1st Airborne was landed too far away from Arnhem Bridge to secure it in the face of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions of II SS Panzer Corps.  Due to a shortage of aircraft and refusal of the air transport command to make two drops on the first day the drops took 3 days to get all the airborne units into the fight.  The single road ensured that the spearhead of the XXX Corps advance was limited to a squadron of tanks and supporting infantry on a front two tanks wide.[71] The flanks were weakly held and German units salvaged from the Scheldt attacked the west and units from the Germany proper attacked the 82nd’s lodgment area.  Communications problems in the 1st Airborne Division prevented it from communicating with its own units as well as higher headquarters leaving everyone wondering what was happening.[72] The advance of XXX Corps was often both before Eindhoven and after Nijmegen lacking in urgency.[73] When all was said and done 1st Airborne Division was all but destroyed and had to be evacuated from its bridgehead and the operation ended in failure.[74] Numerous events contributed to the failure of the operation, many of which occurred before it was planned.  The German ability to make an army out of nothing coupled with planning which was based more on assumptions about what the Germans were incapable of doing rather than what was happening on the ground was a major fact. Likewise the British command discounted intelligence reports of Panzers in or near the drop the drop zones.

SS Panzer Grenadiers in Arnhem

The plan itself left much to chance and was built around the assumption that the Germans lacked the ability to stop them, neglecting the restrictions in which the Allied forces would have to execute the plan. If things could go wrong they did, especially in the 1st Airborne area of operations. Critical equipment failed to arrive, communications broke down, 2 of 3 battalions detailed to seize the Arnhem Bridge were stopped by a mixed bag of German forces including Panzers, an SS training battalion and various Army units and only one battalion reached the bridge. The failure to plan for and establish a landing zone on the south side of the Rhine kept them from being able to take the bridge, which became a key factor in the German ability to move troops from Arnhem to Njimegen. General Urquart was trapped in a house by German units which posted themselves around it and the commander of 1st Airborne Brigade was wounded.  The Germans succeeded in over running the drop zones and without communications British Airborne could not let the air transport know that supplies were not getting to them.

Summary

This phase of the French campaign exhibited the best and the worst of Allied generalship. The reasons; generally inexperienced American leadership at this level of warfare and poor leadership by the more experienced British command.  The key failures were logistics management and the strategic focus following the breakout which changed the nature of the planned campaign. The Allies were running at the limit of their capacity, shortages of fuel and other supplies and heavy casualties incurred in Normandy weakened the Allied advance demonstrating von Clausewitz’s understanding of what happens when a offensive reaches its culminating point. The drive into Brittany, the failure at the Falaise gap, the failure to close the door at the Seine, the failure to trap the 15th Army at the Scheldt and its failure to cross the Albert Canal, as well as the Market-Garden fiasco can all be directly attributed to Allied leadership at high levels.  Likewise the extraordinary ability of German commanders to restore seemingly hopeless situations all demonstrated how Clausewitz’s understood “genius” in war.

The campaign from the Normandy to Arnhem was one of spotty performance by the Allies especially in terms of generalship and logistics planning and the ability to improvise.  The Germans suffered from Hitler’s interference, especially at Mortain where he insisted on counterattack versus withdraw. Likewise they suffered from a critical lack of air support.  However German commanders were masters of improvisation taking advantage of Allied errors and confusion to recover the situation time and time again.

[1] Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984 p.280

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004 p.37.  Hastings comments that “British planners threw away it had learned since 1939 about the speed of reaction of Hitler’s army, its brilliance at improvisation, its dogged skill in defense, its readiness always to punish allied mistakes.”

[4] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981pp.184-186

[5] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord pp.282-283

[6] D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995 pp.632-633

[7] Ibid.  p.195

[8] Ibid. Also

[9] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964 pp.449-450.

[10] Ibid pp.195-196. Weigley notes that Montgomery and most other Allied commanders  had been optimistic in not anticipating the German counter attack despite the ULTRA warnings, while Bradley and Patton were cautious in making troop deployments.

[11] Michael Reynolds in Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandynotes that the Americans inflicted “astonishing casualties on the northern thrusts of 2nd SS Panzer and remained undefeated when the Germans withdrew 4 days later.”  Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in NormandyDell Publishing, New York, 1997 p.264

[12] Ibid. Hastings Overlord p.283

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. Weigley p.199.

[15] Carrell, Paul. Invasion! They’re Coming!” Trans. E. Osers, Originally published as Sie Kommen! Gerhard Stalling Verlag 1960, Bantam Books New York, 1964, 5th Printing June 1984. p. 249

[16] Ibid. Weigley p. 199

[17] Ibid. p.200

[18] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord. pp.282-283

[19] Ibid. D’Este. p.631

[20] Ibid. Weigley. p.286  He also points out that the Brittany diversion could have been “worse had it not been for Montgomery’s influence”  p.288

[21] Ibid. p. 202

[22] Ibid. p.204

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997. p.320.

[26] Meyer, Kurt Grenadiers trans. By  Michael Mende and Robert J.  Edwards, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada 2001 p.290.

[27] Ibid. Hastings Overlord pp.288-289.

[28] Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947. pp.101-102

[29] Ibid. Weigley p.209  Weigley quotes Major Hansen, Bradley’s aide in stating that the Falaise halt orde was “the only decision he has ever questioned.”

[30] DRAGOON was the airborne component of he south France operation.

[31] Ibid. p.218

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. pp.222-224

[36] Patton and Truscott had a clash during the Sicilian campaign over Patton’s push for an amphibious operation accusing him of being “afraid to fight” and threatening to relieve him but then throwing his arm around him and offering him a drink. See D’Este pp.526-528  This incident was made famous in the movie “Patton.”

[37] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997 p.338

[38] Ibid. Weigley

[39] Ibid. p.241

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid. p.243

[42] Ibid. p.246

[43] Hans Von Luck, the commanding a Kampfgrüppe of 21st Panzer Division describes how he and his troops camouflaged his “Schwimmwagen” with bushes to cross the Seine successfully disguising the vehicle to avoid persistant Allied air attacks. VonLuck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989. p.209

[44] Ibid. Weigley. p.255

[45] Weigley, Hastings and D’Este all place a fair amount of blame for the logistical crisis on the commander of the COMMZ, General John C.H. Lee.

[46] Ibid. Hastings, Armageddon p.24

[47] Ibid D’Este pp.647-652

[48] Weigley notes that OVERLORD plans had not envision support American divisions for offensive operations across the Seine until D+120, yet by “D+90, sixteen United States divisions were already 200 kilometers beyond the Seine.” p.268.  Hastings and Weigley also note the waste in the American supply system noting that of “twenty-two million fuel jerrycans shipped to France since D-Day, half had vanished since September.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23.

[49] Ibid. Weigley

[50] Ibid. p.275-276

[51] Both Weigley and Hastings note the logistical problems of the British which not only included the problems that beset the Americans but problems of their own making including poor trucks of numerous makes rather than the standardized American trucks.  Hastings notes that for a time around Antwerp that “Montgomery’s armies were obliged for a time to commandeer thousands of horse-drawn wagons abandoned by the Wehrmacht, to make good its shortage of vehicles for the haulage of supplies.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23

[52] Weigley notes that Montgomery had a fiasco of British logistics in which some “1,400 British three-ton lorries, plus all the replacement engines for this model, had been discovered to have faulty pistons rendering them useless.” p.281.

[53] Ibid. Hastings. Armageddon. p.20

[54] Ryan in A BridgeToo Far quotes the XXX Corps Commander Horrocks who said in his memoirs “My excuse is that my eyes were entirely fixed on the Rhine and everything else seemed of subsidiary importance.” Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974  p.60

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid. Hastings p.20.  Weigley on p.293 gives a higher figure of 86,000 troops, 600 artillery pieces, 6,000 vehicles and 6,000 horses.

[57] Ibid. Ryan. p.49

[58] Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002 p.98

[59] A significant unit that was to plan a key role in the German defense against XXX Corps was Kampfgrüppe Walter formed around the 6th Parachute Regiment and other assorted units.  It is noted in almost every volume devoted to the campaign.

[60] Ibid. Weigley. p.294

[61] Ibid. Ryan. p.52

[62] See Hastings p.22 “The fumbled handling of Antwerp was among the principal causes of Allied failure to break into Germany in 1944.  It was not merely that the port was unavailable for the shipment of supplies; through two months that followed, a large part of Montgomery’s forces had to be employed upon a task that could have been accomplished in days if the necessary energy and “grip” been exercised at the beginning of September, when the enemy was incapable of resistance.”  and Weigley pp.293-294

[63] Ibid. Weigley p.288

[64] Hastings notes that since the Airborne Army had been created that “the apostles of the new art of envelopment from the sky were determined that it should be used.” Armageddon p.35

[65] Ibid. p.289

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid. Weigley. p.291

[68] Ibid. p.295

[69] Also see Ryan. p.81 Ryan notes that in the planning General Dempsey because of his doubts about the ability of 2nd Army suggested an attack “seizing the Rhine crossing at Wesel….” as “it would be better, he believed to advance in conjunction with the U.S. First Army northward toward Wesel.”

[70] All the commentators make reference too the misgivings voiced at the final planning conference. Hastings comments on Gavin who believed that “If I get through this one, I will be very lucky.”

[71] Ibid. Weigley. p.295

[72] Hastings comments “It was a scandal-for which in the Russian or German armies some signals officers would have been shot-that the communications of 1stAirborne Division remained almost non-existent from 17 September onwards.Armaggedon p.58

[73] Ibid. p.293

[74] Casualties in 1st Airborne were high, of “the original 10,005 man force only 2,163 troopers, along with 160 Poles and 75 Dorsets, came back across the Rhine. After nine days the division had approximately 1,200 dead and 6,642 missing, wounded or captured.” Ryan p.509.

Bibliography

Carrell, Paul. Invasion! They’re Coming!” Trans. E. Osers, Originally published as Sie Kommen! Gerhard Stalling Verlag 1960, Bantam Books New York, 1964, 5th Printing June 1984

D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995

Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997

Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004

Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984

Meyer, Kurt Grenadiers trans. By  Michael Mende and Robert J.  Edwards, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada 2001

Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947.

Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002

Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997

Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974

Von Luck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964

Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981

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“Unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…”: Terror and Ideology in the German Campaigns In Poland and Russia


The following is an article that I first published on this site in 2009 “The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia.” Since I am getting ready to write a number of articles on the subject of politicized military and police forces, the Concentration Camps and the Einsatzgrüppen I wanted to give my readers an overview of the subject. The focus is the ideology that framed and justified to the perpetrators the mass murders of Jews, Poles, Russians and others during the German invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union. I will be writing about policy as well as key personalities involved in the planning and execution of these crimes over the coming months since I have renewed my studies of the crimes and their prosecution at Nuremberg over the past year. In a sense this article is simply an introduction to more specific articles that I will write.  

Peace, Padre Steve+

Introduction: Ideology and Genocide 

Architects of Annihilation: Heinrich Himmler with Adolf Hitler 

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor.  Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation.  This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.  Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations.  One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.[1] Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” [2] The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the German Grossraum.”[3] Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms.”[4]

Previous wars emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources be they for empire or self sufficiency. The Thirty Years War had a heavy religious component but was more about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren.[5] The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars.[6] While Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…”[7] this argument does not take away from the basic premise that the war was at its heart ideological.

The root of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. His years in Vienna were foundational as he absorbed the ideas of Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups and newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. [8] In Vienna he made the connection between the Jews and Marxism.[9] Joachim Fest notes that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.”[10] His racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany where he became a member of the NDSAP, rising rapidly within it, eventually taking over party leadership, reorganizing it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.”[11] Following the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned in the Landsberg prison in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs and Lebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews[12] and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.”[13] Likewise he saw the Jews as heading the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.”[14] It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism”[15] that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.

By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.”[16] Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.”[17] Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” [18] When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.”[19] His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.”[20] It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…”[21]

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen. It was characterized by the rise of “political-ideological strategy”[22] in which “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.”[23]

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.”[24] Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.”[25] General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.”[26] Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.”[27] Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.”[28] Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.”[29] This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….”[30] Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve.[31] Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation.[32] As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.””[33] Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.””[34]

Ideology was key to Hitler’s worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war.[35] However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

Doctrinal and Ideological Foundations

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler.  These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.”[36] B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….”[37] While he might be excused by lack of knowledge of German army atrocities, not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities, it helps present a myth as truth.[38] The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.”[39] Kenneth Macksey confronts the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.”[40]

Pre-Nazi Exterminator: General Lothar Von Trotha led the Genocide against the Herero in Namibia

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler.  German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,”[41] and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism”[42] which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany.[43] Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” along with the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.”[44] Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….”[45] Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.”[46] Some objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.”[47] Yet some who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.”[48]

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…”[49] Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.”[50] Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.”[51] Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….”[52] This added to the already “harsh military discipline” which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.”[53] Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe was brutalizing.”[54] These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.”[55] Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopf division were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches.[56]

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine.  The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with the Landwehr’s role in security against looters and others.[57] These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War.[58] The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.”[59] Von Moltke was “shattered,” writing his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.”[60] He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.”[61] He wrote: “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.”[62] The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits.[63] In response, the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei.[64]

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies.  The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.”[65] The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904-1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations.[66] This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle” in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.”[67] Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed.[68] General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy.[69]

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology.  The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.”[70] Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.”[71] The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

Beginnings in Poland

Einsatzgrüppen in Poland

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology.  Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.”[72] Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….”[73] On 22 August he enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.”[74]

General Johannes Blaskowitz 

Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Manstein would note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.”[75] Others such as Canaris was “utterly horrified” as he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.”[76] General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of 8th Army who would be the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting, but his biographer notes that he “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.”[77] This was the interpretation of Manstein as well.[78] Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.”[79] In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the Führer Conferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.”[80] In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.”[81]

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming “Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.”[82] While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army.[83]

SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich: Hitler’s Hangman

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.”[84] Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.”[85] Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps.  All senior posts were occupied by officers of the SS Intelligence Service the SD or Sicherhietsdienst.[86] Two additional groups were formed shortly after the invasion.[87] Additionally 3 regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbande, under the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies.[88] The purpose of these units was shielded from the Army in the planning stages,[89] although Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 people to be arrested.[90] To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information.”[91] The deception was initially successful.  Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in a traditional manner, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti-German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter-espionage materials etc…”[92] General Wagner issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews, and had the Army had the political acumen it could have considerably restricted the terror campaign.[93] .

The campaign demonstrated Hitler’s intent. Heydrich talked about the “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews on 7 September.[94] The Army moved east with the Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande, conducting arrests and executions in its wake.  The Army worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas, and a paranoia developed as some generals believed that a “brutal guerilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.”[95] Yet some actions against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was throw out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.[96] Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders,” and the conclusion of the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.”[97]

These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and others attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews,[98] but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them.  It is believed that General Walter Model and others “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.””[99] It appears that many who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline.[100] Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them.  Many biographies and histories of this period written by authors influenced by surviving German officers make no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions.

Einsatzgruppe Members killing Polish Jews

Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and order of Hitler and that their troops were “undisciplined gangs of murderers.”[101] After the establishment of the Government General led by Hans Frank there was conflict between the Army under Blaskowitz, the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,”[102] expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.”[103] While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler’s reaction according to his adjutant was that the Army’s leaders used “Salvation Army” methods, and their ideas “childish.”[104] Likewise General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities.[105] SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler on “4 October 1939 who two weeks later removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts.”[106] While the army remained, it was not longer in charge and would assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities. One German officer, later a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked in November 1939 about the killings that he “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…”[107]

The Army was relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie.  These units would wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years.[108] Poland would also be the first Nazi driven shift in population to exploit the newly won Lebensraum as Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces lost in 1919.[109] Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. After the war 50-70,000 were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union.[110]

Russia

The Nazi war against Russia was the penultimate test of Hitler’s ideology. Planning began after 21 July, when Hitler made “his intentions plain” and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.”[111] Detailed preparations began in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion.  Hitler intended to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.”[112] Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.”[113] The plan focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,”[114] although these objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign.  Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….”[115]

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.”[116] Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….”[117] Hitler noted that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.”[118] Reichskommissars would be appointed in the conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….”[119] The “primary task was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,”[120] yet the orders did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.”[121] This was followed on 13 March by an agreement between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.”[122] Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.”[123] A further instruction of 26 March issued by Wagner gave the Army’s agreement to the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone, specifying coordination between them and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear.  Cooperation was based on the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.”[124]

Police Battalion in the Soviet Union

The most significant act for the Army in this was the Commissar Order, sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” which was used war as evidence at Nuremberg as against Keitel and the High Command of the Wehrmacht.  The order specified the killing of Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army and as “they were not prisoners of war” and another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….”[125] The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” [126] The “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.”[127]

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…”[128] and that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.”[129] He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension stating “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.”[130]

Himmler visiting POW Camp holding Red Army Prisoners, most would die in German Captivity

Hitler’s speech was protested by some according to Von Brauchitsch,[131] who refused to protest to Hitler but issued an order “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurnberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.”[132] Yet Von Brauchitsch would tell commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.”[133] Warlimont noted that Von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.” [134] Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.”[135] Keitel blamed the Army High Command, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nuremberg. He stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.”[136] Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.”[137] The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….”[138] The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.”[139] Security Divisions were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.”[140] Even worse, army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders.”[141]

SS Brigadefuhrer Otto Ohlendorf Commander of Einstazgruppe D

The SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D with “A” being assigned to Army Group North, B to Army Group Center, C to Army Group South and “D” to 11th Army.  They were not standardized in manpower or equipment, the largest unit being A in the North at 990 personnel[142] and D with only 550.[143] These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Additionally nine Ordnungspolizei battalions were initially assigned to the invasion forces.[144] The police contingent would grow over time so that by 1943, these units would be grouped under regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 auxiliaries.[145] These units would act in concert with 9 Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security.[146] Himmler initially did not reveal their intent and planned use to Einsatzgruppen commanders, only speaking of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.”[147] Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.”[148]

Nazi actions are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions[149] ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.”[150] Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.”[151] Einsatzgruppen D report 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.”[152] By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.”[153] The total killed for all groups then was 518,388 people, mostly Jews.[154] Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in Odessa as well; “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.”[155]

Operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations.  Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations[156] while Wehrmacht Security divisions “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.”[157] The attitude in 1941-1942 was that “’all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.””[158] The commander of the 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.”[159] The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.”[160] Hitler told Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.”[161] Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.””[162] All told the German killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews.[163] By 1942, 2 million Soviet POW’s were killed.  600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos.[164] All told 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure,[165] are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths.[166] Bracher notes: “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.”[167]

SS Gruppenfuhrer Arthur Nebe: “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.”

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.”[168] Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder.[169] At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.”[170] Even commanders were affected, Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.”[171] A fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.”[172] Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti-partisan efforts would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942.[173] Himmler would state in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.”[174]

Conclusion

The German war against Poland and Russia was heavily dependent on the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler.  He was the true spirit behind the atrocities committed by his nation as one noted in Russia: “Here too the Führer is the moving spirit of a radical solution in both word and deed.”[175] He saw the partisan war as “the chance to stamp out everything that stands against us.”[176] Belief in Germany’s right to Lebensraum the superiority of the German Volk and necessity to settle the Jewish problem provided a fertile ground for Hitler’s plans.  German military doctrines, especially those of anti-partisan and total warfare abetted Hitler’s goals.

Einsatzgruppen Trial at Nuremberg 

It is quite clear that many in the Wehrmacht were in agreement with Hitler’s ideology of racial-war. Prepared by cultural prejudice and long traditions of thought, the “Prussian and in later German military must be regarded as a significant part of the ideological background of the Second World War.”[177] General Reichenau’s orders to his troops are revealing: “The most important goal of the campaign against Jewish-Bolshevism is the complete destruction of its grip on power and the elimination of the Asian influence from our European cultural sphere.”[178] Von Rundstedt appeared to agree with Reichenau to “use the partisan threat as excuse for persecuting Jews, so long as the dirty work was largely left to SS Einsatzgruppen.”[179] The Army command…on the whole acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews, or at least closed its eyes to what was happening.”[180] Even if the Generals had been more forceful in their opposition, they would have been opposed by the highly Nazified youth that made up the bulk of their Army, especially junior officers. SS leaders fanatically executed Hitler’s policies aided by the civil administration. Genocide was to bring the Reich “long term economic gains and trading advantages” and was seen as a way of “financing the war debt without burdening the German taxpayer.”[181] Some individuals attempted to resist the most brutal aspects of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Some like Wilhelm Kube, Reichskommissar for White Russia and a virulent anti-Semite was shocked at the murders of the Jews calling them “unworthy of the German cause and damaging to the German reputation” and would later attempt to spare Jews by employing them in war industries, would be “defeated by Himmler’s zealots.”[182] Army officers who objected like Blaskowitz and Külcher were relieved, or like Von Leeb, told by Hitler to “in so many words told to mind his own business.” Leeb stated: “the only thing to do is to hold oneself at a distance.”[183] Rommel knew of crimes through Blaskowitz but blamed the crimes “on Hitler’s subordinates, not Hitler himself.”[184]

Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia and other nations.

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Notes

[1] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

[2] Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

[3] Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

[4] Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, 1974.  German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

[5] Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

[6] In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county.

[7] Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

[8] Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9

[9] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.12

[10] Ibid. Fest  Hitler. p.47

[11] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of  National Socialism. Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

[12] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

[13] Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

[14] Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

[15] Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii  Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti-Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

[16] Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

[17] Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

[18] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004.  First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

[19] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

[20] Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

[21] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

[22] Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

[23] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

[24] Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

[25] Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938-1945.  Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000,  First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd.  German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

[26] Ibid. Fest, Hitler.  p. 649

[27] Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

[28] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power .  See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

[29] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

[30] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964 p. 150

[31] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

[32] Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as  Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden.  First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

[33] Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

[34] Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

[35] This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” Friedlander p.xvi

[36] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

[37] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

[38] It has to be noted that Liddle-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach.

[39] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

[40] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

[41] Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977.  p.495

[42] Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

[43] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

[44] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

[45] Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,

New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979 p. 216.  Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

[46] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

[47] Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

[48] Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

[49] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

[50] Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II.  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

[51] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

[52] Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

[53] Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64  Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

[54] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

[55] Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

[56] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

[57] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

[58] Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

[59] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

[60] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

[61] Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

[62] Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

[63] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6   Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

[64] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

[65] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

[66] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19

[67] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

[68] Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung , Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

[69] Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books. Pp. 142-146.  It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation.

[70] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

[71] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

[72] Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8

[73] Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346

[74] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966 p.259

[75] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company p.29

[76] Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

[77] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

[78] Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

[79] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

[80] Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

[81] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[82] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[83] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

[84] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[85] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[86] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[87] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[88] Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37 These would become the nucleus of the Totenkopf Division

[89] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[90] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[91] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

[92] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[93] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[94] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[95] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

[96] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

[97] Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for the SS Totenkopf Verbande

[98] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

[99] Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

[100] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[101] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[102] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359

[103] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[104] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[105] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[106] Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

[107] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[108] For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101mand the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

[109] Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

[110] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

[111] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

[112] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

[113] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

[114] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

[115] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

[116] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 More openly ideological as compared to Poland.

[117] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150

[118] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

[119] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

[120] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

[121] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354  Again another deception.

[122] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[123] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[124] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

[125] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[126] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

[127] Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

[128] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[129] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.135

[130] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[131] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what Von Rundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

[132] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

[133] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

[134] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

[135] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

[136] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

[137] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[138] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

[139] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[140] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

[141] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[142] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

[143] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167

[144] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164

[145] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

[146] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated.

[147] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

[148] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

[149] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

[150] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[151] Ibid.  Friedlander The Years of Extermination p.207

[152] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[153] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[154] Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

[155] Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews.

[156] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

[157] Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

[158] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

[159] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

[160] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[161] Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

[162] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

[163] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

[164] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

[165] Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

[166] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

[167] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

[168] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[169] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

[170] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

[171] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

[172] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[173] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[174] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

[175] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[176] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.65

[177] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.293

[178] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.97

[179] Messenger, Charles. The Last Prussian A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s London, 1991 p148

[180] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.430-431

[181] Ibid. Aly and Heim Architects of Annihilation p.242

[182] Ibid. Padfield Himmler pp.341-342

[183] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.97

[184] Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Harper Perennial, New York 1995, first published by Harper Collins in Britain, 1993. p.536

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Why History Matters: The Disastrous Effects of Long Insurgency Campaigns on the Nations that Wage them and the Armies that Fight Them

French Mobile Group in Indochina

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

The effects of the wars Indo-China, Algeria and Vietnam on the French and American military organizations internally and in relationship to their nations piqued my interest in 2005. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan forced me to start asking the question of what short and long term effect that these wars might have on the U.S. military. As such I wondered what historical precedent that there was for the question. My interest was furthered by my deployment with Marine and Army advisors to Iraqi Army and Security forces in 2007-2008. My search led to the French experiences in Indo-China and Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam. Recently with the Iraq war winding down and ongoing war in Afghanistan which has gone from apparent victory to mounting concern that we are losing the war in Afghanistan as Taliban and Al Qaida have regained momentum amid widespread corruption by the Afghan government and weakness of NATO forces.
The counterinsurgency campaigns conducted by the French and American militaries in Vietnam and Algeria had deep and long lasting effects on them as did the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The effects included developments in organization and tactics, relationship of the military to the government and people, and sociological changes. The effects were tumultuous and often corrosive. The French Army in Algeria revolted against the government. The US Army, scarred by Vietnam went through a crisis of leadership and confidence which eventually resulted in end of the draft and formation the all volunteer military. The Soviet not only lost their war but they saw their country collapse and the military with it. The effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are yet unknown but could result in similar situations to the militaries and governments involved.

French Surrender at Dien Bien Phu

There is a wealth of data regarding these wars. There are several types of materials. The accounts of soldiers, diplomats and reporters who experienced these events contained in memoirs and diaries. The best include David Hackworth’s About Face and Steel My Soldiers Hearts; and General Harold Moore’s We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. French works include Jules Roy’s The Battle of Dien Bien Phu and General Paul Aussaresses’ The Battle of the Casbah. There are innumerable popular accounts written by NCOs and junior officers. These accounts may contain a wealth of information, but are limited by a number of factors. First, the authors, veterans of the wars, only saw part of the overall picture and first-hand experience in war can skew a writer’s objectivity. Those who have been through the trauma of war interpret war through their own experience. Physical and psychological wounds can have a major impact on the interpretation of these writers as can their experience and political ideology. Finally few of these writers are trained historians. Despite this they can be a valuable resource for the historian.

Viet Minh Main Force Soldiers

Another source is found in the official histories written by the military forces involved in the wars. Often these incorporate unit histories and individual narratives and analyze specific battles and the wider campaigns, but do little in regard to broader conditions that affected operations. While a good source, many are not as critical of their institutions as they should be.

Histories by trained historians and journalists provide another view. The most insightful of the journalist accounts include Bernard Fall’ Street Without Joy and The Siege of Dien Bien Phu: Hell in a Very Small Place. A limitation of all of these is that they are often heavily influenced by the political and societal events. This means that earlier accounts are more likely to be reactive and judgmental versus critical and balanced. Later accounts have the benefit of access to the opposing side and documents not available to earlier writers. Alistair Horn in A Savage War of Peace provides one of the most informative and balanced accounts of the war in Algeria. Martin Winslow does the same regarding Dien Bien Phu in The Last Valley.

Foreign Legion in Algeria

Another source is the writings of participants who critically examine their participation in the wars. Many of these, French and American provide insights into the minds of leaders who are reflective and critically examine what happened to their military institutions in these wars. The best of these is French Colonel David Galula whose books Pacification in Algeria 1956-1958 and Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice provide first-hand accounts of the subject combined with critical reflection. Galula’s works have been important to John Nagl, General David Petreus and others who helped write the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency manual. Andrew Krepinevich in The Army and Vietnam provides a critical analysis of the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Other sources, both online and print, such as RAND, provide excellent analysis of selected topics within the scope of this essay, especially COIN.

Battles in the Streets of Algiers

The ability to dispassionately and critically examine and evaluate these sources over a period of several years was and integrate them with my own experience has been a critical to me. It has changed the way that I look at sources, and caused me to be much more aware of bias, the limitations of sources and the need to have a multiplicity of sources and points of view and to be suspicious of contemporary reports and accounts of the war in Afghanistan regardless of the source.

The conflicts in French Indo-China, Algeria and Vietnam had major effects on the French and American military institutions. These effects can be classified in a number of ways. First, the manner in which each military waged war, including tactics employed and use and development of weapons systems was changed. The use of airpower, especially helicopters and use of riverine forces provided an added dimension of battlefield mobility but did not bring victory. As John Shy and Thomas Collier noted regarding the French in Indo-China: “French mobility and firepower could take them almost anywhere in Vietnam, but they could not stay, and could show only wasted resources and time for their efforts.”[1]

Assassination and Terrorism in Algiers

The use of intelligence and psychological warfare, including the use of torture became common practice in both the French and American armies. The wars had an effect on the institutional culture of these armed services; neither completely embraced the idea of counterinsurgency and for the most part fought conventionally. Galula notes how the “legacy of conventional thinking” slowed the implementation of proper counterinsurgency tactics even after most commanders learned that “the population was the objective.”[2] Krepinevich notes that “any changes that might have come about through the service’s experience in Vietnam were effectively short-circuited by Army goals and policies.”[3] Finally the wars had a chilling effect on the relationship between the both militaries and the state, veterans from each nation often felt betrayed or disconnected from their country and people. Unfortunately instances of all of these have occurred or can be seen in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US Army in Vietnam

The French Army had the misfortune of fighting two major insurgencies back to back. The French military was handicapped even before it went into these wars. The Army came out of World War II defeated by the Germans, divided by loyalties to Vichy or one of the Free French factions. They were humiliated by the Japanese in Indo-China, while in Algeria France’s crushing defeat was devastating. “Muslim minds, particularly sensitive to prestige and baraka, the humiliation made a deep impression.”[4] French society was as divided as the Army; the economy in shambles, the government weak and divided. The Viet-Minh had prepared well making use of time and training to get ready for war. “Once full-scale hostilities broke out, the French, for budgetary and political reasons could not immediately make the large scale effort to contain the rebellion in the confines of small-scale warfare.”[5]

Paras of the 1st Colonial Parachute Regiment jump in Algeria

In both Indo-China and Algeria the French attempted to fight the budding insurgencies in a conventional manner. This was particularly disastrous in Indo-China when on a number of occasions battalion and regimental combat team sized elements were annihilated by Viet-Minh regulars. Between October 1st and 17th 1950 every French garrison along the Chinese border was over-run. The French lost over 6000 troops and enough equipment to outfit “a whole additional Viet-Minh division.” It was their worst colonial defeat since Montcalm at Quebec.[6] In Algeria when the fight began in earnest France’s “ponderous ponderous N.A.T.O forces found themselves at an impossible disadvantage,”[7] unable to have any influence off the main roads.

Marcel Bigard: One of the most effective French commanders in Indochina and Algeria

In Vietnam the French did not absorb the lessons of fighting a well established insurgent force. French forces hoped to draw the Viet-Minh main forces into battles of attrition where their superior firepower could be brought to bear. Such was the case at Na San in December 1952 where the French established an “Air ground base” deep in Viet-Minh territory to draw Giap’s forces into open battle. This worked, but just barely. General Giap, short of artillery and not planning on a long battle frittered away his troops in mass charges. However, the French, because of Na Son assumed they had found the key to victory. In their embrace of the “air ground base concept, French staff officers were following an intellectual tradition that had long been prone to seduction by elegant theories.”[8] The result was the disaster at Dien Bien Phu the following year. The destruction of the elite Group-mobile 100 near Pleiku in 1954 was the coup de grace. In Indo-China the French made limited use of helicopters, used paratroops widely, and developed riverine forces. One thing they were critically short of was significant tactical air support.[9]

Roger Trinquier helped develop tactics in Indochina which helped turn the tide in Algeria, until the French Government ended the war leaving their soldiers to feel betrayed

The most inventive French creation in Indochina was the GCMA/GMI forces composed of mountain tribesmen led by French NCOs and Junior Officers. They were designed to provide “permanent guerilla groups rooted in remote areas” to harass and interdict Viet-Minh forces.[10] Trinquier noted that at the time of the Dien Bien Phu defeat that these forces had reached over 20,000 trained and equipped maquis in the Upper Region of Tonkin and Laos. These forces achieved their greatest success retaking Lao Cai and Lai Chau May 1954 as Dien Bien Phu fell.[11] Trinquier stated that “the sudden cessation of hostilities prevented us from exploiting our opportunities in depth.”[12] The GMI units and their French leaders were abandoned fighting on for years after the defeat. One account noted a French NCO two years after the defeat cursing an aircraft patrolling the border “for not dropping them ammunition so they could die like men.”[13] In the end the French left Indo-China and Giap remarked to Jules Roy in 1963 “If you were defeated, you were defeated by yourselves.”[14]
Algeria was different being part of Metropolitan France; there the French had support of European settlers, the pieds-noir. Many French soldiers had come directly from Indo-China. There French made better adaptations to local conditions, and realized that they had to win the population and isolate the insurgents from it and outside support. As Galula said, victory is the destruction of the insurgent’s political and military structures, plus “the permanent isolation from the population, not forced upon the population, but by and with the population.”[15] The lessons learned by the French in both Algerian and Indo-China were lost upon the Americans.

US Armored Cavalry in Vietnam

The United States military, especially the Army approached the Vietnam War with a conventional mindset, referred to as the “Army concept.” [16] It not only approached the war in this manner, but it trained and organized the South Vietnamese forces, ARVN into the American model. Americans re-organized ARVN into divisions “based upon the U.S. divisional force structure.”[17] Due to the imposition of an American template and organizational structure upon it, ARVN was not structured appropriately for the threat that it faced.”[18] The results were as to be expected. Large numbers of American troops poured in taking the lead against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong . The American method of counterinsurgency was costly. It was “almost a purely military approach”[19] which ignored political and social realities on the ground. Instead of focusing on protecting the Vietnamese people and denying the Communists a safe haven the Army in particular believed that massive firepower was the best means to be “utilized by the Army to achieve the desired end of the attrition strategy-the body count.”[20] In the end the American defeat was a “failure of understanding and imagination.”[21] The one shining success was the Marine Corps experimentation with “Combined Action Program” platoons which lived in the villages with militia for long periods of time. This program produced great results “in eliminating local guerillas”[22] but was killed by the Army.

US and ARVN Soldiers in Joint Operation

These wars tore the heart out French and American armies. For the French the defeats inflicted a terrible toll. In Indo-China many French career soldiers felt that the government’s “lack of interest in the fate of both thousands of missing French prisoners and loyal North Vietnamese…as dishonorable.”[23] Divisions arose between those who served and those who remained in France or Germany and created bitter enmity between soldiers. France would endure a military coup which involved many who had fought in Vietnam and Algeria. Having militarily won that war, were turned into what Jean Lartenguy called The Centurions had been turned into liars.”[24] They were forced to abandon those who they had fought for and following the mutiny, tried, imprisoned, exiled or disgraced. Colonial troops who remained loyal to France were left without homes in their “independent” nations. They saw Dien Bien Phu as the defining moment. “They responded with that terrible cry of pain which pretends to free a man from his sworn duty, and promises such chaos to come: ‘Nous sommes trahis!’-‘We are betrayed.’”[25]

War Protests in the United States 

The U.S. Army left Vietnam and returned to a country deeply divided by the war. Vietnam veterans remained ostracized by the society until the 1980s. As Harold Moore recounts “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publically questioned.” [26] The Army endured a massive reorganization that resulted in the formation of the All-Volunteer force, which would redeem itself and emerge from the ashes in the Gulf War.

Taliban in Afghanistan

The Americans would not learn the lessons of revolutionary warfare and counterinsurgency until forced to do so in Iraq in 2004-2007. These lessons however were not applied to Afghanistan and the Taliban which seemed to have been defeated have regained the initiative, policy is being debated amid discord in the west and there are reports of American and NATO forces becoming discouraged by the course of the war and concern that their efforts will be in vain. This is a dangerous situation to be in and if we learn from anything from our own history as well as that of foreign military forces in Afghanistan we need to be very careful in implementing strategy to get whatever we do right.

US Advisers with Afghanistan National Army Troops

The greatest success of the war was finally killing the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden at his Pakistani hide-out. That did not occur in Afghanistan and was the result of smart work by the CIA and other American intelligence services and the superb conduct of the mission by Navy SEAL Team Six. It was not the product of our costly counter-insurgency and nation building campaign in Afghanistan. There are many professional think tank “experts” that now urge continuing the Afghan mission indefinitely despite its massive cost and questionable strategic value. The costs of the war which are over 2 billion dollars a week are staggering with little to be shown from the hundreds of billions already spent in Afghanistan, much of which is spent on projects where corrupt Afghan government officials and tribal leaders are the only ones to benefit. Likewise the long term health of the military is imperiled. The money that should go to modernizing the force and replacing equipment worn out by war as well as the enormous costs in lives and the continuing care needed by military personnel wounding in body, mind and spirit remaining on active duty and those in the Veteran’s Administration system are imperiled.

Remote Training Team Base in Afghanistan

The effects of the wars in French Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam on the French and American military establishments were long lasting and often tragic. The acceptance of torture as a means to an end sullied even the hardest French officers. Men like Galula and Marcel Bigeard refused to countenance it, while others like Paul Aussaresses never recanted. Americans would repeat the tactic at Abu Ghraib rallying the Iraqis against them and nearly losing the war because of it.

Soviet Paratroops in Afghanistan

For the Americans, the effects of Vietnam continued at home. Race riots tore at the force while drug addictions and criminal activities were rampant. Many incompetent leaders who had “ticket punched” their careers kept their jobs and highly successful leaders who became whistle blowers like Hackworth were scorned by the Army institution. The years following Vietnam were a severe test of the US Military and took years for the military to recover. Likewise it took years before either the French or American veterans again felt a part of their countries. They ended up going to war, and when it was over; feeling abandoned, their deepest bonds were to their comrades who had fought by their side.

Osama Bin Laden leading Mujaheddin in 1984 

If this is not enough we have the experiences of the Soviet Union, the British Empire and others that have attempted to rule Afghanistan as plumb lines to gauge our effectiveness. Others have tried and failed miserably at this. The Soviets learned the hard way and found that Afghanistan was one of the major reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reading the history of Soviet operations in Afghanistan is frighteningly like reading the history of our campaign.

Two Soviet Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopters flying in an Afghan Valley

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 they used their 40th Army which initially was composed of “two motorized rifle divisions, an airborne division, an air assault brigade and separate motorized rifle regiments.”[27] These forces totaled about 52,000 troops and were “considered sufficient to guarantee the viability of Afghanistan.”[28] The 40th Army was a standard Cold War Soviet Combined Arms Army designed for high tempo conventional operations. It was not designed for nor trained in counterinsurgency operations or what the Soviets and Russians class as “anti-guerilla operations.” It was poorly suited to mountain and dessert combat and at the beginning “not only had no practical skills in the conduct of counter-guerilla warfare, they also did not have a single well-developed theoretical manual, regulation or tactical guideline for fighting such a war.”[29]

Downed Soviet Mi-4 “Hound” with Mujaheddin 

The Soviets did not expect to be involved in combat operations and the Afghan population reacted to their presence with resistance which spread across the country both against their own government which they viewed as a puppet of the Soviets but also against the Soviet Forces. As time went on the Soviets attempted to use raids and large scale operations to attempt to bring Mujahidin forces to battle, however the insurgents were very skillful and the Soviets attempted to increase the training of their forces as well as their numbers. By 1986 the numbers on the ground had increased to 108,000 personnel in four divisions, five separate brigades, four separate regiments and six separate battalions.[30] In the nearly 10 years of operations over a half million Soviet soldiers and support personnel served in Afghanistan. Tours for enlisted personnel who were primarily conscripts served 12-18 months in country and officers 2 years. Few returned for subsequent tours meaning that the 40th Army had few personnel very familiar with the country, its people and the challenges faced by Soviet forces. According to official sources the 40th Army suffered 13,833 killed in action or died of wounds, 49,985 wounded and 311 missing in action a figured of 1 in 8 Soviet Soldiers being casualties. 14.3 percent of the casualties were officers.[31] Of course the official figure is doubted many believing the number killed in action or died of wounds to be closer to 26,000.[32]

Soviet T-62 Tank guarding a convoy in a mountain pass

Like their American and French counterparts the Soviet veterans have experienced the unhealed wounds of war and a country that does not understand their experiences. The stigma of war wounds and PTSD haunt many Soviet veterans and were compounded by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in 1989. They returned home, lost their country and were by and large abandoned by their countrymen. A good number of these men and women travel to one of 5 centers across the country where according to one of the veterans come to for “social and psychological help.” He said that “The best thing about this place is that it provides us with a chance to share our Afghan memories with comrades who understand what we are talking about.” That camaraderie of being able to share their experiences with others that understand is helping some to return to something akin to “normal” life. They are joined by the soldiers that have experienced similar things in Chechnya. Russian veterans of the Afghan War are still so closely linked to it that they refer to themselves as “Afghans.”

Soviet Mi-8 “Hip” Helicopters in Afghanistan preparing for a mission

The Soviet Forces supported the Army of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan which numbered at their peak on average between 120,000-150,000 soldiers.[33] The Afghan forces, then as now were at the mercy of tribal, familial and communist party affiliations. Over 70 percent of the DRA was conscripted, desertions averaged 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers a month and units were usually optimistically 25-40 percent under their TO&E strength.[34]Limitations on training and leadership meant that typically DRA units could not conduct large scale missions without Soviet help. As such most of the fighting was done by Soviet formations.

Soviet Troops preparing to leave Afghanistan

Many of these problems have plagued the United States and ISAF throughout the first 9 years of the current Afghan War. As former Afghanistan Commander General Stanley McChrystal noted in his assessment “ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN, inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with the challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current culture and how we operate.”[35]

We should have learned. A retired Red Army Colonel who served in Afghanistan from 1986-1988 who learned the Dari language in order to negotiate with the Afghan Mujahedeen warned what will happen when the Americans and NATO leave the country and the mistake that we made in entering Afghanistan. Frants Klinsevich now a member of the Russian Parliament comment to reporters at a wreath laying ceremony at a veteran’s convention that “they (NATO and the United States) are 100 percent repeating the same mistake we made by entering into a war in that country” and that “As soon as the Americans and Europeans leave, the Taliban will crack down on everything.” Klinsevich noted that he understood the American desire to tame Afghanistan but that “the problem of radical Islam will not be solved there, its violence cannot be solved. It is simply unsolvable.” He said that he wished that the United States had consulted the Russians about Afghanistan saying “they should have invited Russian specialists, involved Russia, really studied how they could use Russia. But unfortunately Americans think they know everything.” The former Russian commander understands far more that the majority of American policy makers on this subject. [36]

The fact is that we are hamstrung by the ongoing wars which limit our ability to respond to rapidly changing situations. We are in a similar situation to the Germans in 1942 and 1943 overcommitted, overstretched and lacking true strategic depth to respond to unanticipated situations as are now occurring across the Middle East. In 1942 and 1943 the Germans were always just short of the forces that would have turned the tide. Like the Germans our economy is laboring on the verge of collapse and we have to honestly answer the question “What is the strategic value in continuing to wage war in Afghanistan in the way that we are doing?”

What are the lessons to be learned from these campaigns as well as from the various accounts? Andrew Krepinevich prophetically noted that the failure to learn the lessons of Vietnam “represents a very dangerous mixture that in the end may see the Army again attempting to fight a conventional war against a very unconventional opponent.”[37] Obviously, there are lessons to be learned, especially in understanding the nature of revolutionary war as well as the culture and history of our opponents. The U.S. has made some improvement in this regard but there is still much to be learned, especially since after the war the Army was “erecting barriers to avoid fighting another Vietnam War.”[38] From these wars we learn that nations and incompetent governments who mismanage wars can alienate themselves from the soldiers that they send to fight, with serious consequences. As far as historiography we learn that certain historical fallacies are evident when one reads the accounts critically and recognize the bias and limitations of the various sources.

The fact is that we have learned little about such wars and are paying a terrible price for it. The debate now is should we continue the war as it is with minor withdraws of troops or begin a rapid exit in order to preserve and rebuild our force and to reduce the cost of these operations. But that debate and decision are well above my pay grade. But then maybe we need to remember what Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt told his staff in September of 1944 when asked how to recover from the disastrous collapse of the German front following the Allied breakout from Normandy and dash across France. “Make peace you fools.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch56NAL1C-I

Peace
Padre Steve+
________________________________________
[1] Shy, John and Collier, Thomas W. “Revolutionary War” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age,” Peter Paret editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J. 1986 p.849
[2] Galula, David. Counterinsurgency in Algeria: 1956-1958. RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA. 2006. First published by RAND in 1963. p.244
[3] Krepinevich, Andrew F. “The Army and Vietnam,” The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1986 p.213
[4] Horn, Alistair. “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962,” a New York Review Book published by the New York Review of Books, New York, 1977, 1987, 1996, and 2006 p 41
[5] Fall, Bernard B. “Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina.”Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA, 2005, originally published by Stackpole Publications 1961 p.27
[6] Ibid. p.33
[7] Horn. p.100.
[8] Windrow, Martin. “The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam,” Da Capo Press, Novato, CA 2006, originally published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 2004 p.63
[9] Fall, Bernard B. “The Siege of Dien Bien Phu: Hell in a Very Small Place.” Da Capo Press, New York an unabridged reprint of the 1st Edition reprinted in arrangement with Harper and Row Publishers, New York. 1967 pp. 456-457 Fall discusses in depth the lack of French Air support and the antecedents that led to the shortage following World War II.
[10] Pottier, Philippe(2005)’Articles: GCMA/GMI: A French Experience in Counterinsurgency during the French Indochina War’, Small Wars & Insurgencies,16:2,125 — 146http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09592310500079874
[11] Simpson, Howard K. “Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot,”Potomac Books Inc. Washington DC 2005, originally published by Brassey’s Inc. 1994 pp. 170-171
[12] Trinquier, Roger. “Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency,” translated from the French by Daniel Lee with an Introduction by Bernard B. Fall. Praeger Security International, Westport CT and London. 1964 and 2006. Originally published under the title “La Guerre Moderne” by Editions Table Ronde. p.87
[13] Windrow. p.652.
[14] Roy, Jules. “The Battle of Dien Bien Phu” Carrol and Graf Publishers, New York 1984. Translated from the French by Robert Baldrick. English translation copyright 1965 by Harper and Row Publishers, New York. p.xxx
[15] Galula, David. “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.”Praeger Security International, Westport CT 1964 and 2006 p. 54
[16] Krepinevich. p.213
[17] Ibid. p.24
[18] Nagl, John A. “Learning to East Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam,” University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2005 p.138
[19] Shy. p.856
[20] Krepinevich. p.202
[21] Spector, Ronald H. “After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam,” Vintage Press, a division of Random House, New York, 1993 p.314
[22] Millett, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter. “For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America.” The Free Press, a division of Macmillian, Inc. New York, 1984 p.555
[23] Windrow. p.655
[24] Ibid. p.657
[25] Ibid.
[26] Moore, Harold G and Galloway, Joseph L. “We were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang: The Battle that Changed Vietnam,” Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY 1992 p. xx
[27] The Russian General Staff. The Soviet Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost” translated and edited by Lester A. Grau and Michael A. Gress, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS 2002 p.17.
[28] Ibid. p.18
[29] Ibid. p.43
[30] Ibid. p.28
[31] Ibid. p.309
[32] Ibid. p.xix
[33] Ibid. p.48
[34] Ibid. pp.48-51
[35] McChrystal, Stanley. “Commander’s Initial Assessment Commander International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan” dated 30 August 2009 pp. 1-2
[36] “Russian veteran warns of Afghan violence.” Reuters 16 May 2011. Edited by Paul Tait and Daniel Magnowski obtained 11 June 2011 at http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/interview-russian-veteran-warns-of-unsolvable-afghan-violence/
[37] Krepinevich. p.275
[38] Ibid. p.274

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No Illusions: The Cost of the Long War and its Potential impact on the United States

Libya: One of Many unanticipated Crises

There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited. Sun Tzu

Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning. Erwin Rommel

The United States and its Allies have been at war for over 10 years and that war has worn us down. Even as we battle for minimal gains in Afghanistan while attempting to finish withdrawing from Iraq the costs of this war are now becoming evident to the most casual observer.

Over 5900 U.S. Military personnel have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and over 40,000 wounded. Add to this over 2000 contractors, mostly foreign killed or died or wounds or illness and over 16,000 wounded while employed by firms contracted by the U.S. Government. This does not count Allied military personnel. Thousands more suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury or PTSD or moral injuries that impact their lives and those of their families’ years after serving and the necessary billions of dollars to pay for the medical and psychological wounds of war. Despite increases in funding and personnel the Veterans Administration has been overwhelmed by the numbers of discharged veterans requiring medical or psychological care.

The financial cost of the current wars is astronomical. The official cost is a trillion dollars since 2001 in excess of regular defense spending with Afghanistan costing over 190 million dollars a day. Military equipment including high end equipment such as aircraft are reaching the end of their service lives sooner that planned due to the high operations tempo and sustained combat operations in inhospitable climates. An ossified defense bureaucracy which Defense Secretary Robert Gates says had an “overwhelming tendency of our defense bureaucracy to focus on preparing for future high-end conflicts – priorities often based, ironically, on what transpired in the last century – as opposed to the messy fights in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and a military procurement system laden with pet projects pushed by legislators influenced by lobbyists from defense industries pushing the most expensive and often problem laden systems imaginable. Even those which eventually turn out to be great weapons come in way over budget and take far too long to go from the drawing board to the battlefield. Others turn out to be money pits which sometimes never enter production after years and sometimes decades of development.

Because of the national economic and financial crisis and huge national debts the military is being cut back even as the wars continue and more crises arise in critical regions.  Because of the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan the United States is now lacking strategic and operational depth to react to new situations. We are fortunate that the ferry sent to rescue American citizens in Libya was not attacked while trapped in Tripoli harbor. The Marine Expeditionary Unit which would normally be at sea for contingency or humanitarian operations is engaged in Afghanistan and the Amphibious Group that supports it is operating east of the Suez.  Two Carrier Battle Groups are now required in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations putting additional strain on our ability to respond to other situations.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Very bluntly the long ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking away from our ability to respond if need be to situations in areas that are actually more important to us and the world in a strategic and economic way.  Secretary Gates knows how much these wars have weakened the military and the nation and in a speech to cadets at the United States Military warned his successors “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”

The fact is that we are hamstrung by the ongoing wars which limit our ability to respond to rapidly changing situations. We are in a similar situation to the Germans in 1942 and 1943 overcommitted, overstretched and lacking true strategic depth to respond to unanticipated situations as are now occurring across the Middle East. In 1942 and 1943 the Germans were always just just short of the forces that would have turned the tide.

Gates said of our situation:

“We can’t know with absolute certainty what the future of warfare will hold, but we do know it will be exceedingly complex, unpredictable, and – as they say in the staff colleges – ‘unstructured’. Just think about the range of security challenges we face right now beyond Iraq and Afghanistan: terrorism and terrorists in search of weapons of mass destruction, Iran, North Korea, military modernization programs in Russia and China, failed and failing states, revolution in the Middle East, cyber, piracy, proliferation, natural and man-made disasters, and more.”

In September 1944 with the Western Front in ruins Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt was appointed to command German forces in the West. After receiving a briefing from his staff about the situation a senior staff officer asked what they should do. Von Rundstedt reportedly said “Make peace, you fools.” I have placed a link to that incident from the film A Bridge too Far here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch56NAL1C-I

I’m not arguing for a precipitous withdraw that would leave an even more chaotic situation in Afghanistan but we have to decide what the end game is there and how we will adjust our strategy to meet reality.

The long war in Afghanistan and the war which we are leaving in Iraq have hurt us in the long run in many ways.  We have to ask hard questions about the war as to whether the continued sacrifices of the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen that fight it and the impact on our ability to respond to other crises are something that we think are in our best interests as a nation. At least Secretary Gates is asking the hard questions.

It was Britain’s involvement on the European Continent during the First World War which impoverished her and doomed the Empire. Britain was traditionally a naval power that tried not to become involved on the Continent whenever possible. It is entirely possible that our long war in Afghanistan and Iraq will reduce us as an economic and military power and leave our interests around the world vulnerable just as the World Wars did to Britain.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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