King Coloman

King Ladislaus, like Stephen, did not have a male heir. He designated as his successor his younger nephew, Álmos, whom he found more suited to the requirements of kingship. Nevertheless, when Ladislaus died on 29 July 1095, Coloman, the elder brother of Álmos, succeeded him. Coloman seems to have had a good education but an unprepossessing appearance. He was, if we are to believe his contemporaries, ‘half blind, hunchbacked, lame and stammering’, and because of these handicaps was originally destined for an ecclesiastical career; but now he exchanged the bishop’s seat for the royal throne. A contemporary Polish chronicler says that ‘in the art of writing he was the most skilful’ of all rulers of his time, and in Hungary he was later given the epithet ‘the Learned’. Coloman tried to appease Álmos by appointing him duke, but the latter could not acquiesce in being set aside. From 1098 Álmos revolted against his brother on no fewer than five occasions, generally with German and Polish help. Finally, he was even prepared to become the vassal of Emperor Henry V if the latter could secure the Hungarian throne for him. Although for some time willing to pardon his brother, Coloman eventually lost patience and around 1113 ordered the blinding of both Álmos and his son, Béla. With the fall of Álmos the duchy as an institution fell into abeyance. Hungary proper was no longer to be divided between king and duke, and the younger members of the royal family normally governed Croatia and Dalmatia or, in the thirteenth century, Transylvania.

It was early in Coloman’s reign that the first crusaders marched through Hungary. The country had been much favoured by those going to the Holy Land ever since Stephen had opened his kingdom to pilgrims in 1018 and had founded a hostelry in Jerusalem. The crusaders arrived in several waves between May and September 1096, led by Walter ‘Sans-avoir’, Peter of Amiens and Godfrey of Bouillon. Although the only troops to maintain proper discipline were Godfrey’s, the crossing of all of them was carried out without serious conflict. It was King Coloman himself who received Godfrey at Sopron, and escorted him along the left bank of the Danube to the border castle of Zemun, opposite Belgrade, while keeping his brother, Baldwin, the future king of Jerusalem, as a hostage. A few crusader bands that tried to engage in plundering were prevented from crossing the kingdom. A marauding war-band led by a Frenchman called Foucher was routed by the king himself near Nitra, while that of the German priest Gottschalk was dispersed at Székesfehérvár. Coloman also drove back the troops of Emich of Leiningen from the Hungarian border at the castle of Moson. As far as we know, the crusaders were not joined by any Hungarians. The first known pilgrim to go to Jerusalem was Duke Álmos, who undertook this long and tiring journey around 1107, between two of his revolts.

It was Coloman who took the final steps towards the definitive attachment of Croatia to the Crown of Hungary. In 1097 he defeated a certain King Peter, who had emerged as a rival; then in 1102 had himself crowned king at Biograd. According to a fourteenth-century forgery, he also made a convention (pacta conventa) with the heads of the Croatian clans, in which he supposedly recognised their autonomy and specific privileges. Curiously enough, the content of the alleged pacta is concordant with reality in more than one respect. Croatia was henceforth to be ruled by the kings of Hungary, but it was given an associate status and was not incorporated into Hungary. Although, with the exception of Coloman, none of the kings was crowned in Croatia, its separate status as a kingdom (regnum) was expressed in the royal title (rex Croatiae). Moreover, Croatia was not governed by counts (ispánok), as in Hungary proper, but by a governor who exercised viceregal authority and bore the special title of ban (banus). Apart from the fact that both the ban and the members of his following were normally Hungarians, there was nothing that made Hungarian rule seem overbearing. The Croatian nobility continued to live according to their own laws and customs, and were only required to perform military service within the boundaries of their country. Although, on occasion, Hungarian noblemen were given lands in Croatia, during the later Middle Ages the contrary occurred more frequently. It is probably this particular situation that explains the absence of any serious form of Croatian separatism until the end of the Middle Ages.

Coloman wished to extend a similar status to Dalmatia, his other acquisition, but this region, in contrast to Croatia, did not become a permanent part of the Hungarian Crown. Medieval Dalmatia did not constitute a country in the normal sense of the word, for the name stood not for a contiguous territory but a collection of scattered spots on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, including a few fortified towns and a number of nearby islands. Dalmatia was clearly distinguishable from Croatia by its government, its Mediterranean climate and its different culture. The towns, among which Zadar (Zara), Trogir (Trau), Šibenik (Sebenico) and Split (Spalato) were the most important, formed part of the Byzantine empire, enjoyed a broad autonomy and were governed by civic oligarchies with the archbishop or the bishop at their head. Unlike those in Croatia, the cities of Dalmatia were Italian in their outlook, and their population still spoke a Latin dialect.

Coloman invaded Dalmatia in 1105, his expedition meeting with rapid success. The Emperor Alexius Comnenus, who had just asked Ladislaus’s daughter, Prisca, to be the wife of his son, the future John II, did not object to Coloman’s action, a favour that the Hungarian king later returned by helping Alexius against his Norman enemy, Bohemund. Coloman forced Zadar to surrender after a brief siege, and this resulted in all the other cities recognising his rule as well. The conditions offered by the king seem to have been acceptable. As a symbol of their recognition of his authority, Coloman demanded two-thirds of their customs revenues, but he left intact the autonomy of the cities and in 1108 confirmed their former privileges.

From the time of the conquest of the Adriatic coast Coloman titled himself ‘king of Hungary, Croatia and Dalmatia’ (1108), in contrast to his predecessors who had been ‘kings of the Hungarians’ (or of the ‘Pannons’). This modification of the royal title reflected important conceptual changes. On the one hand, the pagan notion of the ‘people’ (gens) was beginning to be replaced by the ‘realm’ (regnum) as the object of royal authority, which meant that the rule over persons was giving way to the rule over a territory. On the other hand, and no less importantly, the territories themselves began to be institutionalised. The annexed regions were neither actually nor conceptually incorporated into the Hungarian kingdom, but continued to be regarded as separate countries. They were politically united to Hungary first by the person, and later on by the crown, of a common king. All this meant that the regnum Hungariae was now beginning to have clear notional and territorial outlines. As in the other countries of Latin Europe, this came to be the guarantee of political stability, in contrast to other regions, where the absence of the notion of regnum resulted in less clearly defined and less durable political formations.

The conquest of Croatia and Dalmatia opened a new, expansionist period in Hungarian foreign policy that was to last for about three hundred years. During the eleventh century, as we have already seen, Hungary had to face the expansionist ambitions of the Holy Roman Empire on several occasions, although these attempts never represented a real threat to the independent status of the kingdom. The country was also exposed to attacks by the nomadic tribes of the neighbouring steppe, like the Pechenegs or the Cumans. But the last raid from the east took place in 1091. Henceforth, Hungary was not to be a target of foreign invasions until the arrival of the Mongols. On the contrary, the reigns of Ladislaus and Coloman mark the beginning of a period of Hungarian expansionism that was to last until the first Ottoman incursion in 1390. During this period the Hungarian kingdom was a leading power of central Europe, which meant that, while not having to fear external attacks, it continually harassed its neighbours. Expansion was therefore the dominant feature of this period, even if it did not manifest itself in actual conquests, but rather in incessant campaigning, nominal annexations and, by these means, the continuous enlargement of the royal title. By the end of the thirteenth century the Árpádians were able to call themselves king of no fewer than eight neighbouring countries, all of which were to remain nominal parts of the Crown of Hungary until as late as 1918.



Paul Hausser, the man who had perhaps the single greatest influence in the military development of the Waffen-SS, was born in Brandenburg on October 7, 1880, the son of a Prussian officer. He was educated in military prep schools and in 1892 enrolled in Berlin-Lichterfelde, Imperial Germany’s equivalent of West Point. Among his classmates were future field marshals Fedor von Bock and Guenther von Kluge.

Hausser graduated in 1899 and, as a second lieutenant, was assigned to the 155th Infantry Regiment in Ostrow, Posen. After eight years of regimental service he entered the War Academy in 1907 but did not graduate until 1912. In the interval he returned to his regiment and also underwent coastal defense and aerial observer training. He was assigned to the Greater General Staff in 1912 and was promoted to captain in 1914. Later that year, when the German Army mobilized for World War I, Hausser was assigned to the staff of the 6th Army, commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. Later he served on the staff of the VI Corps, as Ia of the 109th Infantry Division; with the I Reserve Corps (also as Ia); and as a company commander in the 38th Fusilier Regiment. He fought in France, Hungary, and Rumania and was awarded both classes of the Iron Cross. At the close of hostilities, he was Ia of the 59th Reserve Command at Glogua, Germany. After the war he served with a Freikorps unit on the eastern frontier before joining the Reichsheer in 1920.

During the Reichswehr era, Hausser was on the staff of the 5th Infantry Brigade (1920-1922); Wehrkreis II at Stettin, Pomerania (1922-1923); 2nd Infantry Division, also at Stettin (1925-1926); and the Saxon 10th Infantry Regiment at Dresden (1927). He also served as commander of the III Battalion, 4th (Prussian) Infantry Regiment at Deutsch-Krone (1923-1925), and 10th Infantry Regiment (1927-1930), and ended his army career as Infantry Commander IV (Infanteriefuehrer IV) at Dresden, a post he held from 1930 to 1932. In this last post he was simultaneously one of the two deputy commanders of the 4th Infantry Division. He retired as a major general on January 31, 1932, at the age of 51, with the honorary rank of lieutenant general. At this point in his career, Paul Hausser-who had always been a fervent German nationalist-became involved with the Nazi Party. By 1934 he was an SA Standartenfuehrer and brigade commander in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, when Heinrich Himmler offered him the job of training his SS-Verfuegunstruppe (SS-VT, or Special Purpose Troops)-the embryo of the Waffen-SS. Hausser entered the SS as a Standartenfuehrer of November 15, 1934. His first assignment was that of commandant of the SS-Officer Training School (SS-Junkerschule) at Braunschweig (Brunswick).

In the SS-VT, Hausser found enthusiastic but untrained young Nazis who were fanatically dedicated to their Fuehrer and were most willing to be shaped into a cohesive military organization. As a former General Staff officer, Hausser possessed command and organizational experience, both of which were needed and appreciated. He quickly organized the curriculum of the school into a model copied by all SS officers, NCOs, and weapons schools throughout Germany-and later throughout Europe. Hausser’s program emphasized physical fitness, athletic competition, teamwork, and a close relationship between the ranks-a degree of comradeship that did not exist in the German Army at that time. Hausser himself was a noted sportsman and equestrian who could successfully compete with men 30 years his junior. Under his leadership, the SS elite soon exceeded anything the army could field-at least in appearance. Himmler was so impressed that he named Hausser inspector of SS Officer Schools, in charge of the officer training establishments at Brunswick and Bad Toelz, as well as the SS Medical Academy in Graz. He was promoted to Oberfuehrer on April 20, 1936 (Hitler’s birthday) and to Brigadefuehrer in May 1936. Later that year, due to the rapid expansion of the SS, he was appointed chief of the Inspectorate of SS-VT and was responsible for the military training of all SS units except those belonging to Theodor Eicke.

Hausser proved to be an intelligent and professionally broad-minded director of training. It was he, for example, who saw to it that the SS-VT were the first troops to wear camouflaged uniforms in the fields, and he stuck to his decision, even though the army’s soldiers laughed and called the SS men “tree frogs.” (These uniforms were very much like the present-day U. S. Army battledress uniforms [BDUs, or “fatigues”].) During the next three years he oversaw the organization, development, and training of the SS regiments “Deutschland,” “Germania,” and “Der Fuehrer,” as well as smaller combat support, service, and supply units. Paul Hausser was quick to see the potential of the blitzkrieg and, as a consequence, most of the SS units were motorized. In the autumn of 1939, he was in the processes of forming the SS-VT Division, but the outbreak of the war caught him by surprise, and not all his units had completed their training; consequently, no SS division as such fought in Poland. Most of the combat-ready SS-VT units (and Hausser personally) were attached to the ad hoc Panzer Division “Kempf,” led by army Major General Werner Kempf. After this campaign the first full Waffen-SS division was established at the Army Maneuver Area Brdy-Wald, near Pilsen, on October 10, 1939. Its commander was the recently promoted SS-Gruppenfuehrer Paul Hausser.

Hausser trained his SS-VT Motorized Infantry Division throughout the winter of 1939-1940 and led it with some distinction in the conquests of Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940, during which it pushed all the way to the Spanish frontier. As a result of the successes of the Waffen-SS units in these battles, Hitler authorized the formation of the new SS combat divisions in the winter of 1940-1941. The SS-VT Division (now on garrison duty in Holland) provided the nucleus for these divisions, giving up a motorized infantry regiment and several smaller units in the process. Meanwhile, in December 1940, the SS-VT was transferred to Vesoul in southern France and redesignated SS Division Deutschland; however, this name was too easily confused with the regiment of the same name, so in early 1941 it became SS Panzer Division “Das Reich.”

Paul Hausser did not complain about losing almost half his veteran soldiers, but rather devoted himself to training their inexperienced replacements for the planned invasion of England. In March 1941, however, the Reich Division was transferred to Rumania and took part in the conquest of Yugoslavia in April. Hurried back to Germany, it was quickly refitted for Operation Barbarossa and was then sent to assembly areas in Poland, where it was still in the process of reforming on June 15.

The invasion of the Soviet Union began on June 22, 1941. Hausser crossed the border near Brest-Litovsk and took part in the battles of encirclement in the zone of Army Group Center. The Reich Division distinguished itself in extremely heavy combat. In July alone it destroyed 103 tanks and smashed the elite Soviet 100th Infantry Division. By mid-November the Reich had suffered 40 percent casualties, among them the divisional commander. Paul Hausser was severely wounded in the face and lost his right eye in a battle near Gjatsch on October 14. He was evacuated back to Germany, where it took him several months to recover.

Hausser (now an Obergruppenfuehrer) returned to active duty in May 1942, as commander of the newly created SS Motorized Corps, which became the SS Panzer Corps on June 1, 1942. Hausser was thus the first SS man to become a corps commander. He spent the rest of 1942 in northern France, controlling the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd SS divisions (the Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Totenkopf divisions, respectively). Among other things these superbly equipped units were given a panzer battalion and a company of the first PzKw V (“Tiger”) tanks.

While Hausser prepared his new command for its next campaign, disaster struck on the Russian Front. Stalingrad was surrounded, the Don sector collapsed, and the Red Army poured through Axis lines, heading west. In January 1943, Hitler rushed the SS Panzer Corps to Kharkov, the fourth-largest city in the Soviet Union, which, for reasons of prestige, he ordered to be held to the last man. “Now at last Hitler was reassured,” Paul Carell wrote later. “He relied on the absolute obedience of the Waffen-SS Corps and overlooked the fact that the corps commander, General Paul Hausser, was a man of common sense, strategic skill, and with the courage to stand up to his superiors.”

By noon on February 15, Hausser was almost surrounded by the Soviet 3rd Tank and 69th armies. Rather than sacrifice his two elite SS divisions (Totenkopf had not yet arrived from France), Hausser ordered his corps to break out to the southwest at 1 p. m., regardless of Hitler’s commands or those of the army generals.

Hausser’s immediate superior, Army General Hubert Lanz, was horrified by this development. A Fuehrer Order was being deliberately disobeyed! At 3:30 p. m. he signaled Hausser: “Kharhov will be defended under all circumstances!”

Paul Hausser ignored this order as well. The last German rearguard left Kharkov on the morning of February 16. Hausser had made good his escape and had saved the army’s 320th Infantry Division and its elite Grossdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Division in the process. The question now was how Hitler would react to this piece of deliberate insubordination.

Adolf Hitler’s mentality demanded that a scapegoat be found for this latest disaster, but Hausser was not a candidate for public disgrace. After all, he was an SS officer, a loyal Nazi, and a holder of the Golden Party Badge, which Hitler had conferred on him just three weeks before. Instead, Hitler sacked none other than Hubert Lanz, the very officer who had insisted to the last that the Fuehrer’s order be obeyed. Contrary to usual practice, however, Lanz was given command of a mountain corps shortly thereafter, instead of being permanently retired.

Hitler did not forgive Hausser quickly, however, even after reports and events of the next few days made the correctness of his actions clear for all to see-even at Fuehrer Headquarters. As punishment, a recommendation that Hausser be decorated with the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross was not acted upon.

Meanwhile, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, the commander of Army Group South, devised a brilliant plan to restabilize the southern sector of the Eastern Front. Realizing that the overconfident Soviets were in danger of outrunning their supply lines, he allowed them to surge forward, while he hoarded his armor for a massive counterattack. This stroke would entail a pincer movement to cut off the massive Soviet penetration south of Kharkov, followed by an attempt to recapture the city. Hausser, now reinforced with the SS Totenkopf Division, would command the left wing of the pincer.

The Third Battle of Kharkov began on February 21, 1943. The fighting was fierce, but by March 9 the Soviet 6th Army and Popov Armored Group had been destroyed-a loss of more than 600 tanks, 400 guns, 600 anti-tank guns, and tens of thousands of men. That day Paul Hausser’s spearheads reentered the burning city of Kharkov, beginning the most controversial battle of the general’s career. Military historians generally agree that Kharkov was now doomed and that Hausser should have encircled the city; instead, he attacked it frontally from the west and began six days of costly street fighting against fanatical resistance. The conquest of Kharkov was not complete until March 14. During the battle, the SS Panzer Corps suffered 11,000 casualties, against 20,000 for the Red Army.

Hausser redeemed his military reputation that July, during the Battle of Kursk-the greatest tank battle in history. His command, now designated II SS Panzer Corps, penetrated farther than any other German unit and destroyed an estimated 1,149 Soviet tanks and armored vehicles in the process. Colonel General Hermann Hoth, the commander of the 4th Panzer Army, recommended him for the Oak Leaves, stating that despite being handicapped by his previous wounds, he “untiringly led all day from the front. By his presence, his bravery and his humor, even in the most difficult situations, he imbued his troops with buoyancy and enthusiasm, yet he kept command of the corps tightly and in his hand. . . . [Hausser] again distinguished himself as an unusually qualified commanding general.”

While the Germans were being defeated at Kursk, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was overthrown on July 25. Hitler ordered the II SS Panzer Corps to transfer to northern Italy on the same day, although in the end only the corps headquarters and the 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Division ever left the Eastern Front. Hausser remained in Italy until December 1943, without engaging in any fighting; then he was transferred to France, where his corps took charge of the recently organized 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg.”

Hausser’s corps was supposed to be held in reserve to oppose the D-Day invasion, but when the 1st Panzer Army was surrounded in Galicia in April 1944, Hausser was sent back to the Eastern Front to rescue it. This was accomplished without too much difficulty, thanks to Manstein, Hausser, and the army’s commander, Hans Valentin Hube. Instead of sending the SS corps back to France, however, Hitler sent it to Poland, where it formed a reserve against the Soviets. It was not until June 11-five days after the Allies’ D-Day landings-that Hitler ordered the corps back to France. It was assigned a sector west of Caen, with the mission of holding the critical Hill 112.



The Battle of Normandy was the most difficult and exacting of General Hausser’s career. Badly outnumbered, he faced an enemy with devastating air and naval supremacy, which made it difficult for him to either move or resupply his troops. Hausser nevertheless held his positions despite heavy casualties on both sides.

Meanwhile, the left half of the German front in Normandy, which was the responsibility of Colonel General Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army, was in serious trouble. At the end of June, shortly after the fall of Cherbourg, the hard-pressed general dropped dead of a heart attack. He was replaced by Paul Hausser, who shortly thereafter was promoted to SS-Oberstgruppenfuehrer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS-the equivalent of an American four-star general. He was the first SS man to be assigned to the command of an army on a permanent basis.

Hausser’s army, which included the LXXXIV Corps and II Parachute Corps, was much weaker than its sister army, the 5th Panzer, on its right. It had only 50 medium and 26 Panther tanks, for example, against 5th Panzer’s 250 medium and 150 heavy tanks, and it had only about one-third of the artillery and anti-aircraft guns as the 5th Panzer. It did, however, have the advantage of excellent defensive terrain, and Hausser’s men took full advantage of that situation. They were gradually pushed back, however, and Hausser’s divisions were slowly ground to bits. By July 11, for example, his elite 2nd Parachute Division was down to 35 percent of its authorized manpower, and most of his other divisions were also down to Kampfgruppe (regimental) strength. By mid-July Hausser was restoring to tactical patchwork to establish any kind of reserve at all.

The decisive breakthrough of the Normandy campaign occurred in Hausser’s sector of July 25, 1944. That day, in Operation Cobra, 2,500 Allied airplanes-1,800 of which were heavy bombers-dropped approximately 5,000 tons of high explosives, jellied gasoline (napalm), and white phosphorus on a six-square-mile block, mostly in the zone of the Panzer Lehr Division. Panzer Lehr’s forward units were virtually annihilated. By the end of the day, it had only about a dozen tanks and assault guns left, and a parachute regiment attached to it had vanished under the bombs.

There is little doubt that Hausser mishandled the entire Operation Cobra. Several days before the bombs fell, Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge (who had replaced a critically wounded Rommel a week before) had suggested that Hausser replace the Panzer Lehr with the 275th Infantry Division, which Hausser then held in army reserve. Meanwhile, on the far left flank, LXXXIV Corps had managed to pull the 353rd Infantry Division out of the line. Kluge suggested than Hausser use it to replace the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” at the front, thus establishing an army reserve of two armored divisions. The SS general, however, ignored both of his former classmates’ suggestions. “Hausser did little more than clamor for battlefields replacements, additional artillery, and supplies, and the sight of air cover,” according to the American official history records.

When the American ground forces began to advance at 11 a. m. on July 25, Hausser reacted slowly because he did not initially appreciate the magnitude of the disaster that had overtaken his army. By late afternoon, however, he realized that his front had been penetrated in seven places in the Lessay-St. Lo sector, and without an armored reserve, he could do little to seal the gaps. He therefore requested permission to conduct a general withdrawal to Coutances. Kluge, however, also misread the situation and would approve only a limited withdrawal. As a result, LXXXIV Corps was soon cut off on the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula and only broke out (on Hausser’s orders) with heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Americans were in the rear of the 7th Army; SS Oberfuehrer Christian Tychesen, the commander of Hausser’s old Das Reich Division, was killed near his command post by an American patrol; and Hausser himself only narrowly escaped death from an American armored car that fired on him near Gavray. There was little he could do but withdraw the remnants of his disintegrating command to the east, while the rapidly advancing Americans captured Avranches (at the base of the Cotentin peninsula) and broke out into the interior of France. In doing so they unknowingly came within a few hundred yards of the 7th Army’s forward command post, which was located 3.5 miles north of Avranches. Cut off, Hausser and many of his key staff officers had to escape on foot by infiltrating through the regularly spaced intervals between American troop convoys. There was, of course, nothing Hausser could do to influence the course of the battle, which was totally out of hand.

When he finally learned of the extent of the 7th Army’s disaster, Kluge’s dissatisfaction with the 7th Army’s leadership reached a head. On July 30, he inspected Hausser’s headquarters and found it “farcical, a complete mess,” and concluded that “the whole army [is] putting up a poor show.” Lacking the authority to relieve the SS general (or perhaps not daring to do so, given his own previous association with the conspirators who had tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler a few days before), Kluge sacked Hausser’s chief of staff and the commander of the LXXXIV Corps-who was less responsible for the disaster than Kluge himself-and replaced them with his own men. Kluge also took active charge of the left flank himself. It was too late by then, however; the battle was already lost.

Paul Hausser had little influence on the campaign in Normandy after July 28. As General George S. Patton’s U.S. 3rd Army advanced south and east of Mortain and threatened to encircle the 5th Panzer and 7th armies south of Caen, Hausser joined Kluge in objecting to Hitler’s unrealistic plan to concentrate nine depleted panzer divisions in the western edge of the salient, with the objective of thrusting west to the coast, to cut off Patton. Instead, Kluge and Hausser wanted to fall back behind the Seine while there still might be time to do so. Kluge was overruled, however, and it is significant that, on the orders of Adolf Hitler, the final effort to reach the west coast was directed by an ad hoc panzer group under Army General Heinrich Eberbach, the former commander of the 5th Panzer Army, and not by Hausser. In any event it was defeated, and the bulk of Army Group B was surrounded in the Falaise Pocket on August 17. Hausser, still with his men inside the pocket, ordered all units capable of action to break out in individual combat groups on the night of August 19-20.

Hausser’s actions saved about one-third of his army, which was on the far side of the encirclement. (A considerably larger portion of the 5th Panzer Army was saved because it did not have as far to go to reach friendly lines.) The general himself joined the 1st SS Panzer Division Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler and, on August 20, was marching on foot with a machine pistol draped around his neck when an Allied artillery shell landed in front of him, and a piece of shrapnel hit him right in the face. Some soldiers from the Leibstandarte placed him on the stern of a tank and eventually succeeded in getting the seriously wounded commander back to German lines, after a number of narrow escapes. He was taken to the Luftwaffe hospital at Greifswald, where he slowly began to recover.

Six days after he was wounded, Hausser was awarded the Swords to his Knight’s Cross; however, he was unable to return to active duty until January 23, 1945, when he became acting commander of Army Group Oberrhein (Upper Rhine), replacing Heinrich Himmler. Six days later this headquarters was dissolved, and Hausser was given command of Army Group G, controlling the 1st and 19th armies and later 7th Army as well. He was given the task of defending southern Germany. The war, however, was already lost, and Hausser could do little but fight a delaying action through the Saar and Palatinate. By now thoroughly disillusioned with the Nazi leadership, Hausser became increasingly frustrated by Hitler’s constant interference in the details of operations of his forces and especially with his hold-at-all-costs orders-one of which cost Hausser much of his command, which had not been allowed to retreat across the Rhine in time. The personal relationship between the two men, which had begun to deteriorate during the Second Battle of Kharkov, had reached a new low in early 1945, due to a heated argument they had over tactical matters. On March 30, 1945, Hitler remarked to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, that neither Sepp Dietrich nor Hausser had any real operational talent and that “no high-class commander has emerged from the SS.” Three days later a dispatch from Hausser arrived, suggesting that a gap between the 1st and 7th armies be closed by another retreat into southern Germany. Furious, Hitler immediately relieved Hausser of his command and replaced him with General of Infantry Friedrich Schulz. Unemployed for the rest of the war, Hausser surrendered to the Americans in May. At Nuremberg he was the most important defense witness for the Waffen-SS, stating that his men were soldiers like any other. Nevertheless the entire SS, including the Waffen-SS, was condemned as a criminal organization. Hausser himself was not subjected to a long imprisonment, however.

As a general, Paul Hausser proved to be an above-average divisional commander and a gifted-and sometimes brilliant-corps commander, although his conduct of the Third Battle of Kharkov is hardly above criticism. As a trainer, he had few equals anywhere. He was largely responsible for establishing the Waffen-SS as a potent combat force, and it bore his influence throughout its existence. As the commander of the 7th Army in Normandy, however, his performance left a great deal to be desired. It is not possible to objectively evaluate his direction of Army Group G, except to say that it would have been more effective had he been left to his own devices, rather than receiving “help” from Adolf Hitler. It would probably have been better for Nazi Germany if he had been left in command of an SS panzer corps-or as director of training for the Waffen-SS-from 1943 on.

In the postwar years, Paul Hausser was an active member of the Mutual Aid Society of the Waffen-SS (Hilfsorganization auf Gegenseitigkeit der Waffen-SS, or HIAG), the Waffen-SS veterans organization, and wrote numerous articles for its magazine, Wiking Ruf (Viking Call), now Dei Freiwillige-The Volunteer. In 1953 he wrote his first book, Waffen-SS im Einsatz (The Waffen-SS in Operation), which he expanded in 1966 and subtitled Soldaten wie Andere Auch (Soldiers like Any Other). He died on December 28, 1972, at the age of 92. His funeral was attended by thousands of his former soldiers.


Dealey – The Destroyer Killer I

Sinking of the Japanese destroyer Yamakaze on 25 June 1942 approximately 110 km southwest of Yokohama harbour, Japan, photographed through the periscope of the U.S. Navy submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168).

A curious fact about the United States Navy: many of its greatest heroes and commanders have come from landlocked states or areas far from the ocean. Perhaps the mystery of the sea draws them. Perhaps the ocean provided the adventure the Great Plains and cities of the interior could not. One of these men was Dallas-born Texan Samuel David Dealey. Dealey Plaza of JFK assassination fame was named after his uncle, George Dealey, founder of the Dallas Morning News. Dealey achieved a record of success and bravery rarely matched in the history of the United States Navy, awarded the Silver Star, the Navy Cross with three gold stars (in other words, he won the Navy’s 2nd highest award for bravery four times), the Distinguished Service Cross (for aiding the Army) and the Medal of Honor. His boat was also awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

Born in 1906, Dealey applied for and was given a slot at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, but washed out due to poor grades. Applying himself, he won reinstatement and graduated Annapolis in 1930. In the years before the war, Dealey attended the Navy’s Submarine School and was posted to a variety of duties, mostly involving training and scientific experimentation. When war broke out, this seemingly, boring set of duties had made Dealey one of the most experienced young submariners in the fleet.

A year after Pearl Harbor, Dealey was given command of the new Gato-class submarine USS Harder (the harder is a type of mullet – subs of the US Navy were once named for fish). Harder’s first action was inauspicious – she had to evade attack by a US patrol plane in the Caribbean as she voyaged to the Panama Canal to cross into the Pacific. (Note: for those of you new to naval terminology, the commander of a ship/submarine is referred to as “captain”, no matter what his/her actual rank. Lieutenant Commander Dealey was Captain of Harder)

After testing and training of the crew, the first war patrol of the Harder began on June 7, 1943. She was ordered to waters off northern Honshu, the largest of the Japanese Home Islands – far from home and far from help. Harder’s first action came two weeks later off the Japanese coast. Sighting two enemy ships, Dealey prepared to attack when her presence became known to the enemy. Dealey fired torpedoes, but before he could see whether they had been effective, an aggressive Japanese escort vessel came after Harder and Dealey was forced to make an emergency dive – and the sub crashed into the bottom. Not the start that Dealey or anyone else on the boat had hoped for. Though it was believed that Harder missed with its first salvo of the war, post-war examination of Japanese records indicates that one merchant vessel was damaged and put out of action for some time.

A 2000+ ton submarine diving into the bottom causes quite an impact, and the risks of damaging the sub, injuring crew members and possibly being trapped in the soft bottom (forever) are very real. Luckily, for Dealey and his crew, they were able to avoid both the Japanese escort and being stuck forever at the bottom of the Pacific.

Two nights later, Dealey attacked another Japanese merchant vessel, causing so much damage that she had to be beached and was eventually turned into scrap. During the coming days, Dealey led Harder on a number of attacks, but only managed to damage one vessel.

Two things about the Pacific War at sea: American submarine commanders were, and were taught to be, hyper-aggressive. Like English fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain in 1940, American sub commanders paid very little attention to odds – their job was to sink Japanese ships, and after Pearl Harbor, they needed no coaxing. Secondly, the Japanese government and the Imperial Navy severely limited information about American or Allied subs in Japanese waters. This was the case before the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942. Japanese citizens believed that they areas around their home islands were safe and that the Imperial Navy would not allow American subs to venture so close to Japan. Japanese merchantmen relied on word of mouth and for much of the war, had to fend for themselves. Admitting the growing success of the Americans would mean that the Navy and the government had made an error, which could not be admitted.

At the beginning of July, one of the Harder’s engines lost power. This was a common flaw in the Gato-class subs, and cost the Navy as a whole and the Harder in particular much time. Taking a mound of spare parts with him for his next war patrol, Dealey left Midway Island for Honshu once again at the end of August 1943. In fourteen days, Dealey attacked nine separate times in Japanese waters and sank five ships totally 15,000 tons. Along with other US submarines, Harder was starting to bring the war home to the Japanese people. Unfortunately, engine problems again caused Dealey to return home, this time to Pearl Harbor, where she stayed until the end of October.

While in Hawaii, Harder and two other subs (Snook and Pargo) formed a small wolfpack and were sent to the Mariana Islands in the central Pacific to help clear the area around Tarawa Atoll of Japanese shipping in advance of the American invasion of Tarawa on November 20.

Though by this time the United States had been in the war for nearly two years, submarine tactics in the US Navy still needed work and equipment (such as the radios on the subs themselves) often failed or did not meet expectations. Though the Harder was supposed to work in tandem with the other two submarines, she managed to stay in contact with Pargo to attack a merchant vessel (with unknown results) and sink a minesweeper on November 12 before becoming separated from the other two American boats and operate on her own.

A week later Harder got on the track of a Japanese convoy of three large freighters and their escorts north of the Mariana Islands. Carefully calculating the distance and time to each target, Dealey fired a spread of ten torpedoes at the Japanese. Two of the freighters were hit and sunk quickly, taking most of their crews with them. The Japanese Navy had proved to be an aggressive force itself, and Japanese destroyer commanders proved tough and enduring. Over the course of the evening of the 19/20 August 1943, Dealey had repeated close calls with the Japanese, though Harder remained undamaged.

Later that night Dealey surfaced and spotted the one freighter that had escaped him earlier and plotted a course to intercept. Over the next hours, the freighter was the target of eleven more torpedoes from Harder, which circled her both submerged and surfaced firing from different angles. All this time the Japanese crew of the freighter engaged her with their deck gun. When Harder ran out of torpedoes, Dealey decided against further engaging the Japanese on the surface and made way for Pearl Harbor to replenish his torpedo supply. Later intelligence informed Dealey and his crew that this last tough Japanese ship too had sunk giving her a total for her third patrol of four ships sunk.

Though she had proven resilient and her skipper deadly, the crew of the Harder must have been quite frustrated with their boat, for on the way back to Pearl Harbor, another of her German designed diesels broke down again. Dealey was ordered to Mare Island in San Francisco Bay at the end of November to have the boat’s engines completely replaced.

Harder was back in action in March 1944, Dealey and the Harder proved themselves on a different sort of mission. On her fourth patrol, the sub was to standby to rescue American pilots shot down in the sea near the Caroline Islands. Just west of Woleai, Navy pilot John Galvin was stranded on a small enemy held island. He had been shot down during an American carrier based strike on the island and was in danger of being taken prisoner or being executed.

Other pilots from Galvin’s carrier kept the Japanese away from their comrade, but night would soon fall and Galvin’s fate would be sealed.

Dealey and Harder were in the vicinity and were ordered to get Galvin off the island whatever the cost. Dealey ordered his sub onto the reef just offshore bow first and to keep the propellers spinning to keep her there while a rubber dinghy with armed sailors raced into shore to get the downed pilot. Crewmen of the Harder paddled into shore under Japanese fire, retrieved Galvin and paddled back to the sub still under fire from shore. For this action, Dealey and his crew were given commendations.


Dealey – The Destroyer Killer II

After depositing Ensign Galvin with his comrades, Dealey continued Harder’s patrol. As he cruised the area north of the western Caroline Islands, Dealey’s sub was spotted by Japanese planes, which called in the destroyer Ikazuchi to hunt the American down. By this time in the conflict the Japanese had themselves developed accurate sonar and the Japanese destroyer sent “ping” (the sound of the sonar’s emission) after “ping” in an attempt to find the US submarine. Destroyers were (and are) fast maneuverable ships, heavily armed and usually commanded by an aggressive captain. Killing an enemy destroyer was not only a feat, it was incredibly dangerous. One of the primary purposes of the destroyer in both WWII and today is that of submarine hunter. This time however, the Ikazuchi met her match.

Diving to avoid the spotter planes, and only coming to periscope depth briefly to chart the course of the Japanese destroyer, Commander Dealey let the Japanese ship get within 900 yards before opening fire. Harder’s torpedoes struck home and the Japanese vessel was torn apart, sinking in five minutes time and taking her crew with her to the bottom of the sea. At Navy Headquarters, Dealey’s after-action notice brought smiles. “Expended four torpedoes ad one Jap destroyer.” The legend of the Destroyer Killer had begun, and on the way the naval base at Fremantle, Australia, Harder added to her luster by sinking another Japanese freighter and bombard the island of Woleai with her deck gun for added measure. After three weeks of rest, resupply and repair in Fremantle, Dealey was ordered to take his sub on her fifth patrol, this time to lurk in the waters off the Japanese base at Tawi Tawi at the very southwest tip of the Philippine Islands.

While the men of the Allied forces were dropping into, landing on and shelling the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944 the war continued in thousands of different actions around the globe. Busy also on the night of June 6th was Harder, which had been ordered to approach northwestern Borneo from her station off Tawi Tawi and pick up friendly guerrilla fighters from the Indonesian island.

As he passed through the Sibutu Strait between the island of Tawi Tawi and Sibutu Island, Dealey spotted three tankers and two destroyers – plum targets. As he was planning his attack, one of the Japanese destroyers noticed Harder and made full steam to attack her. As he had previously, Dealey let the submarine get close – 1,100 yards.

To illustrate how close this really is, imagine a 16-inch shell from a battleship. Just one shell can level an average house and leave a crater 200ft wide and many feet deep. The concussion from the explosion of a 16-inch shell can sometimes be felt for miles. Now realize that the torpedoes carried by most submarines in WWII were 21-inches in diameter, and packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives. Any closer than what Dealey had already chanced in his encounters could result in the sub being damaged or even sunk by the explosion or concussion of its own torpedoes.

At flank (full) speed, a Japanese destroyer could cover 1,100 yards in a minute or so. Once a destroyer closed to within one hundred yards or so, she would start to drop or launch her depth charges, and then the submariners were thrown into a nightmare that might end with the ocean rushing into their broken ship and extinguishing their lives far from another living soul.

When the Japanese warship was almost too close, Dealey fired three torpedoes that struck the enemy vessel (IJS Minatsuki) sinking her quickly, and almost losing his boat as the wreckage of the Japanese destroyer passed over his ship. By this time, the convoy and the remaining Japanese destroyer were miles away, and Dealey’s attempt to pursue came to naught.

On the morning of June 7th however, Dealey spotted another Japanese destroyer, IJS Hayanami, which she sank with another salvo of three torpedoes. On June 8th, Harder made the rendezvous with the guerrilla force, and began to head back to base.

As Harder entered the narrowest part of the strait between the islands, Dealey observed two more destroyers who were likely looking for him. Turning the tables on his pursuers, Dealey approached the destroyers undetected. As they passed by each other in his periscope, Dealey fired four torpedoes at the two subs. One destroyer, Tanikaze went shortly to the bottom. Dealey and his crew believed they had sunk the other Japanese ship as well, hearing further explosions, but this was likely the sound of the Tanikaze’s ammunition exploding as she sank.

Harder’s after action report relating this event reads:

Commenced firing the bow tubes. No. 1 appeared to pass just ahead of the first destroyer, No. 2 struck it near the bow, No. 3 hit just under the destroyer’s bridge, and No. 4 passed astern of the near target. The sub was now swung hard right to avoid hitting the first destroyer and fire was withheld on remaining tubes until a new setup could be put into the T.D.C. for an attack on the second destroyer. About thirty seconds after turning, the second destroyer came into view just astern of what was left of the first one, then burning furiously. Just then No. 4 torpedo, which had passed astern of the first target, was heard and observed to hit the second target. – (No more torpedoes were needed for either.)

Meanwhile, a heavy explosion, believed to be caused by an exploding boiler on the first destroyer, went off and the sub (then about 400 yards away) was heeled over by the concussion. At almost the same time a blinding explosion took place on the second destroyer (probably his ammunition going off) and it took a quick nosedive. When last observed, by the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, the tail of the second destroyer was straight in the air and the first destroyer had disappeared. “Sound” now, reported, “No more screws.”

The above listed pandemonium may not be in exact chronological order but is as accurate as the happenings over that eventful few minutes can be remembered.

CDR Dealey wearing the Navy Cross presented to him by Vice Admiral Lockwood 19 October 1943.

On June 10, having deposited his passengers, Dealey returned to station near Tawi Tawi and it was there that she ran across the kind of prize a submarine captain dreams of – a convoy of three battleships, four cruisers and a number of escorting destroyers. A target like this was not going to be easy and unprepared and the Japanese had a number of observation planes aloft, one of which spotted Harder. As one of the screening destroyers steamed toward his position, Dealey sent three torpedoes her way and dove deep. Though they heard explosions of some kind, the Harder did not sink a Japanese ship that day. What did happen was that she had to endure the nightmare described on the preceding page? Two hours of Japanese depth charges and prayers that none of them would crack the Harder in two below the waves, or destroy her engines, in which case the crew would suffocate after their oxygen was depleted.

Luckily, for Dealey and the crew of the Harder, none of the enemy’s depth charges hit home and after two tense hours, Dealey surfaced the boat to find the Japanese vessel gone. On June 21st, Harder reached home. News of her exploits had preceded her and her captain was informally referred to as the “Destroyer Killer”. An indirect effect of Dealey’s success was the decision made by the Japanese Navy to abandon the Tawi Tawi base as untenable – and when the Japanese fleet there left, it was decided by the Japanese High Command to attempt to chase the Americans from the Philippine Sea. The resulting battle of the Philippine Sea and the aerial battle known famously as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” were in a way caused by Dealey and his success in the Sibutu Strait. For his actions in the Tawi Tawi area, Dealey was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

While in Darwin, Dealey had the unenviable job of taking a desk bound admiral out on a short combat patrol so that officer could at least say he had seen some action during the war. In the course of the weeklong sortie, Dealey pursued a number of targets, including a cruiser, but was not able to close within range. He was also forced underwater for close to two days by Japanese observation planes overhead.

When he returned the admiral back to Australia, it was suggested to Dealey that he retire from combat command and allow a younger man to take over his sub. While Dealey knew he was pushing the odds, he asked to take Harder out on one more patrol to train new crewmen who had never seen combat.

Dealey’s sixth war patrol began on August 5, 1944 with Dealey in command of a five submarine wolfpack. The son and namesake of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, one of the great leaders of World War II, commanded one sub, the USS Haddo. At Paluan Bay in the Philippines, Dealey’s wolfpack sank four merchantmen to no losses, but Harder did not score any of the kills herself.

Dealey and Nimitz then split from the other three subs and headed towards Manila Bay, where they picked up three survivors of the convoy they had attacked shortly before. Both commanders racked up one kill each and shared another, sending more ships and supplies to the bottom.

The two commanders then moved north along the Philippines’ largest island of Luzon and were to rendezvous with another sub, the USS Hake, when they ran across the destroyer Asakaze. Nimitz slammed two torpedoes into the Japanese ship and turned for base, out of ammunition. Dealey, met by Hake, remained outside the bay where they believed the destroyer had been towed waiting for it or other Japanese ships to emerge.

The next morning, August 24 1944, a Japanese destroyer and minesweeper emerged from the bay. As Dealey’s comrades on the Hake pursued her as she turned back into the bay (and escaped), Harder was left to deal with the minesweeper that was unusually aggressive and was pinging her sonar madly in apparent pursuit of Harder. The Commander Frank Haylor and the crew of the Hake heard the sonar pings as the Japanese ship moved out of the bay towards Dealey and his boat. At 6.47am, Haylor caught sight of Harder’s periscope – the last trace anyone ever saw of Dealey and his crew. A bit more than a half hour later, Hake heard fifteen explosions as the minesweeper dropped depth charges near where Harder had last been seen. Evading Japanese ships through the day Hake stayed in the area and surfaced at night to look for any trace of the Harder or its crew and found none. Over the next two weeks, Hake patrolled the area, hoping that somehow members of Harder’s crew had made it to shore, but no one was ever found. After the war, the report of the Japanese minesweeper was found and her captain reported oil, wood and cork floating in the area where Harder had been.

Captain Dealey and his crew had been lost forever. Harder had been responsible for the sinking of 18 Japanese ships making Captain Dealey the fifth ranking US Navy submarine ace of the war.

Paul von Hindenburg

Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg (painting by Hugo Vogel)

Fully expecting a short war, Paul von Hindenburg paced restlessly in Hanover as seven German armies swept into France, Luxembourg, and Belgium in August. As the Schlieffen Plan unfolded in the west, Russia mobilized weeks earlier than predicted and in mid-August invaded East Prussia with two armies. The cry of Kossaken kommen! sent tens of thousands of villagers onto the roads, no matter that the Russian army’s actual Cossacks were on the whole thoroughly domesticated: often no more than farm boys mounted on plow horses, with officers who wore glasses and sported paunches. Nevertheless, the image of savages who raped, killed, and plundered at will was strong enough that even officers groveled for their lives when they fell into Cossack hands.

Streams of German refugees reached near flood tide when the Russian First Army, the northern arm of the invasion’s pincers, administered a sharp local defeat to the Germans at Gumbinnen on August 20. When the German Eighth Army’s commanding general and his chief of staff suggested a general withdrawal to the west bank of the Vistula, a panicky Moltke the Younger sacked them. Moltke and the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, or Army High Command) then had to select a new command team to stabilize Germany’s eastern front.

Moltke’s selection of Erich Ludendorff as the new chief of staff of the Eighth Army was easily made. Ludendorff had overseen the general staff’s prewar blueprint for mobilization until outspoken advocacy of army expansion landed him in political hot water. Exiled to a socially second-rate regimental command in the industrial city of Düsseldorf, when war came he distinguished himself within days. Attached as deputy chief of staff to the Second Army, Ludendorff assumed command of a leaderless brigade, stormed the Belgian fortress of Liege, and boldly demanded its surrender by hammering on the citadel’s door with the hilt of his sword. For this act the Kaiser decorated the “hero of Liege” with the Pour le Mérite (the coveted Blue Max). Audacious and technically brilliant though Ludendorff was, he was known to be a hothead; he suffered from nerves when plans went awry; and his social origins were not quite top-drawer. Ludendorff would make an excellent chief of staff, Moltke concluded, but someone higher ranking was needed to take command and provide stability and aristocratic presence.

As Moltke debated the choice, a distant relative of Hindenburg attached to OHL recalled that Hindenburg stood ready in Hanover, conveniently centered on a major rail line. The telegram went forth, the retired general replied “Ready,” and a special two-car train carrying Ludendorff from Coblenz made a stopover at Hanover in the early morning hours of August 23. Lacking a regulation field gray uniform, Hindenburg improvised with black trousers and a peacetime Prussian blue tunic let out by his wife to accommodate a postretirement paunch. Ludendorff stepped forward, saluted his oddly garbed commander, and stood respectfully aside as the newly promoted Generaloberst (colonel general) bid adieu to his wife. Together Hindenburg and Ludendorff readied themselves for the journey to East Prussia. It was their first meeting and the beginning of a remarkable strategic partnership.

Hindenburg’s new chief of staff was born on April 9, 1865, two days after Hindenburg had been commissioned a second lieutenant. Son of a bourgeois father and an aristocratic mother, Ludendorff reflected the new wave of general staff officers distinguished more by military proficiency than by aristocratic lineage. He was, in Basil Liddell Hart’s telling phrase, a “robot Napoleon.” He had Napoleon’s work ethic, endurance, and capacious mind, but none of his charisma or inspirational qualities. Peering through a monocle, a sternly self-important expression animating a bulky and somewhat flaccid frame, Ludendorff in peacetime had moved expertly from crisis to crisis. Irascible, humorless, indefatigable, he was the stereotype of a Prussian officer. His main flaw was unbridled ambition. Subordinates respected him but feared his sarcastic tongue and dictatorial ways. In his unrefined bossiness and mastery of minutiae, he was the antithesis of what the Kaiser looked for in his senior officers (der Feldwebel, or that sergeant major, the Kaiser was heard to call him), but no one else in August 1914 had Ludendorff’s combination of tactical skill, operational insight, and boundless energy.

On the train Ludendorff summarized the military situation in East Prussia. After half an hour, Hindenburg nodded his agreement and then set the standard for their relationship by calmly going to sleep. As Hindenburg explained in his memoirs, there was little they could do until they reached Eighth Army headquarters at Marienburg. Hindenburg’s calm confidence reassured the excitable Ludendorff. Already these men had begun to form a symbiotic relationship.

In their postwar memoirs, both men celebrated the Hegelian synthesis they had forged during the war. Ludendorff gushed that he and the field marshal had worked together “like one man, in the most perfect harmony.” Hindenburg’s account was more measured and telling. He described their bond as a “happy marriage” in which they became “one in thought and action.” More to the point, Hindenburg admitted that he gave “free scope to the intellectual powers, the almost superhuman capacity for work and untiring resolution” of his “brother warrior.” That last phrase suggests the most appropriate trope for their relationship. Hindenburg was like an older, shrewder, but less gifted, brother who, as the war progressed, found himself eclipsed by the unbounded ambition of a younger sibling.

At first the older comrade provided much needed stiffening to the younger. Recalled to active duty at the age of sixty-seven, Hindenburg had little left to prove. Having already served with distinction during the German wars of unification, he only wanted to be of service for a week, a month, or however long it took Germany to win this war. Having assiduously studied the geography of East Prussia and having been committed since the 1890s to the idea of repulsing a Russian offensive with aggressive counterattacks, he quickly grasped and approved Ludendorff’s concepts for redeploying the Eighth Army.

Arriving at Eighth Army headquarters in the late afternoon, Hindenburg’s commanding physical presence and emotional imperturbability proved a tonic. Few commanders possessed the force of will to steady not only an inexperienced army whose previous commander and chief of staff had been summarily cashiered, but also a skillful but anxious chief of staff whose imagination plagued him with paralyzing visions of catastrophic defeat and failure. Teaming with Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Max Hoffmann, a highly capable and equally arrogant officer of the army staff, Hindenburg and Ludendorff confirmed plans to concentrate Eighth Army’s strength against the Russians advancing from the south.

Facilitated by the Russians’ failure to follow up their victory at Gumbinnen, the Germans took advantage of their road and railroad networks to bring the equivalent of five army corps against a Russian Second Army suffering from overextension and disrupted communications. On August 27, First Corps crushed the Russian left wing. Two more corps, reaching their positions by hard marching in the brutal August heat, drove in the Russian right. The Russian commander sought to restore the situation by attacking forward with the five divisions of his center and came closer to success than is generally realized. By the evening of August 28, however, German forces advancing on the flanks had closed an unbreakable circle around the Russians.

Victory, the saying goes, has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan. After the fact, many self-proclaimed “victors of Tannenberg” stepped forward. But as Hindenburg himself noted, only he would have taken the blame if the battle had gone the other way. Tannenberg was Hindenburg’s victory. He knew what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. By restoring calm at headquarters, he created an environment in which officers could get on with their jobs. Meddling or micromanaging was simply not his way. Instead, he provided the force of command by holding his nerve and calling Russia’s bluff. An overly ambitious Russian advance, launched prematurely to aid France, was almost fated to fail if German forces moved expeditiously to outflank and outmaneuver their less mobile Russian counterparts. Tannenberg was nevertheless a stunning victory. It marked the destruction of the Russian Second Army, the suicide of its commander, and the capture of ninety-two thousand men and nearly four hundred guns. Yet, it did not even come near to driving Russia from the war-Schlieffen’s criterion for decisive victory. In this it was ironically similar to the Carthaginian victory at Cannae, which only reconfirmed Rome’s determination to resist. Tannenberg’s legacies were nonetheless important. Together with the victory over the Russian First Army at Masurian Lakes in September, it reinvigorated a German war effort seeking to cope with a conflict of unexpected length and dimensions. Even more importantly, Tannenberg created a new national hero.


Paul von Hindenburg reached maturity as the Second Reich emerged triumphantly from the Franco-Prussian War. As Germany sought to cohere as a nation-state in fin de siecle Europe while simultaneously reaching out for its own imperial place in the sun, the Junker-dominated officer corps in which Hindenburg proudly served provided the glue that enabled Wilhelm II to maintain a semiauthoritarian rule into the twentieth century. In return, Hindenburg and his brother officers earned the enviable status that came with serving in imperial Germany’s most visible and admired institution, an army that had earned its spurs by producing decisive victories on the battlefield. Even professors were known to flaunt reserve commissions and when introduced, chose to have their military rank announced first, academic credentials second.

Hindenburg’s retirement in 1911 marked a fitting end to a respectable military career. It certainly did not weaken the feudal bond he felt to his liege lord, the Kaiser. Recalled to active duty in the opening weeks of the war, Hindenburg won acclaim and celebrity with impressive victories at Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes. With Ludendorff by his side, in two years Hindenburg rose from command of an army, to field marshal and overlord of Germany’s eastern front, and eventually to chief of the imperial general staff. By 1917 these men became virtual military dictators of Germany, and by extension Austria-Hungary as well as Germany took over a faltering Hapsburg war effort.

Excessive power and near-universal adulation exposed Hindenburg’s shortcomings. The wooden statues that became his wartime symbol unintentionally captured a certain woodenness of character. Strength and fortitude Hindenburg possessed; dexterity and breadth of vision he did not. Effective as an army commander, he was out of his depth as a coalition commander and especially as a soldier-statesman. Rejecting negotiated settlements to the war as dishonorable and pusillanimous, Hindenburg and Ludendorff agreed that all-out offensives in every sphere, military, political, and intellectual, were the answer. Unrestricted submarine warfare, however, failed and inexorably dragged the United States into the war, restoring the morale of faltering Entente forces. Meanwhile, overweening ambition in the east prevented concentration of force in the west. Bewilderment and strategic overstretch combined to produce all-or-nothing attacks on the western front from March to July 1918 that ended in exhaustion and widespread disillusionment on both the battlefront and the home front.

Together, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had failed to honor their promises to the soldiers wearing field gray, ultimately betraying their trust. Instead of taking their share of the blame, Hindenburg and Ludendorff sought scapegoats. Defeat marked an acrimonious split of the so-called marriage between these men. Recrimination and betrayal replaced cooperation and mutual respect. Their bitter divorce was a minor, if telling, manifestation of the totality of the Second Reich’s moral collapse.

Michael Friedrich Benedikt Freiherr von Melas, (1729-1806)

Veteran Austrian general defeated by Bonaparte at Marengo in 1800. Having joined as a cadet officer, he served in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) to reach the rank of general. Recalled from retirement, he won several victories in Italy before his final defeat.

Born near Schässburg in Siebenburgen (Transylvania), Melas came from a Saxon family of Lutheran ministers and was raised in a Spartan environment, learning to ride and use weapons at an early age and attending the Schässburg Gymnasium (grammar school). At age seventeen, he joined the local Infanterie Regiment Schulenberg as a Kadett and saw action as a Leutnant (lieutenant) in the victory at Kolin (18 June 1757). Promoted to Hauptmann (captain), he commanded the grenadier company of Infanterie Regiment Batthnanyi, distinguishing himself in the storming of Schweidnitz on 1 October 1761 before becoming Feldmarschall Leopold Graf Daun’s adjutant.

Melas married Josepha Lock von Retsky on 11 September 1768. He transferred to the 2nd Karabinier Regiment in May 1778 as Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel), leading his division (two squadrons) in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778-1779). Appointed director of the Remount Service, he was later promoted to Oberst (commanding colonel) of the Trautmannsdorf Kurassier Regiment. He led the Lobkowitz Chevauléger Regiment in the Turkish War (1788-1791) until promoted to Generalmajor on 16 June 1789 with command of a brigade. Promoted to Feldmarschalleutnant in June 1794, he commanded a small corps in Germany and repelled Kléber’s advance over the Rhine at Zahlbach on 1 December. Transferred to Italy in 1796, he commanded the Army Reserve under Feldzeugmeister Johann Peter Freiherr von Beaulieu against Bonaparte’s invasion. Briefly a temporary army commander, Melas proved an able deputy to Feldmarschall Dagobert Graf Würmser as they endured the later part of the defense of the fortress of Mantua until its surrender in February 1797. When the war concluded, Melas retired to his estates in Gratz, in Bohemia.

Despite suffering with rheumatism and what is now thought to have been Parkinson’s disease, he was recalled two years later and made Inhaber (honorary colonel) of the 6th Kurassier Regiment. As Austrian commander in Italy in 1799 alongside the Russian field marshal Alexander Suvorov, he defeated the French general Jacques Etienne Macdonald at the Trebbia in mid-June. On 15 August Melas led his troops in a furious bayonet charge at Novi against the French right flank to decide the battle for the Allies. After the Russians left, he led the Austrian troops in defeating the French at Savigliano on 18 September and Genola on 4 November before taking the fortress of Cuneo on 3 December. Melas’s surprise offensive in mid-April 1800 put Genoa under siege, and he reached the French border on the Var, at which point he was forced to return to Turin by Bonaparte’s advance. Massing his troops at Alessandria, he was defeated at Marengo on 14 June. He was appointed general commander of Inner Austria in September 1800 and then of Bohemia until 1803, when he retired.

Siege of Genoa, (April-June 1800)

The defense of the last French stronghold in Italy beginning in late April 1800 played a key role in pinning down substantial Austrian forces while Bonaparte, the First Consul, crossed the Alps with his army. Despite his promises to relieve the siege, Bonaparte abandoned the defenders under General André Masséna, who surrendered in early June after enduring considerable hardship.

With promises of resupply, Bonaparte persuaded Masséna to take command of French forces on the Mediterranean coast in early February. On 6 April, the Austrian commander Feldmarschalleutnant Michael Freiherr von Melas swept south, cut the French left wing under General Louis Suchet off from Masséna, and closed the ring around the walled city on 19 April. Left with 9,600 fit troops, the French attempted forays to obtain food, but they were usually frustrated by the Austrians and their local supporters. On 24 April the Allies demanded Masséna’s surrender. He responded that he “would rather be buried under the ruins of Genoa than surrender” (Masséna 1966-1967, 3-4: appendix). Three days later, Melas left Feldmarschalleutnant Peter Freiherr Ott von Bartokez with 24,000 troops, but without heavy siege guns he could only maintain a blockade to starve the French out. The British mounted a steady naval bombardment.

The city was able to eke out meager food supplies for a month, and some local merchant ships ran the blockade to deliver highly priced corn. Bread was being sold to local inhabitants, but this was stopped on 20 May when the Austrians cut the aqueduct, which supplied waterpower for the flour mills. The military ration was reduced to 153 grams of bread-made from flour, sawdust, starch, hair powder, oatmeal, linseed, rancid nuts, and cocoa-and an equal quantity of horseflesh. However, wine was plentiful, so each man received a daily liter. Once the horses had been eaten, the city’s cats, dogs, and rats were consumed. Townspeople resorted to boiled leaves and grass, seasoned with salt, before being reduced to boiling old bones, leather, and other skins. Each day, up to 400 emaciated bodies were dumped in an open grave. The civilian population of 120,000 was reduced by more than 30,000. Austrian prisoners aboard the prison hulks received a quarter ration. They resorted to eating their shoes and leather equipment before starting on canvas sails.

On 14 May Masséna mounted one final attempt to break the blockade through Monte Creto, but he was defeated and General Nicolas Soult was captured. That night, a naval bombardment conducted by gunboats spread disorder through the population until calm was restored at dawn, when Masséna ordered any group of larger than four to be shot. A British raid on 21 May was followed by popular insurrection. On 31 May rations ran out and desertions started. Seeing no sign of relief, Masséna offered to surrender on 1 June. His parley coincided with Melas’s order to Ott to lift the blockade and march north, but the Austrians delayed his departure until 4 June, when the surrender was signed and they took possession of the city.

References and further reading Duffy, Christopher. 2000. Eagles over the Alps: Suvorov in Italy and Switzerland, 1799. Chicago: Emperor’s. Hollins, David. 2004. Austrian Commanders of the Napoleonic Wars. Oxford: Osprey. Furse, George. 1993. Marengo and Hohenlinden. Felling, UK: Worley. (Orig. pub. 1903.) Hollins, David. 2000. Marengo. Oxford: Osprey. Masséna, André, prince d’Essling. 1966-1967. Mémoires d’André Masséna. 7 vols. Ed. Gen. Koch. Paris: J. de Bonnet (Orig. pub. 1848-1850.)