The “Fahrgerät” FG1250 IR Night Vision equipment

“Solution B” It’s only a model!”

The Germans started experimenting with Night Vision technology in a date as early as 1936.

The first night driving tests by Wa Pruf 8/I occur in 1937. The Army considers the device ludicrously expensive for driving around at night.

Before the war the use of IR sights for gun aiming is discussed with the Army who set its IR sight requirement as the ability to hit bunker embrasure at 1000 meters with a 30cm / 100 watt searchlight. (Searchlight size and power consumption dictates the size/weight and battery life span of the equipment).

IR driving and gun aiming sights were again demonstrated to the Army in 1940, just after the French campaign, fitted to a Panzer I. Here it can be said the military were just uninterested. This subject was not discussed for two years however the Wa Pruf 8/I still continued work on other devices for the military particularly thermal detecting applications for Army coastal artillery.

Summer 1942 the Army came knocking on door of Wa Purf 8/I asking for a way to take on the Russian night time tank attacks (which greatly impressed the Germans). Dr Gaertner shows them the current gear can hit targets at night using a 36cm searchlight out to a range of 300 meters.

The man on the spot at the Wa Pruf General der Artillerie Heinz ZIEGLER (RK; DKiG) decides that range is sufficient and approves development. This is the well know Pak 40 ZG 1221 sight pictured on a Marder II. That shot dates from about November 1942 when firing tests confirm the set-up will work. Development continued and Gaertner notes development on IR in general increases at this point.

However, it was 1943 when one of such devices was finally tested on a Panther tank. It was named “Fahrgerät” (German for “driving equipment”) FG1250 although it was referred to as “Puma” by the allies in the post-war and also known as “Sperber”, a name deriving from the composite “Sperber” units that would be formed by mixing different Night Fighting equipped troops (Vampir, Falke, Uhu and Panthers ).

This equipment comprised an Infra-Red 200-Watt Headlamp and a IR receiver/sight capable of “seeing” in and converting the IR wave length to visible light. It is reported of having a range of up to 500 meters. The set was mounted on a mounting base installed in the commander’s copula and it could be used in a fixed 12 o’clock position traversing with the turret, or unlocked to provide 360° of rotation.

When installed the Commander’s copula, the hatch would not close and the equipment was fed from a battery/generator set installed inside the turret in the place used by the aft right munition rack, with a cost of 3 rounds less in total munition for the main gun.

During daytime the whole equipment would be taken down for protection and installed in a characteristic armoured box in place of the right standard storage bin on the back of the hull.

Such a setup was known as “Solution A” and offered Night Vision capability only to the Commander, the rest of the crew had to rely on his instructions for movement. For targeting the device was locked to the turret’s 12 o’clock position. The Commander would search for targets traversing the turret. Once acquired the crew had to calculate gun elevation by means of a steel “tape” riveted to the IR device mounting base that entered the turret by a small opening. Such a tape would slide up or down depending on the elevation of the IR headlamp/receiver and by measuring the size of the tape the crew would determine the main gun elevation from within the turret. Once everything was in place the shot was ordered by the Commander.

Soon enough a “Solution B” was promptly drafted, allowing the driver to use another set of IR beam/receiver in order to drive the tank under low light conditions, just like it was done with the “Falke”. The “Solution B” is just a fantasy that could maybe only have existed in the very beginning on some training Panther perhaps, but never in active service.

According to the “Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy” by Tom Jentz,book some 44 Panther tanks and its crews from at least 4 different units were equipped and trained to use Night Fighting gear by the end of WW2, however there are no records or evidence that they were actually used in combat. Interestingly enough some sources state that a trailing “F” was added to the serial number of all of those Panther tanks prepared of mounting Night Vision equipment.

The active units that fought in April 1945 used ONLY the IR-equipment for the commander – BUT one unit (1. Komp. Pz. Rgt 29 ) with 10 IR-Panthers used the – fahrgerät 1253 – for the driver also. He could just simply switch from normal periscope to the F. G. 1253 and use the same “halterung”. The F. G. 1253 was stored beside (on the left) the driver during the day. Nothing was needed to be rebuild outside. He could see the ground with help from the Commander’s spotlight when he had the IR-filter on, or from the light of the UHUs. It is correct that the commander could turn his IR in 360 degrees – the steel band was easy to remove and put on a holder over the periscope guard. Then he could focus on a target and the turret was turning to this position and the commander install the steel-band again, and begins the complicated communication with the gunner that saw nothing outside.

The Allies of course had their own IR and the Germans knew about it, for that reason IR was not used in the west. The British actively looked for IR on the east bank of the Rhine with specially equipped IR Mosquitos before the March crossings, finding none. The British also manufactured and held large numbers of cheap IR detectors close to the front should the Germans deploy their IR.

Anglo-French [non]-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War I

If Britain and France refrained from challenging Italy and Germany in Spain, this was not because they were blind to the threat to their strategic interests;  it was because they feared that a general war in Western Europe, whether they won or lost, could only redound to the benefit of Russia.

In a policy summary drafted by Gladwyn Jebb, private secretary to Alexander Cadogan, permanent undersecretary of the Foreign Office since January 1938, and based partly on the papers of William Strang, head of the Central Departmentall three men supporters of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Jebb observed that the objection to collective security was that it would “provoke war in which defeat would be disastrous and victory hardly less so.”

At a session, on 15 March 1938, of the Comité Permanent de la Défense Nationale, Edouard Daladier, the French minister of defense, stated that “one would have to be blind not to see that intervention in Spain would start a general war.” As to what he envisioned by a general war was expressed by him apocalyptically three months later, when, as the reader will recall, he told Count von Welczech, the German ambassador: “[The] catastrophic frightfulness of a modern war would surpass all that humanity had ever seen, and would mean the utter destruction of European civilization. Into the battle zones, devastated and denuded of men, Cossack and Mongol hordes would then pour, bringing to Europe a new ‘Culture.’ ”          

Hence, the nonintervention policy of Britain and France during the Civil War was determined not only by their hostility to the social revolution and by later Communist domination, of which they were fully informed through their diplomatic and secret agents, but by the fear that a general war would bring in its wake the enthronement of Communism in the whole of Europe. Consequently, no effort at dissimulation or persuasion, no attempt by successive Spanish governments to curb or roll back the revolution could have affected Anglo-French policy.

We have seen that the policy of appeasement of Germany was pursued with greater vigor from the time Neville Chamberlain succeeded Stanley Baldwin in the premiership in May 1937 and that the new prime minister perceived the Soviet Union as the major long-term threat to British interests and the Western world. For this reason, a political settlement with Germany was the cornerstone of Chamberlain’s policy, and it was visionary to believe that Britain would come to the aid of Republican Spain at the risk of a war in Western Europe. 

That some members of the PCE in the spring of 1938 had begun to question the assumption that Britain and France would eventually be drawn into the conflict, but such doubts, inadmissible in Communist circles, had to be squelched if morale were to be sustained, particularly at the battlefronts. “I never for a moment believed that the Spanish government would get real help from Britain and France,” Ralph Bates, the British author and assistant commissar of the Fifteenth International Brigade, wrote in 1940 after he had severed his connections with the Communists. He was “tremendously censured,” he said, by the English representative of the Communist party in Madrid for dealing with the problem, even implicitly, in the brigade organ Volunteer for Liberty of which he was editor and was ”charged with exposing the boys to the possibility of this thought coming up in their minds.” “In so far as we damped down the revolution in Spain,” he added, “in the interests of collective security, then we miscalculated. I feel compelled to face that fact. Not all our soft-pedalling won [Britain and France] to our side. Might we have got more out of the CNT and FAI if we had not soft-pedalled so much?”          

The extent to which Chamberlain and his supporters were prepared to pursue the appeasement of Germany is evident from a conversation that Lord Halifax held with Adolf Hitler on 19 November 1937. At that time, Halifax was Lord Privy Seal and later, as foreign secretary, formed part of Chamberlain’s “Inner Cabinet” with Sir Samuel Hoare and Sir John Simon. According to a German foreign ministry memorandum, Halifax recognized that Hitler “had not only performed great services in Germany” but also had been able “by preventing the entry of Communism into his own country, to bar its passage further West.” Halifax stated that on the English side “it was not necessarily thought that the status quo must be maintained under all circumstances.” He then spoke of “possible alterations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time. Amongst these questions were Danzig, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. England was interested to see that any alterations should come through the course of peaceful evolution and that methods should be avoided which might cause far-reaching disturbances [i.e., war in Western Europe].” Since Austria was the gateway to Czechoslovakia, and Danzig the key to Poland, these remarks must have encouraged Hitler to believe that his territorial ambitions in Eastern Europe would encounter scant opposition.    

“Halifax’s remarks,” writes the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, “if they had any practical sense, were an invitation to Hitler to promote German nationalist agitation in Danzig, Czechoslovakia, and Austria; an assurance also that this agitation would not be opposed from without.” 10 Hitler also received similar assurances from the French government. “[I] was amazed to note,” Franz von Papen, the German ambassador in Austria, told Hitler on 10 November 1937 after a visit to Paris, “that, like [foreign minister] Bonnet, Premier [Camille Chautemps] considered a reorientation of French policy in Central Europe as entirely open to discussion. . . .[He], too, had no objection to a marked extension of German influence in Austria obtained through evolutionary means.” And, on 4 December, in a letter to state secretary von Weizsäcker, the head of the political department in the German foreign ministry, von Papen stated: “I found it very interesting to note that neither Bonnet nor Chautemps raised any objections to an evolutionary extension of German influence . . . in Czechoslovakia, on the basis of a reorganization into a nation of nationalities.”        

In pursuit of his appeasement policy, Chamberlain removed Sir Robert Vansittart, the permanent undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, the most forceful exponent of anti-German opinion in the Foreign Office, and assigned him to the newly created post of “Chief Diplomatic Adviser,” where, according to the earl of Birkenhead, “he found himself trapped in a gilded cage” and where he “ceased to exert any effective influence on foreign affairs.” Commenting in a letter to his sister on all the months Stanley Baldwin had “wasted in futile attempts” to push Vansittart out of the Foreign Office, Chamberlain remarked: “[It] is amusing to record that I have done it in three days. . . . I am afraid his instincts were all against my policy. . . . I suspect that in Rome and Berlin the rejoicings will be loud and deep.”            

The way was now open for a more vigorous pursuit of appeasement by circumventing the Foreign Office, which, according to Sir Horace Wilson, Chamberlain’s intimate colleague and chief diplomatic adviser, represented an obstruction to the prime minister’s policy of coming to terms with the dictators. “The old-established machine of the Foreign Office,” wrote Lord Templewood (Sir Samuel Hoare), in his published memoir of the period, “did not seem to [Chamberlain] to move quickly enough for the crisis that threatened Europe.” More expressive of Hoare’s true attitude toward the Foreign Office was the candid letter he sent to Neville Chamberlain on 17 March 1937, shortly before Stanley Baldwin’s resignation from the premiership. After suggesting that Chamberlain should not copy “Baldwin’s slipshod, happy-go-lucky quietism” he continued: “Do not let anything irrevocable or badly compromising happen in foreign politics until you are in control. I say this because I am convinced that the FO [Foreign Office] is so much biased against Germany (and Italy and Japan) that unconsciously and almost continuously they are making impossible any sort of reconciliation. I believe myself that when once you are Prime Minister it will be possible greatly to change the European atmosphere.”         

On 3 March 1938, the British ambassador to Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, who bypassed the regular Foreign Office channels and plied the prime minister directly with letters and visits, told Hitler that the aim of British policy was “to establish the basis for a genuine and cordial friendship with Germany.” Lord Halifax, Henderson added, had already admitted that changes in Europe could be considered “quite possible,” provided they were the product of “higher reason” rather than “the free play of forces.” This policy was certainly not one that Henderson “had worked out for himself,” as William N. Medlicott affirms in his preface to volume 18 of Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, second series, in a “revisionist” interpretation of appeasement. As British historians Keith Middlemas and Ian Colvin have pointed out, Henderson was a disciple of Chamberlain’s and one of the principal exponents of his policy. Medlicott’s assertion is all the more remarkable in that he quotes Henderson’s own testimony from the latter’s memoir Failure of a Mission, in which the former ambassador states: “Both Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Baldwin, whom I had seen earlier, agreed that I should do my utmost to work with Hitler and the Nazi Party as the existing government of Germany. . . . Mr. Chamberlain outlined to me his views on general policy towards Germany, and I think I may honestly say that to the last and bitter end I followed the general line which he set me, all the more easily and faithfully since it corresponded so closely with my private conception of the service I could best render in Germany to my own country.”  

In this connection, it is worth quoting from a memorandum by Henderson to the Foreign Office, dated 10 May 1937, in which he stated: “[Eastern Europe] is neither definitely settled for all time nor is it a vital British interest, and the German is certainly more civilized than the Slav, and in the end, if properly handled, also less potentially dangerous to British interestsone might even go so far as to assert that it is not even just to endeavour to prevent Germany from completing her unity or from being prepared for war against the Slav, provided her preparations are such as to reassure the British Empire that they are not simultaneously designed against it.”    

On 10 March 1938, two days before Hitler’s annexation of Austria, German foreign minister von Ribbentrop reported to Hitler during a visit to London that Lord Halifax had told him that “Chamberlain and he, Lord Halifax, were determined to reach an understanding with Germany” and that in advocating this policy “Chamberlain had assumed a great responsibility in the eyes of the British people and a great risk as well.” Ribbentrop then stated: “Germany wished to be and had to be strong. . . .Germany must be armed for defense against Soviet Russian attacks. . . . The Führer did not wish to request aid at the outset from the great Western Powers, if some day the steamroller of world revolution should be set in motion against Germany.” At this point Lord Halifax interjected that “England was well aware of Germany’s strength and that she had no objection to it whatever.” Then Ribbentrop continued: “Germany wished to obtain the right of self-determination for the 10 million Germans living on her eastern border, i.e., in Austria and Czechoslovakia. . . . In this connection . . . the Führer had been pleased when Lord Halifax had shown understanding for that, too, at Berchtesgaden and when he had declared that the status quo in Eastern Europe could not be maintained unconditionally forever.” The next day, Ribbentrop reported that Chamberlain had “very emphatically requested” that he inform the Führer of “his most sincere wish for an understanding with Germany.”

Hitler’s annexation of Austria had no effect in London it had, in fact, been regarded as inevitable and Chamberlain pursued his appeasement of Germany with unruffled self-assurance. Nevertheless, it was essential that Hitler achieve his next territorial objective by peaceful means lest Great Britain be drawn into a European conflict through France’s treaty obligations. On 22 May, during the mounting crisis over Czechoslovakia, Lord Halifax instructed Nevile Henderson to inform Ribbentrop of this dangerous contingency: “If a resort is had to forcible measures, it is quite impossible for me or for him to foretell the results that may follow, and I would beg him not to count on this country’s being able to stand aside if from any precipitate action there should start a European conflagration. Only those will benefit from such a catastrophe who wish to see the destruction of European civilization.” At the beginning of September, there was mutual understanding. Theodor Kordt, the German chargé d’affaires in London, reported to ambassador Dirksen on a conversation with Chamberlain and Sir Horace Wilson: “The conversation took place in an exceedingly friendly atmosphere. [Wilson] was visibly moved (as far as an Englishman can betray such feelings at all) when at the end he shook my hand and said: ‘If we two, Great Britain and Germany, come to agreement regarding the settlement of the Czech problem, we shall simply brush aside the resistance that France or Czechoslovakia herself may offer to the decision.” At the end of the month there followed the Munich settlement, the result of British pressure on Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudeten territory.

By now, it must have been obvious to Stalin that the policy of collective security that he had indefatigably pursued since the USSR joined the League of Nations in 1934 in the hope of warding off the German threat might fail and that the slender hope that Britain and France would risk a conflict over Spain was fading. He therefore renewed his interest in the possibility of negotiating a nonaggression pact with Hitler in order to divert German military might against the West. We have already seen that quite early in the Civil War, his trade representative David Kandelaki had initiated negotiations for an agreement with Germany but that these tentative efforts had been rebuffed by Hitler. In fact, it was not until after the overthrow of Juan Negrín on 6 March 1939, that Stalin finally gave up all hope of involving Britain and France in a war with Germany over the Spanish conflict and revived his plans for a compact with Hitler.   

At this stage it is important to anticipate the course of events in Spain and even to probe the diplomatic intrigues among the European powers beyond the close of the Spanish Civil War, in order fully to appreciate the perilous game being played and the real concerns of British policymakers during the war itself.            

In his report to the eighteenth congress of the Soviet Communist party on 10 March 1939, Stalin inveighed against Britain and France for encouraging Germany to embroil herself in a war with the Soviet Union, in which “they would appear on the scene with fresh strength . . . to dictate conditions to the enfeebled belligerents” precisely the role of arbiter that Stalin had reserved for the Soviet Union should the Spanish Civil War develop into a Western European conflict and for the first time he threw out the first open hint of his desire for a rapprochement with Germany. “Marshal Stalin in March 1939,” testified the former Reich foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, during his trial at Nuremberg, “delivered a speech in which he made certain hints of his desire to have better relations with Germany. I had submitted this speech to Adolf Hitler and asked him whether we should not try to find out whether this suggestion had something real behind it. Hitler was at first reluctant, but later on he became more receptive to this idea. Negotiations for a commercial treaty were under way, and during these negotiations, with the Führer’s permission, I took soundings in Moscow as to the possibility of a definite bridge between National Socialism and Bolshevism and whether the interests of the two countries could not at least be made to harmonize.”

The extremely cautious manner in which both sides broached the question of a political settlement from the time of Stalin’s speech, as revealed by documents found in the archives of the German foreign office, stemmed no doubt from the fact that each side feared that the other might use any concrete proposal for a political agreement to strengthen its own bargaining position vis-à-vis Britain and France. In fact, up to 30 May 1939, less than three months before the signing of the German-Soviet nonaggression pact (in August) and the Secret Protocol that touched off the German attack on Poland and World War II, these documents indicate that matters had not gone beyond vague soundings. On that date state secretary Weizsäcker wired the German embassy in Moscow: “Contrary to the policy previously planned we have now decided to undertake definite negotiations with the Soviet Union.”

Although Stalin did not open formal negotiations with Hitler until the middle of 1939, he was not backward during the Spanish Civil Warapart from the overtures made by Kandelakiin letting Hitler know that it would be to Germany’s advantage to have him as a partner rather than an enemy. This is borne out by the testimony of Alexander Orlov: “The fourth line of Soviet intelligence,” he wrote, “is so-called Misinformation. . . . Misinformation is not just lying for the sake of lying; it is expected to serve as a subtle means of inducing another government to do what the Kremlin wants it to do. . . . During the Spanish Civil War . . . the Misinformation desk was ordered to introduce into the channels of the German military intelligence service information that the Soviet planes fighting in Spain were not of the latest design and that Russia had in her arsenal thousands of newer planes, of the second and third generation, possessing much greater speed and a higher ceiling. This was not true. Russia had given Spain the best and the newest she had (though in insufficient quantities). This misleading information greatly impressed the German High Command. . . . Evidently, Stalin wanted to impress on Hitler that the Soviet Union was much stronger and better armed than he thought and that it would be wiser for Germany to have Russia as a partner rather than an opponent.”

Four months before the signing of the German-Soviet nonaggression pact in August, Walter Krivitsky claimed that Stalin’s foreign policy in the Western world was predicated upon a profound contempt for the “weakling” democratic nations and that his international policy had been a series of maneuvers whose sole purpose was to place him in a favorable position for a deal with Hitler. This is by no means certain, for Stalin could not rely entirely on a problematical agreement with Hitler on which to base his foreign policy. For this reason, he was careful to keep open his other option of collective security in the hope that the Western powers would eventually confront Hitler, whether in Spain or Czechoslovakia, and deflect German aggression away from Russia’s borders. It was because Stalin held open both these options that even after the loss of Catalonia in February 1939 he still hoped, as we shall see later, that Britain and France might reverse their policy of neutrality and instructed the Spanish politburo to continue the struggle in the fading expectation that the latent antagonisms in the West would finally burst into flame.

Anglo-French [non]-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War II

It would be false to convey the impression that only Stalin, Negrín, and the Spanish Communists placed their hopes of victory in the Civil War in the eventual outbreak of a European conflict, for these hopes were also entertained, as we have seen, by some leaders of the CNT. They were also entertained for some time by certain prominent Socialists. Referring to the occupation of the Basque provinces and Asturias by General Franco in the summer and autumn of 1937, Wenceslao Carrillo, a supporter of Largo Caballero and director general of security in his government, wrote: “Nevertheless, the hope of victory that the Communist party and the Negrín government held out to us, based on the possibility of world war, had not disappeared. Neither France nor England, they argued, can consent to an out-and-out triumph of fascism in Spain because that would put them in a critical position in the Mediterranean. As I am ready to tell the whole truth, I refuse to conceal the fact that, in the beginning, I too shared this belief. . . . But I did not think of profiting from war; nor was I in the service of interests other than those of my country.”

On the other hand, President Azaña, like Julián Besteiro, the right-wing Socialist, who hoped for a negotiated settlement, frowned on the prospect of a European conflict. In reply to Juan-Simeón Vidarte, a member of the Socialist executive and a Negrín supporter, Azaña once stated: “I already know that there is someone among you who believes that the just cause of the Republic would be saved by a world war. That war would be a catastrophe of inconceivable dimensions and it is not right for us to seek salvation in the martyrdom of millions of human beings. . . . I see that you are infected by the Negrín thesis. . . . Suppose that at the end of the war Communism were implanted in Western Europe just as it was implanted in Eastern Europe at the end of the last war. To the majority of Republicans and, I suppose, Socialists that solution would be repugnant.”       

If the hope that a general conflict would eventually erupt was disappointed, this was not because those who determined policy in Britain and France contemplated lightly the extension of Italo-German power in the Mediterranean; it was because the purview of their foreign policy went beyond the Spanish problem and embraced the whole of Europe. If Britain and France refused to challenge Germany in Spain; if, moreover, they sacrificed the independence of Austria and Czechoslovakia; if, finally, Neville Chamberlain, as will be seen shortly, secretly proposed before being outmaneuvered by the Hitler-Stalin pacta political settlement with Germany that would free Britain from her guarantee to Poland, it was because they knew that the frustration of German aims at this stage, even if it did not lead to war, would weaken the Nazi regime and enhance Russia’s influence on the continent. Above all, those who molded policy in Britain and France wished to avoid war in the West until Germany had weakened herself in the East. To have resisted Germany before she had blunted her teeth on Russian soil would have left the Soviet Union arbiter of the continent, infinitely more powerful than if she had to bear the main burden of the fighting.  

Of course, in the long run, Britain and France could no more have desired Germany to obtain a complete mastery over the greater part of Europe than they could Russia. They wished for the domination of neither. Of this, German leaders were supremely conscious. Hence, if, after the occupation of Poland, Germany invaded Belgium, France, and the Netherlands before attacking the Soviet Union, this was because the subjection of Western Europe and the control of its coastline were, in the German mind, indispensable prerequisites for war on the Soviet Union; for although Britain and France might encourage German ambitions in Eastern Europe, Germany could not feel certain that once she was involved in an exhausting struggle on Soviet soil, these powers would not attempt to restore the balance in their favor. Undoubtedly the conviction that Germany would attack the West before assailing Russia lay at the root of some of the opposition in Britain and France to the policy of giving Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe.

Although the direction of the German thrust seemed unmistakable, there is evidence that both the British and French leaders were not unmindful of the danger that appeasement might backfire and that Germany might march west instead of east. On 1 November 1938, one month after the Munich agreement, Lord Halifax, in a letter to Sir Eric Phipps, the British ambassador in Paris, outlined his thoughts: “Henceforward, we must count with German predominance in Central Europe. . . . In these conditions, it seems to me that Great Britain and France have to uphold their predominant position in Western Europe by the maintenance of such armed strength as would render any attack upon them hazardous. . . . It is one thing to allow German expansion in Central Europe, which to my mind is a normal and natural thing, but we must be able to resist German expansion in Western Europe or else our whole position is undermined.”              

The possibility that Germany might attack Western Europe before marching East was conveyed to Halifax by Sir G. Ogilvie-Forbes, the British chargé d’affaires in Berlin, in a dispatch dated 6 December 1938. There was a school of thought, he stated, that believed that “Herr Hitler will not risk a Russian adventure until he has made quite certain that his western flank will not be attacked while he is operating in the east, and that consequently his first task will be to liquidate France and England, before British rearmament is ready.” Equally disturbing was a report by William Strang, Halifax’s assistant undersecretary of state, dated 18 January 1939, in which he referred to “reports we have had of Hitler’s intention to attack in the West this Spring. . . . Germany cannot conduct a war on two fronts in present circumstances, and material conditions will make it easier for her to operate in the West than in the East.”

That French leaders were aware of the dangers is also evident. In a letter to French foreign minister Georges Bonnet on 19 March 1939, a few days after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, the French ambassador in Moscow, Robert Coulondre, stated that the Nazi leaders saw two ways open to them: “Either to proceed without intermission in the subjugation of east and south-east Europe” or to “attack France and Britain before these two Powers have, with American help, caught up with German armaments. . . . This second possibility is not at present the more probable. But we must reckon with the risk of seeing Germany engaged in such an undertaking.”              

The general assumption, however, after the occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939 was that Hitler’s next move would be against Poland. But despite Chamberlain’s treaty guarantees to defend Polish independence guarantees hastily given under pressure from the parliamentary Opposition and the aroused state of British public opinion he did what he could to evade his commitments. This is clear from the meticulously documented study by the British historians Martín Gilbert and Richard Gott of British treaty obligations to Poland, of the subsequent efforts to wriggle out of them, and the eight-month “phoney” war, during which Chamberlain still hoped for an Anglo-German agreement that would avert war in Western Europe. It is also clear from the secret proposals that Sir Horace Wilson, his chief collaborator and adviser, made to Helmut Wohlthat, Hermann Goering’s emissary in London, in mid-July 1939, and the conversations a few days later between Wilson and Herbert von Dirksen, the German ambassador to London.     

These “back-stair negotiations,” as the British historian Sir Lewis Namier called them, in which the prime minister “unwisely engaged” without the knowledge of the Foreign Office, were the zenith of the appeasement policy. Wilson’s proposals were recorded by von Dirksen in a long memorandum written after the outbreak of war, which was found on his estate at Gröditzberg by the Soviet army, and also in a shorter “strictly secret” report dated 21 July 1939 drawn up at the time of his ambassadorship. The authenticity of the proposals is beyond doubt, not only because Dirksen later confirmed them in every important detail in a work published in London in 1951, but because Wohlthat himself refers to them in his report to Goering. Moreover, Wilson’s proposals (which quite naturally he concealed from the Foreign Office) have never been challenged by a single British historian. Although conveniently ignored by many historians (for example, William N. Medlicott, Robert Skidelsky, and Simon Newman) in their revisionist assessments of Chamberlain’s foreign policy, they have been accepted without question by others, notably, Ian Colvin, Sir Lewis Namier, and A. J. P. Taylor. Nevertheless, they have not been accorded the significance they deserve.        

While not directly related to the Spanish Civil War, the Dirksen memoranda shed more light than any other documents on the mainspring of appeasement to divert German aggression eastward and illustrate how far Chamberlain was prepared to go in order to reach a political settlement with Germany in order to preserve peace in Western Europe. Therefore they are particularly relevant to the Civil War since they demonstrate the futility of Stalin’s efforts to provoke a conflagration in Western Europe by involving Britain and France in the Spanish conflict and are the clearest proof of the inevitable failure of his attempts to influence Western governments by distorting the true nature of the revolution.

In the longer of the two documents, Dirksen testifies:         

When Herr [Helmut] Wohlthat [emissary of Goering] was in London for the whaling negotiations in July [1939], Wilson [Sir Horace Wilson] invited him for a talk, and, consulting prepared notes, outlined a program for a comprehensive adjustment of Anglo-German relations. . . . 

In the political sphere, a non-aggression pact was contemplated, in which aggression would be renounced in principle. The underlying purpose of this treaty was to make it possible for the British gradually to disembarrass themselves of their commitments towards Poland, on the ground that they had by this treaty secured Germany’s renunciation of methods of aggression. . . .             

The importance of Wilson’s proposals was demonstrated by the fact that Wilson invited Wohlthat to have them confirmed by Chamberlain personally, whose room was not far from Wilson’s. Wohlthat, however, declined this in order not to prejudice the unofficial character of his mission. . . .           

In order to avoid all publicity, I visited Wilson at his home on August 3 [one month before Hitler’s invasion of Poland] and we had a conversation which lasted nearly two hours. . . . Again Wilson affirmed, and in a clearer form than he had done to Wohlthat, that the conclusion of an Anglo-German entente would practically render Britain’s guarantee policy nugatory. Agreement with Germany would enable Britain to extricate herself from her predicament in regard to Poland on the ground that the non-aggression pact protected Poland from German attack; England would thus be relieved of her commitments. Then Poland, so to speak, would be left to face Germany alone.   

Sir Horace Wilson, on my insistence, also touched on the question of how the negotiations were to be conducted in face of the inflamed state of British public opinion [resulting from Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia in March 1939]. . . . He admitted quite frankly that by taking this step Chamberlain was incurring a great risk and laying himself open to the danger of a fall. But with skill and strict secrecy, the reefs could be avoided. . . .         

The tragic and paramount thing about the rise of the new Anglo-German war was that Germany demanded an equal place with Britain as a world power and that Britain was in principle prepared to concede. But whereas Germany demanded immediate, complete and unequivocal satisfaction of her demand, Britain although she was ready to renounce her eastern commitments, and there with her encirclement policy, as well as to allow Germany a predominant position in east and south-east Europe and to discuss genuine world political partnership with Germany wanted this to be done only by way of negotiation and a gradual revision of British policy. This change could be effected in a period of months, but not of days or weeks. 

A. J. P. Taylor, one of the few British historians who have ventured to mention Sir Horace Wilson’s proposals, writes: “Wilson produced a memorandum on 10 Downing Street notepaper, which, not surprisingly, has disappeared from the British records. This proposed an Anglo-German treaty of non-aggression and non-interference. . . . A pact of this kind ‘would enable Britain to rid herself of her commitments vis-à-vis Poland.’ . . . [It] is inconceivable that these proposals were made without Chamberlain’s knowledge or approval.”         

Although Wilson’s proposals met with no response in Berlin and were “simply thrown into the wastepaper basket,” as von Dirksen put it, undoubtedly because Hitler, impatient to dispose of the Polish problem before the onset of winter, favored a pact with Stalin that offered immediate territorial gains rather than a pact with Britain that would have required a long period of uncertain negotiations in view of the inflamed state of British opinion they were the culminating effort, the final desperate gamble of the British government to direct Germany’s course away from Western Europe.    

Oddly enough, A. J. P. Taylor questions whether the British and French governments intended that Nazi Germany should destroy the “Bolshevik menace.” “This was the Soviet suspicion, both at the time and later. There is little evidence of it in the official record, or even outside it. British and French statesmen were far too distracted by the German problem to consider what would happen when Germany had become the dominant Power in Eastern Europe. Of course they preferred that Germany should march east not west, if she marched at all. But their object was to prevent war, not to prepare one; and they sincerely believed at any rate Chamberlain believed that Hitler would be content and pacific if his claims were met.” If this be so, then the policy of the British government of encouraging German rearmament from the beginning of 1935, of conniving at the German reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936, of forcing Czechoslovakia to submit to German demands in 1938, and of secretly attempting to negotiate a settlement with Germany at the expense of Poland in July 1939, makes positively no sense and becomes a succession of moronic moves in the perilous diplomatic game being played by Britain and Russia in the prewar years. It is impossible to believe that there was no strategic thinking behind Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement and that he did not take into account what might happen once Germany became predominant in Eastern Europe and established a common border with Russia. 

The British military expert Liddell Hart acknowledges in his History of the Second World War with reference to the strategic situation after the German invasion of Poland that “the best hope [of Britain and France] now that Germany and Russia faced each other on a common border, was that friction would develop between these two mutually distrustful confederates and draw Hitler’s explosive force eastward, instead of westward.” Although Liddell Hart does not relate this hope to any prewar strategy, it is unimaginable, given the massive evidence presented, that British and French leaders long before the outbreak of World War II “were far too distracted by the German problem [as A. J. P. Taylor puts it] to consider what would happen when Germany had become the dominant Power in Eastern Europe” and a common border between Germany and the Soviet Union had been established.           

Of course it would be idle to suggest that in the prewar years British leaders in pursuit of their policy of appeasement were not influenced to some degree by other considerations than the fear that a Western European conflagration would redound to Russia’s benefit. Among these considerations, according to the earl of Birkenhead, were the conclusions of the chiefs of staff in their report to the Committee of Imperial Defense in the late summer of 1938 that Great Britain was not ready for war and that she could not fight a war on three fronts German, Italian, and Japanese without powerful allies. “[Chamberlain and Halifax],” Lord Birkenhead affirms, “were apprehensive of the situation in the Far East, of what action Japan might take there if Great Britain became involved in a war with Germany in the West; and they were at all times uneasily conscious of America’s neutrality and of the unpalatable fact that no help could be looked for from that quarter in case of trouble. The British Government was also alarmed about the attitude of the Dominions to involvement in war. South Africa had decided to remain neutral, should it come; the Australian Labour Party were against intervention and there was grave doubt whether [Prime Minister] Mackenzie King could bring the Canadian people into war.” Furthermore, the British historian Charles L. Mowat states that since World War I the policy of the dominions had been one of no commitments “and certainly they were not going to be bound by Britain’s commitments. . . . [They] naturally opposed involvement in war and rejoiced that appeasement was keeping the threat of war at a distance.” But all these considerations, although used by various historians to explain the policy of appeasement, pale before the single most important consideration: the deep-rooted fear of Russia.      

That the wells of appeasement lay in this fear of Russia, in the conviction that Nazi Germany was a barrier against the spread of Communism, and that a war in Western Europe could only benefit the Soviet Union by extending her power and influence has been amply demonstrated in this and other chapters. But these cardinal elements in the policy of appeasement have been underrated or almost totally ignored by the British historical establishment.     

There are two reasons for this failure by British historians to come to terms with their country’s diplomatic past. Firstly, there is the accepted tradition not to attribute to their government Machiavellian designs against a foreign power. Hence, no matter how patriotic or realistic Chamberlain and his supporters may have felt themselves to be in attempting to spare Western Europe the ravages of war and revolution, they should not be accused of conspiring to pit one totalitarian power against the other. “Of course,” writes Robert Skidelsky, the British neorevisionist historian, “there were a number of groups in Britain who . . . advocated the bargain that Hitler must always have hoped for ‘a German deal with the British Empire at the expense of the Soviet Union.’ But such cynicism (or realism) was foreign to the British Establishment.” Secondly, because of the ideological divide between East and West, no establishment historian (despite Stalin’s own Machiavellian aims) wishes to play into the hands of the Soviet Union by acknowledging Britain’s share of responsibility for the rebirth of German militarism and the calamity of the Second World War.        

This failure to expose the main roots of appeasement is unfortunate not only for the historiography of this crucial period in world history, but for those seeking a true understanding of the Spanish Civil War and Revolution and of the reason why Stalin’s democratic camouflage in Spain was doomed to failure.


The Salian (German, Salier) dynasty, which produced four kings or emperors in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, traced its roots back to at least the seventh century to a kinship group (Adelssippe) known as the Widonen that held high administrative positions and occasionally occupied the episcopal chair in Trier. At an early date they established a proprietary monastery (Hauskloster) at Mettlach on the Saar River, and by 742 or shortly before, they had founded a second such institution at Hornbach in the Bliesgau (Blies District, now in Rheinland-Pfalz). In about 760 a small monastery, that of St. Philip at Zell, west of Worms on the Pfrimm, belonged to the Widonen as well. The main center of Widonen power lay more or less in the area between Metz, Trier, Idar-Oberstein, and Pirmasens.

The Widonen appear as important helpers of the Carolingians. They and other noble families played a major role in building up the Frankish government as the Carolingians once again began to renew lordship rights east of the Rhine. At the end of the eighth century, the Widonen kinship split into various branches that established bases of power in Britanny, in the area of the lower Loire, and above all in the duchy of Spoleto. Duke Wido of Spoleto was ambitious and powerful enough that in 888 he laid claim to the throne of Burgundy. Though this lofty plan failed, he did manage to acquire the imperial crown in 891.

One branch of the family remained in the original homeland, and in the course of the ninth century their lordship spread outward from the Bliesgau (centered at Hornbach, since Mettlach was lost early on to the archbishop of Trier) into the Wormsgau and Speyergau. At the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth centuries, we encounter a Count Werner in the Wormsgau (891), Nahegau (891), and Speyergau (906), who was most probably a member of the Widonen kinship and from whom the line of Salian ancestors continues without interruption. Werner appears in the narrative sources as a violent man who gave his support to the Conradian monarchy; he even married one, probably a sister of Conrad I (911–919), which placed his family in the direct vicinity of the king.

Although the German crown passed to Henry I, duke of Saxony, in 919 and, upon his death, to his son Otto I, the Conradings struggled to create a Rhine-Frankish duchy for themselves; their defeat in the rebellion of 939 made way for the rise of the Salians as the dominant family on the Middle Rhine. Count Werner’s son Conrad, surnamed “the Red,” appears as count in the Nahegau, Wormsgau, and Speyergau, but also in the Niddagau, north of Frankfurt. As early as 941 he appears in the closest proximity of Otto I, and his ties to the Ottonian house were solidified by marriage in 947 to the daughter of Otto I, Liudgard. In 944 (or 945) he obtained the duchy of Lorraine from the king, i.e., the region from Alsace to the mouth of the Rhine, between the Meuse and the Rhine, with the tasks of defending the realm on the west and of subduing the Lotharingian nobility.

But Conrad the Red was perhaps too ambitious, and in 953 he joined a rebellion of Otto the Great’s oldest son, Liudolf, against the king. Otto retaliated by stripping Conrad of his duchy in 953/4 and transferring important comital, or ducal, rights in the city of Mainz and in the area of Bingen to the archbishop. Conrad shortly thereafter made peace with the king, and in 955 he led the Frankish forces at the battle of Lechfeld; he died during the conflict and was buried at Worms Cathedral, in a fashion normally reserved for kings and bishops.

By now, Worms had become an important family center. It was the site of a Salian Grafenburg, an old Carolingian royal pfalz, or fortification, and it was also the center of family property and of important lands held by them. In 956, Conrad’s son, Otto II, appears as count in the Nahegau, which he inherited from his father, and in the following years he united the Wormsgau, Speyergau, Niddagau, and other countships between the Neckar and the Rhine (Elsenzgau, Kraichgau, Enzgau, Pfinzgau, perhaps Uffgau)—an almost solid countships-complex in the Middle and Upper Rhine. This accumulation of power caused concern for Emperor Otto II, who, in an effort to remove him from his power base, appointed him duke of Carinthia and margrave of Verona in 978.

Deprived of his dukedom in 985, Otto II returned to his power base on the Rhine. Contemporary sources of the late tenth/early eleventh century refer to him as der Wormser (he of Worms) as a means of distinguishing him from a similarly named duke of Swabia and Bavaria who, like him, was a grandson of Otto the Great. Otto Wormatiensis also appears with the appellation Wormatiensis dux Francorum, a somewhat idiosyncratic term since he in fact had no duchy: he was simply put a “Frankish duke of Worms,” and the royal court seems to have accepted this earliest instance of a “titular dukedom” in German history, a dukedom that rested on the ever increasing nobility and comital lordship with its center at Worms.

The prestige of Duke Otto of Worms helps account for the nomination of his son Bruno, now imperial chaplain (Hofkaplan), to be the successor of Pope John XV. He took the name Gregory V, and it was from him that Otto III, his kinsman, received the imperial crown on May 21, 996. His pontificate was painful, however; there was great resistance from Rome and he was driven out. An antipope (John XVI) was installed briefly, and although Gregory V was restored in February 998, he died in February 999. Sylvester II (Gerbert of Aurillac) succeeded him.

The family position also came under attack closer to home. The concentration of power in the area of Worms inevitably brought about a struggle with the bishop for temporal control. Following the election of Henry II in 1002, the new king heaped favors on the church at Worms that had supported him. With the full backing of Bishop Burchard, King Henry II forced Otto to renounce claims over Worms in October 1002. The decreasing importance of the Salians can also be seen in the fact that, although Otto’s son Conrad briefly held the duchy of Carinthia, when Conrad died in 1011, King Henry passed over Conrad Jr. in favor of Adalbero of Eppstein.

The fortunes of the Salians were dramatically altered by the death of Henry II in July 1024, which left the empire in shambles. Seeking a quick solution, the German princes selected Conrad the Elder, cousin to Conrad Jr., as king. He was consecrated at Mainz on September 24, 1024. He had previously married Gisela, daughter of Duke Hermann II of Swabia, to whom he was closely related. Their son, Henry III, succeeded virtually unopposed to the German throne in 1039, but his early death in 1056 left a small boy as heir. Born in 1050, Henry IV had received consecration as future king on July 17, 1054, and assumed personal rule on March 29, 1065, at Worms. His reign was characterized by the rising opposition of the German nobles to Salian policies and by the prolonged struggle with the papacy (particularly with Gregory VII) over the issue of lay investiture of high church offices. The conflict called forth the most bitter exchange of letters, bulls of excommunication, and depositions. For its shear dramatic value, nothing exceeded the picture of the emperor standing outside the walls of Countess Mathilda of Tuscany’s fortress at Canossa in early 1077, seeking forgiveness from the pontiff, who was determined to travel to Germany, where he planned to preside over Henry’s formal deposition. Canossa prevented that from occurring, and it clearly led to Henry’s gaining the upper hand over Gregory. Henry died in August 1106, just weeks after he himself had escaped from confinement.

His son and the last Salian, Henry V, inherited a very different world than the one his grandfather had known. By 1100 the self-awareness of the nobles as representatives of the interests of the empire was on the rise. This required a new set of relationships between the king and the princes. For the ecclesiastical princes this was the Concordat of Worms of 1122; for the lay princes, it meant incorporating them into a new system during the twelfth century, the Heerschildordnung (order of the coat of arms). Henry V’s death on May 23, 1125, without male heirs gave the German princes the opportunity for a free election: ignoring the blood-right claims of Duke Frederick I of Swabia, who had married Agnes, the daughter of Henry IV, they selected instead Conrad II of Franconia.

The Salian age was one of great building activity in Germany; hardly any Carolingian buildings survived past the mid-eleventh century. Recent scholarship has shown that Conrad II intended from the very beginning that Speyer and not the abbey of Limburg-on-the-Haardt become the family burial place. Speyer appears circa 1000 as a dilapidated bishopric and city, and he breathed new life into it. Construction began in 1025, and by the time Conrad II died in 1039, the crypt was sufficiently completed for his remains to be buried there; his wife, Gisela (d. 1043), and Henry III were buried alongside him. The cathedral was completed and consecrated Oct 4, 1061, by Bishop Gundekar II of Eichstätt. During the reign of his son Henry IV (1080s), however, it was expanded once again, under the direction of the Bauleiter Bishop Benno II of Osnabrück (1068–1088), who also built his own cathedral.

Investiture Controversy

The Investiture Controversy refers to a late phase of eleventh-century Church reform, lasting from ca. 1078–1122. Sometimes, however, the term is used incorrectly to cover the entire period of reform from the 1050s to 1122, the date of the Concordat of Worms. The term describes the struggle between the papacy (sacerdotium) and the European monarchies (regnum) over the participation of the ruler in the making of bishops and abbots through the handing over of the ring and crosier (bishop’s staff) with the words “receive the church.” The wording of this phrase shows that an investiture referred to the bishopric or abbey in general and did not distinguish between the office and the rights and property that came with it.

The term “investiture” did not occur before the second half of the eleventh century, but the custom reached back to the tenth. The investiture ceremony differed according to place and time, but the handing over of the symbols of ring and staff—they had been sent to the royal court after the death of the previous bishop—often occurred in conjunction with the commendation of the candidate to the king and a promise of fealty. Both ceremonies had been described as homage (hominium or homagium) since the late eleventh century. In many sources these terms are implicitly included when only investiture is mentioned.

Investiture should not be confused with election or consecration, although investiture was the single most important factor in the success of a candidate. For many years popes did not object to investiture, which was seen as the natural and customary expression of secular influence and power. The ceremony assured rulers of the loyalty of the wealthy and politically powerful bishops and abbots who were required to fulfill the servitium regis, or obligations to royalty, consisting of property fees, hospitality, military support, and court attendance. In the Empire, the Ottonian and early Salian rulers at times added to those obligations the rights and properties of counties.

Pope Gregory VII pronounced the first general legally binding prohibition of investiture by any lay person at the Roman Council of November 1078. No cleric was allowed to obtain the investiture of a bishopric, abbey, or church from the hands of the emperor or king, or any layman or lay woman. The prohibition was strengthened at the Lenten synod of 1080. Gregory’s successors continued to uphold these decrees, which Pope Urban II expanded to include homage at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Under Pope Paschal II the reference to homage was omitted in the case of England, but, apart from a short period in 1111/1112, when his hands were tied by the privilege Henry V had extorted from him, Paschal, too, insisted on strict prohibition of investiture. He succeeded in obtaining the acceptance of these principles in France (1107) as well as England (1105/1106). The settlement of the dispute for the Empire had to wait until 1122.

When Gregory VII deposed and excommunicated King Henry IV for the first time in February 1076, the investiture prohibition had not yet been fully formalized, but Henry’s investiture of bishops in Milan, Fermo, and Spoleto doubtless was the provocation behind his excommunication. Beginning in the tenth century, German kings and emperors had relied to such an extent on the collaboration with ecclesiastics (Ottonian-Salian Church system) that the prohibition of investiture, which had assured them of the control of bishoprics and abbeys, threatened to undermine the monarchy entirely. At the assembly of Worms in January 1076, the German and Italian episcopate, with a few exceptions, had remained united behind the king. However, the investiture prohibitions, the election of the anti-king Rudolf of Swabia (March 15, 1077), and the final condemnation of Henry IV by Gregory VII (March 7, 1080) forged a powerful coalition between the noble opponents of the monarchy and papal adherents among bishops and abbots. Negotiations and battles between the two parties, which varied only temporarily in composition, followed upon one another for nearly thirty years. Not until 1109 (Tractatus de investitura) were there any signs of compromise. Henry’s nomination of Archbishop Wibert of Ravenna at the synod of Brixen (June 25, 1080; consecration in St. Peter’s Basilica as Clement III, March 24, 1084) transformed the Investiture Controversy into a struggle between regnum and sacerdotium, as evidenced by the numerous polemical writings edited in the Libelli de Lite.

The Investiture Controversy in France was much less dogmatic than in the Empire. The French kings Philip I (1059–1108) and Louis VI (1098–1137), as well as the nobility, also used the wealth, power, and property of bishoprics and abbeys in order to strengthen their own positions, but their situation was very different than either Germany or England. The kings and nobles of France divided among themselves the secular influence over the French church. Only about twenty-five French dioceses out of a total of about seventy-seven were open to royal influence. The tensions between Rome and Philip I were acute, but the issues in this case were the introduction of ecclesiastical reform and Philip’s marital problems. Philips excommunication and the interdict pronounced against him were purely pastoral punishments and had nothing to do with investiture. In France the investiture prohibitions of 1077/1078, first pronounced by the legate Hugh of Die, were only a minor additional irritant in the exercise of royal influence in those dioceses where the Capetians had always had to anticipate difficulties. Both popes and kings were always willing to compromise on investiture when absolutely necessary.

As exemplified in writings of the canonist Ivo of Chartres at the turn of the century, the argument for a differentiation between the temporalities and spiritualities connected to bishoprics and abbeys slowly gained ground. This differentiation would allow a king to invest an ecclesiastic with the temporalities (secular rights and property) of a see not by the ring and crosier, but by using some other symbol. Ring and staff had come to be understood as spiritual symbols that were not to be touched by the hands of laymen. It appears that, at the meeting between Pope Paschal II and the French kings at St. Denis (April 30–May 3, 1107), an agreement was reached on this basis. If a candidate were elected canonically, the king could invest him with the temporalities of his see. The king renounced the use of investiture, but in the case of a bishop, the bishop would promise fealty.

William I (1066–1087) brought to an end the English isolation from continental developments. However, papal willingness to compromise postponed a struggle over investiture till the time of Henry I (1100–1135) and Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury. As an exile, Anselm had been present at the Roman synod of 1099 where Urban II had repeated the prohibition of investiture and homage. Anselm considered himself bound to obey the papal decrees and, therefore, refused to accept investiture from Henry I. After negotiations beginning in Normandy in July 1105, Henry I declared that he would no longer insist on investiture but would continue to require the homage of prelates. Relying on the papal right to grant dispensation, Paschal II allowed Anselm of Canturbury in March 1106 to consecrate bishops who had done homage to the king but had not been invested by him. This compromise was criticized at an assembly in August 1107.


Böhn, Georg Friedrich. “Salier, Emichonen und das Weistum des Pfalzgräflichen Hofes Alzey.” Veröffent-lichungen des Instituts für Geschichtliche Landeskunde an der Universität Mainz 10 (1974): 12–96.

Boshof, Egon. Die Salier. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1987.

Blumenthal, Uta-Renate. The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

Büttner, Heinrich. “Das Bistum Worms und der Neckarraum während des früh- und Hochmittelalters.” Archiv für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte 10 (1958): 9–38.

Das Reich der Salier 1024–1125: Katalog zur Ausstellung des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1992.

Weinfurter, Stefan. Herrschaft und Reich der Salier: Grundlinien einer Umbruchzeit. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1992.

The Holy Roman Empire in the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries I

The Hohenstaufen-ruled Holy Roman Empire and Kingdom of Sicily. Imperial and directly held Hohenstaufen lands in the Empire are shown in bright yellow.

During all the years in which the Hohenstaufens had been occupied with their hitter wars against the papacy, Germany of her own accord had been making wonderful progress in social, agricultural, and intellectual matters. In the eleventh century she possessed little more than the lands between the Elbe, Rhine, and Danube; by the fourteenth she had doubled her territory, had extended her bounds to the Baltic and the river Vistula, and had peopled Bohemia, Silesia, and even Transylvania with her colonists.

A new field of activity had been discovered, and in working it, all the experience of past generations was brought to bear. Peasants and citizens, knights and clergy from all parts of Germany wandered out to the Slavic lands in the north and in the east. Their new settlements were unhampered by old traditions; their mode of life became more free and democratic.

Various causes tended to induce men to leave their homes and seek their fortunes elsewhere. Chief among them, for cultivators at least, was lack of space in their native villages.

All through the Middle Ages the unit of landed possession for the village communities was the manse or hufe, which comprised room for house and garden, the right of using the common village pastures and also a certain number of parcels of agricultural land. These parcels were distributed among the three fields, or three greater divisions of land, one of which was to lie idle each year in order that the soil might improve. As a rule about thirty acres of agricultural land would generally fall to the share of each possessor, whose parcels, however, being assigned by lot, did not necessarily adjoin each other.

By the twelfth century the inconveniences of this system had come to mate themselves widely felt. To reach one of his own lots or plots the farmer had to cross his neighbour’s land; it was necessary, therefore, in order to avoid spoiling crops already sown, for all to plough, sow, and harvest at the same time. This was, naturally, a great hardship for active men who had to accommodate themselves to the ways of their slower neighbours.

The great attraction for those who emigrated and became colonists was that in the new districts to which they were invited, or in which they arranged with the lord of the land to become settlers, the different parcels of land were no longer scattered. A long central street was usually laid out and from this each man’s allotment ran backward in a long strip, if necessary over hill and dale.

The new manse, too — the momsus regalis as this measurement was usually called — was almost invariably double the size of the old.

The thinly populated Slavic lands in North-eastern Germany, in Silesia, and in Transylvania were rich in marshy districts, in moorlands, and in uncut forests that were altogether uninhabited. The methods of agriculture of the Slavs were far more primitive than those of the Germans; the process of reclaiming lands, so familiar already to the Dutch and to the Flemings, was to them entirely unknown. Many of the Slavic land-owners now called in the Germans as settlers and divided their districts among them on the new system that was everywhere coming into vogue.

It was with four great groups of Slavs that the German colonists came, peacefully or otherwise, into contact; the Tschecks and Moravians, the Poles, the Baltic tribes, and the Sorbs.

The Tschecks were settled in the present Bohemia, and the Moravians, as now, adjoined them on the east and spoke their language. The Poles possessed at this time an immense stretch of territory, and were destined to play a large part in German as well as in Swedish and Russian history. The Baltic Slavs consisted of the Pomeranians, Liutitians, and Abodrites; their land was flourishing, and Danzig and Wollin had already been founded, the one at the mouth of the Vistula, the other of the Oder. The Sorbs, whose descendants in the Spreewald, about fifty miles from Berlin, still keep their language and their quaint costume, had settlements at that time which extended over a large part of the present kingdom of Saxony.

The Slavs, as has been intimated, possessed no really practical method of agriculture. They had established themselves wherever the land seemed easy to cultivate. Their villages were of a circular form, and did not admit of being enlarged; it accordingly frequently became necessary to found new ones.

In Bohemia and Silesia there were villages under the protection of Slavic princes, where the inhabitants all pursued one trade or occupation; Tscheckish names still exist to remind us of such places. Kolodeja, for instance, was once the village of the wheel-makers, as the word itself implies; Mydlovary, in like manner, has perpetuated the memory of those who were engaged in boiling soap.

The Slavs along the Elbe were in a lower state of civilization than those in Bohemia; it was against them that the Ottos had fought, that Meissen had been founded, and that the Billungs had won their laurels.

It is with Henry the Lion and Albrecht the Bear that the great increase of the empire’s boundaries at the expense of the Slavs may be said to have begun. Albrecht, originally possessed of lands in the present Anhalt, where his descendants still rule, was given the North Mark by the Emperor Lothar in 1134. This embraced the present Altmark and the tongue of land between the Elbe and the Havel. Albrecht’s chief goal was the incorporation of the Slavic territories of Havelberg and Brandenburg into his new dominions. This he accomplished in the one case by violence, in the other by a treaty, Brandenburg falling to him by inheritance after the death of its prince, Pribislav Henry, in 1150.

Both Albrecht and Henry the Lion took part in the crusade of 1147 against the Wends; the results of the undertaking were small, but the terrible devastation and depopulation of the land prepared the way for the calling in of German colonists.

Count Adolf II. of Holstein, a vassal of Henry the Lion, had in the meantime been doing much to carry German culture into Slavic lands. He it was who, in 1143, having called in Flemish, Dutch, Westphalian, and Frisian colonists, began the building of Lubeck, which in both senses was to be the first German city on the Baltic.

For his own part Henry the Lion had at first found it to his advantage to favour the Slavic princes on his borders and to accept their tribute. In 1160, however, he determined to conquer the land of the Abodrites in spite of the fact that its prince, Niklot, had been his friend and ally. Niklot fell after a heroic resistance, but in 1164 his son defeated the Saxons and regained for himself the land of his father. As a fief of the empire, however, with which he remained on terms of peace. He was the founder of the two modern duchies of Mecklenburg Strelitz and Mecklenburg Schwerin.

Henry the Lion next proceeded to attempt the conquest of Pomerania and Eugen. As regards the latter place the Danes were before him, and founded a rule which lasted until the time of the Reformation. In Pomerania Henry was more fortunate. In common with Albrecht’s successor, Otto of Brandenburg, he reduced the land to subjection.

It was, on the whole, the Dutch and the Flemings that proved most successful in the matter of colonizing conquered lands. Accustomed as they were to low moorland, they undertook the cultivation of tracts that had hitherto seemed worthless. To them was due the credit of reclaiming the marshes around Bremen, and their methods were largely adopted by other German settlers.

The territory around the Erzgebirge on the eastern border of the present Saxony was settled in feverish haste, not by farmers, but by miners. Here, near Freiberg, silver was discovered about the year 1160, and a rush was made for the place. By 1225 Freiberg had come to have no less than five different churches and parishes. Tin and copper were also found in the neighbourhood, and around each promising centre German settlements arose.

About 1160 began the systematic colonization of Brandenburg by Albrecht the Bear. He had but shortly before suppressed a Slavic rebellion, and seems now to have adopted the principle that the Slavs had no longer right or title to the lands which had so long been theirs. They were given away right and left to the followers of the margrave and to the new settlers. The former owners took refuge in the forests or founded miserable hamlets on the seashore. Only a few remnants of them can be traced in the following centuries; we know, for instance, that as late as 1762, in Luchow, near Hanover, sermons were preached in the Slavic tongue.

The Slavs were treated by the Germans much as the later redskins by their American conquerors; in certain districts the war against them was one of extermination. In the county of Schwerin, about the year 1170, we hear of an order being given that every Slav who could not answer certain, inquiries about himself should be strung up to the nearest tree.

The influence of the Church must not be forgotten in connection with this work of Germanizing Slavic lands. In the wake of the farmers followed the clergy, and churches and chapels soon dotted the landscape. In Meissen to-day, in the former land of the Sorbs, remains of this early colonial architecture are still to be seen.

The monkish orders were especially active in furthering colonization. The first to take the field were the Premonstratensians, founded by Norbert, Archbishop of Magdeburg from 1126 to 1134. By 1150 they had already established themselves as far north as the island of Usedom. After 1170 their influence yielded to that of the Cistercians, whose order had been founded by Bernard of Clairvaux.

The Cistercian monasteries, founded one after the other in rough uncultivated districts, proved very oases in the desert, and worked their civilizing influence in every direction. Their monks took the matter of colonizing the reclaimed lands into their own hands, and called in Dutch and other settlers as occasion demanded.

The Teutonic Order proved in the end the most successful of all civilizing and Germanizing agents. The knights were called in to Transylvania at the beginning of the thirteenth century by King Andreas II. of Hungary. They undertook the defence of the boundary against the Rumani, a tribe of plunderers.

The rapid progress which the Order made, and the independent power which it seemed about to found soon awakened the fears of King Andreas, and, after fourteen years, the knights were banished. The Order was transplanted to Prussia, where an immense field of activity awaited it.

The Prussians, a people who were divided into many stems and tribes, lived in the land between the Vistula and the Memel. They were about on a level of civilization with the Germans of the time of Tacitus; their priests sacrificed to the gods and tended a never-dying flame.

It was at the hands of the Prussians that St. Adalbert, the friend of Otto III., had met his death; since then there had been various attempts at conversion, some of which had met with no small success. About 1215, however, there was a terrible uprising against the new teachings, and the heathen raged so furiously that a crusade was preached against them in Poland and Germany. The failure of this crusade showed the necessity for more radical measures; Herrmann of Salza, friend alike of Frederick II. and of the Popes who opposed him, procured permission for his Order to undertake the difficult task and to take possession of a large tract of land. It was expressly stipulated that the Order should be independent of the Polish Church, and that its land as well as its future conquests should form a separate principality of the Holy Roman Empire.

This was in 1226; by 1231 the knights had crossed the Vistula and founded the town of Thorn, and already a year later the whole bank of the river between Thorn and Kulm had come into their possession. In 1233 Marienwerder was begun, by 1237 the mouth of the Vistula had been reached. Colonists followed everywhere in the wake of the conquerors; not only peasants and burghers, but nobles as well. In 1236 a grant of thousands of acres near Marienwerder was made to the Noble Lord Dietrich of Tiefenau.

The knights continued their conquests along the Baltic. They were assisted by the “Brothers of the Sword,” an order which had been founded in Livonia at the beginning of the century, and which now gladly amalgamated itself with the Teutons. The next task was to conquer the land which separated the former seats of this new branch from those of the rest of the Teutons. The work was rapidly accomplished; in 1251 Memelburg was founded, in 1264 the important town of Konigsberg.

The Order now ruled over Prussia, Courland, Livonia, and the land of the Lettes.

Terrible revolts of the subjected peoples were still to be met and put down. The next years were full of bloodshed, and the real struggle was found to have only commenced. The Prussians attempted to massacre all the Christians in the land; in the end they themselves were all killed, enslaved, or driven away.

Several times the Order had been on the verge of destruction, but in the end it conquered. By 1283 the struggle was over, and there was no more opposition to be feared. The Teutons were soon able to extend their influence into Poland and Pomerellen, to which latter land the Margrave of Brandenburg was induced in 1308 to abandon all claim.

In 1309 Marienburg was founded at the Delta of the Vistula, and became the capital as it were for the whole order. The ruins of this mighty fortress are to-day among the finest in all Europe.

The land of the Teutonic Order came to be the best governed state of the later Middle Ages; it was divided up into districts, each with its own directory, and with a fortress for its central point. The officials were all chosen from among the brothers, and there existed an admirable system of control. Every year there was a general calling to account, and the grand master, with the advice of the chapter, could depose, advance, or transfer according as he saw fit.

By the efforts of the Order a strong bastion to the north-east of Germany had now been formed against the Slavs; in the south Silesia was strong enough to fear no ordinary attacks. Between the two that part of the Polish kingdom which comprises the present province of Posen made a great indentation to the westward, and touched the confines of Brandenburg. It was the task of the Brandenburg margraves to secure and extend their boundaries in this direction, and well did they succeed. By the time of the interregnum Brandenburg was one of the largest provinces of the entire empire, and fifty years later one of its margraves, Waldemar, became candidate for that empire’s throne.

We have followed far enough the growth of Germany as regards the acquisition and colonization of new territory. In another direction a great inward development was going on quietly the while, and results no less remarkable were being obtained; A population formerly scattered over a large extent of territory began to concentrate itself at different points; we have reached the period of the rise of great towns.

We may define a city in the Middle Ages as a place privileged to hold markets, with immunity from the jurisdiction of the king’s officials, and governing itself by means of a corporation.

No connection remained with the old Roman cities that had existed on German ground; if new settlers occupied the sites where those cities once had been, as was the case with Cologne, they adopted nothing of the old Roman municipal institutions. For centuries the counts and centenars ruled over such incipient towns as over any other part of their county or hundred.

The Holy Roman Empire in the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries II

Art by Graham Turner

What gave the impulse to a new growth or a new founding of cities was the establishment of markets and the bestowal of privileges in connection with them. Markets might be founded at first only by express permission of the kings, who received in return certain tolls or taxes. A large symbol, usually a cross that was erected at the time of each yearly or weekly market, signified to all that the gathering was under the king’s especial peace.

Such markets were held already in Carolingian times, towards the end of which period, too, the places where they were held were often granted immunities! The people within certain limits were not to be subject to the usual financial burdens, but were to enjoy for themselves the revenues accruing from their pastures and fields, and from judicial fines and penalties. They were to be exempt, too, from the jurisdiction of the count or centenar and to have their own official, the advocatus or defensor.

The only duties which these and other districts enjoying immunity were obliged to fulfil were hospitality to the king when he came in their midst, the building of fortresses and the keeping of watch and ward, the building of streets and bridges, and the obeying of a summons to the army.

It is no mere chance that the market place in all older German towns occupies so important a position. It was the nucleus of the city which spread out from it in all directions. Mints and other necessary institutions were established in the neighbourhood; fortifications were erected so that the place should not be disturbed; merchants, and especially Jews, began to settle themselves comfortably round their place of exchange. Judicial courts that began with settling differences relating to market affairs, and that were under a special market judge, developed into the chief judicial bodies of the cities.

The land, for which a small rent was paid to the lord of the town, was already by the end of the eleventh century technically free, and could be willed away or sold. At first the administration as a whole was in the hands of the community in general, and records remain, for Magdeburg, for instance, to show that mass meetings were called for the transacting of ordinary affairs. A chosen few naturally soon gained the ascendancy, and the institution of city councils was evolved.

The old market cross, which was erected and taken down as occasion demanded, was replaced in the twelfth century by a monumental stone cross, to which often a glove, a hat, a sword, or a shield was attached as symbol of the king’s protection. This protection implied that offences committed during market time were to be punished with the royal ban of sixty shillings in addition to the usual penalty. In the fourteenth century the stone crosses gave place in many towns to the Rolands — huge stone figures bearing the sword of justice.

Already in the tenth century Mayence, the Aurea Maguntia as it was called, had begun to be an important centre. One by one the cities along the Rhine now rose into prominence. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries Cologne possessed the commercial supremacy, carrying on a large trade with England and other countries.

The twelfth century, as a result of the constant intercourse kept up with the Orient by crusaders, saw a vast increase of commerce all over Europe. Eastern wares were landed on the English and Flemish coasts, and were transferred from there to all parts of Germany, especially to the coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic. Bremen and Lubeck quickly became large and flourishing.

The needs of commerce had meanwhile given rise to those great and important associations, the Merchant Gilds. Trade was originally carried on by wandering merchants who went with their wares from place to place, and bought, sold, or exchanged at the different markets. For their own protection on the way, a number of traders would unite themselves into caravans. Rich and poor, men of high degree and men of low united into such societies, and chose a leader or alderman for themselves, whose duty it was to arrange for the safety of the expedition.

Such temporary associations for mutual convenience soon led to more lasting unions. The Gild took a name to itself, chose a patron saint, and arranged festivals and banquets. The actual meaning of the word gild is a sacrificial feast — convivium was the common translation for it later in Saxony — and this social and festal element was never wanting.

The earlier alderman becomes a regular official; a number of gild brothers form an advisory committee. The gilds undertook the improvement of intercourse between commercial centres, introduced new scales and weights, and developed new codes of commercial usage. They strove for and obtained the monopoly of trade in certain branches, and they formed sub-gilds in far-off places, thus assuring their members of a good reception and of proper protection. Cologne had a gild in London, Groningen had gilds in Cologne and in Utrecht.

In the cities of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there were thus three factors, the gilds, the city councils, and the lesser or local tradesmen, if we may call them so. The gilds themselves became more and more associations of greater merchants, who in many towns formed a regular oligarchy, securing for their members the chief positions in the city council. They often came into conflict with the other members of the community, but the great struggles between the classes and the masses belong to the history of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The cities were now proud corporations with a great sense of their own importance, their inhabitants are addressed even in royal charters as “distinguished citizens.” More and more did they strive for freedom and for complete emancipation from the rule of the lords to whose territory they belonged.

By the end of the Hohenstaufen period there were comparatively few of these market cities still remaining under the direct jurisdiction of the crown. They had for the most part been deeded away to great nobles, to bishops and abbots.

It was Otto I. who had commenced making such grants of markets and of the jurisdiction over them; by the time of Henry IV. nine-tenths of the markets were subject in the last instance to members of the clergy.

When the markets developed into regular cities, which they did chiefly in the eleventh century, the princes to whom they had been granted retained their authority, drew their revenues from taxes and judicial fines, coined their own money, and saw to the maintenance of peace.

It was not long, however, before the cities tried to throw off the authority of their lords. Already, under Henry IV. and in his favour, Cologne had risen against the Archbishop Anno; many other cities, too, took the part of the unfortunate king, who rewarded them with grants of tolls and jurisdictions.

Later, as we have seen, the territorial princes, supported by Frederick II., made strenuous efforts to prevent the growing autonomy of the cities; a decree of 1231 categorically forbade them to elect their own authorities. The result was a fiercer conflict than ever; the laws passed were disregarded, and in the end the burghers had their way. The cities gradually became little republics, drew the inhabitants of the surrounding districts under their influence and made leagues and confederations with each other.

In the struggle between the Hohenstaufens and the anti-king, Henry Raspe, the cities played an important part — all the more so as the greater lay princes maintained an unworthy neutrality. Sought after by both parties they drew all the profit possible from the condition of affairs. Frederick II. and Conrad IV. were not chary in promising privileges, and were able to win over Aix, Treves, Augsburg, Worms, Ulm, and many other towns.

The Archbishop of Mayence, on the other hand, gained over for himself his own capital by granting it practical autonomy; the Bishop of Strasburg followed suit, while Cologne accepted favours from the papal as well as the Hohenstaufen side and remained neutral.

The disorders consequent upon the fall of the Hohenstaufens gave the cities an opportunity to complete their emancipation. Already in 1254, as we have seen, it had become possible for an organization like the Rhine Confederation to spring into being and to become for a moment the most important political factor in the land.

At the time when the colonization of the Slavic lands by the Germans was making such progress and the German cities were growing so rapidly in importance, in wealth, and in independence, another development was reaching its climax, a development no less interesting and wonderful.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are the period when the feudal system flourished in Germany in its greatest completeness. This system may be said to have begun at the time when Charles Martel confiscated the lands of the Church, and parcelled them out among his nobles. His object was to enable the latter to support the heavier expenses of military duty contingent on the extension of the use of cavalry.

In distributing these lands among his followers Charles Martel stipulated that the holders should pay a certain rent to the especial church to which the property belonged — a stipulation which was confirmed and repeated under Pippin.

The “benefices,” as they were called, proved for the Carolingian kings a powerful factor in controlling their nobles. Whoever fell under the royal displeasure was likely to forfeit lands which had been given him, not only as a reward for past services but as a pledge for services to come.

The services in question were mostly of a military nature, and the man to whom the land was lent was obliged to subdivide a certain part of it and lend it in turn to those who were willing to be his followers in the army. What the kings did on a large scale they, the nobles, were compelled to do on a smaller one.

Those to whom they sub-granted their land were obliged to swear loyalty or fealty, and this oath, or homage as it was called, came to be incumbent on the original holders themselves as regarded the king. They became his vassals, and aided him with an army of sub-vassals of their own. These holders-in-chief, or seigneurs, were the men who, towards the end of the Carolingian period, answered the call to arms, and not, as up to the time of Charlemagne, the whole body of freemen.

The feudal system gradually invaded the whole of Europe, although in Germany especially, in addition to fiefs, there were always private landed possessions or allods. These latter, indeed, in order to fit them into the prevalent scheme of land-holding, were often designated as “fiefs of the sun!”

For centuries, fiefs were not hereditary. They lapsed to the crown at the death of every holder; at every change of monarch or of lord there had to be a renewal of the grant. When the time came, as it did in the thirteenth century, that they could descend regularly from a father to his son, or daughter, or even to his collateral relations, the power of the king as a feudal monarch was at an end.

Not only land, but offices and privileges could be granted out as fiefs in return for certain services. These, too, were at first withdrawable at the will of the crown and in time became hereditary.

The result of the spread of vassalage was to ruin the state in its old form. The land became subject to many masters, the monarch wasted the greater part of his time in reckoning with this or that aspiring noble. We no longer find kings issuing general laws or capitularies for all of their subjects just as we no longer find them directly commanding those subjects to fight their battles.

By the twelfth century, feudalism had invaded everything; even the episcopal sees were looked upon as fiefs which were to be withdrawn and held for a while after every vacancy. Rulers of foreign lands hastened to become vassals of the emperors and also of the popes; Henry VI. and Innocent III. claimed homage from nearly all the kings of Europe.

Among the vassals of the higher nobles in Germany the so-called ministeriales or serving men came to form a class of high importance, a class by themselves of men who, originally not free and without land of their own, raised themselves in rank and formed a sort of lesser nobility. In a royal charter of 1134 they are spoken of as the ordo equestris minor. Their advancement was owing to the fact that the services demanded of them were of a military nature, and that they could thus make themselves indispensable on occasion. Many free knights, seeing the rewards that the ministeriales were entitled to, voluntarily gave up their own rank and privileges and entered into this connection.

It was the ministeriales who made up the kernel of the armies of the Hohenstaufens; they it was who helped those kings in their struggles with the princes, with the popes and with the Lombards.

By the time at which we have arrived the knights themselves, ordo equestris major, had come to form a class so distinct and so exclusive that no outsiders could enter it except in the course of three generations or by special decree of the king. Only to those whose fathers and grandfathers were of knightly origin could fiefs now be granted; only such could engage in judicial combat, in knightly sports, and above all in the tournament or joust.

One of the chief duties of a blameless knight was to be a true vassal to his liege lord, and at once to repair to that lord’s court when summoned, even if the object were only to assist at festivities. He was to be ready to aid in the administration of justice or to take part if need be in a war or a feud. He was obliged to swear on receiving his fief to be “faithful, devoted and willing;” he laid his hands in the hands of his master, and in many cases sealed the compact with a kiss.

Feudalism did much to awaken a moral sentiment; fidelity, truth, and sincerity were the presuppositions upon which the whole system rested, and a great solidarity of interests came to exist between the lord and his vassals. The latter might bring no public charges against their master in matters affecting his life, limb, or honour; on three grand occasions, in case of captivity, the knighting of his son, the marriage of his daughter, they were obliged to furnish him with pecuniary aid.

Knightly honour and knightly graces come in the twelfth century to be a matter of fashion and custom; a new and important element, too, the adoration of woman, is introduced. A whole literature arises that has to do almost exclusively with knightly prowess and with knightly love. Altogether we see the dawn of a new social life. Money begins to circulate more freely, we find an increased luxury in the matter of clothing and of household arrangements. The streets become more secure and more passable, and visitors move to and fro from one castle to another. A number of minor courts begin to flourish besides that of the king; the Wartburg, for instance, becomes a centre for the musical and intellectual life of the times. A regular code was finally established of the rules of conduct considered suitable and becoming, the German words “hubsch” (from hofisch = courtly) and “hoflich” are a legacy of these days, and serve to remind us of what was considered good style in such courtly circles.

Just as certain classes of society to-day adopt by preference the garb and the customs of a foreign country, so already in the twelfth century French influence made itself felt in Germany in many directions. The names that refer to the tourney and to knightly sports at this time are all French, so are those which refer to the more elaborate dishes at the table. In fact everything that had to do with festivities or with luxury in general seems to have been taken from France. We have French names for dress-materials, for the costumes themselves, for various dances, and the love-poems of the time are overflowing with French expressions.

The formalism and etiquette, too, of German chivalry was a direct legacy from France. Men troubled themselves about their manners as in other ages they did about their sins; great stress, for instance, is laid on the forms to be observed when entering or when leaving a room, when addressing persons or when parting from them. Godfrey of Strassburg weaves a long discussion into his “Tristan” concerning the different ways of greeting; should one only bow, or should one speak? A conventionalism not only of action and expression, but also of feeling, developed itself. It became the custom to sink oneself in one’s love, to discuss and to analyze the emotions of the soul.

Nassau (1909)

Nassau was a beamy ship (beam 0.18 per cent of length compared to Dreadnought’s 0.15 per cent), most of the difference being used for additional protection.

Twelve 280mm (11in) guns were carried, compared to Dreadnought’s ten 305mm (12in) guns. Magazine layout beneath the flank turrets was cramped.

One of the first German big-gun ships to be built after Dreadnought, Nassau carried a substantial secondary armament as well as 12 main guns. Powered by triple-expansion engines rather than by turbines, it was in action with the High Seas Fleet at Jutland.

Plans for ships of this class had been worked on from March 1904 and the final design was completed in 1906. Four battleships formed the class, with Rheinland as the first to be laid down but Nassau first to be completed on 1 October 1909, having been laid down at Wilhelmshaven on 22 July 1907 and launched on 7 March 1908. The others were Posen and Westfalen. They cost around 37.5 million Goldmarks each, and all were in service by May 1910.

Secondary armament

These were large battleships, mounting 12 heavy guns, but unlike Dreadnought a large-scale secondary armament was also included, with 12 150mm (5.9in) guns mounted in casemates at a level below the port and starboard main turrets, and 16 86mm (3.4in) guns in side-mounted sponsons on the hull and superstructure. Foremast and fore funnel were very close to each other, and to the deckhouse, with navigation bridge and chart house. Nassau’s masts had high wireless aerial gaffs set at an angle from the mizzen top of both masts; these were removed in 1911, and during World War I a spotting top was fitted on the foremast. Gooseneck cranes at each side of the aft funnel swung out the boats housed amidships.

The main guns, 280mm (11in), were of smaller calibre than the 305mm (12in) guns being established as the British standard, but extensive testing had convinced the German navy that they were not significantly less effective. They had a barrel calibre of 45 and weight of 47.7 tonnes (52.6 tons) and fired a 305kg (672lb) shell 18,900m (20,669yd) with a 20 degree elevation.

Its best firing rate was three rounds in two minutes. Comparative figures for Dreadnought’s guns were: barrel length identical, barrel weight 51.7 tonnes (57 tons), shell weight 385kg (849lb), range 19,000m (20,779yd) at 13 degrees of elevation and a rate of fire of two rounds a minute. The advantage would seem to be with the British, but the German admirals believed in the armour-piercing qualities of their shells.

Nassau and its sister ships had triple expansion engines with water-tube boilers; the first German heavy ship to have Parsons turbines was the battlecruiser Von der Tann of 1907. Consequently the three boiler rooms and the engine room occupied most of the hull between the masts. In 1915 the boilers were adapted to burn an oil-coal mix, with the oil sprayed above the burning coal. Oil tanks with a capacity of 142 tonnes (157 tons) were installed. The German designers set great store by good underwater protection and Nassau’s hull had 16 watertight divisions, with the placing of armour on the class done on a scientific basis. But the underwater lines had to be modified after sea experience. It had been supposed that the wide beam and the lateral placing of heavy guns would make a stable ship, but in some North Sea swells they rolled violently and bilge keels had to be fitted.

In August 1914 Nassau was one of the eight ships of Battle Squadron I of the High Seas Fleet (there were three squadrons with a total of 26 battleships). Wartime modifications apart from those already noted included the removal of the stern-mounted 86mm (3.4in) guns in 1915 and the removal of all the others in 1916 to be replaced by four AA guns of the same calibre.

Battle of Jutland

The ship saw no action until an unsuccessful sortie into the Hoofden (North Sea off the Dutch coast) on 15–16 March 1916. On 24 April 1916 it escorted a squadron of battlecruisers to bombard the English coastal towns of Lowestoft and Yarmouth. In the Battle of Jutland, 31 May, it was hit twice by shellfire and ran against the British destroyer Spitfire in an attempt to sink it by ramming, but all damage was repaired by 10 July. Subsequently Nassau made three further sorties into the North Sea without any positive result; on the last occasion, with other ships of the Squadron including Westfalen (pictured below) and Posen reaching the latitude of Stavanger (23 April 1918). Not among the ships scuttled at Scapa Flow, it was stricken on 5 November 1919. Intended to go to Japan as war reparation, it was sold by the Japanese government to a British company who had it scrapped at Dordrecht in the Netherlands in June 1920.

General characteristics

Type:     Dreadnought battleship


    Design: 18,873 t (18,575 long tons)

    Full load: 21,000 t (21,000 long tons)

Length: 146.1 m (479 ft 4 in)

Beam:   26.9 m (88 ft 3 in)

Draft:    8.76 m (28 ft 9 in)

Installed power:

    12 × water-tube boilers

    22,000 metric horsepower (22,000 ihp)


    3 × screw propellers

    3 × triple-expansion steam engines


    Design: 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph)

    Maximum: 20.2 knots (37.4 km/h; 23.2 mph)

Range:  At 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph): 8,300 nmi (15,400 km; 9,600 mi)


    40 officers

    968 men


    12 × 28 cm (11 in) L/45 guns

    12 × 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/45 guns

    16 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/45 guns

    6 × 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes


    Belt: 30 cm (11.8 in)

    Turrets: 28 cm

    Battery: 16 cm (6.3 in)

    Conning Tower: 40 cm (15.7 in)

    Torpedo bulkhead: 3 cm (1.2 in)


The commissioning of the Dreadnought in December 1906 rendered all smaller and older armored warships obsolete. Fisher’s dreadnought and battle cruiser designs raised the technological bar for Tirpitz’s challenge but at the same time presented the Germans with an opportunity, as the British had negated their own considerable advantage in predreadnought types. By the time Germany’s Nassau entered service in October 1909, Britain already had commissioned its first five dreadnoughts and three battle cruisers. Thereafter, a supplementary navy law passed by the Reichstag in 1908 enabled Germany to close the gap under an accelerated timetable of construction of dreadnoughts and battle cruisers (or “capital ships,” as the two types together became known). Meanwhile, the Liberal majority in Parliament approved just two capital ships in the naval estimates for 1908-1909, giving Britain twelve built or being built to Germany’s ten. At that pace Tirpitz could achieve much better than the 3:2 ratio of inferiority that he felt would give the German fleet a chance of defeating the British in the North Sea.

The accelerated pace of German naval construction understandably alarmed the British. The same Liberal Parliament that had approved just two capital ships for 1908-1909 authorized eight for 1909-1910, four of which were to be canceled should Germany agree to negotiate an end to the naval race. As of April 1909 Britain was willing to accept a 60 percent capital ship superiority over Germany. At that time, however, Tirpitz was willing to concede only a 4:3 ratio of British superiority. By May 1910 Britain had laid down all eight new capital ships, designs that ensured a qualitative as well as quantitative advantage. The dreadnoughts of the Orion class and two Lion class battle cruisers had 13.5-inch guns rather than the 12-inch guns of the most recent British and German dreadnoughts, and the Lions would be capable of a remarkable speed of 27 knots (compared to the original Dreadnought’s 21 knots). In June 1910 work began on another two battle cruisers, the Australia and New Zealand, paid for by those dominions.

During the same months in 1909 and 1910 when the British laid down these ten new capital ships, the Germans started work on just three, and thus fell behind in the race by twenty-two to thirteen. Tirpitz had assumed all along that he could push the British to a point beyond which they would not or could not maintain their lead. Recognizing his grave miscalculation, in 1911 he offered to accept a 3:2 (15:10) British advantage in capital ships, close to Britain’s goal of a 60 percent (16:10) advantage, as long as the British included in their total the Australia, the New Zealand, and any other ships funded by the British Empire. Meanwhile, following Tirpitz’s earlier logic that a strong fleet would be a “political power factor” supporting German diplomacy, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg attempted to wreck the Anglo-French Entente by demanding British recognition of the territorial status quo in Europe (including a German Alsace-Lorraine) in exchange for German recognition of British naval superiority. The British found such terms unacceptable, and the race continued. In 1910-1911 and again in 1911-1912, the Germans laid down four capital ships and the British countered with five. Following an unsuccessful mission to Berlin in February 1912 by the British secretary for war, Richard Haldane, the recently appointed first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill, proposed a mutual one-year “naval holiday.” Churchill’s dismissive characterization of the German navy as a “luxury” fleet reflected his true sentiments, however, and in March 1912 the Reichstag responded by giving Tirpitz a third supplementary navy law adding three dreadnoughts to the numbers previously approved, raising the authorized strength of the German fleet to sixty-one capital ships (forty-one dreadnoughts and twenty battle cruisers).

The Fall of Kalenga, October 1894

Chief Mkwawa

Map of Kalenga – Iringa in 1897 (showing the German attack)

Despite their success at Lugalo, and the raids which they were in the habit of launching against native enemies, Hehe strategy seems to have been essentially defensive. Oral tradition describes their immense confidence in the fort which Mkwawa had built at Kalenga, of which the people sang that ‘there is nothing which can come in here, unless perhaps there is something which drops from the heavens’ (Redmayne). It had originally been surrounded by a simple wooden stockade, but the king had sent an officer called Mtaki to the coast to study the Arab fortifications there, and – inspired by his report – had ordered it to be rebuilt in stone. Work began about 1887, and by 1894 the whole site – nicknamed ‘Lipuli’, or ‘Great Elephant’ – was surrounded by a stone wall about 2 miles long, 8 feet in height and up to 4 feet thick. The garrison was 3,000 strong and included the two Maxim guns captured at the Lugalo. However, the Hehe did not know how to operate these, so they played no part in the siege and were eventually recaptured intact by the Germans.

With hindsight Mkwawa’s confidence in this fort seems incomprehensible. The impressive perimeter was too long for the garrison to hold in strength, and there was no operational artillery to counter the German field guns, which had already destroyed stone forts at Isike and elsewhere in East Africa. Mkwawa must have been aware of this, because his garrison had been joined by a group of anti-German Nyamwezi who had survived the fall of Isike. Tom Prince, who fought in the siege, believed that if they had made a stand outside the fort the Hehe would probably have won another victory, but their ruler would not allow this. To make matters worse, Mkwawa still had his arsenal of 300 rifles under his personal control, and had only issued 100 of them when the attack came. According to Hehe tradition he had temporarily lost his wits, ordering his warriors to load their guns with blank charges, and placing his reliance on magic charms placed on the paths to deter the German advance.

So when the long-awaited German invasion force came, it encountered no resistance as it approached Kalenga and built a stockaded camp only 400 yards from the walls. The column was commanded by the provincial governor, Freiherr von Schele, and comprised three companies of askaris and a number of field guns. For two days the artillery battered the defences, then on 30 October a storming party under Tom Prince scaled the walls and broke into the fort. The walls themselves proved to be only lightly held, while the main body of the defenders was hidden among the huts inside, those with firearms shooting from concealed positions on roofs and in doorways. According to von Schele’s report (Schmidt), every house inside the stronghold had been specially prepared for defence, complete with loopholes and reinforced walls. But after four hours of fighting Mkwawa realized that the fort was lost: he allegedly tried to blow himself up inside one of the houses, but was led away to safety by his officers. At this point resistance collapsed and the Germans took possession of Kalenga with its stores of gunpowder and ivory. One German officer and eight askaris had been killed, with three Germans and twenty-nine askaris wounded. Von Schele claimed that 150 Hehe died in the fighting or were burnt to death when the attackers set fire to their huts. If correct this figure would represent only 5 per cent of the garrison, which does not imply a particularly determined defence: perhaps the Hehe were demoralized by the ease with which Prince’s men had surmounted the supposedly impregnable wall, or possibly Mkwawa’s departure had persuaded them that further resistance was useless.

But Hehe morale was quickly restored, and resistance continued in the hills outside the fort. On 6 November a force estimated at 1,500 warriors charged von Schele’s marching column on its return journey to Kilosa. They broke through the line of porters, but were stopped by the rifle fire of the askaris and retreated, leaving twenty-five dead behind. Once again the authorities tried to open talks with Mkwawa, but he wisely refused, no doubt aware of the German habit of arresting their enemies during negotiations. He continued to avoid attacking regular troops, while raiding the neighbouring tribes who had submitted. So in 1896 Prince was sent with two companies of askaris, each 150 strong, to establish a fortified post at Iringa, a few miles from the ruins of Kalenga. In an attempt to divide the Hehe, Prince recruited Mpangile, the victor of the Lugalo battle, who had recently surrendered to the Germans. He was given the title of ‘sultan’, and set up as a puppet ruler over the pacified Hehe villages. Mpangile gained nothing from his defection, however. In February 1897 Prince became suspicious that he was secretly ordering attacks on German patrols, and despite a lack of concrete evidence summarily executed him.

The war dragged on for two more years, but there were no more major engagements. The Hehe resorted to guerrilla warfare, ambushing isolated patrols and caravans and raiding the villages which were under German control. Prince sent his askaris out on regular patrols to hunt down hostile bands and burn the villages which sheltered them. On several occasions they came near to capturing Mkwawa, and gradually their scorched earth tactics bore fruit. Drought and famine intensified the pressure, and in the first half of 1897 more than 2,000 warriors came in and surrendered. Now only a hard core of loyalists remained around Mkwawa. In January 1898 one of Prince’s columns surprised the Hehe chief’s camp. Once again he got away thanks to a rearguard action by his followers, but many other warriors – described by Prince as ‘mere skeletons’ – were taken prisoner. Soon afterwards Mkwawa organized his last successful operation: an attack on a German outpost at Mtande, which took the thirteen-man garrison by surprise and annihilated it. The governor of German East Africa, General von Liebert, now offered a reward of 5,000 rupees for his head.

In July a patrol under a Feldwebel Merkl was following up information received from a local tribesman when it intercepted Mkwawa’s trail near the River Ruaha. The patrol followed it for four days, and eventually captured a boy who claimed to be Mkwawa’s servant and offered to lead them to where he was hiding. Near the village of Humbwe, Merkl was shown two figures lying on the ground, apparently asleep. It is an indication of how wary the Germans still were of their opponents that the Feldwebel made no attempt to take the men alive. Instead, obviously fearing a trap, he opened fire from cover. One of Merkl’s bullets struck Mkwawa in the head, but it was clear from the subsequent examination that both of the Hehe had already been dead for some time. Tired and ill, the king had first shot his companion and then himself. With his death all Hehe resistance ceased, but his surviving people continued to revere him, and in 1904 the Germans sent his sons into exile on the grounds that they were the focus of a potentially inflammatory cult honouring their father.

There was a further bizarre postscript to Mkwawa’s career. When the British took over Tanganyika in November 1918 at the end of the First World War, they received a request from the Hehe elders for the return of their king’s skull, which they said had been taken as a trophy by the Germans twenty years earlier. The German authorities continued to deny all knowledge of it, but the British governor of Tanganyika, Sir Edward Twining, continued to pursue the matter. He finally located the relic in 1953, in a museum in Bremen. It was formally identified by a German forensic surgeon from the bullet wounds, and in 1954 it was returned to Mkwawa’s grandson Chief Adam Sapi. It remains in the custody of the Hehe, as a memorial to their country’s finest hour.


Cameron, Thomson and Elton all have eyewitness accounts of the Hehe during Munyigumba’s reign. Redmayne’s article, based largely on anthropological fieldwork among the Hehe, provides a comprehensive overview of the history and organization of the kingdom. The main source for the war from the German side is Schmidt.