H.M.S. RODNEY PART II

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A Vengeur-class ship of the line

The Commanding Officer of the Rodney, Captain Bolton, warned his boat’s crews they would be flogged if they allowed Bates anywhere near their craft, in case he tried to escape again. The new batch of pressed men went down to dinner but a few hours later many of them, including Bates, were ascending Rodney’s rigging to unfurl sails. On sailing from Plymouth, Rodney set course down the Channel, to join the Mediterranean Fleet on its blockade station in the Gulf of Lyons, off Toulon. Rodney first stopped at besieged Cadiz, joining eight other British warships supporting the Spanish fleet with the objective of assisting the host nation’s vessels to set sail for Gibraltar where they were to be refitted, having been virtually confined to port since Trafalgar. Bates was sent to one of the Spanish ships, the Apollo, with 49 other sailors from the Rodney. After her refit at Gibraltar, Apollo set sail for Port Mahon, on the island of Minorca, which was once more being used by the Royal Navy as its main support base for the blockade of Toulon. Bates made another unsuccessful bid to escape, giving up and returning to the ship after finding he could not get off the island. He escaped flogging because officers in the Apollo were impressed that he returned voluntarily, but Bates soon rejoined Rodney, at Gibraltar.

In October 1810, an Anglo-Spanish force tried to take the fort at Fuengirola, which was held by Polish troops fighting for Napoleon. It was hoped this would entice the French garrison at Malaga to sally forth, enabling an attempt to recover that important port, but it all went horribly wrong, with the Poles refusing to surrender. Lord Blayney, commander of the landing force, was overjoyed to see a magnificent 74-gun British warship cresting over the horizon.

At this moment His Majesty’s ship Rodney, with a Spanish line of battle ship, appeared off the coast, and I learnt that they had on board the 82d regiment, one thousand strong, which had been sent from Gibraltar to reinforce me; my anxiety to receive them was of course very great, and boats were immediately sent off to assist in landing them.

Blayney went aboard Rodney, to dine with her captain and discuss plans for taking the fortress. The following day Rodney and other warships were moored broadside on to the shoreline, so their cannons could bear on the enemy positions. Polish cannon balls were soon whistling through Rodney’s rigging and there was some hesitancy among her topmen, who did not go up to furl the sails quickly enough for the officers’ liking. Because of such tardiness, all seamen were ‘ordered aloft, and there remained exposed to the enemy’s shot until the sails were furled.’

While in this condition, a single well-directed shot might have killed a score, but fortunately none were shot . . .

The Rodney’s 32-pounder guns spoke, belching flame and smoke, but the ebb and flow of battle placed British and Spanish troops in the line of fire, so she stopped her cannonade. The British lost the initiative altogether and were hurled back, with the hapless Blayney taken prisoner. When this happened Spanish and British troops fled down to the shore. Boats brought the dead and injured out to Rodney, the slaughter having lasted from 2 pm to sunset; Bates and his shipmates were tasked with washing the blood out of the boats and hurling corpses over the side. Meanwhile, Blayney suffered the indignity of watching Rodney and the other vessels vainly bombarding the fortress in which he was now held prisoner.

I went on the rampart, from whence I had a full view of the shipping. The fort was still firing at the Rodney, and at the boats with the troops, which approached close to the shore. A few minutes would have brought them to my assistance, and they would certainly have changed the fortune of the day in my favour; but fate ordered it otherwise. While thus absorbed in my own melancholy reflections, I could not help exclaiming, as I looked on the Rodney and Topaze, there is the ship where a few days since I dined in social friendship, and there the frigate which brought me to this shore, rejoicing in the sanguine hope of serving my country; all on board then, are free, while I am doomed to pass an indefinite period in captivity, deprived of the society of all those who are dear to me in the world!

Rodney and the other warships withdrew and headed east, but a storm blew up, one vessel ‘. . . dashed to pieces on the rocks of the Island of Sardinia, and nearly every one of the crew perished.’ With the gale abating, Rodney joined the fleet off Toulon.

For a time Rodney was in Port Mahon, as flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Fremantle, one of Nelson’s legendary ‘Band of Brothers’ who fought alongside England’s greatest naval hero at both Copenhagen, in 1801, and Trafalgar, in 1805. Fremantle had been made Rear Admiral in 1810 and yearned for action, having been ashore for some years. He joined the Mediterranean Fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, who regarded his subordinate as a dangerous talent to be kept in check. In early 1811 Fremantle expressed fears that Minorca was weakly garrisoned by the Spanish and could easily be taken, leaving the fleet off Toulon without proper support. Cotton decided that, as his subordinate was so concerned, he may as well have command of Port Mahon, and that is how Fremantle came to transfer his flag into Rodney from the 110-gun Ville de Paris. Fremantle was happy to receive an independent command and especially grateful to be away from his boss, writing home from Rodney to his wife:

Cotton is incapable of governing this fleet.

Fremantle, as was the custom, took a select group of supporters into Rodney, including all the officers of the Ville de Paris, a band, plus sailors to man small boats, in all sixty people. Orders soon began to fly out from Rodney, providing the jump-start needed to get the island’s dockyard working at a higher pitch, so it could begin refitting some of the fleet’s weatherworn ships.

Essential supplies were dispatched to ships on station off Toulon and when Spanish naval stores from Cadiz and Cartagena arrived, to ensure they did not fall into the hands of the encroaching French, Fremantle hammered out a deal to buy them. Of major concern was the fact that 300 of the 600-strong Minorcan garrison were French prisoners persuaded to serve in Spain’s Walloon Guards. In Rodney Fremantle brooded on the matter and wrote to Cotton that the Walloons ‘seem daily to be more disinclined to the English and I cannot too strongly impress upon you the importance of this place which can be carried by a Coup de Main.’ But the danger passed and Fremantle left Rodney in August 1811, sailing in the new 74-gun HMS Milford to become Britain’s chief naval representative at the Neapolitan court in Sicily. Ultimately, he commanded British warships during a successful campaign in the Adriatic, after a period in home waters returning to the Mediterranean as Commander-in-Chief, but dying at Naples in 1819, aged fifty-four.

William Henry Smyth, grandfather of the founder of the Scouting movement, Lord Baden-Powell, joined Rodney in the summer of 1811. Prior to this Smyth achieved renown when he transferred from Milford to command a Spanish gunboat in defence of Cadiz. It was probably for this excellent work that on 14 December 1811 Smyth was promoted to Master’s Mate. This remarkable twenty-three year old sailor, who was destined to be a noted hydrographer and an admiral, possibly used his time in Rodney, as she cruised off Spain throughout 1812, to collect data for charts still used by mariners as recently as 1961.

At least three of Rodney’s sailors had fought in HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. They joined Rodney at the beginning of August 1811, like Smyth drafted from Milford before the latter sailed for Sicily carrying Fremantle. It is likely they were switched for men the admiral wanted to take with him. Rodney’s Trafalgar trio were: Gunner’s Mate John Brown, from Ireland, in his thirties; Thomas Sedgwick, from Sunderland, County Durham, in the north of England, a Quartermaster’s Mate in his forties; Charles Thomas, in his mid-thirties, from Boston, America, who became a member of the Rodney’s Carpenter’s Crew. Fellow American Joseph Bates was, meanwhile, getting into trouble again, this time for hanging trousers up to dry behind Rodney’s maintop sail after his daily laundry. The ordinary sailors were required to present themselves in pristine smocks and trousers, but, with only three changes of clothes a week, and not enough time each day to wash and dry clothes before inspection, it was a tall order to avoid punishment for appearing in soiled garments. Therefore, Bates had the bright idea of hanging his clothes out in the breeze where they would dry in double quick time. However, the sail was furled sooner than expected, the enraged First Lieutenant demanding:

. . . whose trowsers [sic] are these found hanging in the maintop?

Not wanting to see his shipmates punished, Bates owned up. Receiving a savage telling off, he narrowly avoided a beating but was put on the so-called ‘black list’ for six months, which involved shining brass and iron work, plus carrying out other demeaning chores on top of daily routine. It all had to be fitted into time usually spent resting off watch or sleeping.

There was no punishment more dreaded and disgraceful.

Two years on from leaving London, Rodney’s officers decided it was time to refresh her reserve water supply, as down in the deepest part of the hold were casks filled from the Thames, not yet touched.

Young Joseph Bates was there when the bungs were removed, seeing his shipmates set light to the foul air that came out with a candle and recalling, ‘it would blaze up a foot high, like the burning of strong brandy.’

According to Bates the water was perfectly clear, the sediment having settled a long time ago. Some of it was drawn off and poured into glass tumblers for Rodney’s officers to taste. One of them held his tumbler up to a lantern and pronounced it ‘the purest and best of water’. Bates thought it tasted good, but he couldn’t help wishing he was drinking from the pure springs of Vermont or New Hampshire.

When it came to refreshing the minds of Rodney’s men, those that could read availed themselves of books from the ship’s portable libraries, which averaged two volumes for every ten men. Reading was allowed on every day except Sunday, which was reserved for a church service starting at 11 am. Bates, a born and bred Presbyterian, saw the prayers of Rodney’s sailors and marines as pure hypocrisy:

. . . how little their hearts were inclined to keep the holy law of God, when almost every other hour of the week, their tongues were employed in blaspheming his holy name; and at the same time learning and practicing the way and manner of shooting, slaying and sinking to the bottom of the ocean, all that refused to surrender . . .

The most notable encounter at sea for this Rodney came in the middle of a gale on 15 January 1812, when a ship was spotted off Cape Sicie, in the Gulf of Lyon, and the battleship set off in pursuit. Meanwhile, two British frigates – Apollo and Alcmene – were using subterfuge to patrol close to the coast, flying French colours. Mistaking these two men ‘o’ war for friendly vessels, the fleeing ship sought their protective custody, only to be boarded. All this commotion alerted the French to something untoward and they ordered out a dozen of their line-of-battle ships from Toulon. With Apollo and Alcmene in the process of snaring their prize, Rodney stoutly hove to and barred the path of on-coming French warships, which, seeing a British battleship standing in their way, decided the situation was not worth a fight and returned to port.

With extra manpower available, and carrying the senior officer, it was Rodney that put a crew aboard the prize, which was sailed to Port Mahon.

Later that year a severe storm battered Rodney badly while on station with the fleet in the Gulf of Lyons, Bates and his shipmates fearing the worst.

For a while it was doubted whether any of us would ever see the rising of another sun. These huge ships would rise like mountains on the top of the coming sea, and suddenly tumble again into the trough of the same with such a dreadful crash that it seemed almost impossible they could ever rise again.

Ten ships of the fleet were badly damaged, including Rodney, her captain instructed to take her back to Britain for repairs.

Her men were overjoyed – going home meant they would finally receive their pay and be allowed twenty-four hours leave ashore, many dreaming of roistering and whoring in the taverns of Plymouth. Bates, on the other hand, fantasized about finally escaping servitude in the Royal Navy. However, as the Rodney prepared to sail for Britain from Port Mahon, fifty of her sailors, including Bates, were called forward and told to get their things together, as they were transferring into the 74-gun HMS Swiftsure. She had just arrived and would in all likelihood serve three years on the Mediterranean station. Bates was plunged into utter despair:

I was doomed to drag out a miserable existence in the British navy.

Bates remained in Swiftsure until the war between Britain and America, provoked in large part by the former’s habit of pressing the latter’s citizens into service in the Royal Navy, broke out. He became a Prisoner of War in 1812 and, after incarceration in a prison ship, then Dartmoor, eventually arrived home in the USA, on 15 June 1815. A career as a merchant service captain followed, before Joseph Bates devoted himself to carrying out God’s work, taking part in the anti-slavery movement and helping to found the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He died in 1872 at the age of eighty.

By 1814 Rodney was flagship for Vice Admiral Sir George Martin, Commander-in-Chief Lisbon. Her commanding officer was Captain Edward Durnford King, who had distinguished himself while in command of the frigate HMS Endymion, encountering the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet off Cadiz in 1805 prior to Trafalgar, but escaping destruction by pretending to signal a Royal Navy force astern of him. In November 1814 Captain King was appointed to the 74-gun Cornwallis, but ill health forced him to resign his command and return home. Rodney returned to Britain with other ships of the fleet following the abdication of Napoleon in April 1814. Thirteen years later she was renamed Greenwich, so her previous name could christen a new vessel. The Napoleonic-era Rodney (now Greenwich) was decommissioned and sold off in 1836, ending a career in which she experienced no pitched battles at sea, but had played her part in maintaining pressure in the Iberian Peninsula, so helping to bring the little French Emperor down.

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German WWII Destroyer – Z 10 Hans Lody

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Origin of the Name

On the outbreak of the First World War, Oberleutnant zur See (Reserve) Hans Lody, who had been declared medically unfit for military service, immediately volunteered for espionage duty. He arrived in England posing as an American, but he was soon arrested: the network of German secret agents in Britain had already been betrayed and eliminated. Lody was executed by firing squad for espionage at the Tower of London on 6 November 1914. Until 1945 a plaque in his honour was to be found at the gate of Lübeck fortress.

Career

Z 10 was a Type 1934A ship commissioned on 17 March 1938 by her commander,  Korvettenkapitän Karl Jesko von Puttkamer. She ran her speed trials over the measured mile off Neukrug between 30 November and 3 December 1938, achieving 37.8 knots from an output of 65,000shp at 370rpm per shaft.

Attached to 8. Zerstörerdivision, she joined the Fleet after working up and formed part of the escort and homecoming celebrations for the Condor Legion (Spanish Civil War) veterans on 30 May 1939. In August 1939, Korvettenkapitän Puttkamer was appointed Hitler’s Naval ADC and replaced by Korvettenkapitän Freiherr Hubert von Wangenheim.

After three day’s blockade duty off Danzig at the outbreak of war, Z 10 transferred into the North Sea to help lay the Westwall defensive minefield. While she was loading, a mine exploded, killing two and wounding six of her crew. During October, in company with Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and 6. Torpedobootflottille, Z 10 inspected neutral commerce in the Skagerrak and Kattegat, often in severe weather. In the operation of 27–29 October she suffered storm damage and lost one man overboard with three injured.

Hans Lody sailed on two offensive minelaying operations against the British coast, on 18 November to the Thames estuary and on 6 December off Cromer, where, with Z 12 Erich Giese,she fought a torpedo action against two British destroyers, one of these, Jersey, being hit and damaged. On 9 December Z 10 sailed to Wesermünde for a refit and did not emerge until 22 May 1940. Once operational she returned to Trondheim, and on 3 June was attached to the Fleet for ‘Juno’. During the sortie she torpedoed and sank the troop transport Orama (19,840grt), the largest ship to be sunk by a German destroyer. With Admiral Hipper, she returned to Trondheim on 8 June with survivors from the British vessels sunk.

On 13 June 1940 Lody was damaged in an air raid aimed at Scharnhorst and returned to Kiel for repair, but she was back on the 20th in time to join Z 7, Z 15 and the torpedo boats Greifand Kondor, escorting Scharnhorst to Deutsche Werke. After a call at Wilhelmshaven, she returned to Trondheim in company with Z 5 Paul Jacobi to escort home, on 25 July, the damaged battleship Gneisenau. During a course change in the Kattegat on the 27th there was a minor collision between Gneisenau and Z 10. After completion of the escort, Z 10 transferred to Wilhelmshaven, from where, on 9 September she steamed to the western end of the English Channel with Z 6, Z 14, Z 16 and Z 20 preparatory to Operation ‘Seelöwe’.

Z10 took part in the minelaying operation off Falmouth on 28 September 1940, and on 10 October, during an air raid at Brest, she received shrapnel damage and lost two crew dead and seven wounded to strafing. On 17 October she sortied into the Bristol Channel and received two shell hits from the enemy cruiser and destroyer force. Korvettenkapitãn Werner Pfeiffer was appointed Lody’s third commander in November 1940.

In the skirmish with five British destroyers off Plymouth on 29 November, Z 10 suffered splinter damage and was raked by anti-aircraft fire. On 5 December she left Brest in company with Z 20 Karl Galster for a refit at Wesermünde.

After leaving the yards in April 1941, Lody joined the Bismarck escort in the Great Belt on 19 May and was released into Trondheim on the 22nd, returning from there to Wesermünde. Between 11 and 14 June she helped to escort the torpedoed heavy cruiser Liit-zow from Egersund to the repair yard. On 1 July she sailed with 6. Z-Flottille to Kirkenes and carried out various escort duties, reconnaissance sorties and anti-shipping operations with the her sister ships before returning to Wesermünde at the end of September with boiler damage.

On 15 May 1942, together with Z 4, Z 27 and Z 29, Hans Lody escorted Lützow to Trondheim in Operation ‘Walzertraum’, arriving on the 20th and transferring with her northward to Altafjord on 2 July. While anchoring in Gimsöystraumen with Theodor Riedel and Karl Galster she grounded in uncharted shallows, as a result of which her double bottom was ripped open, the port shaft seized and both propellers received damage. After refloating, the two destroyers returned to Trondheim for survey and emergency repair, and on the 27th both were towed to Deutsche Werke, Kiel. The damage to Z 10 was so extensive that her decommissioning was seriously considered. Korvettenkapitän Karl Adolf Zenker was appointed commander in August 1942.

A boiler room fire broke out during engine trials on 15 February 1943, and not until 22 April was Lody sufficiently battleworthy to return to operations in Norway. Meanwhile Kapitän zur See Hans Marks had been appointed her fifth commander.

Lody was part of the force which dispossessed the Soviets of Spitzbergen between 6 and 9 September. While leaving Altafjord on 21 November, she collided with Erich Steinbrinck.Korvettenkapitän Kurt Haun was appointed commander in November 1943.

The period until April 1944 was spent on escort and minelaying missions out of southern Norwegian ports, and on 3 May that year Z 10 was laid up at Germania Werft, Kiel, for a refit that lasted until 18 February 1945. While working up in the Baltic afterwards she was attached temporarily to Admiral K-Verbände, the command organisation for the various one- or two-man midget submarines. Once more or less operational again on 5 April, Lody ran escort duties from Copenhagen to the Skagerrak, and on 5 May she sailed from Copenhagen to the Hela peninsula to embark refugees, returning in the huge convoy of 7 May with about 1,500 aboard. On the 9th, in company with Z 6, she was removed to Kiel, where she decommissioned the following day.

On 10 May 1945, under Royal Navy command but with German engine-room personnel, Hans Lody proceeded to Wilhelmshaven. On 6 January 1946 she arrived at Portsmouth as experimental vessel R 38, German engine room staff being requested of the Naval Officer Commanding, Wilhelmshaven, on the 19th, presumably to help operate the complicated machinery. The ship was scrapped at Sunderland three years later.

LUFTFAUST

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‘Lufthaus B’

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The Luftfaus in a transport case with preloaded ammunition cartridges. ‘Lufthaus B’

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The rounds were fired in two stages with a 0.2 second gap between salvos. ‘Lufthaus B’

In 1945 the Luftfaust was designed by ‘Hugo Schneider’ of Leipzig and by the end of that year the German army were ready to field test the weapon system. The early version ‘Luftfaus A’ had only four shorter barrels however in this article we will be looking at the ‘Lufthaus B’

One thing that cannot be denied is the fact that the German military during World War II managed to develop a significant number of weapons that were precursors to many of the most impressive weapon technologies of modern warfare today. One of those weapons, the Luftfaust, was a precursor to the MANPADS, or MAN Portable Air Defense System, weapons like the Stinger, Blowpipe, or Strella. The Luftfaust, or “Air Fist”, was a recoilless shoulder-fired, rocket-propelled anti- aircraft weapon developed during the last year of the war, with large orders placed that would have marked a significant change in German weapons technologies had the war lasted another year or two. If the war had lasted into 1947, German troops would have been armed with Stg. 44’s and a variety of rocket-propelled heavy support weapons, eliminating the need for most grenades, mortars, and machine guns.

There were two versions of the Luftfaust developed. The first version was the Luftfaust-A. This weapon consisted of a bundle of four launch tubes, each capable of launching a small 2 cm diameter rocket fitted with a 90 gram projectile with a 19 gram explosive warhead. Fired in salvo, these little rockets reached a maximum velocity of 380 m/s. Unfortunately, test firings showed that while the rockets had sufficient range, they did not have sufficient dispersal inside a target kill circle to be effective against aircraft.

This lead to the Luftfaust-B, which used longer launch tubes and more of them. The Luftfaust-B mounted nine launch tubes, each 1.5 meters long, with the entire launcher assembly weighing in at 6.5 kg. When fired, the nine rounds would launch in a salvo, 0.2 seconds between each round, allowing them to form a 60 meter diameter kill pattern at a range of 500 meters, sufficient to shoot down aircraft of the day. Though heavy, the weapon produced no discernible recoil, and was fired much like a bazooka or panzerschrek, with the rear part simply laying on the shoulder.

Production of the Luftfaust-B began in March, 1945, with an order for 10,000 launch units and 4 million rocket rounds to fire through them. However, as the war concluded, only 80 were in service, being tested in combat field trials before official adoption occurred.

A weapon similar to the Luftfaust was developed as well. For ground attack aircraft, they developed the Fliegerfaust, or “Airplane Fist”. This was a hefty 6-barrelled launcher designed for mounted under the wings of aircraft. It fired six 3 cm rockets in salvo, fitted with warhead manufactured from the ammunition of the Maschinenkanone MK108, a 330 gram projectile filled with 75 grams of explosives.

While this weapon never advanced past trials, it did inspire the Hand-Fohn. This was a bundle of three launch tubes designed to fire the 7.3cm Raketen-Sprenggranate 4609, a 3.2kg rocket with a 300 gram explosive warhead, capable of attaining a speed of 360 m/s. Again, these weapon never reached the prototype stage.

All three anti-aircraft systems relied on the concept of using terminally fuzed warheads to fill a 20 to 40 meter diameter sphere with sufficient shrapnel to damage or down a plane at 500 to 600 meters range.

The Fliegerschreck
The Fliegerschreck was by the end of the war almost ready for field trials and was to use a new form of ammunition that could be used by the Panzerschreck, which enabled the Panzerschreck to be used for both the anti aircraft and anti tank roles.
The new ammunition was to contain an explosive charge and 144 small incendiary sub munitions that would be fitted to a standard rocket motor. The new warhead was ready in 1945 however none were ever issued to front line troops.
The Fliegerschreck would incorporate a new AA sighting system similar to that used by the MG 42 Machine gun
References
World War II Data Book Hitler’s Secret Weapons 1933-1945 -ISBN 1906626871

Soviet Artillery – Cold War 1970-89

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While the tank became the public and political symbol of an army’s military prowess, overshadowing other battlefield weapons systems, within armies the importance of the artillery arm remained undiminished and, despite the advent of missiles and rockets, the gun remained the weapon of choice in the tactical battle.fn1 Provided targets were within range, guns were capable of producing extremely accurate and very destructive fire at virtually any spot selected by battlefield commanders. Further, artillery command-and-control systems enabled the guns to switch targets quickly and to increase the weight of fire by bringing additional batteries into action as required.

Artillery was of great importance in the Second World War, and this continued in the many smaller wars between 1945 and 1990, when the tactical value of artillery was demonstrated repeatedly, although never more convincingly than at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu during the First Indo-China War. During that prolonged siege, which lasted from December 1953 to May 1954, Viet Minh artillery occupied the hills overlooking the French base and from there they totally dominated the battlefield, closed the airfield, cut off supplies, and eventually bludgeoned the garrison into defeat.

In the early 1950s there were only a small number of self-propelled guns, all in open mounts on converted tank chassis, which supported armoured divisions in some armies (e.g. the British and US). The great majority of guns were wheeled pieces, towed either by a specially designed artillery tractor or, in some cases, by an ordinary general-purpose truck. At a US army conference held in Washington in January 1952 it was decided that the speed of modern warfare was increasing to such an extent, particularly with the infantry planning to be mounted entirely in armoured personnel carriers, that wheeled guns would no longer be able to keep up with the speed of movement. Also, the threat of nuclear weapons made it necessary to place the crews inside closed gun-houses (turrets) for protection. Furthermore, tracked vehicles were more capable of moving into temporary fire positions, getting into and out of action quickly, since there was no need to separate the gun from its tractor and set it on a base-plate. Then, after firing, they could move out rapidly – the so-called ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactic – before enemy artillery could determine the source of the rounds and fire a counter-battery mission.

Soviet artillery had established an awesome reputation during the Second World War, but for the next two decades it experienced a conservatism unusual in the Soviet armed forces, which not only adhered to towed artillery, but also invariably deployed it in rows of six guns in uncamouflaged fire positions. Well-established Second World War guns therefore remained in service throughout the 1950s, and their replacements in the 1960s were also towed. It was only in the 1970s that self-propelled guns came into service, in which existing tracked chassis were matched to modified versions of existing guns, producing systems of 122 mm, 152 mm and 203 mm calibre. Although long overdue, these proved to be of excellent quality, with the usual Soviet combination of practical design, simplicity and long range, and caused considerable alarm in the West.

Czechoslovakia made a notable contribution to artillery design with its DANA system, which entered service in 1981. This featured a 152 mm gun in a split turret mounted on a modified 8 × 8-wheeled truck chassis. Although the wheels reduced its cross-country capability in comparison with a tracked vehicle, its performance was more than adequate for service in central Europe with its excellent road systems, and any tactical disadvantages were offset by its high road speed, long road range, considerably reduced capital cost, and ease of maintenance.

As with tankmen, gunners pursued the goal of first-round accuracy. Accuracy on target depended upon knowing the precise location of the guns, and manual methods of surveying gun positions gave way to much faster and more accurate electronic systems. In addition, movements became so frequent and time in any one position so brief that the traditional method of ascertaining meteorological conditions by visual and manual methods was no longer adequate and fully automated systems were introduced.

The introduction of SP guns with the crew housed in a turret meant that visual methods of control on the gun position were superseded by radio. Ever-expanding artillery communication systems also enabled artillery commanders to exercise much greater co-ordination and control of their units, and to respond much more rapidly to requests for fire support. Many national artillery arms were also quick to latch on to the potential of computerized fire-control systems.

Counter-Battery fire

Every military system inevitably preys on its own, and, as artillery became more effective, so too did the duel between artillery systems (known as ‘counter-battery’ fire) intensify. In the early 1950s there were two, fairly primitive, methods of locating enemy artillery. One used analysis of craters to estimate the direction and range of the gun. The other, called ‘sound ranging’, used sensitive microphones placed along a line (the ‘sound base’) and connected by radio; the sound of gunfire was detected by operators, who used the time of detection at the different microphones to compute the point of origin.

In the 1970s, however, the scale and efficiency of Soviet artillery systems, coupled with the ever shorter time spent in any one position, forced NATO to develop more accurate, more rapid and less manpower-intensive systems, such as the US army’s Firefinder, which consisted of two radars: one to detect mortars, the other to detect guns and missile launchers. On detecting a projectile, the radars tracked it briefly and then used the trajectory to compute the point of origin, presenting the precise location of the launch site to the operator before the incoming projectile had hit the ground. The operator then passed the co-ordinates of the enemy position to the fire-direction centre, for it to be included in the counter-battery fire plan.

Artillery: NATO and Warsaw Pact

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A Grand Strategy for Lacedaemon

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The Spartan hoplite is seen here in full battle array. His Corinthian helmet is of brass and decorated with a transverse crest; his shield, with Spartan blazon, is brassfaced, as are the full-length “muscled” greaves. The white linen corslet, worn over a red tunic, replaced the heavy “bell” cuirass and was made from several layers of material glued together. The lower part was cut into strips to facilitate bending down. The corslet found favour because of its lightness but was often reinforced with plates. The red cloak seen in the illustration was the characteristic Spartan uniform. It was discarded in battle. Before the time of Alexander, beards were usually worn in Greece and long hair characterised Spartan adult men. Herodotus describes how the Spartans; awaiting the Persian onslaught at Thermopylae, passed their time in taking exercise and combing their hair. This hoplite is binding a leather handgrip around the shaft of his spear to enable him to obtain a firm purchase when thrusting it overarm over the wall of phalanx shields. Unlike other hoplites, the Spartan trained all his life as a soldier, and was thus a “professional”. His drill and weapons-skill were thus superior to, and more fearsome than, that of other hoplites.

Sparta was the one city-state in Greece that deviated from the pattern of warfare described above. By the sixth century BCE, the Spartans had established the only real standing army in Greece, training hoplites who can be classified as professionals. Sparta’s deviation from the norm stemmed from a war fought in the eighth century in which Sparta had defeated neighboring Messenia. Sparta had then reduced many of the citizens of that region to the status of serfs, called helots. The helots, who lived quite a distance from Sparta, had to turn over half of their produce to their Spartan masters. In the middle of the seventh century, the helots, emboldened by a Spartan defeat at the hands of rival Argos, rebelled against Spartan control. The uprising by the Messenians nearly ended in defeat for the Spartans, but they were able to put down the rebellion. Afterward, Spartan attitudes hardened, and the Spartan system of the classical period developed.

Herodotus once described Sparta as a kósmos, and Plutarch later followed his lead. It was not always such. But, in the course of the archaic period, with the establishment there of the condition of good order and lawfulness that the ancients from Homer, Hesiod, Tyrtaeus, and Alcman on called eunomía, this is precisely what Lacedaemon became: a meticulously, more or less coherently ordered whole—apt to elicit admiration. As a ruling order, the Spartiates constituted a seigneurial class blessed with leisure and devoted to a common way of life centered on the fostering of certain manly virtues. They made music together, these Spartans. There was very little that they did alone. Together they sang and they danced, they worked out, they competed in sports, they boxed and wrestled, they hunted, they dined, they cracked jokes, and they took their repose. Theirs was a rough- and-tumble world, but it was not bereft of refinement and it was not char­acterized by an ethos of grim austerity, as some have supposed. Theirs was, in fact, a life of great privilege and pleasure enlivened by a spirit of rivalry as fierce as it was friendly. The manner in which they mixed music with gymnastic and fellowship with competition caused them to be credited with eudaimonía—the happiness and success that everyone craved—and it made them the envy of Hellas. This gentlemanly modus vivendi had, however, one precondition: Lacedaemon’s continued dominion over Laconia and Messenia and her brutal subjection of the helots on both sides of Mount Taygetus.

The grand strategy the Lacedaemonians gradually articulated in defense of the way of life they so cherished was all-encompassing, as successful grand strategies often are. Of necessity, it had domestic consequences on a considerable scale. As we have seen, its dictates go a long way toward explaining the Spartans’ aversion to commerce; their practice of infanticide; their provision for every citizen of an equal allotment of land and of servants to work it; the city’s sumptuary laws; their sharing of slaves, horses, and hounds; their intense piety; the subjection of their male offspring to an elaborate system of education and indoctrination; their use of music and poetry to instill a civic spirit; their practice of pederasty; the rigors and discipline to which they habitually subjected themselves; and, of course, their constant preparation for war. It accounts as well for the articulation over time within Lacedaemon of a mixed regime graced with elaborate balances and checks. To sustain their dominion in Laconia and Messenia and to maintain the helots in bondage, the Spartans had to eschew faction; foster among themselves the same opinions, passions, and interests; and employ—above all, in times of strain—procedures, recognized as fair and just, by which to reach a stable political consensus consistent with the dictates of prudence.

Not surprisingly, this grand strategy had serious consequences for Lacedaemon’s posture in the international sphere as well. The Spartans’ perch was precarious. The Corinthian leader who compared their polity with a stream was right. Rivers really do grow in strength as other streams empty into them, and the like could be said of the Lacedaemonians: “There, in the place where they emerge, they are alone; but as they continue and gather cities under their control, they become more numerous and harder to fight.” Even when their population was at its height, the Spartans were few in number, and the ter­ritory they ruled was comparatively vast. The underlings they exploited were astonishingly numerous and apt to be rebellious. In Messenia, if not also in Laconia, the helots saw themselves as a people in bondage, and geography did not favor the haughty men who kept them in that condition. The Spartans could look to the períoikoi for support, and this they did. But the latter were not all that numerous, and it was never entirely certain that they could be re- lied on. They, too, had to be overawed. In the long run, the Spartans could not sustain their way of life if they did not recruit allies outside their stronghold in the southern Peloponnesus.

As we have seen, it took the Lacedaemonians some time to sort out in full the implications of their position. Early on, at least, trial and error governed their approach to the formulation of policy. But by the middle of the sixth century, Chilon and others had come to recognize that, if their compatriots did not find some way to leverage the manpower of their neighbors, they would themselves someday come a cropper. And so the Spartiates reluctantly abandoned the dream of further expansion, repositioned themselves as defenders of Arcadian autonomy, and presented themselves to the Hellenic world as the scourge of tyranny, the champions of liberty, the friends of oligarchy, and the heirs of Agamemnon. It was under this banner that they rearranged the affairs of their fellow Peloponnesians to their liking and founded a grand alliance designed to keep their Argive enemies out, the helots down, and the Arcadians, above all others, in.

Taken as a whole, the grand strategy of classical Lacedaemon was brilliantly designed for the purpose it was intended to serve. It had, however, one grave defect. It presupposed that for all practical purposes, under Sparta’s hegemony, the Peloponnesus was a world unto itself—which, of course, it was . . . at the time that this strategy was first formulated. If, however, there ever came a moment when a power equal to or greater than Lacedaemon appeared in force—or even threatened to appear—at or near the entrance to that great peninsula, the Spartans would have to rethink this strategy and recast it to meet an unanticipated challenge.

It was in or quite soon after the mid-540s that such a prospect first loomed in the distance on the horizon. As we shall see, although the Spartans were by no means slow to take note of the challenge they faced, they were exceedingly cautious in the mode of proceeding that they then adopted.

Germany, Digging In – August and September 1944 I

ADN-ZB/Archiv Das faschistische Deutschland im II. Weltkrieg 1939-45 Berlin wird am 1. Februar 1945 zum "Verteidigungsbereich" erklärt. Die Bevölkerung wird zum Bau von Straßensperrungen u.ä. befohlen. Betriebsangehörige, fast nur Frauen, im Schneetreiben auf dem Anmarsch zum Ausheben von Panzergräben am Stadtrand. Aufnahme Februar/März 1945 343-45

ADN-ZB/Archiv
Das faschistische Deutschland im II. Weltkrieg 1939-45
Berlin wird am 1. Februar 1945 zum “Verteidigungsbereich” erklärt. Die Bevölkerung wird zum Bau von Straßensperrungen u.ä. befohlen. Betriebsangehörige, fast nur Frauen, im Schneetreiben auf dem Anmarsch zum Ausheben von Panzergräben am Stadtrand.
Aufnahme Februar/März 1945
343-45

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In late August and September 1944, the Germans dug in, literally. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were sent out to dig trenches and build fortifications, a massive effort directed by the Gauleiters in their role as regional Reich Defence Commissioners. By 10 September, there were 211,000 civilians at work on the West Wall alone, mainly women, teenagers and men too old for military service. A further 137 units of the Hitler Youth and the Reich Labour Service, for which both young men and women were liable, were also sent to work. In the east, another half-million Germans and foreign workers were conscripted to dig. In September the theatres were closed across the Reich so that actors, musicians and stagehands could be drafted. While Goebbels tried to protect part of the film industry and Hitler constructed his own list of exceptional artists to exempt, in the Führer’s adopted city of Linz actors and singers were enlisted in the SS and sent off to do guard duty at the nearby concentration camp of Mauthausen.

Applying the lesson of the Soviets’ bitter defence of Stalingrad, in March 1944 Hitler had designated Mogilev, Bobruisk and Vitebsk as ‘fortresses’, which ‘will allow themselves to be surrounded, thereby holding down the largest possible number of enemy forces and establishing conditions for successful counter-attacks’. All three had been lost in the devastating defeats of the summer, but the model had worked better on the western front. Capturing Brest had cost so many American lives – and the port had been so badly destroyed – that the German garrisons were left in control of their other Atlantic ports at Royan, La Rochelle, St-Nazaire and Lorient. As the Wehrmacht fell back to the Vistula in the east, a further twenty towns were now designated as ‘fortresses’ in the eastern German provinces and in Poland. In Silesia, Danzig-West Prussia and the Wartheland, much of the work was done by forced Polish labour. In East Prussia, extensive fortifications dated back to before the First World War but had to be renovated and, where possible, re-equipped. Here the 200,000 Germans racing to finish that task before the autumn rains came complained about the coercive quality of the works. Criticism was mainly aimed at local Party officials who drove out to the sites in their immaculate uniforms and bawled out commands without venturing to pick up a spade and join in. Poor food, accommodation in barns on straw mattresses and excessive hours all took their toll, as German civilians got a mild taste of what they had inflicted on others. But the corvées of labour also renewed a sense of common endeavour, as restaurant waiters and students, printers and university professors trooped out of cities like Königsberg to pick up shovels. By the end of the year, their number had risen to 1.5 million.

The collecting drives for Winter Relief, summer camps and communal stews had long prepared Germans for such an effort. Years of war had completed the training in shared sacrifice. In Lauterbach, Irene Guicking wrote to her husband Ernst, ‘I would so like to set a good example going forwards. I am convinced I would shame the others.’ But looking after two small children left her wondering ‘what I should do so as not to be left on the margins in the total war drive’. At least the German retreat from France meant that her husband could no longer be tempted by the elegant French women. The hills of the Vosges looked so close on the map in her atlas and, gazing at it several times a day, she mused, ‘Just a bit further east and you will be behind the protective border. You know, it must be a funny feeling to know that the border of the Reich is near.’

It was a time of exceptional measures. In mid-July, Goebbels still felt thwarted by Hitler’s reluctance to impose ‘total war’ measures on the home front. But on 20 July 1944 Hitler’s attitude changed, after he narrowly survived an assassination attempt. A bomb planted by Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg went off in the conference room at his field headquarters in East Prussia, fatally wounding three officers and the stenographer. Like most of the twenty-four people in the room, Hitler suffered a burst eardrum and blast injuries; otherwise, he escaped unscathed. A profound weakness in the conspiracy lay in its lack of high-level support. Whereas in Italy in July 1943 there had been clear consensus within the military that they had to oust Mussolini, no such view had crystallised in the Wehrmacht. Indeed, although they tested out many senior officers, most of the conspirators were officers of mid-rank.

Its organising brain was Henning von Tresckow, who used his role as chief of operations on the Staff of Army Group Centre in 1942–43 to have men like Rudolf Christoph von Gersdorff, Carl-Hans von Hardenberg, Heinrich von Lehndorff-Steinort, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Philipp and Georg von Boeselager and Berndt von Kleist placed in key positions there. Linked by a web of aristocratic family connections, these younger officers were both held back and tolerated by senior commanders such as Bock, the uncle of Tresckow’s wife, and by Bock’s successor as commander of Army Group Centre, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, who vetoed their plan to assassinate Hitler when he visited the Smolensk headquarters in March 1943. The plotters failed to win over any high-level military commanders, with the exception of Erwin Rommel and the military commander in France, Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel. This lack of support and comprehension was still more evident lower down the chain of command: the conspirators might have been well connected but they were always an isolated minority.

The plotters attempted to circumvent their weakness by misappropriating an operational plan, code-named ‘Valkyrie’, which had been designed to suppress internal disorder, such as a coup attempt or an uprising by foreign workers, by automatically ordering military units under the command of the Reserve Army to surround government buildings in the capital. It was a fairly flimsy plan. It only took one loyal major, Otto-Ernst Remer, to question the raison d’être of his deployment for the plot to collapse. When Remer went up to arrest Goebbels, he was put through on the telephone to Hitler, whose voice he recognised, and the major immediately accepted responsibility for crushing the plot whose unwitting instrument he had been made. By the early evening of 20 July the rest of the coup attempt had unravelled: the key conspirators were either dead, under arrest or frantically trying to destroy evidence that might implicate them. Remer and his men reached army headquarters in the Bendlerstrasse in time to provide the firing squad. Stauffenberg was in no doubt that his contemporaries would not understand their actions, explaining that he was acting ‘in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor’. Among his contemporaries, he was not wrong.

News of the attempted coup broke at 6.30 p.m. with a short radio announcement. Then, just after midnight, Hitler’s baritone voice – measured, if slightly breathless – could be heard. ‘German national comrades, I do not know how many times now an attempt on my life has been planned and carried out,’ the Führer began. ‘If I speak to you today it is, first, in order that you should hear my voice and that you should know that I myself am unhurt and well; second, in order that you should know about a crime unparalleled in German history.’ He went on to tell how ‘a very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible, and at the same time senseless and criminally stupid officers have formed a plot to eliminate me and, with me, the German Wehrmacht command’ and to reassure the nation that ‘I myself am completely unhurt. I regard this as a confirmation of the task imposed on me by Providence to continue on the road of my life as I have done hitherto.’ Hitler promised to ‘exterminate’ the perpetrators. The six-minute-long speech and those by Hermann Göring and the Commander-in-Chief of the navy, Karl Dönitz, which followed straight afterwards, were re-broadcast throughout the following day. They came as an earthquake.

In Berlin-Zehlendorf, Peter Stölten’s father expressed his shock tersely, writing to his son, ‘How can they endanger the front so?’ In his diary, he expressed his thoughts more fully: ‘It looks as if they regard the war as lost and want to save what can be saved or what appears salvageable to them. But the whole thing . . . can only lead at this moment to civil war and inner division and create a new stab-in-the-back myth.’ It was a measured response, and he was not alone in fearing defeat or even civil war. According to the SD report from Nuremberg, even those who were critical of the Nazis were convinced that ‘only the Führer can master the situation and that his death would have led to chaos and civil war’. This local report added an interesting note of candour: ‘Even the circles which have looked favourably on a military dictatorship are convinced by the more than dilettantish preparation and execution of the coup that generals are not equipped to take over the helm of state in the most serious of times.’ Clearly, the loose talk about regime change from the summer of 1943 was over. In the streets and shops of Königsberg and Berlin, women were said to have burst into tears of joy at news of Hitler’s survival: ‘Thank God, the Führer is alive’ was the typical expression of relief.

The Propaganda Ministry and the Party rushed to organise ‘spontaneous’ rallies and thanksgivings for Hitler’s ‘providential salvation’. But the huge turnouts and effusive expressions of gratitude seem to have been genuine enough. Even Catholic bastions such as Paderborn and Freiburg, where the Party had previously struggled to hold public rallies at all, recorded unprecedented numbers. Families wrote to each other en masse expressing their relief and joy at Hitler’s miraculous escape: no military censor or propagandist could force them to do so. The Allies, applying ‘scientific’ techniques to measure the success of their own propaganda amongst German prisoners of war, found – to their dismay – that trust in Hitler’s leadership rose from 57 per cent in mid-July to 68 per cent in early August. By this stage, the regime did not make the mistake of confusing such trust and relief with confidence in Germany’s military position. As the President of the Nuremberg provincial court reported, ‘that the mood of the people is very gloomy is no surprise given the position on the eastern front’. But the crisis had a galvanising effect. All the reports confirmed that people expected that ‘now finally’ all obstacles to full mobilisation for total war would be swept aside.

Army Group Centre, from which many of the plotters came, had just lost half its divisions in the huge encirclement battles in Belorussia. The regime was not slow to attribute the defeats to the treachery of these officers. According to the SD reports, ‘national comrades’ now looked admiringly at Stalin’s 1937–38 purge of the officer corps of the Red Army, passing comments such as ‘Stalin is the only clear-sighted one among all the leaders, the one who made betrayal impossible in advance by exterminating the predominant but unreliable elements’. The resolutely plebeian Robert Ley promptly amplified such sentiments in an article in the house paper of the German Labour Front, in which he ranted in terms he had previously reserved for the Jews:

Degenerate to their very bones, blue-blooded to idiocy, repulsively corrupt and as cowardly as all base creatures, this is the clique of nobles which the Jew sends forth against National Socialism, arms with bombs and turns into murderers and criminals . . . This vermin must be exterminated, destroyed root and branch.

Ley’s tirade remained the exception, and Goebbels instructed the press to be careful not to attack the officer corps as a whole. Hitler had called the conspirators ‘a very small clique’ – and so they were. They had lacked the support of any major part of the German state: although many of the plotters came from the army and the Foreign Office, the senior ranks of both institutions remained firmly loyal through the crisis.

In its aftermath, Hitler relied not just on out-and-out Nazi generals, like General Ferdinand Schörner, the new commander of Army Group North, but more ‘apolitical’ figures such as the veteran tank commander Heinz Guderian, whom he had immediately appointed as his new Chief of General Staff on 21 July. The ageing conservative nationalist Gerd von Rundstedt was recalled too, first to chair the officer corps’s purge of its own ranks, and, in September, to take command of the western front once more – this, despite having been dismissed at the beginning of July for telling the High Command that the Allied invasion could not be halted. Despite his deep distrust of the military caste in general and the General Staff in particular, Hitler still knew how to use the loyalty and skills of these men. There was even room for General Johannes Blaskowitz, who had been sacked from his Polish command in 1940 for repeatedly challenging the atrocities carried out by the SS. In the aftermath of the July assassination attempt Blaskowitz had pledged ‘after this dastardly crime to rally to him [the Führer] yet more closely’. Having proved himself during the retreat from southern France, Blaskowitz was entrusted with commanding Army Group H in the Netherlands: with the British in Belgium, it was vital to prevent them from bypassing the Rhineland defences by swinging through the southern Netherlands and into northern Germany. Blaskowitz would repay Hitler’s confidence in full.

When Schörner took command of the 500,000-strong Army Group North in Estonia and Latvia, he issued orders which reflected Hitler’s own apocalyptic views, insisting on the absolute necessity of stopping the ‘Asiatic flood-wave’ of Bolshevism. To halt the German retreat and the desertion of Latvian auxiliaries and to instil obedience through fear, Schörner meted out unprecedented numbers of death sentences for cowardice, defeatism and desertion. For the first time German soldiers did not just face the firing squad. Increasingly Schörner’s command ordered that the condemned should be hanged, with demeaning placards attesting to their crime for all to see: a ‘dishonourable’ death which had so far been reserved for Jews and Slavs. But Schörner was merely an extreme exponent of a growing trend, as Wehrmacht commanders fought to stop their armies from breaking. Even the pious Protestant Blaskowitz turned to draconian methods to halt mass flight. He too would have increasing numbers of his own soldiers shot during the coming months for desertion. On 31 October, Rundstedt proposed placing the relatives of deserters in concentration camps and confiscating their property – so far a measure which had only been used against a handful of families of the July plotters, with most of their wives and children being released within a few weeks.

Although this principle of family liability was also canvassed by other senior generals, the widespread introduction of the policy was ultimately thwarted, and from an unlikely quarter. The SD, the institution empowered to take family members into custody, refused to operate a system of collective reprisals against Germans. Instead of immediately resorting to such measures on the German home front, the Gestapo and SD continued to weigh its decisions on the basis of individual assessments of ‘character’. In Würzburg, for example, the Gestapo refused to act against the parents of a soldier who had deserted on the Italian front because it found no evidence that they were ‘anti-National Socialist’; after dragging out the investigation for nine months, the Gestapo closed the case. Despite new levels of coercion, the Nazi regime was still not ready to deploy at home the techniques of indiscriminate mass terror it had pioneered in occupied Europe.

In other respects, the Nazi leadership emerged from the bomb plot imbued with a more radical sense of purpose, as the most ruthless and efficient group of leaders now formed a virtual ‘quadrumvirate’. With more and more responsibility for the defence of the German regions given to the Gauleiters, Martin Bormann’s control over the Party machine made him a key player. Now adding the command of the Reserve Army to his control over the Interior Ministry, police and SS, Himmler had a near-complete monopoly over the means of coercion within the Reich. Goebbels finally became Plenipotentiary for Total War, a role he had coveted since early 1942. He was now able – at least in principle – to give a new impetus to setting the needs of the civilian economy and cultural consumption aside in favour of unchecked mobilisation for the defence of the Reich. The fourth member of this inner group was Albert Speer, the Minister for Armaments, whose abilities in getting the most out of inadequate resources would be tested as never before. With Hitler focused ever more on micromanaging his military commanders, these four key leaders – all inclined to expand into the others’ spheres of control – would be forced to run the home front in competitive collaboration.

Germany, Digging In – August and September 1944 II

Feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms in Berlin In Berlin fand heute die feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms statt. UBz Volkssturmmänner mit ihren Waffen während des Vorbeimarsches an Reichsminister Dr. Goebbels.

Feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms in Berlin
In Berlin fand heute die feierliche Vereidigung der Freiwilligen des Deutschen Volkssturms statt. UBz Volkssturmmänner mit ihren Waffen während des Vorbeimarsches an Reichsminister Dr. Goebbels.

Volkssturm marching, November 1944.

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In August, the Hitler Youth leader, Artur Axmann, issued a call for boys born in 1928 to volunteer for the Wehrmacht. Whole cohorts of Hitler Youths answered the summons and within six weeks 70 per cent of the age group had signed up. Parents may have viewed the call-up with horror, but few tried to stop the teenagers from going. In the earlier years of the war, especially after the victories in the west, military recruitment offices had been besieged by teenagers desperate to sign up and do their bit for the Fatherland; for many this sense of patriotic adventure continued into 1945. Then on 25 September a new people’s militia was announced, the Volkssturm, its name a populist merging of the romantic tradition of the 1813 ‘War of Liberation’ against Napoleon and the traditional Prussian militia, the Landsturm. As military strategists in the 1920s had examined Germany’s failure to make a ‘last stand’ in 1918, there had been calls for just such a ‘total mobilisation’ of the civilian population. Unlike Axmann’s earlier appeal for volunteers, however, recruitment for the Volkssturm was not voluntary, and by the end of 1944 parents were being threatened with legal sanctions if their sons did not enlist. But these threats affected a small minority: by that time most Hitler Youths had already volunteered. As call-up was extended to boys and men between the ages of 16 and 60, the Gauleiters were entrusted with raising this final levy to form a militia numbering up to six million. Its potential reservoir was even larger: if every able-bodied German man had been called up, the Volkssturm would have grown to 13.5 million – greater in size than the Wehrmacht with its 11.2 million officers and men.

The Volkssturm levy, intended to help make good the losses the army had sustained that summer, was simply too large to be equipped. Indeed, the Wehrmacht itself was short of 714,000 rifles in October 1944. At a monthly output of 186,000 standard infantry carbines, German production could no longer keep pace with the ambitions of this ‘rising of the people’. By the end of January 1945, the Volkssturm had managed to accumulate a mere 40,500 rifles and 2,900 machine guns: a heterogeneous array of mainly foreign and out-of-date weapons, often with little, if any, compatible ammunition, giving recruits little chance to practise with live rounds. While more effort was lavished on inducting the teenagers as future soldiers, who were sent to separate training camps, far less went on the middle-aged men, who were treated as cannon fodder; few of them received more than ten to fourteen days’ training. Improvisation was the order of the day: the quadruple batteries of 20mm anti-aircraft guns were frequently converted to infantry use, machine guns from planes remounted on tripods and even flare pistols used for firing grenades.

The flak auxiliaries already included 10,000 women volunteers from the Nazi Women’s Organisation, who ran messages and worked the searchlights and radar guidance systems of the heavy batteries. As boys headed off to train for the Volkssturm, their anti-aircraft positions were often taken over by girls from the BDM and Reich Labour Service. Unlike the smart attire worn by the women already posted to the military telephone exhanges and typing pools, this new levy of female recruits simply inherited the oversized uniforms left by their male forerunners. Now, as German women put on pistols to defend their gun emplacements, the myth that German men ‘out there’ were protecting women and children ‘at home’ completely crumbled. In 1941, audiences at home had unhesitatingly seen the ‘Bolshevik gun-woman’ as a freak against nature and a perversion of women’s vocation to nurture. As German women broke this final cultural barrier, it hardly seemed remarkable any more.

The establishment of the Volkssturm also sat uncomfortably with Nazi measures to protect Germany’s children: what was the point in evacuating them from the cities, only to send them out against tanks on bicycles with a brace of anti-tank grenades strapped to the handlebars? With the nation’s future at stake, service and sacrifice became the overriding virtues. The new Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve Army and of the Volkssturm, Heinrich Himmler, told military recruiters why they should share his determination ‘to send 15-year-olds to the front’: ‘It is better that a young cohort dies and the nation is saved than that I spare a young cohort and a whole nation of 80–90 million people dies out.’ Hitler had warned in his decree establishing the Volkssturm that the enemy’s ‘final goal is to exterminate the German people’ and now his political idée fixe that ‘there must never be another November 1918’ had been put to the test.

As girls as well as boys took their military oaths, after the parade-ground ceremonies the immediate problem was to find uniforms and equipment. In the Rhineland, 15-year-old Hugo Stehkämper and his comrades were given pre-war black SS uniforms, brown Organisation Todt coats, blue Air Force Auxiliary caps and French steel helmets. Across the country, the stores of the Wehrmacht, police, railways, border guards, postal service, storm troopers, National Socialist truck drivers, the Reich Labour Service, the SS, the Hitler Youth and the German Labour Front were all turned over to provide uniforms for the Volkssturm. What made this quest all the more important was the fear that members of the Volkssturm would otherwise be shot as ‘irregulars’, in the way Germans had executed Polish volunteers in 1939.

The regime also realised that the Wehrmacht could learn about ideological control from the Red Army, and in the autumn of 1944 rapidly expanded its own – rather weak – version of political commissars, the National Socialist Leadership Officers. These were volunteers who took on the role of part-time morale-raiser and educator alongside their normal military duties, but they lacked the authority to countermand superior orders. One of the new volunteers was August Töpperwien. Although the high-school teacher from Solingen detested the anti-Christian thrust of Nazism and was appalled by the murder of the Jews, like many other Protestant conservatives Töpperwien still counted ‘world Jewry’ amongst Germany’s enemies. As early as October 1939, he had divided Europe into three blocks, ‘the Western democracies, the National Socialist centre and the Bolshevik east’, and concluded that only Germany would have the determination to defend European culture from ‘Asiatic barbarism’ – this at a time when Germany was allied to the Soviet Union. Believing that ‘World Jewry’ had corrupted the Western democracies, his analysis foreshadowed Goebbels’s later propaganda, but Töpperwien was no Nazi. His views stemmed from conservative nationalism, with its own anti-liberal, anti-Semitic and anti-socialist precepts. Moreover, Töpperwien shared one other fundamental tenet with many of the senior Wehrmacht commanders, like him all veterans of the First World War: he remained committed to preventing any repetition of the revolutionary disintegration of 1918. In October 1944, as the German front lines stabilised again, he noted proudly in his diary, ‘But thank God, the spirit of revolt is still far off!’ Töpperwien had periodically expressed doubts in Hitler’s leadership throughout the war, but by early November he admitted to himself that ‘The clearer it becomes that Hitler is not the God to whom people prayed the more I feel bound to him.’ As Töpperwien worried about people’s loyalty to the German cause, he realised that there was no room for any other leader than Hitler: he might not be a messianic saviour, but no one else could now save Germany.

Another unusual volunteer for the new propaganda role within the Wehrmacht was Peter Stölten. He had, he quipped to his mother, become ‘one of the Doctor’s [Goebbels’s] boys’. By the end of 1944, their number had swelled to 47,000 officers. The prime task of these part-time ‘political commissars’ was to educate their men in an ‘unconstrained will to destroy and to hate’ the enemy. Stölten was certain that the Soviets had to be stopped at all costs. Despite his growing conviction that the war was lost, he forbade himself from doing anything to hasten that result. On the contrary, he admired the Polish fighters in Warsaw for the lesson they had provided in heroic self-sacrifice. He assured his fiancée Dorothee that he had not lost his ‘inborn aversion to NS-sloganeering’ and left ‘all the information sheets’ unread and ‘just improvised’, but his talks may have been all the more credible for not sounding hackneyed; after all, they came from a tank commander with an impressive record of front-line service.

Stölten was not alone in looking to the Poles for an example. Even Heinrich Himmler, entrusted by Hitler with wiping Warsaw from the map, now turned to the Polish ‘Untermenschen’ for inspiration, telling an audience of Party, military and business leaders that

Nothing can be defended so outstandingly as a major city or a field of rubble . . . Here we must defend . . . the country . . . The saying ‘till the last cartridge and bullet!’ must be no idle phrase, but a fact. It must be our sacred duty to ensure that the sorrowful and costly exemplar which Warsaw gave us is enacted by the Wehrmacht and Volkssturm for every German city which has the misfortune to be encircled and besieged.

The comparison was not a hyperbolic one. That autumn, under Guderian’s guidance, German military strategy on the eastern front shifted away from digging continuous entrenched lines, like the positions so recently abandoned along the river Dniepr. Instead, military engineers were using their corvées of civilian workers to turn key cities such as Warsaw, Königsberg, Breslau, Küstrin and Budapest into strongpoints. They were to become the ‘fortresses’ that would hold back the Soviets the way that Moscow and Stalingrad had stopped the Wehrmacht.

Into October 1944, the new defensive lines held and, against all expectations, blocked the advance of both the Soviets and the Western Allies into the Reich. Partly because of the Wehrmacht’s strong position in the southern Vosges, it was not easy for Patton’s force advancing on the Saar to link up with Patch’s troops in Alsace. The British and American armies also struggled with their own logistical bottleneck: all supplies were still being shipped by road from Normandy and Marseilles. Although the port of Antwerp had been captured on 4 September, before the Germans could blow it up, the Wehrmacht controlled its harbour mouth until November. While the Allies concentrated on reopening Antwerp and shortening their supply lines, the Germans re-equipped the West Wall and began to mass their divisions on the western front.

On the eastern front, in early October the Red Army suddenly turned its northern assault across the marshlands, rivers and tough defences protecting Army Group North in the Baltic states around to the west. As Soviet troops crossed the pre-war German frontier for the first time, penetrating the East Prussian district of Gumbinnen and taking the town of Gołdap and the village of Nemmersdorf, they also cut off thirty German divisions on the Memel peninsula. Scratch units of the new, East Prussian Volkssturm managed to hold the Russian advance around Treuburg, Gumbinnen and along the Angerapp river until mobile reserves could move up to give them support. Then, in mid-October, the Wehrmacht counter-attacked in East Prussia, threatening to encircle the Soviets and forcing them to retreat to the border. With Berlin still over 600 kilometres away the Red Army’s summer offensive had come to a halt along the Vistula and the line of the Carpathians.

Compared to the mass panic which had gripped many of its units on the western front in September, a month later the Wehrmacht presented a very different opponent. Allied commanders were shocked by the stiffening resistance of an enemy that they had assumed was on the point of collapse. At Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Eisenhower called a crisis summit in November to ask why nothing had destroyed the ‘will of the Wehrmacht to resist’. The psychological war experts, responsible for debriefing German prisoners of war and profiling their beliefs, were at a loss to explain it. Earlier in the year they had been similarly baffled as the Allies slowly fought their way up the Italian peninsula: there too the morale of their German prisoners had kept rising, the complete oppos-ite of what they had predicted and hoped. Asked if they believed in the existence of ‘new weapons’, in October 1943, only 43 per cent of prisoners had answered in the affirmative, but by February 1944 that proportion had risen to 58 per cent. After the initial shock of the Allied landings in southern Italy, German morale had stabilised. Now, Eisenhower was told, at least half of the captives on the western front still displayed ‘loyalty to the Führer’ and spoke confidently of the Red Army as a spent and defeated force.

It seemed clear that the findings in Italy were now being replicated on the western front. In late August and early September, while ordinary German infantrymen were downcast, morale remained high amongst the core cadre of junior officers, not to mention elite formations such as paratroopers and Waffen SS divisions. But even before German resistance at the front stiffened, most of the prisoners being questioned affirmed the absolute necessity of national defence and the righteousness of their cause. Allied insistence on Germany’s ‘unconditional surrender’ and the leaking of the Morgenthau Plan to strip Germany of all industrial capacity played a part; but the most important factor, now as ever, remained the fear of conquest by the Russians. The exiled novelist Klaus Mann was one of those German-speakers in the US Army tasked with debriefing prisoners of war on the Italian front. In late 1944, he asked his New York publisher: ‘Why don’t they finally stop? What are they waiting for, the unfortunates? This is the question which I don’t just ask you and me, but always pose to them too.’ Other Western experts were equally baffled. Henry Dicks, a veteran of the Tavistock Clinic and the leading British Army psychiatrist, who had interviewed hundreds of German prisoners and written the standard analysis of their outlook, now took refuge in the rather vague concept of the ‘German capacity for repressing reality’. What neither Klaus Mann nor Henry Dicks considered was that, in the absence of a separate peace in the west, German troops considered blocking the British and Americans as essential to holding the Soviets in the east.

In mid-October 1944, the Western Allies could not be sure whether the stiffening German resistance amounted to a temporary pause or a real change in the balance of forces. Military historians now know that the defeats of the summer had ripped the Wehrmacht apart, its fighting power sapped beyond recovery. In the three months from July until the end of September, German military deaths reached a new peak of 5,750 per day. The Army High Command knew in part how disastrous the summer had been – and it was Guderian who first suggested raising an East Prussian Landsturm. Even with bitter fighting in the west, it was on the eastern front that the real haemorrhaging had occurred: 1,233,000 German troops died there in 1944, accounting for nearly half the German fatalities in the east since June 1941.