Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The World Remade

After reading the new book, The World Remade, I realized how little I knew about World War I. Woodrow Wilson is lauded as a man of peace, but he was a self-righteous fool. He believed he was always right about anything. If anyone disagreed with him, that person was not only wrong, but morally wrong and forever scorned. Wilson refused to consult with his cabinet, Congress, anyone but his pal Edward House, who knew how to manipulate him with effusive praise. He was so intent on creating his League of Nations he allowed France and Britain to write a horrendous peace treaty.
The British manipulated Wilson (and America) from the beginning: severing underwater cables so only their propaganda got through, collaborating with Wilson’s pal Edward House to write America’s responses to British atrocities, setting a precedence for the future. Britain had been in decline since 1870, while united Germany grew industrially. Britain’s resentment of Germany was a significant reason for going to war. Wreck the upstart rival and reassert their global supremacy.
Germany had been the last European nation to mobilize. The others had mobilized on the basis of false reports. When Russia and France mobilized, Germany was motivated, not by the desire of conquest, but fear of being crushed by its neighbors.
Innocent little Belgium was not so innocent; rather, it was a junior partner with Britain and France, secretly planning for war with Germany and receiving British aid.
Britain decried Germany’s U-boats, but actually had more subs than Germany, preying on Baltic Sea shipping lanes. London’s censors created stories of German “frightfulness” with their U-boats to divert attention from their own transgressions—an illegal blockade of Germany and denying neutrals the right to trade with anyone Britain didn’t want them to. Britain ruled the waves and waived the rules.
The U.S. should have maintained strict neutrality, not supplying the Allies and giving them credit, and should not have intervened. The warring nations would have soon exhausted themselves.

Recommended: The World Remade by G.J. Meyer, Penguin Random House, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sinking the Bismarck

The Bismarck had to be sunk. It posed a huge threat to Allied shipping. And it had just sunk Britain’s Hood.
Bundesarchiv_Bild_193-04-1-26, Bismarck firing during the May 24 battle.

In a reenactment of David and Goliath, a tiny, flimsy Swordfish biplane torpedoed the 50,000-ton battleship. The torpedo jammed the mammoth ship’s rudder, rendering steering impossible. The German ship can only wait for the British ships to circle round and tear it to shreds.
Late on the night before the deadly encounter, Captain Lindemann tells his crew they may take whatever they want from the ship’s stores, everything from cheese and chocolate to Swiss watches and fountain pens. He knows they’re doomed. May as well have a bit of cheer.
During the night, U-73 finds the crippled ship and watches the British destroyers shadowing the Bismarck dart in and away to fire on the ship. They don’t expect to sink it, but can prevent the men from getting any rest. Where was U-73 when the British capital ships tore their compatriots apart and left hundreds in the sea?
The battle raged for ninety minutes on the morning of May 27, 1941. The Bismarck fired its guns but, unable to manoeuver, couldn’t land any hits on the British ships. They scored countless hits in the sustained bombardment.
The ship was on fire from the continuous shelling. Crewmen leaped overboard. British sailors saw possible semaphore blinking, arms waving in semaphore. A black flag fluttered, We want to parley with you. This were ignored. The ship still flew its colors; some guns still fired. Crewmen in the most vulnerable parts of the dying ship may have attempted to capitulate.

Warped hatches and doors block exit routes. A shell exploded in the compartment medical staff worked on the wounded, killing everyone. Sailors trapped in an ammunition magazine drowned when the magazine was flooded to prevent a threatening fire to trigger an explosion. The Bismarck had become a charnel house.
Did so many have to die? Several among the British wanted the slaughter to cease. A chaplain said to a captain, “You are firing shells at a ship that can’t reply.” The captain replied, “You go and mind your own business and get off my bridge.” The killing brought revulsion to men imbued with British fairness.
The shelling finally stopped. Torpedoes were fired to send the wreck to the bottom. Two destroyers picked up 111 survivors. The warning of a U-boat nearby caused the destroyers to clear the area immediately after throwing life rafts to the hundreds still in the water. This may have been the U-74, sent to retrieve the Bismarck’s war diary. The U-boat picked up three sailors; a German weather ship found two more. Out of 2,365 crewmembers, 116 survived, although one died of wounds while aboard the destroyer.
The Bismarck had to be sunk. The British couldn’t capture it. Not with U-boats and Luftwaffe bombers rushing to the Bismarck’s defense. Not after 1,418 British sailors died three days earlier on the Hood, with only three survivors.
This was war.
For Further Reading: Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom by Iain Ballantyne

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Belgium’s Unfortunate King

Belgium’s 38-year-old King Leopold III had more power and government responsibility than any western European monarch. He served as commander-in-chief of the Belgian army and took charge of Belgian’s defense when Germany invaded on May 10, 1940.
The Belgians had insisted on remaining neutral, to the dismay of the British and French, who wanted to enter Belgium before the fighting broke out. King Leopold III suspected they wanted to keep the war off their soil. A French general admitted as much.
When the Germans broke through the Ardennes and the British planned to evacuate, they told neither the Belgians nor the French so they would keep the Germans at bay while the they fled. Their Belgian liaison asked if the Belgians would be allowed to participate in the evacuation. British Gen. Henry Pownall said, “We don’t care a bugger what happens to the Belgians.”
The Belgians mounted a determined, well-directed defense but, with their army near disintegration, informed the British and French they must surrender. Unlike the monarchs of Norway and The Netherlands, Leopold refused to flee his country. Abandoning his army would be tantamount to desertion. He asked to stay with his army in a prisoner-of-war camp, but the Germans refused. For a time, he was confined to his palace. Later, he and his family were moved to Germany, then Austria. He was unable to share in his country’s suffering or bolster his people through radio broadcast.
The British and the French unleashed vicious verbal attacks on the king in the press, making him and the Belgians the scapegoats for France’s defeat and all their troubles instead of acknowledging their own ineptitude and stupidity. They bullied the Belgian ministers who escaped to support their attack on Leopold, blackmailing them with the safety of Belgian refugees. They agreed, making false accusations, and calling Leopold a traitor. Instead of protecting their countrymen, the Belgian refugees were jeered, beaten, and ejected from hotels. Belgian pilots were thrown in jail while several thousand Belgian men in military training in France were imprisoned in their barracks.
Leopold’s cousin King George VI of Great Britain expressed sympathy and had no criticism of Leopold’s effort as commander-in-chief, but felt he should have left his country and established his government elsewhere. He apparently forgot he had vowed he wouldn’t leave England in Germany invaded.

Leopold III with his son Baudouin

After the war, the Socialist government didn’t want him back. He lived in Swiss exile and abdicated in 1951 in favor of his son Baudouin.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Netherland's Fiesty Queen

Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands had been warning her government for years of the growing danger of Hitler. They paid her no heed. Even as surrounding nations fell, they didn’t believe they’d be next. They’d been neutral in World War I; why not now?
Even if Germany invaded, they had a plan. They would flood the northeast and south while defending the western provinces where their major cities were. But then the Germans’ airborne troops parachuted into the heart of Holland’s defenses, making obsolete the flooding plan.
Hitler determined to seize Wilhelmina, ordering her to be treated with respect and honor, even going so far as to give her a bouquet of flowers when she was taken prisoner. She was popular with her people and the whole world, and would be a prize for the Nazis.
The 59-year-old queen regarded the Third Reich as an immoral system headed by “those bandits.” She made clear to Hitler and everyone else that whoever threatened her country was her enemy.
She had grown up in “the cage,” an oppressively formal, strict atmosphere that precluded any kind of initiative, no opportunity to show vigor and courage. She had dreamed from childhood of doing great deeds. The youngest and only surviving child of her elderly father, she became queen at 10 and had no friends her age.
Her ministers made clear she had no power. The European monarchs had the right to encourage, to warn, and to be consulted and informed. Like Norway, she was not consulted and her advice was ignored. Like Norway, Holland’s military was antiquated.
On May 10, 1940, the German invasion began. For three days, the royal family took refuge in an air raid shelter in the palace garden. The queen was furious the guards wouldn’t allow her to leave the palace.
She begged King George VI of England for aircraft to defend Holland, but England had none to offer. A British destroyer was sent with orders to bring her directly to England. She wanted to join her troops on the battlefield like her illustrious ancestors and “be the last man to fall in the last ditch.” This was definitely not allowed.
Once in England, she demanded to return to Holland, but the situation had worsened. Rotterdam was firebombed, incinerating much of the downtown and killing nearly one thousand residents. Holland capitulated.
Wilhelmina lived in a small, bomb-pitted house in a formerly elegant neighborhood in London. She refused to move to gander quarters befitting her status as head of state, believing she didn’t belong in a palace while her people were in such miserable conditions at home.
If Germany invaded England, she would try to join her daughter Princess Juliana in Canada. If that failed, she had ordered her private secretary to shoot her before the Germans captured her.

In London with no parliament, she now had power. The government-in-exile had to consider her views, get her approval, and submit to her overrules. She was out of her “cage.” She met every Dutch citizen who escaped to England and broadcast to her people in Holland. Her late night broadcasts were eagerly received by her people. who had to listen to them illegally.
After the war, she hoped for a government made up of people who had been active in the resistance, but was disappointed to see the same political factions as before the war.